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Responsive Web Design: More Than a Buzzword

The time is nigh, my friends. The momentum has been building for the latest buzz word in the industry, “responsive design,” but hardly anyone is putting it to use. I think that’s partially because it goes against traditional web design practices, but mostly because it’s harder. It will just flat out take longer to design and develop responsive websites.

What is responsive design, you ask? It’s a combination of creating fluid layouts, flexible media and providing alternate layouts to various screen sizes. Huh? Let me translate: users will visit your site on a variety of screens (from 27″ monitors in full screen, to 13″ laptop screens, to 3.5″ mobile phones), so instead of creating your site with a static width, allow the design to react to different screen sizes to provide a better experience. Ethan Marcotte (@beep) sums this up nicely in Responsive Web Design:
Because more than anything, web design is about asking the right questions. And really, that’s what responsive web design is: a possible solution, a way to more fully design for the web’s inherent flexibility.
If you want to see this in action, take a look at the Food Sense website and resize your browser window. Watch the content dance around and you’ll get an idea what the site would look like on various devices. For more examples, check out Smashing Magazine‘s recent article “Responsive Web Design Techniques, Tools and Design Strategies.”
Responsive web sites won’t happen overnight, and they aren’t always going to be the right answer. There may always be cases where a static width website just makes more sense. And there are still a lot of things to consider, like what the hell do you do when they are running Safari full screen in Lion on a 27″ iMac? In the coming months, it will be interesting to see the techniques that become available to help designers create the multiple versions of layouts that are needed in fluid layouts. If we can make it easier to design fluid layouts, I think we’ll see a trend towards ditching fixed width websites.