This cold is freezing me

When considering a responsive design for a website that doesn’t currently support mobile devices, begin by looking at the big picture. Do the traffic figures show that the client is attracting mobile users? If the mobile traffic figures are similar to those of this client of mine, then maybe they don’t actually need a mobile Web experience at this time — especially if the website has no other issues.

If a website is currently working well for the organization — meaning that it is converting visitors, features an attractive design, and has a high-quality user experience (for desktop visitors at least), while drawing an incredibly low percentage of mobile users — then redesigning or rebuilding that website only to make it responsive wouldn’t make financial sense.

You could argue that even a small percentage of visitors getting a poor experience is unacceptable and could be resolved by developing a responsive design. The designer in me can appreciate that argument, but I also understand the business side of the situation. Undertaking a responsive redesign to accommodate just 2% of the audience will be a very tough sell, no matter what company you are speaking with. This is why you need to look beyond just the traffic figures and think about more than just the design-related benefits of responsiveness.

While support for mobile devices was not a compelling enough reason for our client to redesign their website, other concerns brought them to us in the first place. Two of these concerns were the visual design of their website, which was outdated and did not reflect their current marketing, and the lack of a content management system (CMS) or any tools to enable them to update the website on their own. So, I focused my proposal on solving these problems.

A redesign would bring the look and feel of the website in line with the rest of the client’s marketing, while also improving the overall aesthetics and usability of the website itself. We would bring the website up to current standards and integrate it into a CMS (in this case, ExpressionEngine) — which would solve the second problem of being able to update the website.

As I discussed with the client this proposal and the process we would follow, I mentioned that we would make the website responsive as we rebuilt it. As expected, the client questioned whether this was necessary or added cost to the project — which, of course, it would have. The key here is that I was now able to steer the conversation towards the benefits of responsive design above and beyond the support for mobile devices.

When we talk about responsive design, we often focus on phones. This makes sense because smartphones are most unlike the type of devices that we’ve designed for in the past — that is, desktop screens. Creating one website to be marketed and managed and to deliver a high-quality experience to all devices, from desktops to smartphones, is an excellent way to demonstrate the flexibility and power of responsive design. But for this client, phone users were seemingly not a factor. Luckily, responsive design is about so much more than phones.

Don’t be apologetic about the small feature set. Market and sell the product as it is now, making sure that you are accurate in presenting the scope of the product and what problems it will solve. Assuming that people do buy and start to use it, you’ll soon start to get suggestions and requests for features, and you will probably be surprised by some of them. Some of the things you have already identified will likely come up as requests; but in my experience, customers will have needs that you didn’t even know exist, and they will be very happy to tell you about them.
We heard no outcry from customers who felt shortchanged by our tiny product, because we were selling something that does what it says on the tin; our marketing and sales were aligned with the product itself. We found, however, that those initial customers were delighted as we started to add new features based on their feedback, and many people who use the product today and have developed a large number of websites using it were among that first group of customers.