Mobile design has come a long way. It all started with native apps, then came an era of hybrid apps, then designers went crazy for mobile web (creation of mobile version of websites).
Lately, designers and developers are beating the drum for “Responsive Design.”
At least for now, responsive design appears to be a silver bullet to address all the design issues pertaining to various screen sizes – it is very promising. Responsive design works on the philosophy of: “design once and for all.” Meaning, there is no need to maintain multiple sites, which helps decreasing the development costs. The site – with a single url – renders itself differently on different devices by analyzing the query type using flexible grids, layouts.
So, is responsive design truly the solution to all problems? Most of the posts and blogs indicate that it really depends on user’s context than anything else. Some companies are creating a mash-up of both mobile and regular sites.
eSurance realized that their mobile users had different content needs than desktop users. For example, the mobile users needed contact and policy information handy in case of an accident. On the other hand, desktop users don’t really care for this kind of information. Therefore, they had to create two different sites. Responsive design didn't work for them.
In conclusion, there is no shortcut to identify whether a responsive site or two different sites – one for desktop and one for mobile users – are required. Therefore, as designers it’s our prerogative to go hard on user research to identify correct user scenarios and design accordingly.