Group Advice: Working on an Anti-RWD Team

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A reader (let’s leave them anonymous) writes in:

The agency where I work has never produced a responsive design. As a developer I’m handed fixed-width designs in the form of static PSD comps. I’m then expected to slice these up, run some browser tests, and push them live.

I’ve been pushing the idea of responsive design and increased accessibility since I started at this company a little over a year ago, but the attitude has been fairly cold and disinterested. Then, about a week ago, my boss told me that “it is more worthwhile for us to develop separate mobile sites then to spend time on responsive design.” We also just hired an interactive designer who quickly agreed, telling my boss that – in his experience – responsive design just isn’t worth it.

I’m not suggesting we make every site responsive just to do it, but I find their attitude hard to stomach. I’m hoping you might have some thoughts on this, whether it be how I should approach a conversation about responsive design, or just that I should deal with it and get my job done, or whatever. I’m sort of at a loss.

Perhaps you could start with something everyone agrees on. Design is solving problems. As a design agency, you sell solutions to your clients problems. You wouldn’t decide upon a solution before you examined the problem, right? I hope they would all agree with that.

In the same vein: I wouldn’t decide on buying a Mini Cooper before I considered what I needed out of a car. Perhaps the family will be growing soon and I need more room. Perhaps I have a camper to tow and need a hitch. When buying a car, we think about what need then choose based on those needs.

Saying “it is more worthwhile for us to develop separate mobile sites” is settling on the Mini Cooper without any consideration of needs. Irresponsible, at best.

What makes this especially strange is the pre-admission that a mobile version of the site is necessary. They know that serving a “desktop” version of a site to a “mobile” device isn’t cutting it anymore. They know that they have design skills and can use those skills to craft a better experience for a different amount of screen space. But how much screen space? I hope it isn’t “however big the boss’s phone is.”

As a multi-employee design agency I have to imagine you all have a bunch of different devices just as a course of life. Is your mobile design going to work on every single one of them? That would be pretty miraculous since they range from a few hundred pixels wide to well over a thousand. Which one will 7″ tablets get? Which one will 10″ tablets get? Are you going to develop a separate “tweener” version as well?

Responsive design can be a powerful tool in giving you a single code base that adapts to all those sizes and allows you to use your chops as a designer to get it just right. That’s pretty compelling to me.

But it’s just one way to go. A separate mobile site is another way. Native apps are another way. And that’s not all. Why not make that decision after you’ve gotten to know the project a bit better? As in:

  • What is the budget?
  • How many people can we dedicate?
  • Is multiple code bases even a possibility?
  • How much interaction is there?
  • How is going to be maintaining this in the future?
  • Is the CMS up to snuff?
  • Is the feature set of the web enough for their needs?

The answers to all those questions can guide you to if RWD is the right answer for a project.

That’s just my advice though. What is your advice for this seemingly-handcuffed designer?