NPR’s new mobile site displays good use of responsive design — but that doesn’t mean it’s right for you

The Nieman Journalism Lab this week reviews NPR‘s new mobile site, and it finds a lot to like. Rather than cramming as many headlines as possible onto the first page that pops up on a user’s screen, the new site presents just a headline or two and a little additional text at the top of the page, encouraging users to scroll down to view many more headlines (about two dozen on my Windows Phone) that can be clicked on to access the whole story. The bottom of the home page presents headlines from several more stories, including audio files, as well as a “Load more stories” option that essentially allows for “infinite scroll.” As Nieman Lab‘s review implies, that’s something of an evolutionary step for news publishers who once hesitated to place any important or interesting stores “below the fold,” even on the small screen of a mobile phone.

Perhaps more important, though, is the fact that NPR chose to use responsive design to create a single site that is usable from a variety of devices, from handsets to tablets to PCs. I argued several months ago that responsive design isn’t as effective as stand-alone sites for each one of those hardware platforms, and I still believe most web publishers — from banks to airlines to retailers — should build dedicated sites for consumption on mobile devices. That doesn’t always hold true for most media outlets, however, where user activity probably doesn’t vary all that much from platform to platform. NPR‘s site is a great example of how responsive design can be used to build a great website for users across devices — even if only for certain publishers.