Many call 2013 as the year of “Responsive Web Design”, while some say the reference should be made to the current decade as opposed to the current year. Very interesting facts and mind boggling numbers are in circulation by various studies on the usage patterns of devices amongst end users and how they consume web content. While there is a clear surge in the usage of applications built for smart devices, there is still a steady demand for websites run on mobile devices too. Gone are the days when compatibility driven development or testing was limited to a few operating systems and browsers with a clear phase set aside for verifying that the website was rendered per specifications on a supported matrix. The focus is now rightly set on building web applications that are consistent in their delivery and end user experience across the devices they are accessed on. While tests can be run across a prioritized set of devices, it is almost becoming impossible to verify compatibility across all supported devices due to the following reasons:
- It is very difficult to identify the complete set of devices on which the end user would be accessing the web application
- Justifying the ROI in housing all the devices internally is not possible
- Time and cost constraints are very strong deterring a comprehensive compatibility verification cycle and the ROI in terms of coverage obtained vs. defects found through such expansive test coverage will not make business sense
The test team is adopting newer testing techniques including ones such as profiling web applications as part of their performance test efforts in enhancing end user experience. They are taking back the results from such tests to work them in as actionable inputs to help the developers build a strong code base that provides a consistent end user experience from usability, functionality and performance standpoints. While the test team is grappling with the above challenges and working its way in with newer approaches to compatibility testing, one blessing indeed that is easing the process is the “embracing of a responsive web design” – a design that accommodates flexible images and fluid grids to render a consistent view of the application on all devices (be it smart phones, tablets, desktops or laptops) and align with the device’s form factor and screen size dynamically – if we look at it simplistically. There is more to responsive web design in terms of internal customizations that are needed than what we see at face value in terms of images and grids. This is a web design strategy that does not call for any end user screen tweaks to enable them view the content in a seamless flow. While this sounds great in concept, and web developers have been exposed to ensuring compatibility for several years now, responsive web design implementation does call for a comprehensive and refreshed understanding of the current web design standards brushing off some old concepts of the 1990s. The distinction between the server side code and the client side code and that most of the rendering decisions are made via in-browser coding on the client side needs to be acknowledged.
One needs to ask the right set of questions on the ROI of using responsive web design (RWD) for the product under development. While the larger assumption is that sooner or later a larger portion of the web presence will need to adapt to RWD, the question to answer is whether now is the right time. If RWD is indeed going to be beneficial for your organization/group/application, identify the set of development best practices to make your effort successful. Customize this list to meet your application’s needs and ensure your test team is also aware of them so they can plan their test effort accordingly. A lot of best practices sets are available online for you to start working with, but this one is particularly straight forward to follow and comprehensive in nature.
Open source development frameworks such as Bootstrap are also empowering developers adopt responsive web design better. Also, developers are able to customize such frameworks to align with their needs given that they are open source in nature. A recent update from Bootstrap on their version 3 release to better support RWD is a welcome news for the developer community.
While RWD is definitely one of the current trends in web application development, it is still to be seen whether it will be a trend into the future or not. A post by Josh Chan talks of interesting examples from players like JP Morgan, Google where mobile specific features are being leveraged and mobile specific technology is being built. At the end of the day, it is a very organization specific decision on whether RWD makes sense or not, but it is definitely a trend that cannot be ignored.