What the flip is responsive design?

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November 8, 2023
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8 minutes

What is responsive design?

Have you ever visited a website on your phone and it just looks terrible? It’s hard to read, the font is tiny, navigation is impossible and the buttons are so small it makes you feel like you have sausage fingers.

Or perhaps you've seen a website on your computer, and it didn't fit the screen properly. Half the images are cut off, and you're not sure if it's meant to scroll vertically or horizontally.

What's gone wrong here? The website is lacking responsive web design (RWD).

Responsive design is designing a website in a way so that it works well on all devices—a big computer screen, a tablet, or a small phone. The website changes its size and layout to perfectly fit the device you're using.

The basics

At the heart of responsive design is flexibility. The simplest analogy to use here is liquid: when liquid is in a cup, it fits the shape of the cup. Take that liquid and pour it into a bottle, now the liquid fits the bottle. Pour that liquid into a pool… you get the point. The volume may change but the content remains the same.

Instead of using fixed sizes for content on the website, like pictures and text, responsive design uses relative sizes. This means that everything can change to fit the screen, so it looks nice and neat.

Content should be like liquid, it fits the shape of whatever container it sits in.

How it works

So, how does this happen? Well, it's all thanks to something called media queries. These are little messengers that communicate between the website and the device, communicating how big or small your screen is. When they see a small screen, they tell the website to arrange things differently so that it fits perfectly. And when they see a big screen, they adjust everything to suit that.

Media query: Hello, Device how are you today? I want to show you a website, do you mind telling me what type of device you are?

Device: Oh hello Media Query, I'm fine thank you. I am an iPhone 13 Pro.

Media query: You're in luck Device, the designer of this site has made it responsive. I have some beautiful content that fits an iPhone 13 Pro coming right up!

Mobile friendly or die!

Responsive design often starts with a mobile phone in mind. Why? Because the vast majority of internet users are accessing the web on a mobile device.

It makes sense then to prioritize a website's design to suit smaller devices. The idea is to make sure the website looks fantastic on a small screen first and then make it work great on bigger screens, like laptops and desktop computers.

Why is it important?

Responsive design is important for a few reasons:

  • Visitor retention. Face it, if you click on a site and it looks terrible you don't even consider scrolling. A website needs to work on every device to do its job.
  • Google likes it. Search engines, like Google, prefer responsive websites. So responsive websites are more likely to be listed in search results.
  • Cost-effective. Building a responsive website is far cheaper than building and maintaining separate websites for each type of device.

Challenges

Designing for different screens can be a bit tricky. Going back to our liquid analogy, there is a huge difference in volume between a teacup and a swimming pool. This provides a challenge in design.

For example:
A desktop screen can fit large landscape pictures and lengthy paragraphs, but on a mobile device that same content feels vastly different. The images are far too small to be effective, and it feels like you're scrolling through miles of words for the same size paragraph. This is where good design comes in.

Responsiveness isn't an accident, it's thoughtful and intentional design that can take time. We know time is money, however the benefits make it all worth it.

Conclusion

In conclusion, as you browse the web on your various devices, take note of the responsive design behind the good websites that work. It's a testament to the adaptability of modern web development, reflecting a commitment to user-centric design, accessibility, and adaptability in an ever-evolving digital landscape. Whether on a phone, tablet, or computer, responsive design is a critical component that underpins the success of many websites in today's diverse online ecosystem.

TL;DR

Responsive design ensures the same website works across a range of screen sizes. Most people use mobile devices so responsive design is important.

In this article:
What is responsive design?
The basics
How it works
Mobile friendly or die!
Challenges
TL;DR
Like what you read?
How responsive is your website?

If it's not, we should probably change that. Luckily we use Webflow; a program made specifically to build responsive and fast-loading websites. Let’s work together to make your website look perfect on every screen!

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