UPDATE (March 2018): Some of the comments are not taking into consideration that the market has greatly changed since 2012, and responsive today is practically mandatory. Please keep that in mind before raging in the comment section.
Back in May, I published an opinion piece here on the ManageWP blog, entitled 5 Reasons Why Responsive Design is Not Worth It. Little did I know how voracious the response would be.
Contrary to the opinion of some, it was not my intention for that post to act as “link bait“. There were in fact two simple reasons why I decided to write it:
- I am personally not a big fan of responsive design in many contexts
- No one seemed to be making note of its shortcomings
You don’t have to search Google for long to find a pro-responsive design article, but articles that are critical of responsive design are rare beasts. Whilst one might argue this is because responsive design is simply awesome, and has literally no shortcomings, my own personal opinion didn’t match up with this.
So — several months, tens of thousands of page views, and nearly 150 comments later, I thought it would be pertinent to revisit the debate. Is responsive design still not worth it?
Important Distinctions to Bear in Mind
Poor concepts can be implemented well, and great concepts can be implemented shoddily. As such, when I refer to responsive design, I am referring to its practical implementation in the real world — not the actual core concept. I would consider the concept (on the whole) to be sound, and useful under the right circumstances. But in my opinion, that is not the issue at hand.
I do not mean to refer to responsive design as an abstract concept, because that is of little use to our current experience of it. What matters to me is how responsive design, in its current incarnation and implementation, benefits the end user.
A popular argument against any responsive design critique is, “But that’s an example of poor responsive design”. However, that’s exactly what we are discussing here — the practical implementation of responsive design — not the concept itself.
Furthermore, I wanted to highlight the arrogance and ignorance amongst certain members of the design community. I do not intend to make enemies with that statement, because I know plenty of people within the design community who are extremely thoughtful and conscientious regarding all facets of design. Having said that, I had one web designer refuse to debate responsive design with me on the grounds that he doesn’t discuss design with non-designers. If designers operate within an insular world in which they don’t ever step outside of their comfort zone to assess the needs of endusers, what hope do we have?
Pete Klein got what I was aiming for when he commented on the original article:
It’s good to hear stuff from the other side of the aisle on this topic. It was fun trying to refute most of it.
For everyone with that kind of healthy attitude towards this issue, I welcome you.
Revisiting My Reasons for Why Responsive Design is Not Worth It
I have had the privilege of reading a host of well-considered opinions in the comments section of the original article. They have broadened my horizons and enabled me to consider the arguments for and against responsive design in more detail.
Broadly speaking, the comments could be divided into three broad categories:
- Complete disagreement with all of my arguments
- A mixture of agreement and disagreement, with qualifications
- Complete agreement
Having read through them all, I would like to take the opportunity to visit my original points, and reiterate and build upon (or deconstruct) them.
1. It Defeats User Expectation
Perhaps I did not make my intended point clear enough originally, so I will try again.
One of the biggest bugbears I have with responsive design relates to when I am used to a particular desktop design, only to find that the responsive design is completely different. The key navigational elements are not where they were, and perhaps one or more have even disappeared.
This is my primary intended definition of defeating user expectation. The very fact that I am seeing something different to what I am used to has already served to defeat my expectation — I don’t think that point can be argued against. The only way to turn this situation into a positive is to offer up exactly what the enduser want with the responsive design. But this is not possible with every user — you cannot cater to everyone.
In this context, I consider responsive design to be rolling the dice. You are planning to offer up a different user experience to the desktop version, in the hope that whatever you end up producing is immediately easier for the end user, compared to what they are used to. Many responsive designs, in my experience, don’t get this right.
The other argument regarding user expectation belongs to those users who haven’t used the desktop version of a website before. That then becomes an easier proposition — can you display the information in a manner that is best-suited to mobile platforms? The answer can of course be yes, but if you are going to do that, I believe that you must offer a prominent link to the desktop site (something that a lot of responsive designs do not do, in my experience).
I for one will typically choose a desktop design if I see the link, because I know that the responsive design is probably missing out some elements that I may want to see. I will cope with a bit of pinching and zooming to get those elements back.
2. It Costs More and Takes Longer
One thing I feel that flew way over most people’s heads in the original article was the cost-benefit issue.
There are circumstances when responsive design is a good idea (I admitted that in the original article). And, in my opinion, there are times when it is not a good idea. In-between those two extremes, we find a whole host of “gray area” sites, where one can argue for or against responsive design on a case-by-case basis.
For those sites, one major consideration must be cost-benefit. If responsive design costs more than non-responsive design (which was agreed by most people in the comments), the decision to go ahead (or not) should be based to a great extent upon cost-benefit. What percentage of my users are mobile-based? What percentage of those users actually contribute to my income? What impact would a responsive design have upon my sales amongst those users? And so on.
If you can answer such questions accurately (which is of course a tough task in itself), and the answers point towards responsive design as the best option, you’ll get no argument from me. What bothers me is that it seems many designers start from a “responsive design is essential” viewpoint. Responsive design is not essential. On the other hand, considerations of cost-benefit are essential (if you want to stay in business).
This entrepreneurial-minded approach to design may not be particularly endearing, but the above questions are what really interest commercial website owners. This brings us to issue of clashes between profit cultures (website owners) and design cultures (web designers).
Dare I say that it is in designers’ interests to promote responsive design at all times? Responsive design is more expensive, and as such, makes designers more money. Whilst I do not think that all designers view the issue from this standpoint, I have no hesitancy in asserting that some unscrupulous types certainly do. This approach doesn’t even have to be conscious — I am sure that many designers simply do not approach the issue of responsive design from a cost-benefit position. They simply love the concept, and want to implement it. It is entirely possible for a completely honest web designer to convince a client to go responsive, even when the cost-benefit isn’t there.
I don’t say any of the above in an attempt to belittle the concept of responsive design. My argument in this case is not against responsive design — it is against the motives behind some designers’ extremely hostile rebuttals of my arguments. Some designers came out with interesting arguments against mine, which I welcomed. Those are the guys who I think are not trying to screw their clients for a few extra cents, regardless of whether or not responsive design is right for them.
3. Non-Responsive Designs Usually Work
This was a hot topic in the original article, which is somewhat unsurprising, given my rather sweeping statement.
However, my statement was grounded in my own personal experience. Sure — it’s not a statistical representation of the masses, but the article was an opinion piece, after all.
So let me clarify my original statement — in my experience, non-responsive designs usually “work” (i.e. do a good enough job for me to navigate a site and assimilate its content). If I am accessing a site with my iPhone or iPad, I typically get by perfectly well with non-responsive designs.
Many commenters made a perfectly valid point — what about other mobile devices? What about older devices that are less capable of presenting non-responsive designs in a legible manner? My response to this would be as follows — if you can ascertain that a significant proportion of your users are accessing your site from a device that is presenting your design in an illegible manner, you may well consider a responsive design solution.
But this brings us back to the cost-benefit argument — if 5% of your users cannot make sense of your site, does that justify the added cost of a responsive design? My point is to look beyond the simple “but some people won’t be able to use your site” argument, and focus instead on what is right for your priorities.
4. There is Often no Load Time Benefit
The overwhelming response in the comments was that there is often (or even typically) no load time benefit to responsive design. Some designers pointed out that responsive design can offer up increased load times, but that many designs do not. This again comes back to the practical implementation of responsive design, versus the concept itself.
As I stated in my original post, one of the much-touted benefits of responsive design is its ability to offer up a faster-loading user experience. I would be interested to know how often this is really the case (unfortunately, I have been unable to find any research one way or the other).
If it were to be proven that a considerable proportion of responsive designs do offer a speed increase over desktop designs, I would look upon responsive design more favorably. Until that time, I will not consider load time a particularly strong benefit of responsive design.
5. It’s a Compromise
This was an interesting one — the overwhelming response from all sides of the fence was, “Yes — responsive design is a compromise”.
The qualifying statements from pro-responsive design commenters focused on the fact that compromise is often necessary to present the user with the best possible experience. Unfortunately, this pulls us into a circular argument, as I would refer back to the questions I asked in the original article:
…is a compromise really any better than the perceived detrimental effect of loading a non-responsive design on a mobile platform? Especially when that compromise costs money and takes time to produce?
In reality, there is no overruling right or wrong answer to the above questions. The validity of any argument should be based upon the specific circumstances of whatever particular site you are discussing.
What I really wanted to do with my point was challenge what I perceive to be many designers’ attitudes that responsive design is always the best choice. Because it isn’t.
My Pick of the Comments
In-between the derogatory comments (which were completely ignored and do not feature in this article), there were some interesting additional points (beyond what I have discussed above) made for and against responsive design in the previous article. Here are a few of the best for your consideration:
The Mobile First Movement
I personally have been seeing too many websites that are designed “mobile first” which means that the mobile experience, yes you called it, is prioritized first. In too many instances, this leads to a desktop design that is compromised because mobile receives priority number one and desktop gets priority three. This is a problem because on most of the sites I manage, 85% of the traffic is desktop and 15% is mobile. Since that’s the case, why would 15% of the people get the top experience? Shouldn’t the largest group be prioritized first, even if you want to argue that these numbers will change over the next three years (although they haven’t tipped yet…)? – Joseph Putnam
Putting Blogs Aside for a Moment…
I’m not the biggest fan of the comparisons you used to complete your arguments. They revolve around blogs, which are consumed in high quantities on mobile devices. However, it doesn’t take a look at other, for lack of better term, genres on the web. Example: what about news sites, ecommerce sites, etc.? – Isaac
Responsive Design Equals Better Coding Standards
It costs more and takes longer? True, but in order to be able to do responsive design in the first place, the code must be clean and standardized. In short, thinking responsive from the start promotes good code. – Pete Klein
What Do You Think?
There you have it folks — the latest in our debate on responsive design. Please feel free to get involved in the comments section below! All well-considered and respectful opinions will be read eagerly.
Creative Commons image courtesy of Elmastudio
There is a generational issue to responsive: what under-45 users are accustomed to as the language of user interface is different from what elderly users are able to navigate. It’s like the divide between films from the 1930s versus the visual language pioneered by Citizen Kane.
I’m designing for a mostly older audience, I’m aiming for an audience not currently served by the web (or not well). Since the revenue is ad-driven, keeping that 5% or 10% or in my case probably more is worth the budget – those clicks add up.
Things as simple as rotators are a huge question – it gives a more television-like look (the more familiar and less technical I can make it look, the better for my audience), but will they be utterly baffled by it? Do I auto-rotate? If I do, some will be confused when a choice goes away to be replaced by another, but if I don’t some will never figure out how to move between options.
If there were a way to determine the user’s UI savvy, and choose an experience appropriate to their level, that would be ideal. Instead of separate pages for desktop/tablet/phone (easy to do), separate presentations for “knows touch gestures” “can navigate something like Amazon” “barely operates a tv remote”
If google wants to make me a happy camper, add some kind of user UI IQ I can access when they land on my site.
For bloggers… hey friends, you should not worry about website responsive or non-responsive design. This is not your job. This is a job for those who code “browsers”. For example… google should improve their browser chrome… so it can handle non-responsive websites much better. They should provide different features and modes to present a blog in good way on different devices. If they are providing a browser for mobile phones… then they “should” provide better user experience on mobile. This is their job. I am using BlackBerry Q10 and to read a blog post… I just press “R” from keypad and read the post in “Reader” mode. This is too easy. So why do bloggers need to worry about responsive design when a visiter can read the post this much easy. Google and other companies dont want to do their job effeciently… and they force the “bloggers” to “hey you have to make a responsive website otherwise I will not add you in search results”. Hey bloggers, just write… awesome content for your readers and use a simple and clean theme. This is enough. Designing is not your job. Google and other companies should worry about this.
For commercial websites… Hey money makers…. if you want to make money… then provide a good responsive website for customers/clients.
“There is Often no Load Time Benefit”
Try not using bloated ass wordpress and the 4000 css files and 15000 jQuery plugins.
The payload of a couple hidden div’s Pales in comparison to this.
This site loads like crap on a desktop with wifi – smartphone with only cellular access would completely choke. That’s no longer an option in today’s world save for wordPress script kiddies.
Nice article. Although responsive design is costly and takes longer but it is worth. Google is giving responsive designs much more importance now. So we should give it a thought.
Why don’t responsive designs have sidebars? Is that such a sin? If I have to click one more flippin “hamburger” menu or click on one more loathesome dropdown menu I’m gonna throw my phone against the wall. Responsive design is good but right now the actual design part is all group-think. Over-simplified for-kids versions of sites that just endlessly scroll and delete functionality are bad design and frustrating to use. Personally I find them to be insanely claustrophobic, has anyone considered that horizontal scrolling (a desktop web-design NO-NO) is COMPLETELY NATURAL on a mobile device?
I’m not against a website that fits my phone but the current trappings of responsive design are BAD.
Wow… what a great post! Thanks for the info, you made it easy to understand. I’ve forgotten the last time I filled out a form on paper. I mostly use PDFfiller to edit. You can easily fill Calendar here
I was so glad to find your post, and am surprised that at the end of 2015, opinions like yours are still few and far between. As a user I absolutely abhor mobile sites. I feel like I have been cheated of the full website experience, and they often don’t work.
As someone who is using WP for the first time to design a blog, I am frustrated after spending many long hours to design a site that follows the proper placement of important elements (calls to action, ads, etc.) for the highest conversion rate, the mobile site undoes everything I did 🙁 unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to opt out of this, and I think it is important to make the point that the website owner should get that choice when using a themed site. Not everyone wants responsive design.
I am very surprised that there has been nothing published about mobile site conversion rates vs. Non-responsive site conversion rates. That would end any arguments right there. Or even an online survey of users. Most articles are written by designers, not users, unfortunately. I know that I’ve abandoned many mobile sites out of frustration or lack of interest in a pared-down website. I can’t be the only one….
Google has got this one wrong. My prediction is, not long from now, the numbers will start coming in and mobile sites will largely go the way of image sliders, which though fancy and popular, largely serve to annoy users and have been proven to not be effective at all. After all, isn’t the bottom line conversion rates, and where are the statistics? There should be some by now. Why would anyone fool around with their optimized desktop website and risk lower conversion on a mobile on an unproven feature? Beats me.
Another prediction is, with phones getting larger, not smaller, and screen quality always improving, the need for responsive design will diminish. People are designing without keeping in mind that technology is constantly improving, that we won’t always be staring at tiny low quality screens. That is not planning for the future.
Optimization has its place, like for the checkout process and filling out forms, which is hard to do on a smaller screen. But for browsing, it sucks. For me, I would prefer to browse the full website by default, and be given the choice to go to a more mobile ‘friendly’ site. But pinching and scrolling is much faster for me than waiting for another page to load.
As I read more responses, I want to reiterate… everyone is giving their opinion, but no one is talking about statistics. Do mobile sites improve conversion rates? Are bounce rates on mobiles higher for mobile or desktop websites? When given a choice, domobilesmobike users prefer mobile or desktop sites? Do mobile users stay longer on mobile or desktop websites? This is the bottom line for website owners, and aren’t these numbers pretty easy to track and examine? If people are really concerned about the future of increasing mobile usage, then these questions need to be answered.
And if the only problem with mobile sites is the need for good design and when we get there, everything will be hunky dory, then isn’t good design for user engagement pretty much… a desktop website with full functionality? If the future is more people on mobiles, then would you want the user to have a compromised desktop experience?
For instance, I have noticed that many mobile sites bury their menu with an icon in the corner, like this site. Sure, it makes it easier to read the page and is great for apps, but what if you have an ecommerce site, and you want your users to be enticed by what is on your menu, like Shop or Products? Then they won’t see it unless they choose to open the menu. Not good for conversion or engagement. All the content you have painstakingly planned on your desktop site to entice customes/users is compromised.
This blog is also a great example of this. As a user it is great to read, but as the owner, there is no content to entice me to stay on this site. That is BAD!!! What is better for the user is not always better for the owner.
It will be interesting to see how this evolves.
I am beginning to think that the best place for mobile optimization may not be for your entire website. It may be better to optimize for specific aspects of your website, such as checkout experience, filling out forms, (maybe) reading articles, etc. These are things that are harder to do on a smaller screen. It should be used on a case by case basis in terms of the purpose of each aspect of the website. And, in the user should always be in control and be given a choice.
See, I think it’s symptomatic of a bigger problem with IT designers… “cutting edge” trumps usability. That’s why the new iPhone isn’t going to have a headphone jack… they would rather be “cutting edge” and rely on Bluetooth than cater to the 90% of customers who use a regular ole Earthling headphone jack. Cell Phone designers are also backtracking on not offering SD cards. “Why would you need an SD Card? You can store stuff in the cloud!” THEY don’t see why you wouldn’t want a responsive site (or a headphone jack or an SD slot), so they’re just flat-out not going to give it to you. No objectivity what-so-ever. If YOU don’t use their product they way they want you to, it’s YOUR fault… not them.
With the recent push by Google towards mobile friendly sites, it seems that despite your objections – which are well reasoned – responsive design is here to stay. Your 3rd point – “Non-Responsive Designs Usually Work” – has been rendered moot. The question is no longer whether or not a non-responsive design looks okay on many mobile devices. It is now whether or not Google classifies the site as mobile friendly.
The fact alone that you’ve used the phrase “mindlessly pro-responsive” means that this site’s credibility has been entirely erased.
The closed-mindedness you’ve demonstrated in this post (even if it was ~3 years ago) is so astonishing I couldn’t even construct an argument against it.
This isn’t 2005 anymore and dinosaurs such as yourself will die out. Embrace the future and stop throwing your toys out of the pram.
ADDRESSING: “Haha, this is a responsive site”
I wish I’d found this article sooner. For all of you commenters who keep pointing out that this blog is RESPONSIVE. Tom has said “So far, so good. My site is built upon the WooThemes Canvas theme, which at the time of writing is not responsive (it will be shortly however — eek” … in other words, Tom writes here but it is not his blog and he is lamenting the theme he uses on his blog being made responsive in the future, which has happened by now or he has switched theme and his blog is now responsive.
ADDRESSING: “Defeats User Expectation” & “RD breaks consistency”
I cannot agree that RD breaks consistency in a meaningful way. For one thing, the options to RD are not feasible IMHO (those options being using non-responsive, and building a mobile only site). When I make these statements I am not considering all types of websites, just the type I build which are normally very suited to Twitter Bootstrap which admittedly is my favorite RD framework. I like its assumptions. As far as breaking consistency because the menu and sidebar change, I’d argue that going from mobile to desktop with the same website offers no valid option besides deviating from the desktop version, whether through RD or through building a separate mobile site (again IMHO leaving a site full-sized with sidebars, full header and menus is not acceptable on smaller devices like smartphones & dumb phones). So you have to break the consistency from desktop to mobile in one way or another. Doing that by creating a mobile version is more expensive and gives the user more to get used to when transitioning back and forth since mobile sites tend to be more of a change from the desktop version. If there is going to be a change, then the way that menus collapse into “hamburger nav menus” and sidebars drop below page content and atop the footer becomes a new standard people will get used to.
Its like the new design (design error IMHO) habit of making links black or gray. IMHO a textual link should always be visibly clickable and look different from regular text and not using black/gray text for links was a web no-no. But alas the design world is seeing many website designs using black and/or gray text links. Although I think it a bad idea, its evidently a new part of site designs that’s not going away – a new norm. In much the same way I believe its a new norm that nav menus turn into hamburger menus and sidebars drop below page content when viewing websites on small screen devices – it seems a natural thing to do in most cases.
Using a site on my smartphone (I have a Samsung Galaxy S4 so you know where I’m coming from) in desktop style and the old pinch & zoom is not acceptable having used RD sites. In the past maybe pinch & zoom was necessary, but now its an aggravation replaced by (IMHO, I know I keep saying that) a better way of doing things.
ADDRESSING: “RD costs more”
I do not understand this argument. Perhaps transitioning to RD has an associated cost – the learning curve, learning a new way of doing things & coding, but that’s not something normally passed along to the consumer. I personally settled on Twitter Bootstrap as the way to transition from old web design to RD sites.
Responsive design certainly has drawbacks. For example there is currently no simple way to serve either a larger header, or a medium header or a small header. In RD you need to serve all 3 (or both if you go with only large + small) and show the one you want, or you adjust the image in one of many ways (scaling or clipping usually). For many mobile users this means not only EXTRA data cost, but a higher data cost than would be optimal if only a suitably sized image could be served.
And there are certainly other drawbacks. I believe at this point RD is the best option we have available to serve sites to screens on phones on up to desktop. Android watches & TV screens? No comment, I have no experience with designing for these nor using them to view web sites.
RD does need some fixes and among that is finding a way to serve images especially formatted for mobile, (and maybe tablets), and desktops. Whether a third party “speed sniffer” is used to check the user’s connection speed, or HTML5 adds new tags allowing us to specify different versions of an image for different platforms, or you wait for something else to come along and just give in to the inability to accomplish this neatly, RD still presents the best option for serving many (most?) sites from desktop down to phones (IMHO, yep, I said it again).
THIS website includes many of the (poor) features that seem to have been implemented to pursue mobile users.
– Over-large font and line-spacing. A desktop User has to zoom to 75% or 80% to get an experience consistent with other sites
– A HUGE panel or photo at the top – forcing the User to scroll – even for a “taster” of the article.
As for commercial sites – if my first view is an uninformative panel or photo, I “bounce” elsewhere. So much for mobile friendly sites increaing “conversion” rates !
– Menus/Contents stripped down or in plain text, lacking traditional visual clues that distinguish passive text from an active link.
What’s wrong with shaded and rounded tabs and buttons that shout “click me”???
Too many sites have active text in the same size font as passive text. Making the User guess wastes their time.
– Reduced colour pallette. For the sake of some corporate design aestethetic another visual tool is dropped. Extremem versions are sites with shaded of grey – including monotone, flat icons, indistinguishable one from another.
Are all these dumbed down features necessary for mobile use?
Surely Apple had some colour and texture rich mobile Apps only recently?
My website currently places very well in search engines; in the top 5 on the first page of listings. The site contains a lot of INFORMATION and would not be easily read on a small phone, even if it was responsive. Folks can easily read it via new larger phones, tablets, laptops or desktops… just not on the older 480×320 size phones. Because my site is content driven and not meant for the short attention span of the average phone internet user, I’m going to wait and see how it affects my search engine placement (if at all) before considering converting to a responsive web design. Especially since the trend is toward using larger phones, not smaller ones.
Ironically this website IS responsive now.
I have to respectfully disagree with some points; I honestly don’t think users naturally expect the mobile version to look exactly the same as the desktop version. As a matter of fact I personally expect it to be different and don’t see how this is a huge turn off. As for cost; many of the free wp themes nowadays are responsive…. It doesn’t cost that much more unless you’re site is super customized. I do agree that the desktop version works fine in most cases. Everything loads fine on my new Note 4… I don’t have a tiny phone that needs the mobile to function; my phone can handle it all.
All I know, judging by some the comments, there are a lot of “experts” here, claiming there is only ONE right way to do things… their way, and therefore everyone else is wrong. I for one, find THAT annoying. The author makes some points to consider, and I will consider them.
Very interesting thoughts. I can’t help but agree with what you said about designers just liking the concept as opposed to having very strong reasons for it.
I have run a static website since 2008. It uses tables, has long pages with lots of photos, and has an extensive navigation in the sidebar. Unfortunately, the menus don’t work on IPads (you have to tap three times), and the site mixes content and design. The site is very successful nevertheless, but I feel that it has reached the end of its life cycle. I have therefore started learning Joomla (I am not a developer nor a designer) and chosen the responsive template Purity III for my first tests. In the beginning I was impressed that the pages on my test site adapted smoothly to desktop, IPad, and smartphone. However, I heavily rely on banner advertising and a three or four column layout where the ads show next to the content. However, in the mobile versions of my responsive test pages, the ads show up only after my long content. My clients would not accept that, and I would lose business. On my current site, I also use i-frames with 800px width on about 50 pages, and these i-frames do not seem to work either in a responsive Joomla layout. So I am very grateful that I came across your blog post. It has really opened my eyes and has made me to abandon the responsive concept (the Purity templates allows me to switch it off). In addition, during the last two years mobile phones have got larger and larger screens. I feel, therefore, that my new fixed-width Joomla site will work fine on desktop, tablet and smartphone.
I know u r a blogger, but still u should be commended for ur patience n time spent responding to so many of the original 150+ comments which clearly did not address ur interest, opinion n concern for the end user that is an active “surfer” n “user” of the web, content-rich sites n social media through the many platforms n viewports on today’s many different desktop n handheld devices. With that said, I’ve been a Creative Director for both traditional media n the web (pre-Netscape) for over 25 years n I can say with complete conviction that in today’s ever-changing landscape n world of “web-design” (focussing on what I believe to be the most important n incite-full comment in both ur articles), I believe it’s less to do with whether it’s about Grids (n such early adopters like “Khol & Subtraction) or Preprocessors for CSS like SaaS, but rather, “if the original web design” is creative, functional, user friendly, content rich and worthy of repeat visits. IMHO, the entire topic, discussion n updates on how best to use grids has gotten so out of hand that today, web designers n developers r creating desktop sites that look n function like a mobile site?!…WOW! When I first read about “Subtraction” n Kohls use of Grids for the NYTs online Newspaper, it made sense as an exercise n toll in organizing and presenting a lot of information. However, today, it’s all about “grid for grid-sake” and who can create the most user-friendly, automated, CSS-unnecessary version? I’m glad u wrote this article n again, IMHO, there should be more articles like urs that question the “purpose n use” of what is being designed n developed for the web today and more importantly, as the “visionaries, creators n teachers” of our generation, r we truly heading in the right direction? R we creating n designing “stuff” we NEED or it’s just another “thing Nice To Have”?
Responsive design is deff the future in web design. There is nothing more frustrating then browsing a website on your phone and finally finding the right site and trying to navigate a site that does not work well with your phone or tablet. Its a bummer to people who invested all this money over the last few years and now they see this technology becoming standard in the design world. I know for myself I’m slowly implementing this to all my websites for sure. Articles like this will help the community to stay updated when there web designers are not up to date.
It’s amazing how many people, including the author, don’t know the difference between ADAPTIVE web development and RESPONSIVE web development. SMH. You lose all credibility to me when you incorrectly associate “desktop view” links as something used in RWD at all, that’s an adaptive pattern.
My thoughts exactly; the author lost all credibility with the statement, “I believe that you must offer a prominent link to the desktop site”. He has completely missed understanding what responsive is! Responsive sites are the same HTML on any screen. It’s just that the elements are moved and/or hidden/displayed dynamically. There is no *link* to the desktop site. So I wonder if he is talking about mobile sites… in which case I couldn’t disagree more.
My thoughts too – BUT you can “disable” the media queries and do the jquery cookie plugin to stay on the “desktop” site… but who wants this? Makes no sense. Why should I prefer zooming in, zooming out, sliding, etc. on a site which is not optimized for my phone/tablet?
I often make this choice. Rationally, it may well make more sense to put up with some pinching and scrolling rather than taking the time to learn the new site layout. Further, if controls are hidden they may be the ones most convenient to use.
FWIW, since this post is now a bit aged, thought I’d provide feedback on your points.
1. It Defeats User Expectation — the underlying premise is that users universally have the same expectations and/or needs when visiting a site on desktop vs. mobile. I don’t agree with this. Yes, certain types of sites serve users in the same manner irrespective of device, but many will not. As an example, a B2B site with products or services that have a complex buyers journey would never successfully serve this equally on desktop and mobile. This is based on the type of content used to move people across the journey. This constraint does not rule out responsive, though. In the above scenario, a desktop site rendered on mobile will not be effective, and yet in the complex buyers journey there are roles (i.e. executive sponsors) that are adopting mobile in the workplace in droves–there’s plenty of data in support of this trend.
2. It Costs More and Takes Longer — completely agree with this notion, but with caveats where your description comes in. No doubt, for any web build, there needs to be rationale for the additional investment implicated by responsive. And, for web builds of a certain scale, going the responsive route comes with real tradeoffs beyond investment, such as functionality that on the desktop version represents core interaction points. However, I disagree that “it seems many designers start from a “responsive design is essential” viewpoint”. I just think it depends on the designer.
In my experience, designers are responsive advocates. Equally, in my experience a strategy is established that guides the design process, part and parcel to which is weighing pros / cons of a responsive approach. If that rationale is there, and the client agrees, responsive it is. If not, then we talk about alternatives.
3. Non-Responsive Designs Usually Work — I agree that modern mobile browsers render well-designed desktop sites effectively. But “good enough” is hardly a strategy, and this argument does not work standing alone.
I cannot think of a single client in my 15 years of web work for whom “it’s good enough” would get a nod. Not one. And, “good enough” means nothing outside of the context of business complexity, user needs, client wants, etc.
4. There is Often no Load Time Benefit — this is interesting, and I have not seen data to support either camp. However, my hunch is if a site isn’t just hiding content via css, but omitting and or replacing content via js (yes, a different bucket of worms), you’d see benefits. This would be a really interesting test, though.
5. It’s a Compromise — agree 100%, and you nailed the rationale that must be used for each and every site where UX considerations are on the table.
Isn’t this just the same article reworded?
I won’t call it a reworded article but its an second edition and answers to the response he received from some “provoked responsive design lovers”
I believe responsive design trend is the worst thing happen to the industry and what more worst is that its not easy to revert back to a saperate mobile site trend, because the perception is that responsive is cheaper than then a separate mobile site.
I completely agree with this article as well as the previous one (first edition) and will keep supporting all those who support non-responsive design. Infact non-responsive is the real responsive design because it responses in a right way. If i want to reduce the size of my browser while surifng the site, i should get horizontal scrollbar and not a completely new design.
…responsive design trend is the worst thing … its not easy to revert back to a saperate mobile site trend…
Good luck, with a mobile/tablet/tv or what else site development without responsive concepts for the many resolutions we currently have.
For me, responsive desing is just the core concept for fit all the different screens size. There is no way to develop a working site anymore. Remember 15 xears ago, there where may sites where you started with a front page offering to choose the resolution as your first click 😉
Great post, and i fully agree with the points stated. Responsive design has become a buzz word. I get to see other web development companies in Denmark promote themselves, and 2013 was all about responsive. Often targeting small companies, who definitely could spend that money wiser, since their mobile market is maybe 5% I know ours (morningtrain.dk) is not more than that.
Also: Why does many of the biggest high tech companies not have responsive design? Some dont even have seperate mobile sites. I dont want to be conservative, i like responsive design in some situations, but its definitely in most cases a “nice to have” rather than “need to have”.
I think responsive design is worth it if it can be accomplished for a reasonable cost. It’s obviously much more cost effective to have it done in the original design as opposed to an existing site.
I agree with Bob here. But I would say that the cost is more about technical debt.
My expertise is certainly more on the user side, not business implications, but we (companies) might want to spend a little more cash/time today to build something that won’t require as much upkeep.
To me, this article speaks to the reasons why we (as designers) cannot just say “make it responsive, problem solved”. It’s a continuous learning experience and we need to keep challenging the status quo, and I’m thankful for you doing that here.
I read both articles, and I do agree with your arguments. Let’s say for a moment that the main reason for responsive design is that it creates better user experience. If that’s true, then let’s build on what mobile devices already do to enable better user experience and build on that — after all, we can’t do more than what the browser or device allows for, right? One possibly obvious concept the touch screen. A design that would really benefit from larger buttons is compromised when those buttons appear that much smaller (and are that much harder to click with our massive thumbs) on a mobile screen.
That being said, let’s forget the “wow” of responsive design at least for a moment. Let the client dictate their goals to you first. If their mobile audience is large enough, and you can create a design concept that supports their goals, then justify the cost-benefit and let them decide.
In my practice, I don’t build responsive websites using media queries simply because you essentially load many items you don’t need. Instead, I find it more effective to design a separate layout for mobile, then use browser sniffing and jQuery to load the correct elements specifically for mobile. I tend to not hide things specifically for mobile just to simplify the design, because most of the time people want to be able to do the same things on your site using their desktop as they do using mobile.
Responsive Design is ugly, no matter how many big pictures you use to make it look interesting.
I agree with Brandon.
I am always up for a good debate when it comes to web programming and design. I always feel there are pros and cons for every approach when it comes to providing quality services to our clients. The only issue I have regards to the attempt to play the devil’s advocate against responsive design, is that you state it is unneccessary for “most” projects (websites). As designers and programmers I have learned, there is no one way fits all. It is like parenting, what works for one may not always work for another. To simply state that responsive is not neccessary and that most people would prefer to see the 70% shrunk version of your website is based on one opinion, you, the author of this argument.
I disagree, I am a huge fan of mobile versions being SIMPLE and to the point. I prefer that they be more visual, less rambling content that is not neccessary, navigation on both top and bottom (hides when I do not need them) and so on. This is my personal preference, which is the opposite of yours.
So, who is right? Me or you?
Food for thought, just because you like seeing the whole thing doesn’t mean everyone does.
Tom, you guys switched! I build responsive sites so I don’t blame you, but I’m interested to hear you take on why you switched now. Responsive adaptation has surged in popularity since you wrote this article. Do share please 😉
Have you addressed the fact that your website is now responsive?
I went through the comments and didn’t find anything about what seems to be a significant change of heart.
lol Just a left a comment about this too. Come on Tom, let’s hear it, for the sake of good conversation!
I wasn’t responsible for the design change 😉
Lol Well, that’s no fun Tom! Although it’s quite funny that your posts contradict ManageWP’s site which I’m now assuming you’re more of a guest poster of.
Bottom line, there’s no straight answer. It’s different for every website. Test, measure, & find out on your own. Every site doesn’t have to be responsive & some sites could really benefit from it. The truth is, I’d probably agree with you before some of these responsive obsessives. Don’t fall in love in love with techniques, fall in love with results.
Thanks for writing your two articles on this subject, they are excellent.
From my end user point of view I agree that not many responsive designs work well. I always feel like I’m missing out when I view a cut-down mobile version of a website!
Also, I think there are too many assumptions that people who are viewing a site on a mobile or tablet are ‘on-the-go’ – pretty much everyone I know browses the internet on their phone/tablet while sitting at home and watching TV. None of us can be bothered to turn on our computers these days.
The problem is that we want all the content and navigation as we’re using our mobile/tablet as a desktop alternative and some (actually most) of the responsive designs I’ve encountered are so rubbish (and won’t let me switch to desktop mode) I end up saying to myself “I’ll have to turn on my PC later to view this site properly” – but then I usually forget and never go back to the site.
I’d go for the desktop version of most sites on my mobile if I have the choice.
Don’t get me wrong, on the very odd occasion a mobile site will get it so right – but they are often what I think are called mobile specific sites, not responsive designs.
I definitely think people need to look before they leap when it comes to responsive design – don’t just jump in there without a good reason!
Thank you for two excellent articles. I am surprised to see responsive design touted as the “cure-all” to mobile friendliness by so many “designers” these days.
I don’t think for one second that you should neglect the mobile visitors since it’s a fast growing crowd.
But a good designer must consider how to create the best user experience for any device. And this also includes possible devices that do not yet exist. Thinking ahead is important.
I disagree with you that most desktop sites do well on smartphones. My experience is that, while some are comfortable with it, most people hate navigating around those on the phone. So I think an excellent mobile user experience must be considered in most cases.
But most responsive designs are done without much thought. It’s either “desktop first” and dumb it down or “mobile first” and add to that. It’s as you say always a compromise.
The designer needs to consider if the reason for visiting the site on a specific device is different from the other. Perhaps mobile visitors need to look up certain information quickly while a desktop user is there to interact or be entertained.
Also, the optimal UX for each device might differ so much that it’s too complex to do with a responsive approach. eCommerce is something that comes in mind here. I have yet to see a “desktop first” eCommerce site with a pleasant shopping experience on the phone and the other way around.
The best examples of mobile eCommerce are adaptive designs where they they give users on different devices a specific UX.
Designers who blindly suggest responsive design for every client is not a designer in my book. It’s not a one size fits all solution.
A designer must always put the end user first and figure out how to give him or her the best experience possible. If you put technology first and try to fit in the end user into that it will not be a good design.
Technology is a tool to be applied where it serves the best.
A well written and considered article. I’m amazed at some of the negative reaction it has provoked. The webdesign world seems to produce so many zealots with uncompromising utopian ways of thinking. My guess is that they’re just desperate to differentiate themselves from hobbyists and let people know that good design is actually quite a complex job.
Personally I agree with much of what you’ve said here. Most of the time, given the choice I to would much prefer to be presented with the desktop version of a website. It’s often a PITA having to reorientate yourself on a mobile version of a site when you’re used to the desktop version, especially when useful functionality is just hidden.
In my opinion RWD often puts too much emphasis on content (haha, I’m sure that will wind some people up!!). I’m serious though, I don’t just want to read whats on the current page, I want to be able to efficiently use and navigate the entire site. On a mobile version of the site important functionality that is found in sidebars on desktop versions of the site is often buried under lengthy content and requires endless scrolling to get to it.
As you say, non-responsive design usually works pretty well. If I want to focus on the content, a quick double tap will allow for that. Tablets and mobile phones are well designed and often offer much better solutions to browsing sites on small screens than even well considered responsive designs. Maybe a simpler direction to take would be to just ensure sites work harmoniously with the devices’ native solutions to browsing.
Possibly in the best of worlds the problems with RWD can be overcome and a responsive design can work well. However in the real world it seems that it can often take a lot more time, effort, money and skill than is available.
My simple and short comment is.. Just think, an Ant looking at Elephant.Is possible,Ant can calculate the size of an elephant?(I think,if my face fully visible, I am cute). Let them design compatible to all type of designs.(business goes there)
How can you change millions of (I think so) blogs and other similar type old informational sites not active now (stale) but still have a good pagerank or readers?.
I agree with the above disagreers.
1. It shouldn’t.
2. It takes more time? So does adding CSS, uploading images and all that other stuff. You don’t just code in HTML alone do you?
3. Your point on having found a responsive web design that doesn’t work is weaker than the Greek economy. Just because one site doesn’t work doesn’t mean responsive design doesn’t work.
4. That’s not why we’re doing it.
5. By not taking into account disabled users and making your website accessible you are compromising on morality.
I can agree fully with only one point that you’ve made here:
That it is good to be having this discussion, and it is helpful to hear opinions that span across the issue – pros, and cons.
Everything else though I have to disagree with.
One of the biggest things I have to say I disagreed with on the original article, which wasn’t addressed in this follow-up article is that the examples you shared and critiqued were examples of sites that were responsively designed POORLY. You gave examples of bad sites, and your arguments were typically pointed at bad practices that people implement while designing responsively. Well yeah! People make bad websites! No matter what tactic people use there will always be sites that are made poorly – but you can’t blame it on responsive design, and you certainly can’t use it as an argument for not using responsive design. That’s basically like saying “There are poorly made websites on the internet that are marked up with html, so we shouldn’t use html anymore!” I can give you an infinite amount of examples of websites that aren’t designed to be responsive, and are just as awful as can be, but in arguing for the implementation of responsive design I couldn’t logically, reasonably, or responsibly use that as a reason. Right?
As for the topics:
1. I think you failed to either realize or point out that people have different expectations when browsing the internet on a mobile device, and the context in which they are browsing IS relevant. It’s my understanding that people browsing on a small device are fully aware that the device they are using is…well, small. Right? They are fully aware of this and will probably come to the conclusion that less content will fit on the screen, if presented at a legible and comfortable size. I visited your Leaving Work Behind site on my mobile phone and can honestly say I did not enjoy the experience because the type was too small, I don’t enjoy doing the thumb thing to zoom in, and when trying to navigate the menu my fat fingers kept hitting the wrong button because they are too tiny to distinguish, and too tiny to read. Help me out by making these things more legible and functional on such a small screen!
The second part is the context in which it is viewed – I would argue that this is absolutely relevant to the user’s expectations. For example, when I”m on the train and browsing through my favorite blogs, I typically land on the page and want to see what the most recent post was, and if I like it I want to read it, and probably move onto the next blog. Is that sidebar with links to previous posts or whatever it might be really so important that they should impede on my ability to read the real content of the site? Now, more and more people are using their mobile devices to browse the internet while at home or in bed, and not necessarily on the go, but even in this context does the user REALLY expect the same experience as on the desktop? These are important questions, and I don’t think you really addressed them
2. I think the cost and time issue is extremely subjective, and is really kinda hard to talk about. For example – in theory, hiring a very “good” designer to make your site should cost more than hiring a “bad” designer to do your site – right? But someone who in reality is a very poor web designer might be charging more than another web designer who is actually really good. Pricing is so different for individuals that you can’t really save indefinitely that RWD is more expensive – cause it depends on the person you hire. I personally make sure that all of my clients sites look good and function properly on any screen, whether they are fully aware of it or not, and I don’t tack it on the bill as an extra – it is just becoming accepted that people WILL view any given site on their phone, and therefore the site should work properly on the phone.
I think with time it is really as subjective as money. It might take you 10 hours to do something that will take me 20 hours to complete. If you pay for the “good” responsive web designer, that person will probably have worked out a workflow that is probably no longer than the average site – again, it’s super subjective, so it really depends. But certainly, all of this subjectivity is no grounds for arguing that RWD is not worth it, is it?
3. You’re definitely right about assessing each project to determine who will be viewing the site and how they will be viewing it (so I guess I amend my original statement to “I can only fully agree with TWO points that you’ve made”) – but I would also say that in general I would absolutely lean towards advising web designers to consider EVERY visitor to their site and try and utilize practices that strive for 100% accessibility – because why shouldn’t you? Isn’t that what the web is about? Providing information for EVERYONE that can access it? Working with a company or agency or client’s budget and priorities is another story, because in the end you mostly have to do what they ask you to do, but I really think that given the choice of these two mentalities:
“I will design THIS way because it usually works for most people”
“I will design THIS way because I want it to work for as many people as it possibly can”
I’d choose and recommend the latter – wouldn’t you?
4. There is often no load time benefit – again, the very statement is problematic. For a poorly constructed responsive design that is loading multiple versions of all of the content or assets for each break point then you will really hurt the load time – but again, we cannot say “People will implement bad things while using this otherwise very productive tool, so let’s not use it!” – that’s ridiculous!
But, for the properly executed RWD that uses progressive enhancement to not load heavy scripts and other things that aren’t utilized in the small screen adaptation then it absolutely WILL cut down on load time.
5. In one way I would agree with you in your statement that RWD is a compromise (I’ll give you 2.5 points I agree with), and in another way I would strongly argue that NOT using RWD is a compromise.
RWD IS a compromise in the sense that it seeks to work with the different contexts a website will be viewed under, and serve the best presentation for the given context, and part of that process is moving or omitting certain things on the site. I don’t view this as a bad thing – I view this as a willingness to cooperate with your user’s context.
NOT using RWD is the bigger compromise – what you’re compromising is an optimum experience (as opposed to “eh, it works alright”) for what is an unarguably rapidly growing demographic of viewers to your site. You are making the comprise to say, “I will make the site at it’s best for desktop, and if it doesn’t look that great, or work that well on a smaller screen, well that’s okay” – that sounds like a much greater compromise to me.
I feel like all of the arguments I’ve posed are pretty reasonable and open-minded, but again, I do appreciate the fact that all of this discussion is being held due to your post that is arguing against the use of RWD, even though I think it’s pretty freakin’ rad.
Looking at your reason as to why you’re not a fan of it, I thought I could offer some ideas on each point.
1. It Defeats User Expectation
I would have to disagree with this. Sure users can be used to a site the way it is, but a good responsive design should never diminish the user experience. So long as the developers and designers think about implementing a good UX strategy, users can actually benefit from it.
2. It Costs More and Takes Longer
It doesn’t actually take that much longer. If you create a wireframe as you probably should do anyway, you’ll know where everything has to go. You can then easily work out what you want to happen and build it in. It just takes getting used to, that’s all. Remember when you first started building websites? I bet you can do it in a fraction of the time now since you’re used to it.
3. Non-Responsive Designs Usually Work
True, but then you’re asking the user to have far more interactions to get to the content. You’re then missing out on a huge factor of UX design. You need to give instant gratification with the least amount of interaction possible for the content the user is wanting.
4. There is Often no Load Time Benefit
If you’re developing with progressive enhancement then of course it can benefit mobile devices.
5. It’s a Compromise
Where is the compromise? Sure, maybe there is for the lazy developer who doesn’t like anything new because it’s hard for them to keep up. But I promise you, so long as you think about it and understand what you’re doing, there is no compromise. Learn to love solving the problems you’re faced with. that’s part of the interesting things about development.
One compromise could be the fact that you are using percentages for margins and when nesting or on a smaller viewport these margins will decrease in size. Not only that, but you get the rounding down effect that browsers implement so you don’t get blocks not fitting into the space they’re put into.
Solution to that – box-sizing. You can use this for less rounding down and to keep the margins the same size whether you are nesting on viewing in smaller viewports. Now that browsers are implementing the sub-pixel, it’s not so much of an issue. Still there, but will get better.
Regarding IE, you don’t need to make your grid responsive for IE8 and below. You can use a separate stylesheet for this and use the same classes but as fixed grids. For the life of me I have no idea why people spend so much time getting something responsive in IE when there isn’t any point to it. Put your classes on a separate stylesheet or use a prefix class to target older IE browsers. I’ve yet to see a phone using IE8. Exactly, no point. Stop wasting your time.
I beg to differ on 1 and 2.
1. Have you ever visited a desktop site and got the info you needed before leaving your house? Then when you need to access that info later but can’t because it’s not accessible on the mobile site. Now your angry because there is no way to switch back to the desktop view to get what you need. If you compromise the experience then I’m not seeing where it does the enduser a bit of good.
2. Yes, you can design and build it to work across all devices fairly quickly. However, when you start bug testing in 5 different browsers on desktop, 5 different smartphones, and 5 different tablets, it can get messy and can take quite a bit more time. Not to mention now you can get different browsers on tablets and smartphones. I love the concept but since I’ve been using it more and more, I’ve started to hate it more and more. I wish I could build responsive every time and it just work flawlessly, but in my experience it doesn’t always pan out that way.
I agree with the rest. Load time shouldn’t really be a factor. If it doesn’t hinder load time then why does it matter? Also, you should always expand and push yourself to do more and try new things or you’ll become stale and probably unemployed. However, I do think there is a time and place for responsive design and I don’t believe every site needs it.
You are, again, confused with responsive design definition. You say that, yes, you can have a good site that is responsive, but want a link to the desktop version nonetheless. Chances are, you would be linked to the same page… because it is the same! You talk about adaptative, not responsive. Even with desktop, you could resize the window to half it’s original size and that wouldn’t be “mobile”, but the content should still be readable and accessible. Responsive aims to take the load off the user so he can have a good experience no matter what device, screen resolution or window size he prefers, it sucks to zoom and pane, don’t make me to.
This is a good article:
Why “Responsive Web Design” Must Die: A Case Study
That article says… nothing. It only states that apple’s website sucks, nothing more. What’s your point? Responsive sucks because apple’s site does? So… violin sucks because you can’t play it?
Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The article is actually praising Apple’s site. It’s saying that Apple doesn’t want to compromise the experience just to roll with the trends. Creating an app for the store was the best thing to do. When someone goes to the Apple site they are either checking out or buying a product. Why not create something for the user that is tailored to that experience?
I can agree and disagree with this article and the linked article above. RWD can be useful but can also be a giant pain for the developer and the enduser. It’s extremely frustrating to me when I go to a website on my desktop then I need to pull it up on mobile while I’m out and loose that one thing that I needed. This all goes back to the experience. If you don’t compromise on the experience and leave all features in tack for all devices then I think the cost and time can be justified. But, if you have to leave out features on the phone or tablet, what good is that doing the visitor.
I’m glad there are people out there that are thinking smarter about the use of RWD and thinking about rather or not it’s worth it. I’ve worked on plenty of sites where the client just automatically wants it because it’s a buzz word much like “HTML5” or “CSS3”. Most of them don’t know that it does add time/cost to the project or have they even thought if it would be beneficial to go the responsive route.
Sorry for coming in so late – only just came across this article and I must admit it was a breath of fresh air.
It’s so good to see some minorities of web experts who haven’t been taken in with the “latest” fazz approach. I’m seeing responsive, HTML 5, mobile first being mentioned so many times but when I question why I never seen to get the right answers back!
Don’t get me wrong I think there is a time and a place for both solutions but exactly that – it’s not a one fit all. Dominic’s ecommerce example and info heavy sites are two great examples where I think responsive simply wouldn’t work for the user experience.
But technology wise there’s also the thought on the type of content (e.g. table?!?), the CMS & skills of editors (can people create responsive tables in a WYSIWYG editor, use RESS or alternatives for images) and load factors for responsive (my experience of responsive sites is that they’ll virtually all taken longer to load than their previous incarnations).
Finally are we assuming that users of different devices really do want the same content? I prefer the BBC news approach for mobile – I get the snippets I want when I want. If I want I go to desktop (wow just like the point of RSS feeds! lol)
I take it on a case by case basis, some layouts work better for responsive while others don’t and of course the clients budget gets thrown in the mix. My own site I am doing responsive, mainly because it is mine and becuse I don’t want to do multiple sites.
I’ve worked in the industry for a while and done a fair few implementations and reading around responsive design, and there seems to be a fare bit of confusion around just what the term means. Just to be clear, I’ve heard many people talk about experiences that “look similar” but device tailored as responsive design. Someone please correct me, but this goes against what I consider responsive design. I’ve always known it to be strictly the ability of a single page/view to realign itself when the width of the viewport changes. Thus giving different experiences across different devices but “all using the same physical page/view. Not to be confused with implementations like Facebook for instance that all share the same similar layout and functions and even some of the views are reused, but the overall experiences for each device are completely separate views/pages and in the case of FB domains.
I would argue that responsive design by the above definition (hopefully the correct one) can be a sleek solution in the case of smaller, low-functionality sites. (Blogs, News, Portfolio, Microsite etc.) However, once you venture into the enterprise, large-scale multi-paged, heavy functionality sites like (eCom, Portals/Intranets, RIAs) it’s seems like more work to MacGyver everything to work across all the channels rather then just creating “Views” for each channel with their own custom front-end logic and reusing as much of the server-side logic across the board.
My 2 cents.
A responsive site might not look so pretty but if you are looking for information on the go, I believe you would have no problem scrolling up and down (verticle) but it’s a pain to also scroll left and right (horizontal). I am in the process of having my sites moved to a responsive theme like this one http://1hellofadeal.info that I am building for a client. Eventually I will build out a custom separate mobile website with a redirect script.
Quick note about usability:
Let’s take your site, http://www.leavingworkbehind.com
It is not responsive and on a fixed grid with a content section and a sidebar. Since it is a blog, I am always (desktop, tablet, mobile) interested in only your content – your ads, navigation, etc are secondary to my purpose for visiting your site. On my mobile, the font is too small to read so I have to zoom. Due to the fixed grid being bigger than my phone, I cannot view the entire text at the same time so I have to scroll horizontally and vertically to read. I can also switch it to landscape mode in order to have the entire text appear in the viewport at the same time horizontally (only after zooming). There are at least three steps involved in getting to your content on my mobile.
Contrast this with http://www.smashingmagazine.com
Much the same purpose as your site, but responsive. I load the site on my mobile, and the content is the FIRST thing I see, taking up my entire viewport anyway I turn my phone without having to zoom. Nothing hinders me from the content – the navigation, ads, etc. are there but do not stop me from quickly accessing the content.
I am looking to completely redesign and code the luxury home furnishing company’s website and have been thinking about the Responsive vs Non-responsive debate for a while. With an image-based site, responsive could be great, but for companies in more traditional industries with a less progressive client, i just don’t think the cost for responsive is worth it. It’s not just the build cost (time + money) that gets you, it’s the maintenance costs as well.
Well done Tom, for preparing to stick your neck out and dare to criticise the whole Mobile First bandwagon. I do ecommerce sites, and responsive design just doesn’t cut it when you are dealing with shopping carts and the like. Frankly I am appalled by the attitudes of some so-called industry experts, who insist that they are 100% right and anybody with a differing opinion is an idiot.
I don’t ignore mobile users. Instead, I use jQuery Mobile to provide a site specially tailored for them. It is tailored to a mobile interface, and doesn’t involve endless scrolling, but each page has the option to view the desktop equivalent instead.
With regards to tablets, it is up to the developer to detect that they are not phones, and serve the desktop version as standard. I know this is possible because I do it myself.
Now, a responsive design based on a tablet as a base, instead of a phone, is a lot easier to deal with. Its only when you bring in the mobile that problems arise.
Another issue is page size. A mobile user is 99% more likely to have a poor quality connection, compared to a desktop. In the centre of a city, you may well get a decent, stable connection, but as soon as you enter suburbia or the countryside, the connection slows to a crawl. I live 30 miles from London, but surfing on 3G is a nightmare here. So mobile sites need to be as tight as possible.
Now, responsive design evangelists may well ignore what this “minority”, however, an ecommerce site cannot afford to. The simple reason for this is that a lot of the punters will be from rural areas who are shopping online precisely because they cannot get to a suitable shop nearby. I’ve lost count of the amount of orders I’ve seen on your sites which came from Wales or even the Orkneys. For these people, mobile isn’t an option.
I’m waffling now, but thanks once again for the article. Its nice to know I am not alone.
Thanks for the kind words and for sharing your thoughts Dominic!
Sounds like you’ve nailed your ecommerce website there Dominic.
I’m writing an open comparison between the two approaches, responsive and mobile first, could you post the link to your site? I’ve been looking for a site with browser/device detection and separate mobile and main website that is based around e-com and still supported by a single developer.
Let me know.
I’ve been tossing around the idea of responsive or a separate mobile site. My main concern with having a separate mobile site, is that you may have to completely redesign your whole website to fit the mobile requirements. Which could cost just as much as going the responsive route from the beginning. I think the content of your site plays the biggest factor, sometimes elements are just too dynamic for responsive.
Please forgive me in advance for my English, which is not fluent at all.
I must admit your two articles radically changed my opinion, or at least helped me a lot to filter pro-responsive intense marketing… THANK YOU 🙂 !
I’m building right now a brand new blog, considering I’m NOT a dev, designer,… just a poor lonesome WP basic user, wishing to do my best in terms of design and be up to date with 2012 standards, and knowing that at least 30-40 % of my readers will be on iPhone / iPad (based on my community – friends stats : no doubt on this point).
I decided to buy the PageLines frawework which fits most of my needs / CSS – hooks – php – HTML low experience : the framework is really drag & drop, easily customizable, etc), and I do no regret my choice at all… except the supposed “perfectly responsive” aspect.
1. I actually do realize that my very classic blog design (header up top, content to left side, one or two sidebars to the right depending on pages) is perfectly readable on iPad, and even on iPhone (provided I don’t add too many widgets everywhere 😉 !). And yes, I realize that finding my basic widgets at the bottom of my blog in responsive mode, like I see more or more everywhere on the blogs I read, is NOT a very good experience for readers, to say the least (and I don’t think at all they’ll get used to it : they just won’t read them, that’s all).
2. The supposedly responsive aspects of Pagelines are, too make it short, FALSE when it comes to iPhone : many sections / features do not adapt correctly, which is rather funny for a so called “out of the box” responsive framework ! When you ask for support, you’re more or less all the time asked to use browser specific CSS !
3. Hence, I found in Pagelines an option for the “Blog page” called… “Disable Mobile Optimized View” and checked it. Wonderful ! Everything perfect, all my work with Pagelines cool things not lost and got rid of responsive awful menus, widget positions, awful sliders on iPhone, etc, etc. ! And then the drama : this option seems to work only for the blog (i.e. home…) page, and the post – contact – etc. pages for instance remain desperetaly “responsive” ! I hesitate between laughing and crying.
What do you think of this testimony of a “newbie”, and would someone here by chance have a tip to make Pagelines fully… non responsive 🙂 ?
Eventually found the main Pagelines setting to make the whole site NOT responsibe (except some useful stuff like the PL shortcode embedding videos responsively, for instance) 🙂 !
Site Options \ Layout Editor \ Disable Mobile Optimized View (Forces mobile devices to see the full site)
Any comment on my testimony welcomed though.
You won’t be popular amongst certain people here, but I fully understand your reasoning. If you believe that a non-responsive design can still serve the majority of your mobile visitors, then why not?
You have to look at the bigger picture. You and your peers may continue to surf on your desktop & laptop for years to come. All your reasons are valid in the eyes of your own stereotypical web savvy net guru mind.
Your personal opinion hardly represents web traffic as a whole.
Yeah sorry you did say it wasn’t representation of the masses..
For me though, I’ll be future proofing my websites. It’ll save me time and money down the track I believe. Redesigns should be and far between as well.
Responsive design has become a big question for the web that must be thought carefully when starting a new project. I agree with most of your critics (the most important being the cost vs benefits aspect).
But as everything else, responsive design is a really good tool when used when and how it should be. Because a lot of websites today don’t implement it well as you say, people will learn from it and use it better, it’s just a tool that still have to be mastered after all.
My personal bad experience with responsive design actually is that you cannot zoom images. Simple isn’t it? if we just set a “responsive size” for an image, it will in best cases fill the device width. But you cannot zoom on it because the website was made to adapt to the width available and the browser won’t allow you to zoom. Bye bye all details.
To this day my conclusion is that responsive design true goal is to avoid horizontal scrolling/clipping of content. In blogs and similarly structured websites, maybe it does not matter as some mobile devices handle really well the navigation through a bit of zooming. But for webapps interfaces, it’s totally different. The access to the different functionalities can be improved through responsive design as I’m doing in my job. The goal being that the user has not to look for the place where he can access to some function.(as a sidebar menu stayed outside of the viewport)
Dealing with zooming in on self-scaling images is fairly trivial– just wrap all such images in a “tap to enlarge” link that loads the bare image, allowing all the usual pinch-zoom, etc, maneuvers.
I’d just like to point out that it’s “cost-benefit” (shorthand for “cost VS benefit”), not “cost benefit”.
“ONE RING TO RULE THEM ALL”
In the early 1980s, multiple companies were manufacturing their own analog synthesizers, creating obvious problems for musicians who wanted to not have to use 10 sets of keypads if they had 10 various synths from 5 or 10 different companies.
The Musical Interface Digital Instrument (MIDI) was developed in collaboration with the biggest musical instruments sellers on the market. It’s goal was to standardize a universal communication protocol in real-time between instruments coming from various manufacturers labs.
Microsoft, Mozilla and Apple still haven’t created a solid viable cross-platform browser and we’re already having to consider cross-devices issues.
I’m thinking we should have such a universal protocol established allowing consumer technology to FINALLY advance properly, and instead of focusing on the gazillion of individual support issues reported and shared on countless forums, we could finally have technology that could plug and play nice with its competitors.
But as long as hardware and software developers still believe it’s all about them and their market prominence, then we, the beta-testing guinea-pig investing end-consumers, will have to live with something that’s always broken, or mostly hit and miss working. If we’re lucky.
ThemeForest is a dreaming cocoon, somewhere you go for inspiration or out of desperation. Most of the products I’ve purchased there over the years, I can’t use. Incomplete documentation, out of breath or “we’re just volunteers, so you can wait 3 days” tech support, deceiving assessment of simplicity, nice and slick presentation with images that never make it into your sampledata.xml file because they’re copyrighted elsewhere, etc.
My last purchase dates of this week, amazing friendly pre-sale response from author (darn it, their themes were gorgeous, what could I do!?), but once you hit the road with it, responses are sparse, vague, and you to spell it out for them. But they don’t. Answers often are in morse code, if you will.
It’s like most pre-made theme outfits don’t have someone who remembers what it’s like to start from scratch. How do you tell someone “All you have to do is comment off the gallery function in your file.” I’m sure they mean well. Just not able to communicate properly with end-users.
What file exactly should I modify?
What does “comment off” mean?
How do I access this file?
What code do I use to modify?
Will that affect any other file or function?
Developers with relational skills and increased attention span wanted! :O) (if you’ve seen Welcome to Macintosh, one of the original coders suggests how he had to get out of there due to coders being too passionate about code, and not gifted enough as humans).
Am I complaining again? I can’t wait for the future when computers finally work!
You mention wanting developers with relational skills and increased attention spans: Those are not developers, those are CTOs, Project Leads, etc. It’s a rare breed (Which I like to think I am one of).
Most developers, because of how development is typically done, are not forced to deal with customers, all they deal with is their text editors or IDEs, and their peers. This leads to the issues you have had with Themeforest (And I imagine a number of other such sites), where they do not know how to deal with customers, but can make really wonderful things.
Now, I am not bashing on developers who don’t deal with customers, nor crowing about how I am able to do both, just telling you why things are the way they are.
Lots of good arguments and views on this.
Key factor fot the future has to be the mobile first approach – never mind the so called compromise.
If you look at the smart phone usage of kids in the US you will see that iphones are now reaching nearly 50% saturation – up on 25% last year. – thats iphones only not just smart phones.
Smart phones are outselling desktops.
Smart phones are used more in the home than out on the street. So making a mobile only version that gives a restaurants menu and not directions for example would be a mistake!
Responsive design is new – lots of folk don’t like it because it’s perceived as the latest bandwagon to be on. Actually its an elegant design/UI solution. It can be difficult to master – and there are still problems to solve but tomorrows web will smart phone/ tablet and desktop will be the minority.
It’s going to be an interesting next 5 years.
Mobile first… yes, and desktop sites like Apple’s do work fine on an iPhone :). And with tablets even less problems. I think people keep desktops longer, but buy new smartphones every or every second year.
Mobile first if good I think would mean less content, shorter articles etc. With RWD some articles get very long to scroll on a mobile.
I see a future of smartphones with capabilities to handle desktop sites well, movies, photos etc. Like some kind of a holographic screen… May be first step is the Google glassess…
I have never heard about any users leaving a website because it has a fixed width… Or leaving because it is not RWD. My own experince is that a good desktop site that is easy to use will do well on a smartphone.
I am all for apps. They are usually very different than websites and you use an app for a specific task.
“I have never heard” = hearsay is you research? As opposed to testing?
The issue is not fixed width layouts, even though they’re a bad idea. An easy to read and easy to use site on a large screen is not necessarily easy to use and read on a small touch screen, and yes people do leave or fail to accomplish what they wanted if they can’t read of navigate a site.
I beleive desktop sites should be tested on smartphones, to make sure they work, that text can be read (zooming OK), and navigation work.
Good point. If the desktop version works well on a mobile, then no need to change it.
I really enjoyed this follow up post, and I’m flattered to be quoted. As you mentioned, there are arguments for and against responsive design, but not enough people are considering the arguments against.
Responsive design is touted as a must-have feature, when in reality, it may not bring the right ROI for every business. If you’re ESPN.com, then mobile is a must, but if you’re LocalJoesDiner.com, then responsive may or may not be a must, depending on who your users are and how they use the site. If it’s going to cost double and not provide twice the return, then it can be argued that a responsive site is not yet necessary.
In then end, I’m not necessarily for or against responsive design, but I am for considering the needs of every business and deciding what provides the right ROI in each instance. When doing so, responsive design is a luxury in many cases. In addition, if responsive is done poorly and detracts from the desktop experience, then that’s a big problem since the majority of people still access sites through a desktop or laptop.
Thanks for the great posts and bringing out something that hasn’t been discussed enough.
Local Joes’s Diner probably has an audience that overwhelmingly wants a simple, mobile accessible site that is tied in well to social media and local search. Nearly every reason someone goes to a food/drink related site is to see the hours, directions, specials, or to find the phone number. Especially if there’s takeout ordering, being web-accessible on a phone is key, even if ordering via web form is not possible.
In this case a mobile site or app is probably the best solution.
My pleasure, and I couldn’t agree with you more.
I am a web designer since 1995. I am not a big fan of Responsive Web design. But I do like that desktop sites do not break on a smartphone. Apples website is great, it works good on my iPhone as well. And then it is the appstore app… I like apps for certain tasks!
Indeed, it is cool to look at RWD websites, change the browser window and see how the designers solved the problems. But, it does break the consistency, as said earlier here.
I am perfectly fine with using my iPhone for desktop sites. Moving around and zooming works great, I did that also with Pages and Numbers on my iPhone.
An app must be very different than the actual website for sure. I recently visited a website on my iPhone that I have used several times on my Macbook pro. But on my iPhone their mobile version loaded that was similar but different and I was super frustraded, i could not find what I was looking for, as things had been moved around.
I think future technology will make it easier to view websites on mobile devices. Maybe the devices will zoom up the screen into a big holographic screen when tappoing on the screen twice…
I have followed this conversation with interest. I believe it is important, and even crucial if we are to remain relevant, to understand that responsiveness isn’t a trend, but a new format reality that’s here to stay, and the exercise to comprehend the implications is vital, as it may also be needed next time some game-changing paradigm-shift comes along.
On the other hand, I don’t see how a quote for an e-commerce could jump as much as 38% from a “regular” quote. Is there really that much more work to be put in a new site if you immediately go responsive?
This developer may be stepping up his price 38% because he would be building the theme himself, customized specifically for the client. There are other options, as there are brilliant responsive themes coming out that could cut that cost drastically and only require attentiveness and familiarizing with the theme.
If I were a shop owner, I’d consider it important to have some elegant responsiveness to allow shoppers to access the site’s online store. Imagine they are shopping elsewhere and want to compare pricing, features, availability, etc. It could mean the difference between gaining or losing a sale.
I believe we need to have as much responsiveness as possible, without compromising the desktop/laptop/tablet experience.
Handheld mobile devices don’t offer much in term of emotional branding experience, and to make a site responsive, for me that is, would be to offer an option, one that will need to be practical, no less, no more. Somewhere, there needs to be a REAL website.
Just my Canadian .02… 🙂
thanks for all your guidance. I’m a customer / client, working with a web developer and graphic designer, and I need to decide if i want my site to be a responsive website. the site is going to be for e-commerce and will sell luxury goods geared towards women – jewelery, clothing, shoes,bags, etc. Our price points for the merchandise we sell range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. We have agreed upon a price of 15k to develop the site, then I started to learn about responsive web design and was quoted a 38% price increase (which is likely negotiable) to make the site responsive. I’m undecided on whether or not to add thousands of dollars to our design budget. my sense is it’s within reason to think that we will likely be designing a new and updated site within 5 years regardless, as technology changes so quickly and many competitors and unrelated business’s continue to come out with new and updated sites every few years regardless. “load time” and “cost benefit” resonate with me as important considerations, but ultimately it seems like it’s all about implementation which can leave the customer in a precarious position, as I’m unsure how the developer I’ve hired will execute the project in comparison to other developers. Do I go “responsive” and increase my budget 25% – 30%? or do I build a beautiful e-commerce site as planned, and plan to update it in 4-5 years once we stabilize the business? any and all insight or feedback I can go back to my developer with would be greatly appreciated. thanks!
Hmm… the cost increase is probably due to the fact that you’ve got an older ecommerce application that was built for desktop viewing. Wrangling it into shape may be quite a difficult task. Just waiting 2-5 years, if possible, might be worthwhile. By then there will probably be more of a beaten path for your platform to better defined goals about what it should do and look like on different devices. You might also want to change platforms by then too.
Re. the cost, $15,000 USD is at least half of what I’d expect to see quoted by a good small firm doing ecommerce development, so I wouldn’t say it’s unreasonable.
Oh, I see you got a quote of $15k that’s not responsive at all. You need to ask what your ROI will be for a 48% price increase to make your shop responsive. How much non-desktop traffic do you get? How many frustrated mobile customers are you losing? Many? Any? You can probably quantify the value of responsive versus non-responsive rather than just seeing it as 100% cost. There might be some half-measure workarounds to get you by a few years too, if you need a compromise. Shop around, try some different developers.
Sorry, meant 38%.
What Mr. newlocalmedia said — for the not inconsiderable $15k+ expense, you need to do some research on what kind of benefit a responsive design would have (in principle). It might be wise to spend some money to get this information (I couldn’t tell you how unfortunately, but I am sure it is possible).
You may also wish to shop around for alternative quotes.
Whenever I visit a site on my iPhone that I have visited with my desktop, and it looks similar but is the same I get confused and frustrated. Only time I feel good about it is when it is a mobile version and the site is mainly for buying tickets or something. Or an app for my internet banking.
I am perfectly fine with desktop sites on my iPhone.
This is often my experience, which is in part what drove me to write both of these articles.
Really? Try reading something like pcmag.com in their desktop version on an iphone. 4 columns, big ads — pretty hard going. Their mobile site is pretty bad in its navigation and redirects, but at least it’s readable.
Funny you should use that example.
I’ve just tried to load pcmag.com on my phone and got this message: “Smartphone Version is currently designed for use in portrait mode.” I like to read websites in landscape, so my expectation has been dashed before I’ve even seen the site, and the mobile design is forcing me to do something that I didn’t want.
Then I tried to flick down the screen quickly to find the desktop version, and it’s got some kind of strange enforced scroll thing going on. User expectation defeated again. Frustrated.
This mobile site is terrible! If I could figure out how to load the desktop design I would. But instead I’m going to leave.
Like I said, pcmag.com’s mobile site is bad, but at least it’s readable, and for it to be readable it has to “violate the user expectation” that a mobile site should be like the desktop version. I don’t think that’s actually a common expectation, and if it is, it needs to change — and it will change.
PCmag’s desktop version is bad and gets worse on a small screen. The mobile site, bad as it is, is actually readable because it does not try to look like the desktop site. The refusal to deal with landscape views on some pages is ridiculous — I saw that too and took a screen capture it’s such a good, funny, bad example.
They’ve got even more serious problems than that — search results you get on a mobile device won’t take you to the content you want due to bad redirects for mobile devices. The navigation isn’t great either. It’s not responsive design, it’s a hacky half-measure attempt to get some mobile functionality, but it still doesn’t (to me) suggest they’d be better off without any accommodations for mobile users unless they decided to simplify their layout. A sufficiently minimalistic one column design for conventional desktop screens will do better on small screens than 4 columns full of crap.
1. It Defeats User Expectation
As a user I expect to be able to use a website on any device I visit. If that website was designed fixed width for a large screen you can expect this user to be pissed off.
2. It Costs More and Takes Longer
Yes. Things done in a more elegant and researched way will always take longer and cost more than not doing anything at all. The alternatives are to do nothing and watch your customers move to an easier to use site, or spend time and money on mobile sites.
3. Non-Responsive Designs Usually Work
My 1992 toyota corolla usually works. My friends 2011 toyota corolla that was developed and built based on years of learning works even better.
4. There is Often no Load Time Benefit
But there can be a load time benefit if done properly. Why download 500kb pictures when a 50kb picture will do?
5. It’s a Compromise
I’m not sure what you mean here. Do you mean it is a comprise for having a mobile and a desktop website? As we’ve seen with the 37 Signals article on why they didn’t go with responsive design a mobile specific site can perform much better… but with it comes a second code base and additional costs.
At the end of the day this is the same for everything in the world. It depends. Having said that I don’t think the article goes into enough detail for each side of the argument. It’s mentioned that there are too many pro responsive articles but only been able to accomplish the reverse.
I hope to see some more balanced articles in the future, no doubt I’ll see them with the link baited headlines 😉
Uh oh, your website is responsivedesignweekly.com…this isn’t going to be good, is it 😉
1) I think you’ve taken too narrow a view here. Here’s a valid point: “If a desktop design is completely broken on mobile displays, that is bad.” Here’s another valid point: “If a responsive design delivers an experience that the user expects and finds intuitive, it is good.” Inbetween those two points is a big fat gray area, which was the crux of my point.
2) Hmm…I have a feeling you may be a fan of hyperbole 😉 In fairness, you didn’t say the “only” alternatives, but I’m pretty sure that’s what you wanted to imply. Non-responsive design does not result in either watching your customer base disappear or having to invest in mobile apps. If that were the case, non-responsive design would not exist.
3) If your old Toyota works and you can’t afford to upgrade, you’d keep driving it, right?
4) We’re in total agreement. There can be a load time benefit; there often isn’t. Glad we could agree on something 😉
5) No, I’m saying that no matter how you color it, responsive design is a compromise to desktop design. You may argue that it is a necessary compromise, I will argue that there are a whole bunch of desktop designs that I am perfectly happy browsing on my mobile device. There’s no right or wrong answer here, I’m just claiming an opinion.
I appreciate that you don’t feel the article is balanced, but sometimes you’ve just got to get things off your chest 🙂
Running the risk of putting words in your mout, based on your responses it seems your problem with responsive design isn’t the technique itself, but the added cost and poor implementation of the technique. You seem to see the benefits but have focussed more on the bad implementations which I can assure you there are a LOT.
This is mainly due to two reasons
1) People were very quick to push out responsive designs because it was the cool kid on the block.
2) It’s still finding it’s feet when it comes to best practices.
The only statement I really disagree with was #5. Responsive design isn’t a compromise to desktop design, it’s an evolution of desktop design that has been forced due to the sheer number of internet enabled devices. I think anyone who is focussing purely on desktop design is setting themselves up for failure in there very near future.
Thanks for your reply.
You’re half right in your assumption. I do have a big problem with the implementation of responsive design in many scenarios, but I also believe that the practice is touted by many as completely necessary under all circumstances, when it isn’t.
I think that my 5th point is being misconstrued by most people (I probably didn’t explain it well enough). Responsive design *is* a compromise to desktop design in that it typically offers reduced functionality etc (e.g. where’s my sidebar?). You might argue compellingly that it is a *necessary* compromise, and that’s a whole other thing to debate.
You can call it an evolution (and you’d probably be right to do so), but it’s an evolution borne out of compromise. Because people are accessing websites on smaller screens, web designers are having to compromise their desktop designs to suit.
Tom, who are the “many people” who “tout” responsive design as necessary in all circumstances? What is your basis for saying for saying responsive design “typically offers reduced functionality?”
Responsive design does not imply a loss in functionality. It can be used to drop sidebars or not drop them; it can be used to swap in different content and functionality for phones and tablets.
See Tim Kadlec:
“Blame the Implementation, Not the Technique”
Why assume a “consistent” user experience requires an identical or nearly identical design on all screens, especially since some are touch-based and others are controlled by peripheral hardware like a mouse? Why assume the largest screen sets the standard and everything else is subject to a progressive degradation — as a result of responsive design, not their implementation?
Consider the fact that responsive views for smaller or larger screens can have different but not necessarily less functionality. It depends on the implementation, which depends on specific use cases. Not all sites assume desktop browsers are their primary audience because they have a large minority or even a majority of small, touch-screen users. In some cases wide non-touch screens are seen as inferior and the ones necessitating a compromise. But why complain about physical limits and blame a technique for not being able to make a small screen big, or for its worst practitioners?
Criticizing unspecified individual implementations of responsive design as compromises makes no sense. Every other option is a compromise as well. Web design is always a matter of compromises and provisional solutions. Coding specs and standards are constantly in flux, as is the hardware.
Hey Tom, please define “disrespectful” as opposed to “pointedly critical.” It seems to me you’re just disregarding perfectly valid points you don’t want to deal with:
1) You don’t have a full disclosure statement in your bio below posts, or anywhere. Or am I missing something you can link to, that explains your relationship to the people you blog for? You are paid to post articles here, correct, as a kind of outside contractor for managewp.com?
2) Your blog post titles on this topic clearly identify “responsive design” as your subject, not “responsive design as you see it done most of the time.” When you admit you’re really talking about the latter, but you keep on using language at the top of your posts that seems to criticize responsive design techniques and concepts in principle, how is that not dishonest? How is that not an intentional result of putting audience reaction as a higher goal than fairness and accuracy?
3) Do you think that you’re competent to dismiss concepts or theories in astrophysics if you have a passing layman’s familiarity with them? Or to criticize the techniques of world class writers who have been widely recognized as the best? Or would you hesitate to do that? Why do you not have a similar hesitation and respect for the design community? Would you be comfortable trying to get into dialogue with someone widely regarded as an expert designer and exemplar of good responsive design?
4) Who/what are you really talking about as sources, and how numerous are they really? Is most responsive design truly deficient, or just a lot of it? Either way, is the low quality stuff largely coming from theme mills — and if so, isn’t it appropriate to clearly identify bad “responsive” WP theme design as your real topic?
As a paid blogger, when you write non-controversial how-to material, that’s one thing, but more controversial and side-taking positions that position you as a critic of an emerging orthodoxy in the design community look phony. Like someone saying “tableless design isn’t worth it” a few years back — it doesn’t look like you’re an honest contrarian unless you make a really good case and don’t have obvious ulterior motives. Do you deny having ulterior motives as a paid blogger, and do you think you’ve really made a good case that “responsive design may not be worth it?” Or just that “responsive design as represented by many low-quality WP theme providers is often poor?”
Disrespectful: “showing a lack of respect or courtesy; impolite”.
Accusing me of being dishonest, telling me that I don’t know (and don’t have a clue) what I’m talking about, and claiming that I have “suspect motivation”, are all (in my opinion) disrespectful comments that go beyond pointed criticism. Fortunately I have thick skin, and the opinion of a stranger on the internet rarely means much to me unless their comments are proven to be of note (I’m afraid that yours aren’t).
Whilst it is pretty clear to me that you have set your stall out, and that any further interaction between us would be pointless, I will respond nonetheless:
1) I am the editor of this blog, and it is a paid position. I understand that you are making a whole host of assumptions based upon that, and I see little point in addressing them.
2) In my humble opinion, you are taking the definition of the word “pedantic” to a whole new level. A headline’s job is to be succinct and impactful. A headline that does not precisely convey the whole message of an article is not dishonest. Go read a bunch of blog posts/magazine/newspaper articles and tell me that it is not common practice.
3) You’re trying to draw utterly absurd parallels. With respect to your craft (again, assuming that you are a web designer), web design is not akin to astrophysics or “world class writing”. I am have no direct interest in astrophysics. I *do* have a direct interest in web design, as I browse websites on a daily basis, write content for websites, run my own websites, and customize tweak my own WordPress websites. I may not be a “web designer”, but that does not preclude me from having a voice. And yes, I would *love* to debate responsive design with an expert designer — I have no doubt that I would learn an enormous amount (as I have from some of the comments in the previous article). You’re teaching me nothing about responsive design. You want to argue about link bait and semantics. Yawn.
4) Pedantic again. You’re trying to debate with me as to whether “most” responsive design is “deficient”, or “a lot” of it? Really? I’m sorry — I haven’t got the time to engage in such a pointless debate (not to mention the fact that the entire issue is opinion based, and you cannot “tell” me that I’m wrong, although you certainly do try).
Whether I have a valid case is one thing — the *fact* that I am an “honest contrarian”, as you aptly put it, is another. You must understand that the two things are separate. I absolutely deny that I have ulterior (i.e. intentionally hidden) motives, and again, I would assert that accusing me as such is disrespectful.
I am absolutely sure that I have made a good case for responsive design not being worth it under certain (many) circumstances. The cost benefit argument alone is one that every commercial website owner should bring under consideration. You are of course entitled to disagree, and do so respectfully (please, try the whole respect thing, it may be refreshing for you), and I welcome you to do so.
Tom, you’re utterly failing to make distinctions, the most important being criticism of a technique versus specific implementations of it. Your post titles on this topic consistently fail to make this distinction, and since you are paid to draw a crowd here, it looks suspect. You can say that is “disrespectful,” but it’s a fact, and I feel it hurts the ManageWP brand.
I appreciate your typical post topics, but when you venture into criticizing a whole design technique, you’re going outside your usual beat and as you admit your area of expertise. The question arises, “are you serious or are you just stirring the pot?” It’s possible to be serious and controversial, but doing that would require making distinctions and specific references to back up your “many” and “most” claims. If you’d really love to talk to expert designers about this, then do it. That’s the best way to show you are serious, but it would mean linking to other bloggers and external sources that are offering contrary arguments. (Unlike the guy who agreed with you and has his entire site built in Flash.) There are ample sources and existing dialogues you could have tapped into, but you didn’t. Who’s the pedant, really?
Responsive yes! Can’t wait for the day computers and the internet finally work…!
ThemeForest and such sites: lots of beautiful eye candy, some solid product, but it’s costly to discover them. Because many high-octane coders don’t know how to speak anything but klingon, and can sometimes get impatient if you don’t understand where to put that code they say to insert to fix an issue. So you feel like a bother… and cheated… Some coders are starting to catch up though and that’s a positive thing…
This being said, can anyone recommend elegantly coded responsive themes that just work (I am exhausted being a paying beta-tester)?
Canvas by Woothemes is a great responsive framework to start with. Much more organization is in included. All Woothemes come with child theme support and an API for custom hooks and filters. Totally recommend. I use them for clients!
Ian makes a good point — if you can find a good premium theme with elegant responsive design, that can be a way of going responsive without it costing a great deal more.
The cost argument is quite separate from the user experience argument you’ve been making. You really ought to note that responsive design may not cost anything extra in some use cases (like small, new sites) and others where it’s expensive might be due to the needs of old software that was never made to work in a world of many screen types. Furthermore, if you look at ROI, what you call the cost of responsive design may even out or be eclipsed by the profits. Are you talking about blogsites using WordPress, ecommerce sites runnign Magento? It makes a huge difference. Not the distinctions and real world particulars of specific use cases.
I’m a little puzzled by your comment as you’ve not said anything I disagree with (nor anything I argue against in either article).
The ROI and user experience arguments are of course separate (which is why I made them separate points).
You are absolutely correct that the benefit of responsive design might exceed the cost. I said that people should consider ROI, not blindly assume that responsive design is never financially viable.
Thanks Ian! Sorry I’ve been swamped and didn’t catch your reply till now…
I’m still very shy with using frameworks with child themes. I’ll have to check out the positives. It feels weird using both. I did a site that way and for some reason, it always made me feel nervous. “How many files will I have to modify to just push this images left a bit more, or make this header bigger, etc.”
I’ll have to study this deeper. I made this site here using Genesis and a child theme: http://www.iamsignificant.ca and it’s been quite a Rubik cube of an approach, or tridimensional chess.
(Strong agreement from designers whose sites are done entirely in Flash don’t count either.) Show us some designers who know how to do responsive right who agree with you that it’s not worth it.
If your real issue is that “most themes” in the theme mills like Theme Forest do responsive badly, that’s a different topic.
Your actual title says “Is responsive design still not worth it?” not “Is responsive design as it’s often done still not worth it?”
To try to slide into saying that’s all you ever intended is dishonest. You don’t say that, because it wouldn’t work as well as link bait.
More linkbait for a hired blogger.
You’re not a designer, and if you knew what you’re talking about, designers could talk meaningfully with you. But you don’t have a clue, and your motivation is suspect, you can’t make a meaningful contribution on this topic unless you’re prepared to be very honest and/or do some homework.
Like maybe you could share how many people who strongly agreed with you are designers, and I don’t mean those who crank out themes without touching any code and then install something like WPtouch.
Disrespectful comments aren’t worthy of a response. Take a leaf out of some of your more mature design colleagues’ (assuming you are a designer) books and take a more level-headed approach if you wish — then I might respond.
Don’t agree with your conclusions here but admire your willingness to question prevailing wisdom. Personally, I’ve never been comfortable going with the flow on much. So, kudos for thought provocation.
I think responsive design isn’t a trend, but a standard, albeit a newer one. Mobile readership is exploding in a way that I don’t know we can fully appreciate yet. But, aspect ratios are sure to vary more, not less, as more hardware players enter the game.
The only way to meet the uncertainty of that challenge is to make the uncertainty irrelevant. Responsiveness is the key to that, I feel.
As an aside, I appreciate your civil replies. Civility is a dying art in the West. Thanks for bucking that trend too. 🙂
Thanks for “getting it” Clay. You are a rare beast 🙂 as for the civil replies, I wish I got more of them myself 😉
I am inclined to agree with you on the “trend” versus “standard” argument. And I’m sure that standards in responsive design will only get better. However, I stand by points on user expectation, cost benefit, and compromise when it comes to a lot of responsive designs. Those issues will hopefully become less relevant in time. Furthermore, I still say that many sites simply don’t “need” to be responsive.
In my opinion the ultimate answer to this question is – depends. Responsive design won’t work for all sites. It’s great for simple, portfolio or business sites that don’t have many unique areas and where responsive layout doesn’t require too many trade-offs. I work for a company that recently tweaked a very complex directory theme to feature a responsive design. While everything works fine, it’s just not…it. As someone that spent days/months playing with the desktop version the responsive layout definitely leaves something to be desired.
These days pretty much everyone has a smartphone, and browsers on those things are very good. Doesn’t matter if you have an iPhone, Android or WP7 – chances are the desktop site will render just fine. Those few mobile visitors without smartphones are not enough to pay more. If it’s the same, go for it!
I see it like this:
Simple site – responsive
Complex site – nothing or a mobile version
Super complex site – mobile version or a smartphone app
In broad terms, I agree with you. I think that’s the problem with the debate surrounding responsive design — in that “gray area” I spoke about, there is no “right” or “wrong”. There are simply opinions. Of course, some people consider their opinions to be gospel 😉
“These days pretty much everyone has a smartphone, and browsers on those things are very good. Doesn’t matter if you have an iPhone, Android or WP7 – chances are the desktop site will render just fine. ”
I agree, it works great for me. Some sites better, some not too good. It’s always good as a designer to check if the desktop site work on a smartphone.
I have, as I stated before, no problems surfing desktop sites on my iPhone. I love to see a big site on the small screen and then zoom in, or tap twice on the screen on the column I want to read. There is just something about it that I like.
And then I like apps for certain stuff as internet banking. Am I the only professional web designer feeling like this?
I think you’re a rare breed Lillis, but don’t worry — there are plenty of users out there who feel the same way!
I am a huge fan of responsive design and include it in my estimates/proposals for all my new website projects. If my client is completely opposed to responsive design then I won’t include it. However, I think the pros outweigh the cons. It’s a great opportunity to help your clients upgrade their browsers as well. 🙂
The majority of the websites that I’ve built in 2012 have been responsive. People are so used mobile apps (facebook, twitter, linkedin, instagram, etc.) that have similar menus as websites with responsive design. When I explain it this way, I am able to manage their expectations while providing a solution that they are already comfortable with.
If you use a responsive development framework then it really shouldn’t take too much longer to code a responsive design than it would a standard design. Sometimes I find that it actually takes less time to get the basic structure down.
Overall, responsive design gets me excited and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
What he said!
Are you saying that when you design a responsive site, it doesn’t cost the client much more?
I am saying that it doesn’t cost me any more time to make a site responsive. In turn, it can be wrapped into a web project pretty easily and within budget if using a framework like LESS or Bootstrap.
There are a few good WordPress theme frameworks out there that implement responsive design as well. Just to name a few: Canvas by WooThemes, Headway Themes, Pagelines, Genesis. There are more out there but I have first hand experience with these.
We recently hired a web developer and a number of discussions I have had with him demonstrates he is definitely of a mindset that Responsive Design should always be used. These dicussions have had me reflect on my attitudes towards RD and based on my past experience (which is more Development biased than Design) I tend to agree with Tom’s points. This is primarily based on a fundamental approach I take in solutions of providing a consistent user interface which RD tends to break. At first I wondered if my initial negative reaction to RD was due to an irrational more emotive response until I realised it was due to it breaking my cardinal rule of consistency. I see this more and more as web sites are changed to detect mobile devices and then display something completly foreign to me where I cannot find navigation options usually present on the full desktop version of the site.
Admittedly, a lot of what I do revolves around browser based apps for internal consumption of corporates so I see RD being of less importance (even considering the rapid uptake of tablets and smartphones), again on the basis of coming back to Tom’s argument of what percentage of the user base would benefit. I can see that in some external facing sites it would be of benefit but it’s impact should be kept to a minimum, again to retain consistency.
Where it is ok (IMO) to break this consistency, to some extent, is where device specific apps are used. This disjoin is obvious to the user and the difference in behaviour is usually expected but when viewing a web site via a browser, regardless of the device, the experience should be the same (as much as possible).
Ultimately, I am a ‘horses for courses’ sort of guy so I haven’t ruled out using RD altogether, however, (personally) I am yet to come across a compelling argument. Who knows. maybe you are the one to deliver it!
If you can make responsive sites for yourself in no more time, then that’s obviously a great option for you.
If as a web designer you choose to deliver a responsive design at no further cost, then obviously the cost benefit considerations go out the window.
I understand that there are a lot of frameworks out there that offer responsive design as standard, so if amateur developers can pick them up and run with them (and actually like the responsiveness), they are great options.
My statement was a bit generalized but I still stand by it. Designing my personal sites is obviously easier because I don’t have to manage anyone’s expectations. 🙂
The pricing and requirements all depend on the client. In the beginning I explain the possibilites and talk numbers. If the budget is lower, I suggest a preexisting theme that we’ll customize to match their branding. The client also knows their limitations / constraints when moving in a theme direction.
If the client’s budget/needs are more complex then we move into custom design territory. The planning behind a custom responsive site obviously takes more time and that time is accounted for in the pricing/estimate.
Amateurs can definitely pickup a responsive framework and go to town. Professionals can take the same framework and make something completely different. I use a framework that I have customized as my starting point. It allows for rapid development and includes settings/plugins/etc that I use on every site. Why start from scratch each time?
Right now I have several websites in development that are more “brochure” and don’t really have anything special about their functionality. They are all responsive designs and will definitely be more “template-y” looking if thats even a word. 🙂
I am also working on a completely custom site for a college that we are planning/designing each aspect of the responsive design. This won’t look or feel like anything else because it’s unique to this site.
Good conversation by the way. 🙂
I like the idea of responsive design, but I think its effect on page load comes down to the developer. Most responsive WP themes I have seen are on Themeforest. Although some are great looking, the code is so barbaric. Thousands of lines of HTML are loaded with dozens of scripts and stylesheets, all so that the template can fit any one persons business. Yes, they do work, but the tradeoff for a one size fits all is page load time, (especially when the devs just stick all scripts/css in header.php). I think responsive design is great on a custom theme. The code is clean and has only one purpose.
I think you’ll find that most mindlessly pro-responsive designers would also be against the themes on Theme Forest, so I don’t think that’s open for debate 😉