2013 was dubbed “The Year of Responsive Web Design,” since this technology proved to be one of the most rapidly expanding trends within the world of website design last year. This trend, however, has not yet faded out of popularity, and it will not, for good reason: responsive web design is a milestone advancement into the future of the design field.

What makes a responsive website so unlike than its “fixed” predecessors? Responsive web pages will resize themselves depending on the type of device through which they are being viewed. That means no matter whether a website visitor is using a tiny smartphone screen or an oversize desktop monitor, the website will automatically adjust itself based on the device. Utilizing fluid grids, responsive sites size page elements by proportion, rather than pixels; this allows for the creation of one website, whose elements will respond differently on various devices, instead of many separate versions of the same website.

With more and more people frequently using smaller-screen devices to view webpages, the importance of responsive website design becomes apparent. 45% of American adults own a smartphone, while 31% own a tablet computer, and those numbers will continue to grow quickly. Additionally, the invention of new kinds of devices will not cease in the coming years. Customized solutions for every device and operating platform simply do not make sense when the option for a design flexible enough to be viewed across multiple devices exists.

Some businesses consider creating apps for their websites to meet the needs of mobile users, but the main problem with this idea is that for every device and operating platform out there, a specific version of the app would have to be created. Apple, Android, and Windows devices, for example, would all require their own separate apps in order for proper functioning.

Other related issues with designing for mobile devices include mouse vs. touch and download speed. Mouse vs. touch refers to the differences desktop and mobile users encounter when navigating websites. Desktop computer users will usually have a mouse to select page items, while mobile users must rely on their fingers and swiping the screen; items that are easy to select with a mouse may be difficult to select with a finger touching a small area on a screen. Multiple mobile versions of a website would have to take these differences into account when being designed.

Download speed depends largely on the graphics and ads displayed on a website. Because mobile devices generally have less computing and processing power than a desktop to begin with, it is common to display less or smaller graphics on mobile websites as opposed to desktop so that sites do not take forever to load on smart devices. Large ads are usually replaced with smaller ones.

Responsive website design addresses and resolves all of these issues associated with traditional “fixed” websites and their mobile versions. The benefits can be illustrated using an example of a desktop site. This fixed site has information that will show in three distinct columns on a desktop computer. Viewed on a smaller tablet, the layout of the site will become affected, and users may be forced to scroll horizontally as well as vertically. Elements might become hidden or appear distorted. Since many tablets and devices are built so that they can be viewed in portrait or landscape view, another layer of complication is added. Fixed websites can also be even more challenging to see on smartphone screens, because large images can “break” the layout, and sites with a lot of graphics will be slow to load.

If this fixed site were using responsive design, none of these setbacks would be occurring. For example, the responsive tablet version might automatically resize to display two columns of text instead of three, in order to make the content easily readable and navigable by foregoing horizontal scrolling. The smartphone version might adjust to either one column or vertically stacked content. It may require the user to swipe to view the other columns. Rather than distort layout or get cut off, graphics and images will stay within their elements, resizing to the proper proportions of whatever device screen is being used to view the site.

The benefits of responsive web design hold several implications for a website besides the obvious technical solutions and overall better functioning. Responsive websites are aesthetically more pleasing to viewers, which is a large bonus. Happier visitors mean a greater likelihood that they will become customers; conversion rates will improve. Streamlined, easily navigable sites will also keep customers coming back, increasing customer loyalty. Satisfied customers translate into greater profits and better brand recognition for your business.

What other disadvantages are there, besides the ones already outlined, of not having a responsive website? Mainly, your business will have to compete against other companies that do have one. When your website is hard to navigate on a tablet or smartphone and takes too long to load, users will not remain patient; instead, they will exit in frustration, choosing the next competitor from their list of search results. Mobile website traffic is currently surging, and since this surge is not expected to wane, future-minded companies, especially small businesses, need to meet the demands and preferences of every type of customer. There is no better option than turning to responsive web design as the solution.