I don't think it means what you think it means

Submitted by exaboy on Sat, 12/01/2012 - 21:57
I don't think it means what you think it means

There has been much talk about "Responsive Web Design"(RWD), a term coined by the beloved Ethan Marcotte, and in short it's a principle that encourages our industry to stop building websites like it's 2003. With the plethora of web enabled devices kicking around we are at a point in time where traditional methods are failing fast and new processes must be put in place, for everyone's sake.

"Progressive enhancement", "Adaptive web design", "Graceful degradation" are all buzzwords with very few actually understand their meaning let alone know how to go about implementing. Now let's add "Responsive web design" to that list. There are some outstanding examples of RWD done well, but equally there are plenty of bad ones which, historically, is always the reason why we all can't have nice things.

When movements go bad or are misunderstood, bad things tend to happen - just look at the horror IE6 has caused. Why? Well because developers were never disciplined enough to master it, but rather were quick to sweep it under the carpet and move on. Huge mistake. What about this business with the "fold"? Another terrible digital mistake. And the list goes on and on. We as an industry dig ourselves into these holes and are then left to dig our way out again.

So that we don&'t ruin this great new movement we need to understand the principles and work hard to preserve them, the best way is to snub out misconceptions as quickly as possible. Recently released was the "Responsive Design Sketchbook" which elegantly outlines the major device pixel dimensions for consideration in design. This will no doubt be useful for those desperate for tools to help their thought process. Immediately though, warning bells sound when considering the consequences of those that will mistakenly think of this as definitive. Of course a savvy designer would appreciate these are simple guides to visualise how they would like their design to look at different breakpoints.

I've been assured by the authors that the intentions are to "think of the pixel measures as labels for narrower or wider viewports, not hard rules." and "The book helps me suss out how a layout might adapt from small to wide." Reiterating the point that there are helpful starting or consideration points for your design.

So at this point it bears repeating the point of RWD is that when a design reaches its natural breakpoint - that is when it no longer looks good - then you should introduce a breakpoint and the design then 'responds' to the new dimension. That's it, no more, no less. RWD in a nutshell.
For developers working with designers these sketches would be gold-dust if the printed dimensions were scored out and replaced with those of the specific dimension of the design at hand (which I would encourage). Then, when they sit down to devise a plan of attack, any potential issues will become apparent quite quickly and great harmony can permeate.

The great thing about the "Responsive Design Sketchbook" is that it will help continue to saturate the industry with the RWD movement and designers and developers alike will all learn to get along and start producing lovely websites that both they and their clients adore.