"Responsive" is one of those terms I usually have to explain. Responsive website technology has been around a long time... in fact much longer than most people think. Back when computer screens were a puny 640x480 (remember those original IBM PC's and compatibles?), it was not unusual for a web page to fill up the screen and adjust to the particular monitor resolution.
In some ways it was a lot easier then and the gist of it was all you had to do is put text in a table that was defined as "100%" of the width. If the width of the monitor changed, so did the table width (and the text inside the table).
Things have changed. Responsive websites have a lot more features. The menu of your website will probably reduce to something more phone selectable. Graphics and videos will reduce in scale to fit the page (it's not as easy as you think). All the while, text has to remain readable but conform to the device changes. The world is a lot more complex.
So? Why do it if it's not easy? Simple. That's what your customer wants!
Phone website traffic by our estimation has increase 400-500 percent just in the last two years. Many of our clients see more traffic on their sites via phone hits than PC or Desktop hits. Tablet traffic is up as well but it is a distant third to phone traffic and desktop traffic.
In the past couple of years, 50Bubbles has provided options for phone driven traffic. Before responsive design was even a buzzword, we were doing what we referred to as mobile sites. As smart phones started to literally take over, so too did responsive web design - here's the difference.
Mobile Web Sites
Our mobile websites were driven by some pretty cool technology. The software had the ability to detect the device and if it was a phone, the mobile site would be viewed. This site was separate and distinct site within the application and had to be maintained separately.
Responsive Web Sites
Responsive websites involves technology that literally reconfigures the content and layout of a website to look appealing on a small device or smart phone. Typically a three column website will flow into a single column on the phone for example. Images will reduce in size to fit the phone. Text will wrap to fit on the phone screen.
Responsive vs Mobile Sites
There are advantages to each. For example, a mobile site is often a much reduced scope in terms of content. The idea is to drive the visitor to the contact page and either email or phone but business. The downside is that the mobile site must be maintained separately. If you put a coupon on your site, you have to remember to also add it to your mobile site.
The responsive site uses your existing site content. It's a good idea to consider this when designing your site to make sure you don't have so much on the page that it's cumbersome to read it on a phone. Responsive designs literally copy the content of your existing website and format it for the phone. A medium sized home page could become a very long phone page....but when you add content to your site, you know it will make it to your mobile page. You don't have to think about it.
We usually consider both when talking with a client. There are advantages specific to demographics that call for a specific design and the choices have to be weighed against the benefits of each.