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Editors Find Success with Responsive Web Design

Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2016 at 11:05 AM

Top editors discuss how RWD adoption has affected their publications.

By William Dunkerley

"Our website employs responsive design and it has been very successful," said Monica Bradford, executive editor of Science.

She was responding to a mini-survey Editors Only conducted for insights into how editors are doing with responsive Web design (RWD). It is a relatively recent approach to fitting content into a variety of screen sizes and formats. This is a very important matter as readers turn more and more to mobile devices for reading publications.

One of our questions asked how the transition to RWD has gone from an editorial standpoint. Dave Zoia, editorial director for WardsAuto, quickly said, "It hasn't changed how we operate on the editorial side." He adds, "It has simply made our content look better and easer to use and access for our readers."

Gary Ward, online managing editor for The State, reports going to RWD has had "a minimal impact on editors."

A number of respondents commented on the imperativeness for RWD. "I think it is essential to have it today," says Zoia. "We have a reasonably high and growing penetration of readers accessing our content through mobile devices. It's critical that content displays optimally whether viewing on a desktop, smartphone, or tablet."

For Kate Robertson, director of editorial strategy for NowToronto.com, editors are not involved with the RWD production mechanics. That's handled by their IT team, art department, and the Web manager. But Robertson says she feels very strongly that content be presented "in the best possible way on all devices." She adds, "Stories just look much better with the new design, and look great on whatever device -- tablet, phone, desktop, etc."

Keith Ward, editor-in-chief at Virtualization Review, has a similar perspective. "We went to responsive about two years ago," he says. "In terms of editorial work there's no difference. It's a design thing. But anything that brings more readers to your site is a very, very good thing."

Ward offers further thoughts about RWD: "It's been good for my website. It took us a while to move to responsive design. But it was well worth the huge amounts of time and effort that the Web team put into it.

"Especially since my magazine is in the techie realm, it was necessary to keep up with the times. Ultimately, it's about the reader experience. You don't want to do anything to drive them away, since getting them there in the first place is difficult enough."

That's right in line with what Ryan O'Meara tells us. The editor-in-chief of K9 Magazine says, "With mobile engagement now higher than desktop readership across our websites, failing to adopt RWD now would be the equivalent of publishing a magazine that more than 50 percent of the readers couldn't access."

O'Meara adds, "RWD is essential. The key to making the transition is to accept that RWD is now a standard. It shouldn't be viewed as a highly complicated or even innovative process."

Offering a tip to other editors, he points out that "responsive websites rank better in the search engines." What's more, "a lack of mobile-friendly design in 2016 gives an impression that the publisher is considerably behind the curve in technology -- and in putting readers first."

What's the change process like for editors? Yvonne Hill, editor of Ensign magazine, says she "transitioned to a WordPress responsive framework several years ago." The toughest aspect? "Finding a stable, responsive framework that fit our needs or could be easily customized took the most time. Implementation was fairly straightforward." She emphasizes, "Mobile Web usage continues to increase, making responsive design essential for any publication website."

For some, the transition is not yet complete. John Drescher, executive editor of The News & Observer, says, "Most of our digital products use responsive design. We have one product that doesn't use it yet, but it soon will be converted. It's vital that all our digital products be effective on smartphones."

At LeadingAge magazine, an early RWD adopter, editorial director Gene Mitchell, reports, "We are using RWD, though it's an antiquated version of it. Our newly overhauled website will update that."

Also in transition is Visit Detroit. Editor and publisher Laura Coniglio tells us, "We are in the process of merging two websites into one. A key objective is to incorporate RWD." Joanne Erickson, editor-in-chief of Provider, says they're "looking at it for the future."

A number of other respondents disclosed that they are not using RWD. A few are unfamiliar with the technology or don't have a budget to fund the transition.

Monica Bradford asked her technical expert to share his thoughts with us. We end this report with what Christopher Coleman told us:

"It's important to think of content in terms of semantics and structure first, and visual presentation second. If the structure is consistent, a well-designed site will take care of the presentation. In the early days of the Web, designers and producers were concerned only with presentation, because the tools to do more just didn't exist. Today, modern HTML and CSS give us the tools to create accessible content that works well on all devices. Properly structured content will work well on future designs and with technologies that we haven’t even thought of yet.

"In 2016, responsive design is the only kind of Web design. Today's mobile-first approach to front-end development means that responsive is the default, and preventing a design from working well on all devices would actually require extra effort. Since launching Science's redesign in January of this year, we've seen a real year-over-year increase in traffic and unique visitors. A disproportionate percentage of this increase comes from mobile users taking advantage of our new responsive design."

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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