Last week Heavy Chef hosted UX strategist, Rian van der Merwe, at our second Cape Town session of 2013. Rian, who is the usability director at Flow Interactive, focused his talk on Responsive Web Design and explained why the topic is relevant in an African context despite the scepticism which surrounds it.
Rian began his insightful presentation by summarising the changing context of the web in a simple sentence: “Computers aren’t PC’s anymore; they are the things in our pockets.” The growth in smartphones and tablets is not only changing the way in which we access the internet but also the way in which we use our mobiles.
Rian believes that the preconceived notion that mobile users are rushed and distracted, and therefore require only the information that is relevant, is no longer plausible. He stated, “People will do anything on their mobile if they have the need.”
With a 14% decrease of PC shipment worldwide, the largest decline yet, smartphones and tablets are the way of the future. In order to adapt to this changing context we need to adopt Responsive Web Design. Responsive Web Design is the practice of developing digital experiences that adapt to a users device. Simply put, the website will readjust to accommodate for different screen sizes and orientation, without compromising the content of the website. This practice is beneficial to businesses as it reduces the amount of redirects to websites and has positive repercussions such as increasing SEO, good value for money and better experience for the user.
Rian stresses that if Africa wants to remain ‘future friendly’ then we have no choice, but to change our practices. Many people are sceptic about the relevance of Responsive Web Design in Africa because of Africa’s low smartphone share and high data costs, but according to him this is slowly changing. By 2015 the growth of mobile phones is set to rise from 500 million in 2011, to 850 million, of which 127 million will be smartphones. Additionally Africa and the Middle East will see the strongest growth in data traffic worldwide and by 2016, 58% of mobile data usage in Africa will be off smartphones and tablets, which will result in a decrease of data costs.
“The reality is that for many people in Africa, mobile internet may be the only source of internet,” Rian explains, “ Yes, responsive web design costs more… than doing nothing,” but ask yourselves, “why do we never have time to do it right, but always have time to do it over?”
Africa does present challenges which will affect the relevance of Responsive Web Design, such as high data costs and limited access to smartphones. However, Rian’s belief is that we should consider this practice based on the changing context of mobile usage in Africa. He concludes by saying, “Just because we can’t do something today, it doesn’t mean we cannot strive to do it tomorrow.”