Recent research has revealed that people are increasingly reliant on mobile devices for work-related internet searching and accessing information. Whereas once upon a time the desktop computer reigned supreme in this area, this tool is steadily losing ground to smartphones, tablets and other internet-connected mobile devices.
A smooth user experience whatever the device
Against this backdrop it has become increasingly important for today’s intranets to accommodate changing usage patterns. This is where responsive design enters the picture. Essentially, responsive design is the ability of a website or intranet to provide the optimal user experience whatever the device it’s being viewed on. As an alternative to developing several websites catering to different screen resolutions, responsive design allows you to create one website that can be viewed cleanly and navigated easily on any device.
For intranet developers, a first-step question used to be, ‘What is the maximum screen resolution I need to support?’ or, ‘what is the minimum resolution I can do on a computer?’ Now, a key question is, ‘What do I need to do to enable viewing from a mobile device? This represents a different approach entirely.
Start small, work your way up
When designing for responsiveness, the best way is to start small and work your way up, so that you’re designing for the lowest common denominator, such as a mobile phone. From there, new functionality can be added as you progress the development of your intranet solution.
With SharePoint’s diverse functionality and scope, that’s not always easy to achieve. The challenge is to figure out usage patterns between devices. You may find, for example, that people use a computer mainly for information creation but rely more on their mobile phone for information consumption. In such a scenario you’ll need to focus on developing a site that allows for fast and easy access to documents and other information using a mobile phone.
Responsive design and SharePoint 2013
Thanks to SharePoint 2013’s latest advances in standards compliance this is now possible. Using HTML5 and CSS3 you can create practical and visually‑striking interfaces that will work equally well on a desktop, tablet, laptop or mobile phone. And you’ll only need to design the website once. That is the beauty of responsive design. It responds to whatever device is viewing it. This approach can save yourself a lot of time and effort because you’re able to deliver the best possible user experience without multiple site engagements.
As with other website projects, one of the keys to success is careful planning. If you simply decide to go ahead with a responsive intranet site without first determining your users’ preferences when it comes to information creation and consumption, you’re unlikely to achieve the results you want. Focus on the primary activities your users will be using it for and adapt your site to accommodate those usage patterns and behaviours.
Case in point – Harbour City Ferries
An example of a successful responsive design intranet site is a project we at Professional Advantage undertook with Harbour City Ferries (Sydney). There were two distinct categories of user for that site: head office workers who mainly use their office desktop machines for information creation and access; and staff who are deployed out on the ferries or the wharfs, who rely primarily on mobile devices for real-time information.
The final solution provided a site with an effective and user-friendly approach for the out-of-office workers who required fast access to policies and procedures in the event of an incident, real-time access to operations documents and easy access to a range of other information. For head office personnel the site provides easy to access to news, project sites, collaboration spaces and team sites. Our responsive design solution involved a home page with tiles pointing to key information entry points that was fast and easy to use for both desktop and mobile device workers.
Take the responsive design plunge
The key message here is if you’re a SharePoint 2013 developer, take advantage of the platform’s responsive design capabilities. The result will be a better experience for all your intranet users and save a lot of time, effort and potential frustration for you.
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