The term “responsive web design” started gaining traction back in 2010, when “A Dao of Web Design” by John Allsopp caught the community’s eye, but today the term is often over applied or mishandled entirely. When a new buzzword becomes the go-to phrase for the entire web marketing community, it’s tempting to start throwing it around wherever you can, but it’s important to make sure you mean what you say. Don’t promise clients something you don’t yet understand.

So what can you call responsive web design?

Responsive web design isn’t defined by the tool used to build a site or the messaging. Instead it means that all content on a site should be easily accessible to all users, no matter what device they are using to access it. This means that whether the site is viewed on a phone, iPad, laptop, PC or Mac, it still delivers the same content with the same functionality. As this blog has discussed earlier, this is much different than designing a “mobonsive” site or creating an app. It’s a rearrangement of the fundamental materials in a site’s design.

What it means is that the notion of having a mobile site and a standard site is dying. Not only will customizing a page to each platform waste time, it’ll aggravate the user. Responsive web design isn’t just about modernization, it’s about adaptability.

The key metric to emphasize when applying responsive web design is usability. The only reason your website exists is to serve as a user portal for interaction with the company. Every website boils down to a tool. If the tool is confusing or difficult to apply, the user will drop it and look for another. In other words, trendy is far less important than practical.

Consider the fact that for a while, every site needed to have a flash intro. Now we find them more irritating than anything else. Whereas a site like Craigslist, which was designed with only functionality in mind, is thriving. The point is that people care much less about something looks like than how it works. As the saying goes, “don’t make me think!” Responsive web design keeps the customer from having to relearn how to use a page every time they switch devices. It simplifies interaction and bolsters your brand.

The point is that just creating a page for mobile access is not in itself responsive web design. Designing plugins, apps, or just modernizing the look of a page does not prepare it for every access platform. To truly be responsive, the site must become a fully flexible tool capable of adapting to any platform, meeting customer needs, and maintaining functionality.