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FCW : February 2013
February 2013 FCW.COM 39 So Vanderlan and the AIDS.gov team decided to embrace responsive Web design, a technique that relies on a speci c suite of programming and display tools to enable all content to automatically adjust to best t the device type, screen size and user preferences. The approach allows Web teams to build a single site and still meet the varying needs of all potential users. "With responsive design, it s really about making content available to everyone who comes to your site, as opposed to speci cally targeting the mobile experience," Vanderlan said. "Whoever is visiting is going to get the same content, but it will be tailored in the way they need it, regardless of whether they re on an iPhone, a BlackBerry, a tablet, or a full laptop or desktop." In November 2011, Vanderlan s team created a microsite called Facing AIDS using responsive design, marking the rst use of the technique on a government site, and then in June 2012 relaunched the full AIDS.gov site. Vanderlan and his colleagues are hardly alone. A growing number of federal agencies are turning to respon- sive design to meet the wide-ranging needs of their constituents, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Why it matters According to a Pew Research Center report released in December 2012, 81 percent of U.S. adults own a cell phone, 45 percent own a smart phone, and 25 percent own a tablet PC. And they are increasingly using those devices instead of traditional computers. For example, Pew researchers found that 31 percent of current mobile phone owners who go online do so almost exclusively with their mobile devices. Morgan Stanley and other rms pre- dict that more users will be accessing the Web via mobile devices than with desktop computers by 2014. Federal Web designers are required by the Digital Gov- ernment Strategy to meet users where they are, so they have been trying for some time to successfully and cost- effectively adapt federal sites to the new mobile reality. Mobile users can access classically designed websites, but they often nd navigation to be frustrating, said Ann Lorenz, technical lead for the Web team at Sandia National Laboratories. She noted that a high number of mobile visi- tors to her agency s non-optimized site often left immedi- ately because they had dif culty downloading graphics, had to repeatedly scroll across or down to locate information, or had to manually adjust font sizes. "It just wasn t a very positive experience," she said. Sandia s Web team considered a couple of solutions, such as designing a second site using a mobile template or even developing a mobile application that would deliver specialized content. In the end, they opted for responsive Web design. Darrick Hurst, Sandia.gov s webmaster, said the exibility offered by the new design technique solved multiple issues. Most critically, his team could build just one site rather than maintain separate sets of content or code, so that users could go to a single URL and still have access to all avail- able information regardless of the device they were using. The responsively designed Sandia.gov was launched in June 2012, and since then, the site has seen a 57 percent increase in mobile users and a 27 per- cent decrease in bounces or drops from the home page. "We see that as an indication that our redesign has been a success," Hurst said. The Education Department s Of ce of Federal Student Aid also chose to revamp its existing site using respon- sive design rather than build an alter- native Web template for mobile users. The design team used the project as an opportunity to improve accessibil- ity while integrating several sites and updating content. "The thought process behind this is a real customer focus and has been a large anchor for our overarching strat- egy around serving clients and sim- plifying the process for them," said Brenda Wensil, the of ce s chief customer experience of - cer. "This has given us the ability to deliver content to our audience anytime, anywhere [and] on any device." The use of responsive Web design provides other bene ts to agencies, said Mike Bernard, digital marketing manager at GovDelivery. Among the most important are the savings in time and money. "Once it s been designed, the site is kind of set and you don t have to do a lot of maintenance to keep it up and running," he said. "And you ll also save because you don t have to design and maintain a separate mobile site." Having a single website also maximizes search engine optimization and helps achieve compliance with the Ameri- cans with Disabilities Act s accessibility mandates. Furthermore, "it could help some agencies actually boost their revenues or it could enable them to avoid the hidden costs associated with annoying a constituent or losing an opportunity to connect with them because they can t nd or do what they want on your site," Bernard said. More users will be accessing the Web via mobile devices than with desktop computers by 2014.
March 15, 2013