Responsive Web Design is the Wrong Paradigm

3 minute read
Martijn van Berkum avatar

Responsive Web Design is hot. With the rise of all kinds of devices like mobile phones, tablets, internet-TVs, all kinds of form factors for laptops and PCs, the traditional way of designing websites needed to be changed.

In the past, you looked up in your statistics for your website what the average lowest denominator screen resolution, browser and browser version was. Then, the designer started to design your website for that lowest common denominator.

This is increasingly unviable.There are now so many devices, browsers, screen resolutions that this won't work anymore. Designers now start to work with a small, basic website and then do progressive enhancement; if a device or a browser has more capability, use that. So in summary: be responsive to the context of the end-user. Let the design respond to what the end-user uses to access your content.

Design Shouldn’t Respond to the Device

I had several discussions about responsive design in the last months. Although I admire responsive web design as an approach, it also strikes me as a weird, intermediate approach. A design shouldn't respond to the device or the browser of the end-user. A design should respond to the end-user herself.

Let me give an example: I have seen Responsive Designs for a major airline. This design was beautiful: it adapted nicely to other browser window sizes, for example when an iPad is being used the buttons are automatically bigger (so you can use it with your potential fat fingers). Less important content (for example, where you can park your car or flight arrivals information) is removed or placed below the fold when the resolution isn't big enough. UI design patterns used on devices like iOS or Android are automatically inherited in the design. It's great.

Learning Opportunities

But if you were to take responsive design to the extreme: why show someone how to park his or her car if you just know from previous visits that he hasn't even got a car? Why remove flight arrivals information if you know that the visitor wants to pick a passenger from the airport? Why show them a big flight reservation widget if the visitor has just booked a flight, why not show the visitor the departure times and weather at the destination and show a small flight reservation widget?

Real Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design is a good step. But it would be so much better if responsive web design was REALLY responsive, not only to the device of the visitor, which is just the medium the visitor is using at that time, but responsive to the visitor itself. So this is a call-to-action for all designers out there: get to know the visitors of the sites you are designing for, try to determine his or her wishes, her customer journey, and make beautiful designs that respond to that!

Editor's Note: You may also be interested in this article by Martijn Van Berkum:

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About the author

Martijn van Berkum

Martijn van Berkum ― CTO GX Software. GX Software creates world class online marketing tools like GX WebManager -- Web Content Management tailored for all your engagement needs and BlueConic -- Customer Driven Online Engagement software