The case for responsive web design

I recently quoted a tweet from Stephen Hay (@stephenhay):

“There is no Mobile Web. There is only The Web, which we view in different ways. There is also no Desktop Web. Or Tablet Web. Thank you.”


Greg Nudelman (@designcaffeine) was definitely in a bad mood and overreacted with like 12 tweets cursing the responsive design business as a whole and one web as a concept in particular.

Check the whole conversation.

It was pretty sad to see an experienced designer, the kind of a guy to speak at conferences and co-write a book, react in such a bad way.

The following is an extended reply to a few of his reactions in reverse chronology.

@designcaffeine: .@AlexDbk just cause someone says it don’t mean you have to repeat it. Be your own expert – use your own brains.

Greg, I am my own practicing expert, thank you. Flexible framework on my current project (controls-packed, RIA dashboard / spreadsheet tool) enables users to make full use of med-to-high resolution displays to show and manage data-packed UIs. It immediately enables us to present more data to those who own bigger monitors without sacrificing much for those operating at as low as 1024px.

@designcaffeine: .@AlexDbk Responsive banking sites? Social networking? Email? Photo service? Slideshare? Maps? Invoicing? Editors? <silence>

All of the big players have the budget and teams to cover for not only the presumed mobile phone-serving alternative websites, but also native apps and whatnot. And guess what, I do resort to Gmail, Facebook, flickr, my banks’ “desktop” websites on my mobile to perform operations their “mobile” versions (or even an app for that matter) can’t do. Can’t do for a single reason — moving all of the features to those separate mobile instances is something even big players can’t afford or manage effectively. But when I do use a phone to do something important on a desktop website version, the websites designed with flexibility and responsiveness in mind are ahead of the game, making me zoom in and pan around less or get the job done with minimal inconvenience.

@designcaffeine: .@AlexDbk Please someone point me to a responsive website that is not content-based. Something that works. I’d REALLY like to see that.

Responsive web design for RIA still is early days. It’s the thing for the businesses wanting to use cutting edge & be prepared for tomorrow. Or the smarter startups that want to reach more audience without fragmenting the product. You also can’t overlook all of the big players optimizing their layouts to cover for more resolutions, provide larger targets for users to click and tap (Google, Microsoft, MySpace, flickr included).

@designcaffeine: .@AlexDbk One Web is not just a myth. It’s stupid. Now it’s all these little expensive hacks. Hiding content. Pulling in different pieces.

Now these couple of comments make it pretty clear Greg  didn’t study the subject thoroughly enough.

@designcaffeine: .@AlexDbk just. try. this. idea. outside. US. #ohyesthereis

I am outside US. And I did spend a couple of years browsing web via Opera Mini on a 176x220px feature phone (J2EE) before moving on to a smartphone and a tablet. So do know them apples from my personal experience.

My closing question Greg never replied to:

@AlexDbk: @designcaffeine Would love to hear about your approach to building complex products for startups that work well across platforms.

The author of the quote that started all the talk blogged to answer the flood of reactions he received posting the statement in the first place:

There is no Mobile Web

Another argument against dedicated mobile websites from a leading design agency in Russia:

The most stupid thing to do is to build a separate mobile version of a website.
Perhaps, at a meeting room on the 45th floor of a major bank’s headquarters a beautiful presentation on the mobile website’s advantages sounds really convincing.
“Watch this! We take an ordinary iphone. Go to your website. And what do we see? A regular website! How awful. Check out how the Smith Bank does it. They provide a custom-made mobile version! Three buttons is all!”
“Mary Isabelle, please sign a contract with these young gentlemen.”
Let us say it once more in case someone didn’t pay attention to the first sentence: The most stupid thing to do is to build a separate mobile version of a website.
Only for clients with a severe surplus of money does it make sense to build mobile website versions.
What’s good about a modern smartphone? The fact that it’s practically a full-size computer. It can do anything. And it includes displaying websites quite adequately. The question is, if a phone manages to open websites, why complicate things? A phone is sufficient to display it just fine.
To prove that there is no real need for mobile versions just look at Apple. They started it all, developing iphones and ipads. Their devices open their home website like any computer does. No mobile versions involved.


Why not take the time to read “Responsive Web Design” by Ethan Marcotte, stay on the pulse of change and embrace future, the way people actually consume your content and use your products? Not a tough sell to product team, increasingly easier to implement, already happening.

More reading:


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