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Responsive Design: One and Done

January 16, 2016

I recently had to focus on year-end data and usage statistics for the noble, if tedious, annual reporting process, and among the myriad comparators and web portal visitor behavior I found something interesting. Okay, perhaps an oversell, but still, learning that 2015-2016 was the first year in which our mobile device access more than doubled our desktop access AND that there was a near even split between the six mobile platforms users by visitors was an eye opener for me. Six platforms which each bring changes, both severe and nuanced, with how our digital interface is presented to users.

Once upon a time, one only need concern themselves with the small rendering differences between AOL, AltaVista, or Netscape. Now, the number of available paths to your library’s digital front door seems to grow every day. Ensuring that the graphics stay where you put them…that the results lists render without wrapping…that your users discover and view the digital objects in the manner and orientation in which they were intended…has become a job for a small IT army, or at least an over caffeinated librarian. Sisyphus knows what I’m talkin’ about.

The answer to this new millennial conundrum is a movement called responsive design. The notion, ridiculously oversimplified, is that the overall UI of any digital site—especially the resource-heavy digital footprint of libraries and cultural heritage institution sites—should be one which minimizes the need for screen manipulation or image display for users, regardless of the device through which they access your site. I am not so naïve as to expect that all of us present digital information in ways similar enough as to suggest universal application of any one given responsive design strategy, though current trends in universal design from the big data suppliers may cumulatively affect the outcome of the responsive design best practices in days to come, but there are a number of strategies and tools available to help you begin normalizing your digital library user’s experience in large and small ways. To that end, check out the following resources to guide your understanding and first steps:

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