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Responsive Design

What does it mean for a design to be ‘responsive’?

Your site/app responds to the screen it’s being browsed on.

More generally, it’s about responding to user need, but screen size is the most common consideration.

What’s this ‘viewport’ that people keep mentioning?

Your user’s viewport is their view of your site, which may be smaller than all of the content you’re trying to show.

Why should I care about responsive design?

If you have to work to adjust your site for only some of your users, you’re spending time (and money!) not providing value to the rest of your users.

The most efficient way to build things is to make them usable by everyone. This won’t always be practical, but it’s a good starting point.

It’s also the best way to build things for the long-term. How people browse the web will continue to evolve in ways we haven’t predicted.

Why should I design ‘mobile-first’?

This is often justified by the increasing number of people browsing on mobile devices.

Even if your site isn’t heavily used on mobile right now, it’s still worth considering, because doing the hardest thing first tends to lead to better results.

Restrictions breed creativity. You’ll often find simpler and more efficient ways to present your content if you start without the freedom of a large viewport.

What are some techniques I can use to achieve a responsive design?

  • Design for smaller viewports first (this is sometimes called ‘mobile-first’)
  • Change some components at certain size breakpoints using media queries
  • Use modern styling techniques like the CSS flexbox layout
  • Use a styling framework with responsivity built-in, like Bootstrap or Foundation

Where can I learn more?

Responsive Web Design Basics from Google’s “Web Fundamentals” guide.

Ethan Marcotte, coiner of the term “Responsive Design”, going into some detail about why it’s important.

A Government Digital Service blog post diving into how to use some of the techniques.