After over 300 hours of re-development we launched the mobile-friendly version of pretty much the most complicated website in our portfolio : saharaplc.com. Whilst on the surface saharaplc.com looks like a typical eCommerce website, it hides many complexities, including a huge project logging system, data feeds, white-label marketing tools and an interface into a SAP Business One back-office system – it’s a monster of a website that has seen constant changes and additions since its launch in 2011.

Of course, since its launch in 2011, the way many people access the internet has radically shifted – from dusty, noisy laptops to shiny tablets and sleek smart-phones. Web-designers have reacted to the demands of these small devices in two waves – initially we created mobile versions of websites that visitors were silently redirected to, but the downside of that approach is that our clients were left updating two, or maybe even three (when you include tablets), versions of their website which increased costs, slowed development time and created branding inconsistencies.

The second, and more modern, approach to making websites mobile friendly is called “responsive web design” and this is the route we took with saharaplc.com. Responsive web design uses a series of design rules to alter the layout of the webpage depending on the resolution of the screen that is being used to visit the website. Take a look at this example – all four of these images are of the homepage of saharaplc.com:

As you can see, at the two extremes, the homepage completely changes it’s width, stacking the content in narrower columns and changing the appearance of the menu so as to take up the bare minimum of screen space, which becomes precious on small phones:

We call this radical change of width the “toilet paper test” – the demands of the multi-device world mean that you must design your website to both look great (and represent your brand) when shaped like a Landscape piece of A4 paper … and like 3 feet of toilet roll!

The design challenges are great, but it doesn’t end there.  When you take into account “information hierarchy” (important information must be visible able the fold) and the multiple managers and Directors, all of whom want their particular piece of their “empire” to take precedence, you end up in a project that is all about finding the “acceptable compromises” … and communicating those compromises effectively enough to get them signed off.

Although deeply challenging, and plain frustrating at times, we had a great time updating this complex, sprawling website for the demands of 2017 and are proud of the outcome.  Needless to say, it has been well received by the client, although, at times, I’m sure they got tired of hearing the phrase “That’s a great suggestion, but have you considered mobile?“.

Sahara Presentation Systems are a Dartford based manufacturer and distributor, listed in the “1000 Companies to Inspire Britain” in 2015. They have been working with mtstudios since 2011 and have launched nearly a dozen websites with us.