web design blog post

What Is Responsive Web Design?

July 3, 2019

Posted By Adam Hodson

One of the more popular web design buzzwords over the past several years has been “responsive web design” or “responsive design”. Once a website luxury, responsive design has now become the norm in website development.

So what is responsive web design? In so many words, it’s just coding your website in a way so that it automatically adjusts its contents to fit the screen that it’s being viewed on.

Look at our website for example; whether you’re on a laptop, a desktop, smartphone, or tablet, you’ll notice everything fits nicely. If you’re on a desktop, you can experience responsive design in real-time. Just grab a corner of the browser window and drag it to make it smaller or larger.

The website ideally responds by adjusting its contents (text and visual elements) to fit the window or screen size.

What Exactly is Responsive Design?

Responsive web design is an approach to building a website so that as the screen size changes, the web page’s elements and content change to work with the new viewport.

For example, this ensures images on the page don’t become larger than the width of the screen, and the visitor doesn’t have to do unnecessary (mostly horizontal) scrolling to read or view your content.

The entire premise for responsive design is avoiding the need for unnecessary scrolling, resizing, panning, or zooming when attempting to engage with the initial scale of the content. It’s often difficult to navigate such websites, especially on mobile phones, and can cost you potential clients who quickly become frustrated trying to figure the site out.

With responsive web design, you also eliminate the need for a separate, dedicated mobile site. Instead of having to design multiple sites for different devices and screen sizes, you can have one responsive website that scales to match the device of the viewer.

Mobile-First Web Design

Responsive design starts at the desktop level, which is the maximum required resolution, and then scales down to the smallest of screens. And while the overall layout and elements are scaled to fit the smaller screens of phones, the content, navigation, and speeds are geared towards the traditional site.

Mobile-first web design is basically taking the exact opposite approach. This approach is more similar to designing a mobile app and then adapting its layout and contents so that it can be viewed on larger screens such as tablets and desktop computers.

The intent for mobile-first web design is to create the best possible user experience for mobile users. This is achieved with rich media content and fast load speeds to keep the viewers interested, along with easy touch control navigation, etc.

Why Mobile First Web Design?

Why would a website adopt a mobile-first design approach? Well, statistics show that we are all becoming increasingly addicted to our phones. More than 50% of all internet traffic goes through mobile devices every year. This number is set to reach 75% by the end of the year.

Unlike responsive web design, the mobile-first approach is all about providing a superior mobile experience. This user experience usually includes an adapted app-like interface, fast load speeds, larger fonts, less text, seamless audio and video, short forms, etc.

In recent years, many developers have also begun harnessing the power of service workers and building progressive web applications. Progressive web applications are powerful web applications that basically run just like smartphone apps within a browser. Progressive web apps are faster and more efficient than standard mobile websites, so they are becoming more and more popular every day.

Mobile browsers are also increasingly gaining access to smartphone features like the camera and mic. A mobile-first design will be able to offer a unique experience to its users out of the box, with which you can differentiate yourself from the competition.

Responsive Web Design Frameworks

Over the years a number of responsive design frameworks have become popular. These front-end development frameworks have helped web developers to focus more on the development of user-centric applications and spend less time on designing layout components.

Some of these frameworks include Bootstrap, Foundations, and Semantic UI. These responsive frameworks allow web developers to quickly create new layout components like grids, cards, navigations, tabs and so much more. While using these frameworks can sometimes have a learning curve, they make an excellent tool for design-averse developers.

At their core, responsive web design frameworks are a series of stylesheets and, in some cases, javascript files. These CSS style sheets, JS files or libraries, and basic HTML examples can then be used to quickly create websites and web applications that will work on any device or browser.

These additional JavaScript or CSS files control the interaction on devices, for instance by responding to a device’s width and the viewport width. The website then renders the appropriate layout as defined for that screen size. Most frameworks exist for quicker deployment, construction, and management of a website.

Responsive Web Design Examples

1. Dropbox

dropbox website

The Dropbox team has done a great job of using flexible visuals and a fluid grid to design an outstanding responsive website. With their implementation, the font color changes to accommodate the background colors when shifting from desktops to smartphones, and so does the image orientation.

2. Slack

slack website

Slack is known for its simplistic design and human feel. The Slack website follows the same guidelines too. It has a flexible grid that easily adapts to viewports of all shapes and sizes. For instance, on desktop, the customer logo is presented in a 3-column layout, while the same is displayed in a single column layout on mobile devices. The website is also awfully easy to use and loads up blazingly fast.

3. Treehouse

treehouse website

Treehouse provides its users with a seamless experience on all platforms. The menu gets progressively smaller as you shift from desktop to other devices. The same effect is applied to form fields, where they’re presented in 2 columns on desktops and as one column on smartphones and tablets.

Getting A Responsive Website

If your website isn’t already responsive, you are doing yourself and your business a disservice. Responsive design is not only better for user experience, but it’s also critical when it comes to website rankings. Responsible design is a critical part of any modern web strategy, and it should be a big part of yours.

If you’re interested in learning more about responsive web design or would like to schedule a strategy session, contact us today to get started.