Why Clients Don’t Care About Responsive Web Design


There isn’t a web design blog, tutorial, or template site on the market right now that isn’t touting “responsive web design” as an absolute must. Simultaneously, web designers are getting continued downward price pressure for their services. The #1 pain I hear from web pros is that they can’t charge enough for their work.

So what gives?

Common sense would urge us to believe that designing websites that reach more users (desktop, tablet, and mobile) would, in turn, fetch us more expensive fees for our services. On top of that, a responsive website usually requires less updating for our client. Instead of having separate mobile and tablet versions, our client gets to update one single piece of content, and the web design automatically morphs to the proper device. Sounds good to me.

However, the problem for most web designers is that making websites responsive equals more work. And getting paid what your worth is already difficult. But responsive web design is quickly becoming the new norm. Like writing semantic code that is cross-browser compliant, now it’s just how you are expected to build.

Responsive Web Design Takes More Effort

Creating a site that works on any device takes a lot of planning. You can’t just have blocks that automatically snap into vertical positions to make a website effective on multiple devices. And navigation can’t always just turn into a “menu” button.

If you are selling a responsive site to a client, you need to anticipate that the following areas of your project process are going to increase dramatically:

  1. Design (you now have to design for 3+ breakpoints)
  2. Content (you need to make sure your content makes sense when it’s broken down to a smaller size above/below other content)
  3. Coding (the more breakpoints, the more code)
  4. Testing (you need to test on a lot of devices throughout your build)
  5. Revisions (updates to the design of the site take longer to deal with on all of the items above, for every change)

If we have to do more labor to make it work, why aren’t we able to charge a lot more money?

It’s because clients don’t understand the word responsive. Our prospects don’t care about the how, they just care about the outcome.

The Disconnect

The phrase responsive web design doesn’t have any meaning whatsoever to anyone outside of our field. There has been a lot more mainstream coverage on the topic recently, but I would argue that the meaning registers at about the same level as an acronym like HTML and CSS to the typical small business owner.

Too much of our industry glazes over the stage in selling where they build value for what they are proposing. So when a client sees “Responsive Design” in their Scope of Work, they usually ask to remove it.

In my sales consulting work with web designers, one of the questions I ask is how they typically present the idea of responsive web design to their clients. The response usually sounds more like a Wikipedia definition than a value presentation.

Often I hear, “my clients really want mobile, but they aren’t willing to pay for me to make the site responsive.”

So what’s the problem? Are we charging too much?

What I Do Differently

When sitting with a client, my website proposal process involves a lot of discovery. I like to have three to four meetings with my clients to understand their business as well as I can. Much of the time I spend with them is finding the core pains that exist in their business and then building value for a solution that solves those pains.

This conversation often sounds like this:

“Why do you need a new website?”

“Our website is really outdated. It was designed by a friend of a friend several years ago and has fallen out of date. Also, our website looks terrible on my iPhone!”

At this point, a lot of web designers start talking about responsive web design and how they are going to fix that problem. But this solution, stated this way, is cosmetic at best.

Without any context for what kind of impact responsive design will have on their business, adding it to their project will only yield the value equivalent to their level of personal embarrassment.

This may or may not have the financial effect I desire. So I keep digging.

To get paid what I’m worth, I need to provide real evidence that my plan is going to solve a quantifiable problem and help them mitigate a concrete risk. The conversation continues…

“Are you aware of how much traffic you currently get from mobile devices?” I ask.

“No, is there a way to find that out?”

“Absolutely. More importantly, have you started to think about what type of content and experience a person on a mobile device might be interested in having?”

“Not really…can you explain the options?”

“Of course. Going from desktop to mobile, we can assume that the visitor is on the go. They might have just been recommended your business from a friend at dinner, or they might be trying to find your business (ahem) while driving. We want to make that process as easy as possible. This requires additional design work, but more importantly, we need to strategize about the objectives we have for your visitors when accessing from various devices. The idea here is to help drive more people to your business, not add some trendy widget to your website. Do you need more customers?”


Now, this is oversimplified, but the root of everyone’s pain is that they need more customers. But you can’t walk in and lead with, “I’m going to get you more customers by using RESPONSIVE DESIGN!!!” It just doesn’t work that way.

Once I’ve provided some context for why mobile and tablet designs can help them get more customers, it is a great time to work with them to discover what kind of traffic their website gets and from what types of devices.

I sold a lot of restaurant sites over the tenure at my web agency. For restaurants, mobile is not an option. If the owner were considering passing on mobile, a quick look at Google Analytics would show that about 10-20% of their traffic was happening from mobile devices.

Quick tip: If your prospect doesn’t have Google Analytics installed yet, offer to do it for them on their existing site for free so that you can have some actionable data to review with your prospective customer. Schedule a follow-up meeting to review it after a week.

If the evidence didn’t support a need for investing in a responsive approach, I would pass on offering it. But more often than not these days, the data will back you up.

In addition, there was always the option of making the case that with a better-optimized mobile site mobile device traffic would increase.

The Punch

Once it became time to propose a solution, I would have what I call, “the mobile conversation.” This conversation is pretty simple and goes something like this:

The web has evolved past desktop access. Mobile phones and tablets are experiencing very fast adoption. I had a chance to review your traffic stats, and it appears that you currently have X% of your traffic coming from mobile devices. Were you aware of that?”

No, not really.”

It’s always good to have the data. There are two main directions we can go with supporting mobile for your business: #1 We can make your site mobile compatible. Have you been to a website where you can see the whole desktop version and then you have to pinch in to find the right button and links?”

Yes, that is really annoying!”

At a bare minimum, we will at least make your site compatible, this will cost the least. #2 we will build your site ‘responsively,’ which means that your website will actually be device-friendly no matter if it’s phone or tablet. Let me show you the difference between the two on your phone.”

I like the one that’s easier.”

I agree, I think you’re customers will prefer to use that one too.”

Too many web designers leave “Responsive Site Design” as a Scope of Work item and never have a conversation about its relevancy and what it really means for their client’s business.

I typically add at least 50-100% to the design and build portions of my projects to make the site responsive. And in my experience, my clients were happy to pay for the additional work.

I invite you to use this method in your web design business to see how it changes your relationship with explaining responsive web design to your prospective customer. At the end of the day, it only matters if it helps you build value and, in turn, add additional revenue to your web design business.

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