What is Responsive Web Design? The Problem…

09 May
May 9, 2011

As I said in my last post, one of the initial purposes of this blog is to document my learning curve in the use and understanding of a relatively new methodology called Responsive Web Design. But what is Responsive Web Design?

The Problem

In the past,  web development focused exclusively on the desktop web browsers. We worried and agonized over how different browsers would present our code; if Internet Explorer’s handling of web standards and CSS would break everything, and cause us hours or rework and hacks; if we should use a fluid of fixed width design; and if we decided on fixed width, how wide?

As computer hardware evolved, bigger monitors become accessible to the average consumer with higher screen resolutions. In the not to distant past, we would build a website with dimensions to fit into an 800 x 600 resolution monitor, then into 1024 x 768, and it keeps changing. As I write this, I am looking at a 27″ monitor, running 1920 x 1080, and there are desktop monitors with much higher resolution available.

What about laptops? They generally have a smaller screen, but quite often have high pixel resolution available. Then there are the netbooks; those small, ultra-portable laptop computers that sold like the proverbial hotcakes, with a cramped 9″ or 10″ screen, and some strange resolution such as 1024 x 600.

Then there are mobile phones, which do so much more than just make phone calls today. Smart phones include some very sophisticated software, including full or almost full versions of web browsers, displaying an entire website in a 3″ screen, with a resolution of 320 x 480 or 480 x 320 (the iPhone), or smaller. Not a particularly good web browsing experience.

Now let’s throw in the latest online media and web consumption devices, tablets, in various flavors and screen resolutions.

As web developers, we would quickly (and some would say already have) go crazy trying to make a website work on all of those different devices and resolutions.

That’s where the concept of Responsive Web Design comes in, to save what is left of our sanity.

3 replies
  1. Jack Horner says:

    Hi Jay,

    Ok, I’m intrigued. But while you have outlined the problem, or as I have usually seen it, several interrelated problems. I’m not sure I see an elegant path forward. When are you planning on the reveal?


  2. jtm says:

    Hi Jack,

    I will be outlining some possible solutions in upcoming blog posts, and presenting everything at the Responsive Web Design presentation at the NAGW conference in Cincinnati. Really hope to see your there.

    In the meantime, here is the article that started it all: http://www.alistapart.com/articles/responsive-web-design/

    Thanks for reading,


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  1. […] my earlier post, “What is Responsive Web Design? The Problem…“, I outlined one of the many issues facing web developers today, namely how to deal with all […]

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