I’ve recently written a number of posts on mobile’s increasingly significant role in the way the world operates—in commerce, advertising, and the list goes on. And with the advent of mobile has come an ushering in of new behaviors and trends. One such trend is a movement in web design, which is now focused on becoming “responsive.”

Responsive web design has been around for the last few years—perhaps you are already using it for your website. For others, you may be wondering—what does this term mean? Why do I care? Who is it for? If that’s you, please keep reading; these are all questions and more I will cover in today’s post—the five w’s of responsive web design.

WHAT is responsive web design? 

Responsive web design (RWD) refers to a website that adapts to any device (desktop/laptop, tablet, or smartphone) used by the visitor. This means that the website has been constructed in a way so that the same content, images, and structure can be seen across these various devices. For example, you might visit a website on your desktop and then later you might pull up the same site on your phone—and you should see that the website has adapted to fit on your phone screen without compromising functionality, aesthetics, or content.

Another example might be you holding your phone upright and then turning it sideways. A responsive site would rotate and resize to the width of the screen as you flip your phone, so that again you are able to access the same functionality, aesthetics, and content.

WHY is responsive such a hot topic?

The answer to this boils down to people spending more time across devices. Traditionally, a business would create a website for desktop access. Then when mobile came along, the business had to create one site for desktop and another for mobile. While this worked—and still does—what it meant was two different URLs and different HTML-based content for the business to manage. With responsive design, in contrast, a site will now have one URL and the same HTML-based content across devices.

Responsive design also translates to an enhanced user experience. With just one URL to deal with, users can more easily share and engage with a site. It’s a win-win; happy users mean a happier business.

WHO should be paying attention to the responsive trend? And WHO is affected?

To answer the first question: anyone who wants their website to result in the most positive user experience going forward. Responsive web design is increasingly becoming a critical area for businesses to explore and consider adopting if they have not already.

In 2009, there were 1.4 billion desktop internet users and 800 million mobile internet users. Next year these figures are expected to increase to 1.6 billion and 1.9 billion, respectively. That’s a 138% increase in mobile. Mobile users are expected to surpass desktop users by the end of 2014, and yet almost half of these users have reported having problems viewing a static site. Responsive has the potential to positively impact the user experience of, well, billions.

WHEN did responsive become a big deal?

Responsive web design has become a hot topic since 2010, when Ethan Marcotte coined the term in an article for A List Apart. Marcotte recognized the rapidly shifting landscape of web browsing and called for an adaptive approach to web design.

In 2012, Google strongly recommended responsive web design as the way forward. And when Google speaks, everyone listens.

WHERE from here?

We can anticipate more and more businesses adopting responsive web design, as well as users increasingly expecting to interact with responsive sites. Within the next year or two, I expect responsive to be an implied aspect of web design.

In upcoming weeks, I’ll explain what Flite is doing to enable businesses to create responsive ads for desktop and mobile—and I recommend that any business that wants to stay ahead of the competition pay attention.