Do I Need a Responsive Design?

For anyone who owns or runs a website, there is one fact that is certain- visitors no longer only visit from a PC.  Mobile devices like phones and tablets are quickly becoming the most important medium on the internet, and for web designers this is vital.  The majority of designers start their planning and designing by sitting at a desk in front of a nice big monitor to display their current web project.

But the reality for their visitors is something different, but it’s vital.  You see a website looks very different on a 30″ high resolution monitor than it does on a 4″ phone, or a 12″ tablet.  Which is of course vital, if you visit a site on your iPhone and it scrolls down on to 10 pages, or the sides overlap and are difficult to read – you will probably go to another site.

So what’s the solution? Well the primary importance is to make your website design look great on every devices, or at least make it look reasonable.  This is called responsive design and basically it just means that the web site will alter to suit the medium it is being viewed on.

That means that your display will narrow on a smart phone, the columns will adjust and the display switch depending on orientation of the device.   It may not be perfect viewing for a web site but the reality is that people are using these devices to visit sites in their millions.  It’s important, I once visited a site which streamed popular video and TV channels, all a bit dodgy but big business. The problem was that all these videos were set at specific resolution and set areas, which worked great on a pc monitor.  But try and access and watch ITV in Spain using this site on any other device and it was a nightmare, you had to scroll to the side to see most of the screen.

So dear readers, make sure your web site is responsive, if not thousands of your visitors will see a completely different website than you designed.

Networking Graphics Which Stand Out

When we use images, obviously we’re trying to add something. After all, why use an image that’s irrelevant, badly constructed or simply pointless. For some people however it doesn’t matter so much about the composition simply that everything needs pictures especially online. There is some truth in this fact, images simply make text easier to read simply because it breaks up the page. If you’ve ever seen a forum or blog post where the author has basically ignored common punctuation and paragraphs – then you’ll appreciate just how difficult it is to make sense of a mass block of text.

Of course, it’s better for an image to add something to the text. If I’m writing a report or study on monkeys in Africa – casually just dropping in a picture of a penguin is going to look a bit stupid. Although you could argue it’s thought provoking and makes the reader take notice of the image. The graphic in this instance would merely add to the structure of the page and possibly make it more visually appealing.

Technology documents and pages can be extremely dull and graphics although probably not strictly necessary usually make it easier to follow. For example if I’m writing a blog post about how a UK VPN would work then adding a couple of relevant images can make the page much more interesting.

The image itself is not that important but the effect it has on the page is crucial.    Here’s a picture of a VPN server, for the reader trying to understand the concept it might make the difference.

Sometimes it’s difficult to find the right image to use in a page, but then use your imagination and just try and substitute something similar.  Obviously there’s only so many hardware pictures you can use in a technology post, but there are lots of related images that can make a page look more visually appealing.

Anything to do with networks or technology then you can break out the standard networking diagrams that you’ll find in many power point presentations.  The actual image doesn’t mean much but the page will look much brighter and easier to read.

Of course in some senses then you should be much more careful about the use of graphics and only use them in the right context.  A white paper or a serious research paper needs discipline and often every word is crucial, this is not the place for random lightning bolts implying the awesome speed of a computer network.   Explanations and blog posts though would look much sadder without them.  I often write posts about technology and facts, I have written many on how to bypass geo-blocks set up by media sites.  But I have found that a post which purports to explain how to watch BBC iPlayer abroad – like this one,  works much better with an image or video embedded in the text.

How do I know?  Well the beauty of web pages is that you can actually analyse what your readers are doing – metrics like how long they stayed, where they clicked off and if they pressed the back button are all readily available.  Through these you can see what works and what doesn’t and for technology posts you need images.

A Quick Tip on Netflix

I have a post here about two things I really love – travel and movies, not really web development related but thought I’d put a post up in case it’s useful to anyone.  Last  month I went to my sister’s house, who has recently moved to Quebec for a few months – it’s a place I can thoroughly recommend although it is slightly colder than LA!

Anyway we were talking about things that we miss about home – over a few beers one evening.  The list was surprisingly small for my sister and I can hardly blame her.  But one thing she commented on was the way she missed catching all the latest films and shows, there always seemed to be a little delay on stuff getting to Canada.    You might not think it’s a big deal but when all your friends are online talking about the latest episode of Game of Thrones or NCIS and you’re half a series behind it can get a little frustrating.

So we came up with a couple of things to help her, the first involved purchasing the leads to connect her laptop to the TV.   This was essential in our plan like me, watching lots of stuff on a monitor instead of a TV never made that much sense.  It especially stopped the social element of watching a film with a few friends.

The next thing I did was to start up my subscription to Netflix, I know it’s not quite up to date but it’s great for watching series you’ve missed.   The beauty is that you can watch a whole series in a few nights if you get hooked.  One thing I discovered that inexplicably my sister had never seen a single episode of Lost!!

That’s where it all went wrong, which you will find if you try to watch US Netflix in Canada, it’s just different.  When I say different I actually mean worse, when you log on to Netflix in Canada you actually get a version that has a load less content than the American version.  For starters I couldn’t even find all 70 odd episodes of Lost anywhere on the site.

What happens like many web and media streaming sites, is that it tailors your content depending on your location.  So although Netflix is a global application, as you move around you’ll find the content varies greatly.  I’m afraid the Canadian version was just nowhere near as good value as the one I watched at home.

So here’s the solution I promised = in this Youtube video – How I get American Netflix.