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As designers and programmers, we are regularly faced with projects that have to live both on desktops and on mobile screens – a situation that brings a lot of questions with it.

On the surface there is a basic decision to be made. Do you simplify to make sure every viewer gets something?

Or do you specialize to make sure that your most targeted audience gets an optimal experience?

Or do you invest more time and money to serve up multiple options, so your site is prepared for a variety of possibilities?

The situation reminds me of a fellow student in college who, wanting to be sure that people viewed his work as he intended it, presented his portfolio in about 8 variations, allowing for different screen sizes, browsers, and platforms. On reaching his homepage, you got his logo and a list of links to optimized versions of the site.

Now of course we have more tools to work with, adaptive web design is becoming much more common, and in many cases the site can read information about the viewing situation and serve up the best assets for the user’s needs. But that is far from a simple answer.

For a long while, a website could be designed with an optimal layout in mind, and if you stayed within certain parameters you came to expect your layout to be seen as more or less the same by every viewer.

Now with an ever-increasing variety of viewing options, a website needs to be able to accommodate a large range of screen sizes, loading situations, and even viewing orientations. And in a very real sense, web design is taking a further step away from print design. And a partisan approach to design won’t succeed.

Users today are sufficiently used to high production values that a simple approach with basic text and color will tend to look unsophisticated. And designing a beautiful layout in photoshop and telling it to simply scale isn’t going to cut it when it doesn’t adapt to the user’s device.

In a sense – the questions cease to be things like “how does the logo look in this corner,” and becomes “how does the logo behave in x, y, and z circumstances, and what does it do in circumstances we haven’t planned for?”

Instead of designing a product – we have to design an experience, so that any user gets the experience within the context of their viewing situation. And in essence, I think we are seeing the true birth of a new design age, as we take existing tools and skills, and re-apply them to the design of experience and behavior.

It’s no longer good enough that we send our brands and websites out into the world well dressed and prepared for a specific expected experience. Its time to start planning so that our websites and brands behave in a way that makes us proud, no matter what kind of situations they find themselves in.