How are you reading this article right now? More specifically, what size of screen are you viewing this information on? Are you on a 4-inch phone, an 8-inch tablet, a 15-inch laptop, or a 27-inch desktop? Are you having to swipe, pinch, and zoom to see content? Or is everything laid out for you to see on one screen?
All of these questions lead to one main point: you (and your site visitors) could be using any one of several different devices and screen sizes to get your information. As mobile and tablet devices become smarter and more universal, it is more likely that a site will be accessed on one of these platforms. And this leads to an even bigger question: Will your site provide a great user experience, no matter what platform and screen size your customers are using?
There may be no other field in which this is more important than in the medical industry. Think about a medical emergency: someone needs to know how to find the nearest hospital or clinic. Or a parent needs immediate information on what to do when their child has swallowed a poisonous substance. When speed and simplicity are of the essence and a few seconds can make the difference between life and death, the design for your medical site needs to give your users the information they need right away, no matter what they are using to access it.
This is where Responsive Web Design (RWD) design comes into play. With the increased use of mobile devices and tablets to access web information, a designer must deal with ever-shifting available screen area to convey important content to users. According to PEW Research, as of May 2013, 63% of adult cell owners sometimes use their phones to go online while 34% go online mostly using their phones. You must be able to get the same core content experience to your user on an iPhone as you do to your user on a giant monitor. And responsive design is the key to this.
Responsive Design was a term first coined in 2010 by web designer and speaker Ethan Marcotte. This approach aims at creating sites that provide an optimal user experience (meaning minimal scrolling, pinching, and zooming) across any and all devices. The responsive site utilizes proportion-based grids, images that are flexible, and CSS media queries to enable the content to be fluid, allowing it to adapt to the particular device being used. The content will shift and resize to fit as the viewing area is enlarged or reduced.
Along with RWD, there is the concept of mobile-first design. In the typical site design process, designers start with a desktop site design, and then try to scale down the site by pulling away images and functionality to allow the site to work on mobile platforms.
However, with mobile-first, the whole mobile design process is reversed. The mobile strategy begins the design process. This method starts with a site that is optimized for basic mobile phones that aren’t media query- or Java Script-enabled. It is then enhanced for ‘smarter’ mobile devices, tablets, and laptop/desktop computers. With mobile-first design, you ensure that your site will offer your mobile users the optimal experience they need, whether it is an emergency or not.
A great example of how Gravitate has utilized RWD on a medical site is Elite Care. In a high-stress situation, it is important that a medical site be easy to read and navigate. With this site, we knew that many Elite Care patients utilize a mobile device to find a local emergency center. It was imperative that the site accommodate these devices without sacrificing functionality and design.
A Takeaway for the Medical Industry
Just as a medical facility is designed to accommodate and treat various types of people and ailments, a site should be designed to function and respond to various types of devices and screens. Provide the best experience for your users—mobile or desktop, emergency or not—and you will become their go-to for their medical assistance needs.