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The ForeSee blog for CX professionals and the Voice of Customer community.

Responsive Design: The Last Mile is Measurement

There is a lot of talk about responsive design. And for good reason. A lot of companies are planning to do it and, like you, they want to know if it is going to be the answer to all of their content management and design needs by reducing costs and enabling great multi-platform end-user experiences.

Let’s start with the basics. What is it? Responsive design is a design concept that enables digital content to be easily transformed to the different size screens of desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices. This technique allows you to create experiences that are optimized for the device visitors are using to view your site and the size of the window they have open. This is more than just hiding content for smaller experiences because entirely new layout rules and design constructs are applied at critical screen size and resolution breakpoints. These breakpoints are the predetermined size at which new layout rules are applied. For instance, sites may be laid out very differently for devices with a screen width of 320 pixels, as opposed to a width of 1200 pixels. Responsive sites use CSS3 media queries to determine the screen size, and then call different rules to change the layout to optimize for each screen size.

In a responsively designed world, you certainly get efficiencies from rendering the same content differently in different devices but please know – and I know this from our deep ForeSee client experience – that it is NOT about the device, it is about the consumer.

The consumer rules. Their experiences are different not because of the content rendering on the device (well, maybe a little bit) but mostly because their expectations are supremely different. The expectation of the consumer/visitor (their intent, desire, task success) coupled with the unique device experience characteristics (the content delivery on a touchscreen or mouse input) coupled with their geographic location (at home, office, on the go) together have a MASSIVE impact on how satisfied someone is with the experience. Their mindset is different, their timing is different, their location is different, they are sometimes at home or work, etc. The experience is different and that shows up in their satisfaction, their actual future behaviors – and ultimately in the success of a responsively designed world. Only via measuring and segmenting across all these discrete user experiences and devices will you see the vast differences in satisfaction and expectations and future behaviors of your visitors.

Together, we at ForeSee are continuously developing new ways to address this measurement quandary directly with our triggering concepts of detection, direction and deployment – delivering the right survey to the right person at the right time:

  • Detect what type of device the respondent is coming from (phone vs. tablet vs. desktop)
  • Direct the respondent to the appropriate survey style for them (onExit desktop vs. inSession mobile vs. onExit mobile)
  • Deploy the correct survey instrument (the correct survey content, the correct finger-friendly or desktop style)

You see…by measuring only the quantity of things – unique mobile site visitors, app downloads, conversion rates in mobile – you get a misguided sense of success or failure. Only with quality metrics like satisfaction does a realistic view of mobile’s contribution to the overall business become possible. How much does a responsively designed mobile site lead to multi-channel purchase intent and intent quantification (at mobile to research, to buy, or prep for a store or web purchase)? You can only know what you don’t know if you ask at the point of interaction. I cannot tell you how many retailers I have spoken with who told me that they are not sure how much mobile is influencing their store or web sales. Well, it is. Together, I can quantify for you that a) it is and b) how much impact, in dollars, it is having on sales in other channels. For our clients that work with us, they are reading this and smiling because they know.

Our goal at ForeSee is to continuously measure satisfaction by delivering an elegant invitation and survey instrument experience wherever and whenever your customers are engaging with you. Responsive design doesn’t change that – it just adds a few dimensions to our already-robust logic in where and when to present the invitation and survey. Our analysts and analytics then power a positive impact to your business. The ForeSee measurement approach is always evolving based on the increasing permutations of device types accessing digital content and by this burgeoning world of responsive design (and let’s not forget about traditional websites being served on tablets, and of people purposefully going to full sites from handsets).

For the record, I am not a huge responsive design fan. I love the idea of it. How could you not? It’s a romanticized version of great content management.

My first job was to manage the web content delivery and analytics for a financial services company on Wall Street. Responsive design takes simple tenets of great experience design and repackages them for this multi-device world. Separate the content from the presentation layer. Check. Define the attributes of an end-user experience based on specific goals and serve appropriately. Check. Compress and decompress image size and content length depending on the final rendering parameters. Check. Consider all possible end-user experiences and solve them before the final build. Check. What else am I missing? I love its promise of cost-effectiveness and its scalability and its ability to pique people’s interest in thinking about great customer experience design. I love all of those things. Love, love, love those things. But that only gets you 80% of the way there. And that’s the rub. You still need to solve for the last mile in design.

The uniqueness of iOS and the fragmented Android world drive increased cost because you’ll need a good developer in each to solve that last bit of beauty in the end-user experience. That costs money. The uniqueness of use cases in solving the user experience in tablet since their ‘lean-back’ experience necessitates a softer sell navigation. That costs money. Swipes vs. clicks. Tiles vs. links. Those cost money. The Kindle vs. the iPad and the varying nature of those audiences and interfaces. That costs money. What you make up in cost-savings on implementing responsive design, you quickly give back in optimizing the user experiences for the last mile of design.

I am a fan of great design. Design it responsively, design it uniquely, design it on a mountaintop or in a coffee shop, design by committee for all I care – just design it well. That’s what our ForeSee results say time and time again – customers reward companies who serve them best in the channel they prefer. Serve them well and reap the rewards.

I am a fan of the customer, not of responsive design. And the customer is a fan of great customer experience – build it well and they will come.

Here are some resources for you, friends and new friends, and I welcome your comments below:

  • The White House: The federal government will lead the way in quality implementation of responsive design, more so than retail or media or financial services. Yes, I am serious. From the 2012 Digital Government initiative that focuses on Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People, “Using modern tools and technologies such as responsive web design and search engine optimization is critical if the government is to adapt to an ever-changing digital landscape and deliver services to any device, anytime, anywhere.” Scroll down to Part C and #6 to learn about Responsive Design. One of the great docs on responsive design out there.
  • Luke Wroblewski: It took me some time to warm up to Luke’s unique blogging and speaking style. But I am a convert now. His best post to date floored me. It elucidates what great mobile design is. Basically he says, do not design for the mobile screen size in front of you. Instead, design for Off Canvas Multi-Device Layouts that uses “the space outside a browser’s viewport to hide secondary elements until people need them.” A beautiful, beautiful post. Also, Luke, I am your father.
  • Alexander Interactive: Oh tablet, tablet, tablet. We vastly underdesign for tablets. More posts on this in the future but responsive design can most easily start here. My take on tablets is that the UX doesn’t need to be supremely different but the mindset of the visitor is so impressively different it needs extreme redefinition. A very cool free report from the creative thinkers at Ai, authored by Mayor Jack Reynolds, Tablet Commerce Evaluation of Top Online Retailers, outlines some guidelines and best practices for tablet commerce design.
  • SpeckyBoy: This Scot gets it. Here are 40 solid examples of responsive design. You’ll notice a lot of smaller companies doing things here. ESPN’s Grantland is a top-tier destination that you can check out, too.
  • Resource Interactive. “Scaling for devices, optimizing for consumers” is the tagline of this short but punchy whitepaper. Here is a video with great clarity about what responsive design is. Watch the first 30 seconds for the definition; after that, it gets a little salesy. Thanks, Tim, for these ‘resources’ and for being you.

If you’re already immersed in responsive design or just testing the waters, the best thing to do is measure the consumer experience continuously across each of the unique user experiences that you render. Segment them from one another and see what’s the same and what’s different. You will be shocked and amazed by the variances. There will be much difference in intent, in success, in expectations, in future behaviors – and in satisfaction.

Thoughts? Please comment.

About the Author

Eric drives ForeSee’s marketing strategy, working closely with the company’s product, client service, and sales teams to infuse innovation and operational excellence into its offerings. Since joining ForeSee in 2004, he has contributed to the organization’s strategic growth, particularly providing leadership around mobile solutions. He is the author of several of the company’s thought leadership studies, including the 11th annual ForeSee Experience Index (FXI) and the American Employee Study. Eric is a frequent speaker on customer experience analytics, and marketing best practices. He is a board member of the Digital Analytics Association (DAA) and an adjunct professor of mobile marketing at the University of California, Irvine Extension. Previously, he worked as a web analyst, multichannel strategy consultant, usability specialist and focus group moderator. Eric is a graduate of the University of Michigan.

Read more posts by Eric Feinberg


  1. Alexei White

    Another school of thought is that responsive design actually limits the user, because it sometimes involves a pearing-down or obscuring of content and functionality for small-screen devices. It can be tricky to get that balance just right so that the user doesn’t end up saying “D’oh! I thought I would be able to do X on their site, but I’ll have to access it from a desktop when I get home” etc. If your small-screen experience is at all ‘custom’ you need to start asking questions like: How do we decide which features to bring over? Should the checkout be on the mobile site? How about all our product pages? Or is it just about store-finder? Truly responsive design doesn’t necessarily force you to make these choices, but there is always an element of this when you are trying to cram the same features into a smaller space.

    There are some of technologies out there that try to simplify this process by letting you use responsive design without making any sacrifices in site functionality. The video you linked to, RxD sounds like framework that would be paired with consulting to produce a custom responsive version of the site. A favorite of mine is Mobify, who I encountered here in Vancouver recently, and who are open sourcing the front-end portion of their solution. They seem to come from the school of thought of, ok lets use RD, but let’s not make any sacrifices here – let’s spend a little bit of time creating an interface layer that will automatically convert our desktop experience to a more responsive one, without having to constantly update up when we make changes to the site, and without sacrificing site features like checkout, search, etc.

    Saying really anything at all about RD is a bit of a minefield because a lot of technologists in the field have strong opinions about how it should be approached, and there are a number of ways to achieve RD. The level of investment you should make, and the approach you take will necessarily vary depending on how critical that mobile experience is to your business. If that isn’t a general-enough statement, here’s another: as mobile devices become more powerful, I think the need for highly responsive web design is diminished. A lot of desktop-targeted sites display quite well on a tablet. As you get into smaller screen sizes, the situation changes, but think this will asymptotically approach a one-web design approach some time in the future.

  2. ashleyfurness

    Thanks so much for this Eric. We are in desperate need to get this started for Software Advice’s content, so this is a great starting point. I appreciate the detail. Muchos Kudos!

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