Apps v. Responsive Web Design: One Startup's Decision

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Limited resources lead to tough decisions for startups. Here, one founder walks through her thinking on whether to devote time and money on developing apps or relaunching using responsive web design. 

By Kate Jackson (Founder & CEO, TableCrowd)

At my startup, TableCrowd, we had to take a decision on whether to focus on developing iPhone and android apps or whether to work first on re-launching our website using responsive web design.

TableCrowd is a social dining platform where people can meet over food, so the app will work to enable users to easily find upcoming dinners or lunches nearby - location being a key element.

What's Responsive Web Design?

Responsive web design is the concept of designing one set of web templates where the layout of the page adjusts depending on the screen size they are viewed on, whether for example, viewed on mobile phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. A picture paints a thousand words, so to see responsive web design working, go to http://www.tablecrowd.com and make the browser window smaller. You will see that instead of just showing half the page, the content stacks and adapts as the screen size adjusts. Very clever stuff!

Before responsive web design, it was necessary to optimize web templates for each of the various different handsets. This meant additional development work and extensive testing. With a small team like ours, it was therefore difficult to ensure that we had a comprehensive solution free of bugs and errors for all users.

Why We Focused on Web Mobile First

Being web mobile and having an app are both vital for TableCrowd, but we were only able to focus on one at a time (again, due to team size). We made a call that we would focus on being fully web mobile first, for a number of reasons. Firstly, working on the responsive templates would mean a large part of the thought and planning for the app would be undertaken incidentally, whilst redesigning using responsive web design.

Secondly, location, the key element of the app, would be most useful to users when we have more dinners happening, as there would be an increased likelihood of one happening close to their precise location. Releasing the app later in the year would therefore tie in nicely with our month-on-month growth and projections. Thirdly, I couldn’t face the sinking feeling in my stomach at any more meetings, when someone pulled their mobile out their pocket to view TableCrowd and I couldn’t be certain how it would display for them!

As a non-technical co-founder, some additional considerations when writing specifications for new designs were:

  • Do I want all the items on the web page to show when viewed on mobile
  • Will the stacked layout work for the content on each page or do we need to customise?
  • What order do we want the items to stack?

From a planning perspective, I needed to add around 60-100% more design time and 60-100% more development time. Bootstrap helps a lot because it includes responsive states for common elements and layouts, so when sticking to them, the content usually stacks up nicely on it's own. However, if there has to be special layouts made for tablets or mobile it can take even more time.

After months of hard work, we have re-launched our website using responsive web design, making it mobile friendly, as well as including a bunch of new features. All feedback welcome!

Women 2.0 readers: Have you faced any similar dilemmas?

About the guest blogger: About the guest blogger: Kate Jackson is the Founder of ClickTonight and TableCrowd. She is a former commercial lawyer in London who is now an entrepreneur. She loves triathlons, playing cupid and dining out. Follow her on Twitter at @KateJacksonK.