Newspaper redesign shows right way to design for mobile web

I’ve seen a lot of responsive web designs recently.
The sudden sway towards mobile web has made designers sit up and take note and those that believe the technique is the right way to design for mobile have made many examples to prove their point.
So it was with great interest when I started to see news that The Boston Globe has redesigned its website using this technique.
The Globe is being touted as the first ‘real world’ website to have been given this treatment and hailed as a ‘revolution’ in some quarters.
While that former claim must be taken with a pinch of salt – I know a few good examples of real world websites that have been designed responsively – the latter could very well be true.
The Globe certainly know how to get a story out. In the same week Rupert Murdoch launched his ‘revolutionary’ iPad app The Daily in the UK, the Massachussetts-based title certainly seemed to be getting the lion’s share of tweets, blogs and plaudits.

RAF Benevolent Fund
The new site for the RAF Benevolent Fund website uses responsive design to make it usable on mobil smartphones and tablets

Responsive design refers to the technique where the website ‘responds’ to the device on which it is being viewed.
So on a desktop it will look and function as a normal full-size website. However, when viewed on a tablet or smartphone, the design changes to support the format.
To see this is in action, you can see the Boston Globe itself, although it’s subscription-based after September 2011, and you’ll need to sign up to see it before then. If you don’t want to do that, you can see responsive web design in action at the newly-designed RAF Benevolent Fund or the widely credited example site Simon Collison.
If you’re on a desktop computer, you can resize your browser to see this effect as the width of the site narrows, or if you view it on a tablet or mobile phone, you can see the design is clearly optimised for the hardware you view it on.

Made for media

This method won’t be right for every website, as some will need to deliver quite different content to their mobile audience.
However, one sector where it WILL work well is the media, because their commodity is very much their content.
Newspapers have dabbled with mobile designs of their main sites and most nationals have apps that deliver a rich experience through mobiles AND tablets.
So-called responsive web design, however, trumps all that because it simplifies the publishing process by removing the need to route content to different platforms.
And for the reader, it simplifies the process of consuming news because it is platform-agnostic (it will work on every device regardless of hardware or software), meaning that a reader will know that they will get their news on whatever device they have handy, and wherever they are.
Publishers have had some difficulty coming to terms with the Internet and what it can offer. Spending large amounts of money in difficult times on something that rarely makes a profit is difficult. But they know they can’t ignore it.
So will all newspapers ‘respond’ to this technique?
That remains to be seen because they’ve never been early adopters. But it has many things in its favour – it makes news easier to publish and easier to consume. Its also cheaper to implement than all previous techniques.
Easy and cheap are words that appeal to newspaper bosses. Well, to be fair, they appeal to most budget managers, but perhaps the most important fact facing publishers now is that we are fast approaching a time when accessing the Internet on a mobile device will be the norm.
And where will that leave those who currently only have a desktop offering?
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Are you a publisher or do you work in the media? If you have any thoughts on the above article, please add them below. Maybe you disagree, or maybe you are helping to build a responsive website for a newspaper in Scotland or the UK? I’d love to know.
Also by Marc Hindley: The Boston Globe sets precedent for online content delivery