Responsive Web Designs

Responsive Web design is the approach that suggests that design and development should respond to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation.

The practice consists of a mix of flexible grids and layouts, images and an intelligent use of CSS media queries. As the user switches from their laptop to iPad, the website should automatically switch to accommodate for resolution, image size and scripting abilities. In other words, the website should have the technology to automatically respond to the user’s preferences. This would eliminate the need for a different design and development phase for each new gadget on the market.

Mobile first, unobtrusive JavaScript, and progressive enhancement

“Mobile first”, unobtrusive JavaScript, and progressive enhancement are related concepts that predate RWD Browsers of basic mobile phones do not understand JavaScript or media queries, so a recommended practice is to create a basic web site and enhance it for smart phones and PCs, rather than rely on graceful degradation to make a complex, image-heavy site work on mobile phones.

Progressive enhancement based on browser, device, or feature detection

Where a web site must support basic mobile devices that lack JavaScript, browser (“user agent”) detection (also called “browser sniffing”) and mobile device detection are two ways of deducing if certain HTML and CSS features are supported (as a basis for progressive enhancement)—however, these methods are not completely reliable unless used in conjunction with a device capabilities database.

For more capable mobile phones and PCs, JavaScript frameworks like Modernizr, jQuery, and jQuery Mobile that can directly test browser support for HTML/CSS features (or identify the device or user agent) are popular. Polyfills can be used to add support for features—e.g. to support media queries (required for RWD), and enhance HTML5 support, on Internet Explorer. Feature detection also might not be completely reliable; some may report that a feature is available, when it is either missing or so poorly implemented that it is effectively nonfunctional.


The first site to feature a layout that adapts to browser viewport width was launched in late 2001, created by a team at razorfish consisting of Jürgen Spangl and Jim Kalbach (information architecture), Ken Olling (design), and Jan Hoffmann (interface development). Limited browser capabilities meant that for Internet Explorer, the layout could adapt dynamically in the browser whereas for Netscape, the page had to be reloaded from the server when resized.

Cameron Adams created a demonstration in 2004 that is still online. By 2008, a number of related terms such as “flexible”, “liquid”, “fluid”, and “elastic” were being used to describe layouts. CSS3 media queries were almost ready for prime time in late 2008/early 2009. Ethan Marcotte coined the term responsive web design (RWD)—and defined it to mean fluid grid/ flexible images/ media queries—in a May 2010 article in A List Apart. He described the theory and practice of responsive web design in his brief 2011 book titled Responsive Web Design. Responsive design was listed as #2 in Top Web Design Trends for 2012 by .net magazine[48] after progressive enhancement at #1.

Mashable called 2013 the Year of Responsive Web Design. Many other sources have recommended responsive design as a cost-effective alternative to mobile applications.

Leave a Reply