Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design seems necessary for the variety of devices that people are currently using to access the web. Smartphones, tablets, even handheld gaming devices can and are being used like mini computers to read articles, access e-mail, pay bills, get directions, watch videos, and whole slew of other things. To continue to design websites that only cater to PCs is to live in a state of denial and to potentially turn away customers which can effect a business’ growth. In Ethan Marcotte’s article, Responsive Web Design, he says “mobile browsing is expected to outpace desktop-based access within three to five years. We’ve already reached the three year point, as that article was published in May of 2010, and we are seeing statistics that back up that quote.  A more recent piece by Pete Cashmore, Why 2013 is the Year of Responsive Web Design,  links to another article that provides statistics that “2012 has been a very unusual year in the PC market. For the first time since 2001, PC sales are projected to be lower than they were in the previous year.” In addition, Cashmore notes that ” tablet sales are expected to exceed 100 million this year. Their sales numbers may top notebooks next year.  Smartphones, of course, are also a hot commodity — according to Nielsen, the majority of U.S. mobile subscribers now own smartphones, not feature phones.” Web design needs to keep in step with technology and design for the needs of these users, which obviously is not a minority and are not going away anytime soon.

Ethan Marcotte, as well as Pete Cashmore agree that a combination of media queries, fluid grids, and flexible images are three necessary elements for responsive web design, so browser size can be detected and the website adjust it’s layout, content, and images for the size of the screen viewing the material. The Mashable website is a perfect example of responsive web design, as the layout of the site adjusts as you resize your browser window.

When reading Ethan Marcotte’s writing, a couple of his statements seemed contradictory to me. First, he said, “…flexible designs make no assumptions about a browser window’s width, and adapt beautifully to devices that have portrait and landscape modes.”  Then, in the next sentence he says, “But no design, fixed or fluid, scales seamlessly beyond the context for which it was originally intended.” Lastly, he tells us that, “In short, our flexible design works well enough in the desktop-centric context for which it was designed, but isn’t optimized to extend far beyond that.” I thought he told us that no certain browser size was assumed when the design was made, but then he said the design might have issues when a browser beyond the intended size render the content and then, oh yeah, it works best when viewed on a PC screen because that’s the browser size it was designed to be viewed on. What? Each statement makes senses to me, but the three together don’t quite support one another. Nonetheless, I think I understood the article, for the most part.

I must admit, responsive web design is new to me. I had never heard of it before taking a class in Interactive Design. Since I’m in the minority, one who doesn’t own a Smartphone or tablet, responsive design wasn’t an issue I’d encountered in my daily life, but I can definitely see why it is an issue for those who do use those browsing devices on a regular basis. I find it fascinating that websites can be designed to detect the browser size and adjust accordingly.

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