Responsive is not magic

A short note on a situation that I fear is becoming more and more common:

You’ve just been presented a wonderful website by an enthusiastic client, soooo proud of the time spent with a designer to validate the templates for all pages of the site, when the following is thrown in as a conclusion: “Oh and make it responsive, you know”.

We know, but they don’t. Responsive isn’t magic, you don’t make a website responsive by snapping fingers or switching on some buttons.

I guess the appropriate reply to that would be “Ok, how do you picture the site on a mobile device? and see the look on your client’s face when they understand they have to go through the same design/validation loops again.

As my new rule of thumb (the former was “Think Google”), I say websites should first be designed with mobile in mind, and then extended to desktop versions.

Designing “mobile first” has many benefits, such as:

  • core features are better identified and simplified
  • the need for small, visual elements reduces the amount of confusing noise
  • the site can still be used on a dekstop computer, requiring minimal adjustments
  • small assets and CSS3 are privileged

Remember it’s easier to extend than it is to restrict, and this makes the approach a lot more “Agile friendly“, prioritising on what’s important.

Next step could well be to join the “NoPSD” movement. Since CSS3 is admirably suited for mobile design, we could hand the design over to the front-end developer alone… provided that the guy’s creativity is not limited. But that’s another story.


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  • I wonder what took so long for this “NoPSD” movement to exist.

    Even outside of mobile, my browser usually has a shorter width than most and thus I tend to really like websites that do not care about being “pixel perfect”, but “display perfect”. Pixel-based designs were wrong even before mobile. Look at the big successful websites – none of them have been designed on Photoshop.

    Some frameworks like Bootstrap allow you do to great things very easily; I just included the responsive CSS and most of the interface was quite usable on a small display.

    By the way, this blog isn’t a very good example, also the form labels are misplaced. Shame on you!

  • Haha, yeah we never really took the time to “design” this blog, time to ditch this old WordPress for something that would better suit our needs (Jekyll/Hyde).