There’s no doubt mobile has had a significant impact on the real estate industry. Discussions such as native app versus Web app or responsive design versus adaptive design are valid and intriguing. And why not, emerging technologies are exciting to discuss and debate.

The native app versus Web app debate has been covered pretty extensively. Most real estate pros understand the advantages and disadvantages of both approaches.

However, responsive Web design versus adaptive Web design is a slightly more obscure topic. To clarify, responsive design is fluid design that accommodates multiple screen sizes and devices by utilizing HTML and CSS media queries to deliver one, platform-agnostic design.

Adaptive design is similar to responsive Web design. But unlike a responsive design, where changes occur on the client side (Web browser), changes in an adaptive Web design are facilitated on the Web server side.

If you’re interested in learning more of the technical specifications, “Two Flavors of a ‘One Web’ Approach: Responsive vs. Adaptive” by Igor Faletski is a good starting point.

These techniques and discussions are important. However, it’s easy to get caught up in the “high tech” and lose sight of the equally important “high touch” points.

I recently read an insightful article written by Andy Polaine titled, “Designing for Services Beyond the Screen.” Polaine’s piece reminded me that no matter how great a native app or responsive design stands on its own, consumers will judge a brand and experience on all of the touch points as a whole.

Polaine describes a hypothetical scenario where a family is traveling from London to New York with an infant. The family books their flight on the airline’s website and uses an online check-in and ticketing system. But they also interact with gate staff and other passengers, and third-party airport services like ground transport and security.

Suddenly, Polaine writes, “That plane ticket isn’t just a purchase online, but an ongoing service experience — and one where a hundred things could go wrong at any step along the way.”

What if the family has to check in at the airport, instead of online, because the online check-in system isn’t able to handle an infant?

“This seems like a small, one-off issue, but aggregated with other ‘small’ problems, the stress induced when traveling long-haul with a young family becomes enormous — big enough that they may never fly that airline again,” Polaine warns.

The “ongoing experience” in this analogy is applicable to the real estate industry in many ways. There are numerous touch points in real estate both online and offline: open houses, scheduling a showing, navigating the transaction, educating and supporting clients, marketing materials, print advertising, online advertising, websites, mobile apps … the list goes on.

Crafting an experience that encompasses all of these touches is imperative to brand experience. However, it is also a huge challenge as well.

As Polaine so elegantly states, “Services aren’t made on an assembly line. They are complex and difficult to get right, because your users might interact with the service across a wide array of touch points. Start designing beyond the screen.”

Designing beyond the screen is an intriguing concept that some of the most successful brands in the world have adopted. In terms of real estate, be conscious of your touch points and focus on your brand and not just a website design or mobile app. These pieces should be designed to enhance and compliment the brand experience.

Tom Flanagan is the director of information technology at Residential Properties Ltd. in Providence, R.I. You can contact him at or @tflan on Twitter.

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