User Experience

May 27, 2014

Responsive web design – it’s not just about screen size anymore

By Helen No comments


Multiscreening. It’s an emerging behavioural trend that’s got a lot of marketing people quite excited recently, some even going so far as to announce a new ‘golden age of digital advertising’, where for example, additive content and interaction on a second screen such as a tablet or mobile can enhance the traditionally passive TV viewing experience, and offers all sorts of new opportunities to engage people.

Recent research has identified three main types of multiscreening behaviour, known as ‘shifting’, ‘stacking’, and ‘meshing’.


Shifting means asynchronous use of different screens. For example, checking emails on your desktop, and then watching TV later. This accounts for 58% of a person’s daily screen time on average.

Stacking behaviour is simultaneous screen use for unrelated purposes, such as checking emails on your tablet while watching TV, and accounts for 29% of daily screen time.

Meshing refers to simultaneous screen use for related content, for example engaging in a Twitter discussion about a TV show while you watch it. While meshing only accounts for 13% of screen time currently, it’s this area that presents perhaps the most exciting opportunities for marketers, and is receiving the most attention, at least in the B2C universe.


So, what about B2B marketers?

A 2013 survey by ABM ranked TV the least successful B2B marketing platform for both awareness and lead generation, meaning Meshing is of less interest here. However, the same survey also ranked web as the most important platform for B2B over the next 3-4 years (probably not news to anyone!), and it’s here where the effects of Stacking behaviour have got me thinking…

It’s easy to think of responsive design as simply optimising websites for display at different screen sizes. But that’s fairly short-sighted when you begin to consider the additional information that a lot of portable devices can provide about the environment and circumstances of their use, and what that then allows us to deduce about not just the best layout to provide, but also the most appropriate content for the moment. After all, the whole point of responsive layouts is to make content more easily accessible, so why wouldn’t you then also make sure that content type itself was optimised for usage context too?

The first effect of stacking – divided attention – is fairly easy to address by ensuring that your message is clear and concise and pages are uncluttered.

The second effect is a bit trickier, and stems from the environment in which the content is consumed. If a user is relaxing in front of the TV at home, likely surrounded by family or friends, and browsing your website at the same time on a second screen, it’s disruptive (and quite rude) to start playing a video in which the sound will clash with the TV. It’s likely in this circumstance that a video will be skipped in favour of more passive content such as text, images, infographics etc. But has the user missed important messaging by skipping the video? Or even just muting the audio? And if video is all you have… maybe they’ll come back and watch it later, but the chances are slim. An opportunity missed.


Taking advantage of environmental indicators

How might you begin to detect and optimise for situations like this then? There’s no point throwing away valuable content like video which may be perfect for other situations. So instead it’s worth perhaps taking advantage of simple methods such as device detection (are they on a mobile, tablet, or desktop?) and checking the local time on the device to determine if a user is accessing your site in or out of working hours, and making some assumptions based on that information. For example, if it’s 7:30pm on a weekday evening and they’re using a tablet, isn’t it likely they’re at home, quite possibly relaxing in front of the TV, Stacking?

Technically speaking, it’s a relatively easy task to then perform subtle content optimisations such as reshuffling order, resizing elements to shift focus and emphasis, showing/hiding different content, or even simply providing video subtitling – there are loads of possibilities.


The future

By all indicators, this promises to be a rich area for future exploration and experimentation:

“Beneath the screen lies a device, with all kinds of capabilities that we developers are increasingly being given access to. Gyroscopes and accelerometers and geolocation capabilities allow us to get a sense of where in space a user is, and their physical context: are they sitting, standing, running, travelling by plane or car or bicycle? Are they in distress or relaxed?”

John Allsopp, Netmag issue 254: Building the Sensory Web

In future, the information we’ll be able to access about a user should allow us to progress from making intelligent guesses about a users context, to optimising content based on detailed, concrete feedback about the environment and circumstances of individual users. Watch this space.