You know I'm not a fan of responsive web design, just like I was not a fan of Flash.
That said, RWD is the trend of the moment in the UX/UI community, and while you can choose to like or not like it, you definitely can't ignore it.
An interesting question came up recently at a presentation I attended: So when designing a web site for your client, what are the criteria for determining whether it should be responsive or not?
The short answer: It depends.
The longer answer: I wanted to compile that list of questions, so here's a first stab at it:
1. What is your budget?
2. When do you need the web site to go live?
These are obvious questions. With a tight budget and/or timeline, you may not have time to create a responsive web site. At least, not a good one.
3. What percent of your traffic comes from mobile devices?
This question primarily applies to already established sites. If they have analytics, this is an easy number to come up with. If they don't, consider pitching the idea of setting up analytics on their home page and compiling the traffic over a few weeks or a month. It may help the client figure things out.
Full-site analytics may also be useful if mobile users visit one web page more than others. A good example (actually my first RWD project of 2013) was for a weather web site. The forecast page got a ton more hits, and therefore a ton more mobile hits -- so it was a prime candidate for RWD.
The lesson there is to consider implementing RWD on a limited basis -- to work out the kinks and analyze traffic -- before doing a full-site implementation. Especially if your client has a limited budget (see #1) and isn't yet sold on the benefits of RWD (see #5).
If the site has not yet been created, then you'll have to make some educated guesses, depending on the web site's business requirements and user stories. The relevant question then is this:
4. Is [persona] most likely to complete [user story] using their phone, tablet or desktop device?
And then stepping through the user stories to develop that educated guess.
5. Does the client understand AND care about responsive web design?
This is a vitally important question, because if the answer is no, you have to educate your client about the benefits and drawbacks, and more importantly, make them care about it.
Because if they have other priorities more important than RWD, you should make sure your designs meet those priorities first, rather than stubbornly pushing RWD down their throats.
6. Can you and/or your team effectively execute responsive web design?
Do you fully understand the grid system? Media and screen size queries? Conditional CSS? Adaptive web design strategies? Dynamic content display (show/hide)?
If you don't, get your stuff in line before you start evangelizing the benefits of RWD.
And god forbid, if your idea of RWD is making me scroll down 10 screens to get to the bottom of a web page on my iPhone, I will punch you hard. Where it hurts most.
7. Can you manage expectations with your client? Does the client promise to bring compelling content to the page?
RWD improves the layout of a page. It won't do jack with the content of the page. The greatest RWD in the world won't mean a hill of beans if the content is crappy. Make sure your client understands this.
8. Speaking of content, does it have an easily definable hierarchy that lends itself well to RWD?
The RWD model breaks down if the web site data doesn't map well to it. For instance, if you have important alerts being displayed in two different sections of a desktop web site, will they both still be accessible when laid out on a phone-sized screen? Do you have image libraries that simply cannot be cropped easily?
This may be a situation where you need to work with the client to optimize and streamline the content first before attempting a RWD.
I'll be honest: I don't know how useful these questions are. They were just the first eight that came to mind. If you think you can improve on this list, please send a comment.
And see, I can play nice with responsive web design!