It’s still relatively early days in my experience of developing and rolling out responsively designed websites. One of the more recent ones, CEP Connect, was a phase 1 project which is currently entering its second phase. This is, of course, involving changes to the design of the site: the addition of new elements, and adjustments to others.
This has brought to light first hand, the impact that a responsively designed site might have on development time and cost when it comes to making changes down the track.
In the past when I had changes to make to a site it was a simple job of adding the element to the markup, and then styling it up. Throw in a bit of browser testing to double check, but it was a pretty quick and seamless process. Adding the same elements to a responsive design complicates this process quite markedly.
Old vs New
I personally favour a mobile-first approach — so my first step after getting the markup in place in is to set up the default styles for mobile users, and browsers that don’t support @media queries. From there I work my way through the various breakpoints making sure everything scales appropriately and looks correct on the way to the largest @media query. Then the final polishing is put into place for desktop and other larger-screen users. Then throw in some browser testing, and we are ready to go.
These extra steps are not a problem — they are actually quite important (and fulfilling) — but it is worth noting the extra development time this involves. In the same way that there is an extra time consideration for the initial design of a responsive site, there needs to be extra time allowed for it’s maintenance and additions.
Time for a practical example: I was tasked with adding a secondary navigational element for users who are logged into a site. A simple unordered list with 6 items does the trick and in the past some styles to get everything looking nice. At a guess somewhere under half an hour to get everything polished and nice.
By comparison, using the same markup but styling up the navigation to behave responsively like the rest of the site has come in a little over an hour in total. Not a huge difference on a small item like that, but in reality it is a 100% increase in development time, which could be felt quite strongly on larger adjustments.
My hope is that a client who understands the benefits of a responsively designed site will likewise understand the reason for, and the benefit of, the added time (and therefore cost). But anytime that money is involved, you can never be too sure.
What experiences have you had maintaining and updating a responsively designed site?
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