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I'm reasonably new to responsive design as we are considering how to pitch it to our web development clients (mostly not-for-profits and gov orgs who will need to see a solid ROI on extra design money spent if they can afford it at all).

A key thing I haven’t seen discussed much yet is I guess what I’d maybe call inter-device website usability. I presume there is an increasing tendency for individual users to access the same websites from multiple different devices at different times. E.g. I have 24 inch PC monitor, Ipad and big screen smart phone. If you are a user repeatedly visiting a site across multiple device types, different layouts auto displayed on different devices can arguably be as irksome as different layouts used within the same website. Returning users make a memory map of site layout and info structure. Simple layout changes require you to look harder for where to find stuff and more time usually, which results in user frustration, right?

Maybe I'm unusual but I personally like sites that stay roughly the same across those devices, because I know where I need to go (nav, content, modules, widgets or whatever), no matter the device. I can zoom in if I want to or not. My choice! Nothing beyond the core site design is making decisions for me about how I want to see the content – and no one else’s device specific information prioritisation decisions are making decisions about what matters to me and getting in my way. For example, see http://www.smashingmagazine.com on both your PC and phone. I’d rather see the standard website on my phone not this stripped back version where the websites IA does not correspond to what I see in the mobile’s select dropdown and I cannot get to its 3rd level nav items AFAICS. In UI methodology terms I believe my desire would be for a “continuous user interface”.

The case I’m making is that in a multi-device inter-operable world where the UX journey occurs across multiple devices, familiarity (in layout and structure) can increase usability as much as other (responsive) approaches can. I completely acknowledge that I'm diving in the deep end here and am actually trying to think things through relative to the content rich, money poor, low tech clients we have. And I'm pretty new here so please go easy on me.

Is there a body of research on designing websites with consistent UX / inter-device usability in mind or discussions of this nature with responsive design in mind? Or anywhere I can go for some education on all this?

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Welcome to UX.SE! Note that this is a "questions and answers" site, so we look for concrete and answerable questions. Your "case" is rather broad, so I put some emphasis on your finalizing questions in order to focus answers. –  kontur Mar 8 '13 at 7:52

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I couldn't agree with you more about keeping important UI elements consistent across devices whenever practical. As usual, focusing on content and building with useability and accessibility principles in mind means your project will be in good shape regardless of which steps you take to going responsive.

I think we're getting past the point when it makes sense to think about a site as being responsive or not. Rather, we should be thinking about which elements need to be adapted for different platforms and going from there.

Regarding the ROI question, I always refer clients to the data on how quickly mobile is taking over. After that it should be clear to clients that responding to the widening array of devices is the new normal. It's in everyone's best interest to build and maintain a single code base that optimizes itself for the user's platform. Also worth keeping in mind: implementing a responsive design will continue to get cheaper (quicker to integrate, easier to test) as the tools and frameworks mature.

You have some concerns about navigation consistency across platforms:

Nothing beyond the core site design is making decisions for me about how I want to see the content – and no one else’s device specific information prioritisation decisions are making decisions about what matters to me and getting in my way. See www.smashingmagazine.com on both your PC and phone as a case in point. I’d rather see the standard website on my phone not this stripped back version ...

In the case of Smashing Magazine's web site, they've likely decided on different navigation for different platforms based on data about their users. That or they just winged it and made some educated guesses. Either way, it looks like Smashing Magazine's decision made sense internally since the nav has been that way for months now. There's no need to consider their navigational choices to be representative of responsive design as a whole.

The case I’m making is that in a multi-device inter-operable world where the UX journey occurs across multiple devices, familiarity (in layout and structure) can increase usability as much as other (responsive) approaches can.

Only one way to find out: get the data! Even a small amount of useability testing will go a long way in this regard. Every project is different. And you can continue to affordably validate with controlled A/B tests.

Is there a body of research on designing websites with consistent UX / inter-device usability in mind or discussions of this nature with responsive design in mind? Or anywhere I can go for some education on all this?

Most of the the responsive design discussion is focused on synthesizing this knowledge right now. There are countless sources of good reading out there. Here are a few good places to start:

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