A response to responsiveness

One aspect of museum websites that I find really interesting is that many of them are responsive. I know I’m a little late to the game as most of the articles about responsive museum websites that I have read were published in 2012, but thanks to my Museums and Digital Technology class, I’m just discovering this cool web design now. Better late than never!

Basically, a responsive website is one that recognizes what type of device the user is on and adjusts the website accordingly. This type of web design took off after the increase in the use of mobile devices. I didn’t know anything about responsive websites until playing around on some museum websites, so I decided to do a little research on the history of this design and how it works.

The idea behind the design seems to be that creating a different version of the website for every type of device isn’t realistically possible in most cases, so responsive websites adapt to the various screen sizes and orientations. Kayla Knight’s article on Smashing Magazine’s website describes responsive websites’ flexible design that automatically adjusts images to be the correct resolution and size for the device. Without flexible design, certain aspects of mobile sites can be impacted by the switch from landscape to portrait.

After reading this, I wondered if responsive websites were easier to create and maintain than developing an app. So why would a museum choose to create a responsive website rather than an app? Well, apps require working with a provider such as Apple whereas a responsive site does not. Apps also continue to evolve and update, which would leave a museum app outdated unless the museum had the resources to continually update its app. Some potential problems I might see for any museum that hasn’t made their website responsive would be having the proper staff to complete the task. It would make sense to me to have a team of individuals working on the website who can code. I could also see the lack of funds for a museum that doesn’t have staff members capable of the task being a potential issue.

I came across this wonderful blog post written by Andrew Lewis from the Victoria & Albert Museum. The V&A’s website was responsive by 2012, as a reaction to the massive jump in mobile users that the museum’s site was seeing. After experiencing difficulty with functions on their mobile site on iPads, the museum decided to try a responsive site, allowing visitors to have access to all of the site no matter the device they use. Lewis acknowledges that the size of a person’s fingers and the size of the text can make navigating mobile websites difficult on smart phones. I really enjoyed reading this part because I have very limited knowledge on how exactly web design works, but everyone can relate to having trouble using a mobile website because the links on the site are too small (or at least I can).

I’m not sure why I found this aspect of websites so intriguing after playing around with so many cool features on museum sites (like #MetKids which is the most adorable discovery I made). Perhaps it’s because I just accepted websites that acted responsively as a norm before learning the term “responsive website.” Once I had a name for this type of website, I started to think about all of the conscious decisions that went into making a website responsive and just had to do some research on it. Obviously, I am by no means a web design expert, so if you’re reading this and are knowledgeable about the subject, please comment below and help me learn even more!


2 thoughts on “A response to responsiveness

  1. Hannah – I am also a newcomer to all this website optimization stuff. I just started my job at a social media start up in April, and until then, I had no idea how much work went into creating websites that felt easy and smooth to use across devices.

    WordPress has a seemingly infinite number of tools for optimizing websites, making them better SEO performers, and expanding their capabilities. In addition to all the great research you have done on this topic, I highly recommend tinkering with your own WordPress blog a bit. You will be amazed at all the interesting customization features you can use to make your website a contender.

    Lastly, the way you described responsive websites in your post makes it extremely easy to understand, and I think your readers will definitely appreciate it, no matter what their level of web development knowledge.

    Thanks for the great read.


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