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RWD boosts revenue but can 'lack soul'

Figures show conversions up, but design needs pushing further

Digital product designer and strategist Luke Wroblewski has compiled some astonishing figures surrounding responsive web design (RWD).

In Data Monday: Impact of Responsive Designs, he explained that, with an increasing number of people using diverse devices to get online, companies are more often exploring multi-device solutions with some sharing their data and showing the positive results of their work.

In the case of Time Inc., pages per visit were significantly up, and the bounce rate was down. O’Neill Clothing reported especially big increases in revenue growth on mobile — 101.2 per cent on iPhone/iPod touch and a colossal 591.4 per cent on Android. Interestingly, the site also reported improvements in users visiting from non-mobile devices. Impressive figures were provided by Skinny Ties and Regent College, with Wroblewski appealing to more companies to share RWD success stories.

On the flip side, designer/developer Noah Stokes asked of RWD on his blog: Where has all the soul gone? “I feel like responsive design has sucked the soul out of website design. Everything is boxes and grids. Where has the creativity gone?” he asked on Twitter, before exploring his reasoning.

Stokes appeared to conclude that things were really just getting started with RWD and that designers are often finding their work tied somewhat to technical challenges.

This chimes with what we’ve heard directly from designers recently. Sarah Parmenter told .net, “It’s easier to design responsive sites when it’s mostly text content — you can just go BAM! But adding responsive web design with lots of images and dealing with Retina displays as well … it can be a nightmare”.

Similarly, Laura Kalbag noted, “textures and grunge styles are falling out of favour rapidly, because they’re hard to replicate across browsers,” whereas, “clean illustrations can be turned into SVG and will render crisply on any display”. She added that flatter aesthetics are also beneficial from a performance standpoint and are, therefore, frequently beneficial for a site.

Stokes, though, worried whether designers were “settling”, allowing, "what we know about the technical aspects of RWD limit our creativity on the visual side of RWD”.

A subsequent conversation on Branch further explored this line of thinking, countering arguments about performance and usability with a need to retain emotional clout, character and personality. Wroblewski showed from a conversion standpoint that RWD is already a winner, but from a graphic design perspective it seems that the industry’s only just getting started.

What do you think about RWD? Does it lack soul, or is it just moving web design in a fresh direction? Let us know in the comments.

Image: Electric Pulp.

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