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Responsive Design

“Responsive Web Design” (or RWD for short) has been all the rage for the past few years. Responsive web design attempts to answer the question, “How do we create a website that is usable and attractive on a tiny mobile phone screen, and also a gigantic desktop monitor?”

RWD is not the only answer to this question. For years, device specific ‘native apps’ have been popular as well. Available in the app stores for Apple, Android, or Windows, native apps are typically a superior experience to even the most well crafted responsive web site, however they have one big drawback: you need to build a custom native app for each operating system (though there are some services popping up these days purporting to solve this dilemma).

With a responsive website, your design will look good and function on any device, without the time or expense involved in creating native apps. It could be thought of as a baseline experience for your users, no matter how they reach your site.

The other advantage to RWD is that you only need one version of your site’s content and code — this is a huge savings in maintenance down the road.

An example might be in order. Below are two sample screenshots of a recent project I completed, Garden Hotline, as it might be viewed on a tablet device.

In this first screenshot, we can see what happens to a site that is not designed to be responsive. The browser on a tablet will intelligently ‘shrink’ the site down to fit on the screen (and a smartphone’s browser will do the same thing, with even more ‘shrink factor’).

Garden Hotline website viewed on a tablet

The site will work, but it’s difficult to use

The result is certainly acceptable, but far from ideal. A user will need to ‘pinch and zoom’ to be able to read, and will frequently have trouble clicking links and buttons that are designed for a mouse-driven cursor, not a fingertip.

This next screenshot shows what the site looks like with CSS media queries reacting to the size of the device (which is the essence of responsive design).

Garden Hotline responsive design

This is much more usable!

The result is text that is appropriate to the size of the device, header and other layout elements that are better configured for the size of the device, and ultimately, a more usable experience.

Have a site that needs to ‘go responsive’? Talk to me about it.