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Why Responsive Design Is Not Worth It (managewp.com)
170 points by muriithi on Sept 25, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 135 comments



Wrong.

wrong. wrong. wrong. wrong. wrong.

A rebuttal -

1. It Defeats User Expectation

This only holds true if A: your user has never seen a mobile site before (and if they are on a phone thats true for about ~0.5s), or B: if your responsive design is poorly implemented. A well designed site will be intuitive.

2 - It Costs More and Takes Longer

Let's assume that you have customers that will use your site on a non desktop device. If that is the case - you are making users use the wrong tool for the job. A site that takes advantage of the desktop experience will not work as well on mobile. Creating a tailored experience for them will absolutely increase conversion (if your site converts anyone to anything), and at the very least, reduce frustration and eye strain. I can't speak for everyone, but the month or two of part time work it took one of my jobs to add a mobile site was paid for by the increase in sales not too much long after. Not only that, but its now built in. When the kindle fire was released, we saw great numbers on that device. Why? because the responsive design was well done and fit that device's screen great. Saying that it 'costs more' is incredibly short sighted.

3.Non-Responsive Designs Usually Work

'working' doesn't mean it can't work better. all text websites work, too. But we use images because they enhance the experience.

4. There is Often No Load Time Benefit All this is saying is that a lot of sites are done badly. This has nothing to do with the style of responsive design in general. Tools like Modernizr allow you to optionally load a number of resources that would otherwise not load.

5. It’s a Compromise Of course? All design is compromise. The goal is to make the compromise in the favor of the customer.

Responsive design is not a silver bullet, and not always a good idea, depending on the site - but this article is /really / weak.


So many people talk about responsive design taking longer and being not worth the effort.... That's true if you start with the desktop and try and work your way backwards to the small screen, which is how a lot of designers look at it, I think.

If you take a progressive enhancement approach and work your way up from low-end mobile to full-featured desktop, the process is 100x easier and the end result is, in my experience, an overall cleaner and more stable code base that makes for better performance across all devices/platforms.


Untrue in my experience, but if you're experience has been positive that's great. I've done the mobile first approach and found that for anything with interactions that are more complex than a simple blog or other content driven service it does add significant time and effort and the quality of the desktop experience typically also suffers as most of the focus is on polishing the look and feel of the mobile browser experience in addition to addressing each and every browser quirk between Android and iOS.

I'm a fan of responsive/adaptive designs but based on experience just dont' feel I can always recommend the "mobile first" approach to startups. Perhaps for more established businesses that can afford the extra design effort, it's fine. I still have a lot of reservations though.


There are a lot of cases where responsive design just isn't a good fit, and something with complex user interactions (like a lot of web apps) is often one of them. Responsive design is great for things like content sites, galleries, informational sites... most forms of content publishing. Anything that requires the user to actually create and/or manage large amounts of data or has a lot of interactive media, however, would probably benefit more from a dedicated mobile site and/or app.


You are absolutely right about the complex user interactions. In that case the responsive design could just be informational only (hiding all the complex features that would otherwise be very hard to use on a mobile screen).


This is a terrible suggestion. The age of crippled, stripped down mobile sites is long gone, and smartphone users expect full functionality on their phones. If that functionality can be provided with a responsive design, that's great. If they have to use the regular website and do some zooming and panning, that's a nuisance, but one with which users are familiar. It's certainly better than not having the feature available at all, or having to hunt for a link to disable the mobile layout.


I'm really tired of everyone talking in absolutes (also the overuse of the word terrible). The right answer is (almost) always "it depends".

It depends how critical that functionality is to the core value the site provides. It depends how appropriate it is to a mobile platform experience.

As a contrived example I'd probably be perfectly happy if I could only browse, read, and maybe vote on HN if the mobile experience of reading was significantly improved. I never want to write a comment from my phone, I hate typing on it. Not a great example since a textarea isn't complex and it's easy to add to a mobile layout, I just want to get across the point that not all interaction is appropriate or important on every platform.

This is why responsive design is hard, because doing it well means far more than just changing the layout, size and visibility of elements. It is a different interaction paradigm and generally will need to be treated as such to maintain a quality experience.


>As a contrived example I'd probably be perfectly happy if I could only browse, read, and maybe vote on HN if the mobile experience of reading was significantly improved. I never want to write a comment from my phone, I hate typing on it. Not a great example since a textarea isn't complex and it's easy to add to a mobile layout, I just want to get across the point that not all interaction is appropriate or important on every platform.

But you didn't get across the point, because your example isn't true. I want to post on HN from my phone; heck, I've posted on HN from my kindle before. I wouldn't give that up for all the optimized mobile design in the world.

Grandparent is right, an absolute is appropriate here. Provide all the functionality of your desktop site, or I won't use your mobile site.


That's exactly how I started, with the low-end mobile and worked my way up. Check out a little project I made using css media queries. http://www.TimeForZen.com (resize the window width to mimic tablet and smart phone widths)

It didn't defeat user expectation, it didn't cost more and take longer, it works better than a non responsive design would, it doesn't really save any bandwidth but it does make code maintenance easy, and it's NOT a compromise.

I can see some of his points when applied to more complicated non-blog sites with ads and sidebars. Rather than say "responsive design isn't worth it" he should have written it from the perspective of "responsive design isn't always enough".


When I tap-zoom the text in your "about" page on my (retina, iOS 6) iPad, the text box moves off the screen to the left, and when I scroll down on the same page, the top of the text box moves down with the viewport. Sadly, I have come to "expect" these sorts of strange behaviors on responsive sites...


I decided to try converting some of my site designs to bootstrap recently, instead of having one of our developers do it. I haven't actually coded the HTML/CSS design on an entire page in 3 or 4 years now (not counting simple stuff) and this was light years easier than I ever remember. If responsive design is hard, your doing it wrong.


You built one very basic bootstrap site and despite not having done HTML/CSS in 3/4 years you've now got the expertise to tell everyone else they are doing responsive design wrong?

I've built responsive sites in Bootstrap, Foundation and "without a net" and I wouldn't presume to tell anyone what's hard or not about responsive design or even if I'm doing it right or wrong. Look if out-of-the-box Bootstrap is good enough for your needs (and more importantly your user's) awesome. That's called an anecdote.


I totally agree with this.

When I shifted my design thinking to use this approach to building UX, I found not only were my sites/apps easier to bring to mobile but the desktop versions were usually better as well. Mobile first designs often lead to better designs on desktop, at least in my experience so far (with content-heavy apps).


>That's true if you start with the desktop and try and work your way backwards to the small screen

I resize my browser window to be less wide. If it looks too big, I add some CSS to fix that. I resize it to be even thinner. If it now looks too big again, I'll add some CSS to fix it. And then I'm done.

Granted, I'm a programmer, not a designer, but this is the way I do "responsive design".


i second that :)


I'm going to take exception to your 2nd point.

To start, regardless of whether the experiment pays off long-term, that does not negate the fact that it does require extra design and development time. There is much more code to handle, regardless of whether you use a framework or build it bespoke. Additionally, whether you design for mobile first, or last, there is more design time required. Period.

Second, both the author and OP have lumped 100% of all websites together, and generalized the argument. Sure, responsive may be worthwhile in some cases (as the post misses), but there are many cases where it isn't worthwhile.

My argument for using responsive is that yes, it's worthwhile, if and when the return is there. As a freelancer, this means I must be getting paid for the extra work. As a company owner, this means that we must see value from the resource spend, which could be in the form of better UX, more eyeballs, or more profits.


Indeed. I consider myself fairly well informed compared to most of my peers, but the sheer choice of technologies for building modern web apps (responsiveness, other front-end UX considerations) is daunting. I'm trying to build up a list of modern web design/development links for myself, but I'm already lost. The parent comment about "modernizr" made me sigh with frustration: yet another tool/tech I don't know about or have time to learn.


I don't meant to be rude but if you are not familiar with Modernizr and you work with markup; you are probably nowhere near as well informed as you think you are.


I'm confused. Is this argument for responsive versus standalone desktop or mobile, or responsive versus two sites, one for each.

Because I'd like to say that managing two projects, be it two code bases that both have to be created and configured, takes just as long if not longer, than simply building the edge cases needed for an intuitive responsive site.

But there's points for both methods in my books. I just think not accounting for mobile either way is ridiculous (unless a client is unwilling to pay for it).


I'm saying that in many cases, you don't have two projects, you have just one, which is that of the website built for desktop/laptop screens. Could be a cheap client, or a short-term project that doesn't require a mobile site, etc.


And I, to yours.

No one is saying that it takes extra time and money. Everything that is done in your life takes time and energy. But if you can do x amount of work and get y amount of gain, where x < y, I don't see the fact that x exists as a negative.

To your second point, please see my conclusion. I agree with you.


I would argue 1 even in the case of users that have seen mobile sites before. Unless the desktop version of the site is completely unusable on a mobile device (which to me points to bad design anyway), I've hated mobile site experiences... the reality is that good mobile site design is the exception rather than the rule. Take eBay for example. The mobile site makes me feel like I'm on WAP and not a device with more power than the Space Shuttle.

On that note, I'm really curious what "continue to full site" clickthroughs are across the internet. I could be the only one thinking this way.


I totally agree. It's happened to me many many times that some functionality is missing on the mobile website, and they usually make it impossible to get to it (eg. LinkedIn (and many other sites, including a lot of Google-made things) even though it has an option to go to the desktop site, it will automatically send you to the mobile site on some parts of the site, completely defeating the option of going to the desktop site).


That is mostly because eBay is a generally badly designed site. They have one of the most averse-to-change user bases on top of it, so bad decisions stick for a longtime.

Check out amazon, or google for wonderful mobile versions of sites.

I don't understand your question - are you saying how to full site click throughs work? Most of the time it sets a cookie or a query string that overrides the session 'isMobile' value. If you meant something else - please elaborate.


If by google sites you mean google.com and the search results, I would agree, but anything else is usually a disaster, including pretty much all of google apps.

As the article says, the good sites are not the rule, but the exception.

And I think the question in the above comment was simply about wondering how many people, out of all mobile visitors to a website, click on the desktop version link (what percentage of users prefer the desktop version on their mobile devices).


No disagreements on eBay's terrible design. If you go to 5 different pages on their desktop site you'll get 5 fully different designs.

OK, let's take Amazon (I was going to complain about Google's image search for mobile but I just checked it and it addressed the issues I had with it... still no pinch to zoom, though). On the desktop site, I get a home page filled with images of products that I'm probably interested in based on my previous Amazon habits. On the mobile site, I mostly get text with a small image advertising the Kindle Fire. If I browse to books, I get ~5 list items on the screen at one time, vs the desktop version (on my mobile) that gives me a landing page of bestsellers and books tailored to my interests. There's a whole layer of functionality missing on the mobile version for the sake of formatting that I don't honestly need. The reason why the original iPhone's web browser was so amazing was that it made it comfortable and efficient to browse full desktop web pages on a small screen via the whole pinch to zoom action. On a text heavy page, if I double tap it reflows the whole page to fit text on my screen.

Now, I'm not totally against mobile sites. I've seen some truly wonderfully designed mobile sites like Google's main page and some from design centric companies who don't rely heavily on long lists or grids of items. But I would generally agree with the OP that dedicated mobile sites are largely unnecessary at best and a design nightmare most of the time that actually serves to degrade the expected user experience. Users want to pinch to zoom and drag and double tap.

No I'm asking about click through rates to full sites. As in, what percentage of users choose to stay on the mobile version and what percentage click through to the full desktop site? What percentage of users know how to change their user agent on their mobile browser to only get desktop sites (probably minuscule).


I agreed with your first post. I am also holding out for the thought that there are exceptions. Interestingly, this comment stood out to me: "That is mostly because eBay is a generally badly designed site. They have one of the most averse-to-change user bases on top of it, so bad decisions stick for a longtime." But they have a huge userbase. Transactions are happening. This is where my confusion kicks in... People claim a site has bad design, but a ton of users actively use the service. I would venture to guess that a large percentage of those users are not tech-savvy.

So what is the measure by which we are able to claim that some site's design is "bad"? I provide the counter: large, active userbase and a lot of money moving through ebay. Perhaps not enough money goes there? Do we think someone could create a competitor to ebay with a "better" site design and steal ebay's crowd? What role does site design actually play here?


I think you bring up some interesting points, but I just want to address the "Do we think someone could create a competitor to ebay with a "better" site design and steal ebay's crowd?" line.

eBay isn't successful because of design or lack of design. It's successful because it's where people go to sell or buy in an online auction format. Same thing for Craigslist.

Yet look at Apple, specifically the iPhone and iPod. The smartphone and mp3 player were not new innovations, but Apple's design and marketing built the world's richest company on them.

TL;DR: Design makes all the difference. Design makes none of the difference.


My personal experience is that more often than not I end up searching for the "Desktop version" link. Especially on websites I'm familiar with. It would appear that "poorly implemented" is the norm. Bottom line: I suffer.


Yup, can't agree more. This article is a joke.


> 'working' doesn't mean it can't work better.

And while modern phones have become rather good at zooming on the content (which does not mean the text gets big enough, far from it, I regularly encounter blogs I can't read without using readability other other equivalent tools, because the font is too small even zoomed in) scrolling is still rather fiddly, especially one-handed: it's not rare that the scrolling "starts wrong" and I end up decentered from the column I want to read, and now I have to fiddle with positioning and zooming to get back to reading.



Thank you for writing this so I didn't have to.


It seems the whole brunt of the article is, "Eh, it's good enough the way it is." It's just lazy and useless.


Actually, I think he's suggestion that we should let the hardware manufacturers and OS providers worry about scaling content to their screens/OS, rather than doing it all client side.


The hardware/OS-providers will almost always do a far worse job though, because they simply don't have enough information. Just using smaller pixels or hardware scaling/filtering to linearly scale down a "big browser" site typically results in an unreadable page at typical mobile screen-sizes.

Useful size-adaptability is all about knowing what's important and what's not, and what constraints need to be maintained for usability. The site author knows these things very well, but the hardware / OS / browser do not.


Biggest proof that this article is wrong? I'm on my phone reading the blog post and the site doesn't scale for my screen width and it is so annoying to read because I have to keep scrolling left and right to see all of the text. I got so frustrated I didnt even continue reading the article and I left the site. That is what will happen with users when a site doesn't display properly for their device, it's a fact.


Yep, the inline images seem to have disabled my mobile browser's magic reflow thing. On the other hand, that suggests that the article should have narrower rows of text even on desktop (95 characters per line is on the high side of recommended widths for legibility; not unreasonable, but suboptimal), and usually I prefer to read desktop sites since zooming is actually a nice way to navigate around content - better than dealing with usually buggy and often limited mobile sites. In the example in the post, I would have much preferred to double tap once to read the text on Cats who Code than to have to scroll all the way down to find awkwardly laid out sidebar content.


I sometimes do go with the regular version of a website on my phone, but generally I prefer a mobile optimized version, less ads, more readable font size, faster loading, etc. Reading HN on a phone isn't that great, I use http://cheeaun.github.com/hnmobile/#/ and added it to my home page. It makes a world of a difference, except I can't comment from the app.


Good point, but of course installing a decent browser is the counter argument. Admittedly my 3 year old Nokia may not be very representative, but its Opera Mini version solves that problem beautifully. My hunch is that it uses heuristics to find the main text area (which nearly every site has), and adjusts the css of that block to $SCREEN_WIDTH. It's been able to do this ever since I started using it in 2009. Now, I've lived under a rock since then, but are you really saying that your mobile browser doesn't do something like that?

I believe it's such browsers that the author was referring to.

Still, admittedly, using heuristics to patch the css shouldn't really be a browser's task, so your point holds.


If you are building a modern day site, there is just no reason not to make it mobile (phone/tablet) friendly. If you don't want to redesign an existing website, you can just make a separate site that redirects, but which is a less elegant solution.


> of course installing a decent browser is the counter argument

That's not a counter-argument at all. That's a solution for the user, not for the developer.


"I am a fan of responsive (or alternative) design in certain situations – for example, when dealing with a web application whose desktop design could not practically be contained within a mobile device’s screen."

That's the whole idea.


Note that the author is a wordpress blogger. He may be referring to traditional web sites more than the average HN'er, to who the entire web consists of apps (and a few blogs over there in the corner). I believe that his point has a lot more merits when considering web sites than when considering web apps.

For example, my favourite online newspapers on my cellphone are those which don't default to some half-arsed mobile layout.


>For example, my favourite online newspapers on my cellphone are those which don't default to some half-arsed mobile layout.

Again, that's an argument against bad responsive design, not responsive design in general.


Why do so many responses seem to be "well, that's just a bad example of it"? It reminds me of the similar "well, they're just not a true conservative/liberal".


Except that skrebbel said "some half-arsed mobile layout", which automatically narrows us down to the cases where responsive design is implemented poorly. It is ridiculous to argue against a design technique because sometimes the technique is executed badly, and that's the argument that skrebbel's comment put forward.

And no, it isn't in any way similar to "no true Scotsman". There is a pretty simple and clear definition of what responsive design is, and that goalpost does not move from example to example. There are cases of responsive design that interfere with the user. There are other cases where you would only notice that it's responsive if you actually compared the site on mobile vs. on the desktop. The latter is good design, while the former is bad design.


So the converse is true instead? eMachines are PCs, thus all PCs suck?

Yeah, some responsive web designs suck. Some are good. Raging against all responsive web design is as silly as raging against all grouped and stereotyped things.


My thoughts exactly. The article can seemingly be reduced to "Responsive design is not worth it (except when it is)"


"Responsive design is (often) not worth it"


I just hate not having a choice. So many sites now make it impossible to see the non-mobile version, unless you have a browser that lets you fake the User-Agent, and mobile Safari isn't one of those.

This is exceptionally irritating when the browser is more than capable of displaying the full site properly, and the mobile site doesn't have all the features of the regular site.

Continuing a bit off topic on my rant, another terrible UX is finding an article you want to read in a search, tapping the link, and finding out that article isn't available in the mobile site, and simultaneously not giving an option for the full site. Taking it even further, some sites force you to download the mobile app, and only then do you find out the article isn't available in that app! I'm going to stop now - I'm getting so mad just thinking about it.


Agreed, not having a choice is frustrating, and as you point out, having a capable mobile browser alleviates many of those issues.


Personally, I do not want to see a sidebar, taking up a third of the screen, on my smartphone. I find the example that he considers fine quite unusable and would not read that on a smartphone.


Double-tap on the text. Like the article says. It really does work, quite often way better than attempts at responsive design. And then there's the reader functionality in my phone.

The issue isn't, I think, responsive design itself, it's that it's not so trivial to make it work better than device-based workarounds.


Is it just me, or is double-tapping on text still not usable enough? Every time I do that, my finger inadvertently slides horizontally instead of vertically, and I need to re-center the text to continue reading.

This is one of the main reasons I love readers like Instapaper.


But why require someone to double tap on the text? On a blog like this, the primary action of the user is to read the article. It's bad user experience to require an extra unnecessary step to do the primary action.


Because you might have some more pressing issues to fix than that -- it's not a good experience, but, unless you did something horrible (which newspapers often do, unfortunately), it's not that bad either. It is economy of time and attention, especially as there's always a risk that your "better" version won't be good enough anyway, and people like me will use the text extraction features of the browser anyway.

Edit: I don't mean to say that it's necessarily a bad idea to go responsive -- it's just that it's not a clear, universal win.


Wouldn't that make you think that we should revisit the sidebar to find a more effective way to navigate rather than simply telling the user that you shouldn't have any options?


> Wouldn't that make you think that we should revisit the sidebar

No.

The sidebar works and is effective when there's significant horizontal space, such as on a desktop screen with ample horizontal space. It just does not work when horizontal space is a premium, as is the case on smartphones (which generally barely fit a standard typographic line length at readable size in portrait)


Sidebars don't add anything necessary to the user experience. It's just clutter. If there's enough horizontal space, I suggest using columns instead, they fit the purpose better.


> Sidebars don't add anything necessary to the user experience. It's just clutter.

This is a really weird argument; sidebars are preferable to a lot of other patterns depending on the site and doesn't at all mean the content is less important than anything else on the page.


Apple hardly use any sidebars (web/iOS/OS X). Even in the new iTunes they removed the sidebars. I can go on with the examples.


Can't tell if you're trolling at this point or if we're both misunderstanding each other. http://store.apple.com/us, the iTunes store and the App Store all rely heavily on sidebar navigation. Vertical content containers save space in addition to giving the user an area of the page that is generally relevant to what they're on the site for (shopping carts, advanced search, related content/archives, account information) without needlessly cluttering the more important horizontal space.


Neither. It's just that different things needs different design approaches. An online store has nothing in common with a presentation site. Just like a real store needs shelves, an online store needs to group the information somehow. Sidebars aren't the only way to group information. I bet Apple will redesign its online store in the near future.


This is a really weird argument

No, it's pretty much on target. Sidebars need to go away.


As many people, I find a long text (like a blog post sometimes is) easiest to read if it is about ~80 characters wide. My laptop has a 16:9 display, and I usually have my browser in full-screen mode with tabs in a sidebar on the left. This leaves plenty of space for a website to put a sidebar and text side by side, so I don't really mind it on the desktop.

Obviously, if the sidebar does not add much (like on many blogs), I wouldn't mind if it goes away entirely.

edit: Columns seem to be problematic when there is no well-defined "end-of-page", as on paper.


Didn't I read somewhere that Steve Jobs was against mobile versions of websites saying that the iPhone was designed to display the same website that you see on your computer?

I know that as a consumer, I get annoyed when a mobile version of a site comes up and the first thing I do is check for the "Desktop Site" link. I just don't trust that the developer has included everything in the mobile site that the desktop site includes.

A well designed site will look and act great on a desktop, iOS device and Android device without extra work.


A surprising (or unsurprising perhaps) number of negative responses to this article. I do see why people are so generally defensive of responsive design, I mean it just seems like the right thing to do, it fits with what we wish the commonly accepted wisdom should be.

That said, building anything more interactive than a blog layout with it is actually very hard. It is time consuming, there is tedious work to do to tweak for each individual mobile browser quirk, and it may not be the best thing for a startup to invest time in. "Mobile first" certainly sounds nice, but "desktop first" is probably a faster more efficient route to product-market fit.

So I'd just recommend caution in how strongly we parrot "responsive/adaptive all the things" as common wisdom without discussing the possible downsides. It isn't black and white.


I agree, responsive is challenging and always worth a conversation before starting. However, his arguments in this article have no place in any meaningful discussion. He essentially puts the blinders on and claims there's nothing wrong and mobile design is unnecessary.


Agreed it's not a very good article. I'm just bothered by how quickly the cargo cult behind any new technique or technology come out with their pitchforks.


Preface by saying responsive design _can_ be worth it.

That said: If your mobile phone has so much trouble displaying a 960px width static centered website (the norm on the current web), so much so, that your mobile browser demands a different design, then I posit your design isn't broken, some mobile browsers are broken.

I expect that in the near future, when resolutions get upped and mobile browsing experiences advance, responsive design becomes more and more unnecessary. To me responsive design for mobile devices seems more of a band-aid for less capable devices. Less capable devices with post-stamp sized browsers, we will soon drop in the same pile as IE6 -- Because soon we can expect any browser on any device to be able to display a 960px width static centered design just fine, without responsive design. If responsive designs stays necessary, to me it would mean the failure of mobile hardware and software manufacturers.


You're forgetting that old, less capable devices are still widely used, all around the world, and will be for many years to come.

Don't forget a basic principle of the web: Accessibility.


I won't: Accessibility is very important to me.

Though I see a difference between access to design and access to content.

I think it is fine to just serve up a reset-CSS for 2008 blackberry devices in a few years, like some now do for IE6 browsers. I don't think it is reasonable or necessary to expect designers to create responsive designs that translate to 2008 blackberry devices (or IE6 browsers) and also work on the future devices of our choice.


You are making a very strong assumption that scaling a 960px fixed width site to a viewport on a device is an optimal solution. It's fantastic I can see the entire site on my device in landscape mode; it's a tragedy that I have to double tap on a text block to make it readable.

Designers should be working to eliminate unnecessary and repetitive interactions that get in the way of accessing content.


Seriously. Not to mention even if his "960pix wide" site is displayable that doesn't mean it will be usable on a very small screen (or window -- being able to shrink one's browser window can be very useful, but many sites become utterly unusable).

My phone has high-resolution screen, but it's pretty small too, and it can easily display stuff that's a complete pain to actually read because the font size is so small.

His examples of "just fine" non-responsive designs in small windows are, well, pretty horrible.

I dunno if this guy is ego-driven ("I will never allow my beautiful site design to be besmirched just to suit its users!") or just lazy, but one thing is clear: he doesn't care very much about his users...


The basic problem with this post is that it contains zero data about user engagement. One guy can project his own opinion about how he thinks his non-responsive site looks fine on mobile, so clearly everyone else will too, while I can project my own personal experience that I tend to find myself spending more time reading mobile-optimized blogs on my phone, so clearly everyone else will too.

It's been said a million times around these parts, but I guess I get to be the one to say it here: Get some data! Do some A/B testing! Check your bounces and pages per visits and time on site from mobile devices, then try a responsive design and see if they improve (technically, you should split and do both at the same time). What works for one site may not work for another. But projecting generalized statements with no data to back them up doesn't move anyone forward.


Simply put, Responsive design is only worth it if you do it correctly. Just because your site scales with browser dimensions does not mean that it scales with user expectations. There are a few rules to follow:

1) Test on as many devices as possible, even if you are using a tested framework. Your design is going to be different that what the framework author(s) have done.

2) Be agile and responsive to your users. Just because your responsive design is amazing doesn't mean that the user experience will match.

3) Catalog your "must have" features, such as search and navigation. Make sure that these "must haves" are present and accessible across all your designs. Loosing navigation on mobile means dead ends for your users.

4) Related to #3, keep your experience consistent across your devices. Perhaps mobile users do need a different site, but don't loose the core purpose of the site. Mobile shopping carts need to function as similar as possible to their non-mobile versions.

5) Responsive !== Mobile (sometimes). Just because the design scales with browser size doesn't mean it's ready for mobile.

6) Use a framework whenever possible. I don't care how smart you are, it's smarter to use a tested framework at least once. Even if this means that you eventually build your own, it will give you an idea of the conventions to follow.

7) Frameworks are awesome, but none are launch ready out of the box.

8) Find your dimension breakpoints, and what they'll do to your design. Don't go too crazy though, you don't need to design for every conceivable screen dimension.


This article lost me the moment he quoted wikipedia to explain responsive design. This is not 8th grade, come up with your own definition if you're such an expert.

The rest of article was downhill too. Claiming the full site looks fine on your iPhone is akin to saying "It works on my machine!".

It's pretty much a waste of time from top to bottom.


Yea that annoyed me too. What if I can't afford and iPhone with Retina display?


Out of curiosity, what cell phone that meets the criteria can you afford? The iPhone 4 seems to go for about $200 used, or "free" if you want to tie it to a cell contract – since you are buying a cell phone, that seems like something you will need anyway. There doesn't seem to be a lot of margin for a lower-cost device there.


Yeah as a full-time frontend developer this article doesn't hold much water. Responsive designs are a quick and relatively cheap way to get a mobile compatible site going. It help decrease bounce rates and increase conversions as well.


The author fails to take into consideration tablets, e-readers, smart TVs and every other device, currently available or in the distant future, that will have a web browser.

"It Defeats User Expectation"

So let's keep everything exactly the same?

Responsive design to me is progress, eventually we'll either come up with good practices for working with it or maybe something else will take it's place. The way we access the internet is in constant flux and the 960 magazine layout has many pit falls in terms of usability outside of desktop sized screens.


I'd read it except the page doesn't fit on my phone... oh the irony.


So would you rather piss off those on small screens, or go the responsive route even if it is not optimal for the small screen.

I always wonder how long it will take for tablets and phones to be so ubiquitous that this debate will become moot and you target mobile from the get-go?


You kind of already do target mobile – except, of course, professionals quoting wikipedia.


As a web developer, I find that implementing a responsive design to be a fairly and rewarding task. I think it is worth the efforts given the screen variances of web-enabled devices. However, not all websites/services are fit for a responsive model. Something like a Google Maps or gmail will benefit more from a separate mobile site. While a Hacker News could easily go responsive.


This feels like it's arguing for limitations, and i'm never a fan of that.

The argument that responsive design is not worth it, because some people do bad responsive design (or even most do bad responsive design) is pretty odd. To carry that same sort of argument out into anything in life would land you in serious life lessons.

Yes, responsive design takes more time (no matter how you slice it). And, yes, sometimes it's not needed. Those should just be obvious to any developer worth their salt. Like everything considered when developing a website - weigh it all, figure out what's best for the project and it's users. Most definitely - time/money will be a factor in those considerations sometimes.

All I can think is the writer of this article hasn't seen how powerful responsive design can be?


I too am having lots of doubts on responsive design. I've yet to see an example of a significantly popular and non-trivial website implement responsive in a convincing way.

Anyone arguing that "they're just doing a bad responsive design" I think it missing the point. Responsive almost means it has to be bad in some way, because it is a compromise of design between 2 very different devices, not just in screen size but in use cases.

The "right" approach, is the same thing we've been taught for 50 years, separating code from presentation. Building a robust API for your backend data makes the front-end presentation much easier and cheaper, so you can afford to make front-ends tailored for whatever you need.



I have to seriously disagree with the 1st point.

Give me a usable website over one that "meets my expectations", dammit! As much as I like the desktop version of let's say www.theverge.com, I can honestly say it wouldn't work on a mobile at all. It would be too cluttered, and the links too small to tap.

On a side note, is there a mobile version of Hacker News out there?


There are several. Cheeaun's is fantastic: http://cheeaun.github.com/hnmobile/landing/


Link bait and wrong on every point. This article is a waste of time to read.

On each point...

1. Where's the proof? Where's the research? The usability studies? The group surveys? There is NO evidence presented to support this point. It's just opinion and conjecture. Moving on.

2. Any actual numbers on ROI or expected ROI? Nope. Moving on again.

3. Again, any usability studies to back this up? No. Next!

4. Research? Numbers? Proof? Nope. And on to the last...

5. It's not a subjective decision when designers use things like evidence (something you obviously know nothing about) based on usability research and studies.

I have no problem with people speaking out against something (though the comment that there is a lack of arguments against responsive is a joke - there's probably just as many articles against as their are for due to link bait like this), but when you do argue against something, you need to present proof that shows you're right.


The author raises a good point about page load times not really being minimized and lack of thought around good responsive design. However, I'm unconvinced about the rest of the arguments.

For example, he notes "The first rule in usability 101 is to give the end user what they expect." Maybe for the first year or two in the smartphone era it might have been acceptable to simply provide a shrunken zoomed out version of the site. The onus would have been on the user to navigate appropriately. Which... is a lot of work. My (swiftly getting older) eyes appreciate the larger fonts and readability that in theory a responsive design provides. I now expect to be able to read am article in portrait mode with a decent font size without having to zoom in and out. Maybe I'm alone but I would not be surprised if more users expect this now.


With mobile-first you are optimizing for mobile, so the only extra bandwidth would be that fraction of your CSS that addresses bigger screens, so I think that his page load times is a weak point just like the first one, it all comes down to badly designed sites being bad.


Good points. It's very easy to fall into the 'desktop first, mobile second' camp. Again it depends on the client and requirements.


> The author raises a good point about page load times not > really being minimized and lack of thought around good > responsive design

The author has likely not experienced the wonders of setting images as DIV backgrounds, then setting @media screen and (max-width: 320px) { #ID {display: none; } }

Or even going that (oh so tedious) extra step of sniffing browser signature at the server-side, and negating higher bandwidth assets.

Effort. Try it sometime. ;)


Page size was a very valid concern the last 5 years of iOS / Android, but LTE will make the issue about as minor as it is today for desktops.

I'm not suggesting pagespeed isn't important, that's something completely different and impacted by variety of factors.


After building some responsive sites in the past few months, I think Responsive Design is worth the extra effort.


Interesting read. It's fun to hear the other side of the argument. I don't really agree. Some of these arguments could be applied to all mobile sites, not just responsive sites. If that's the case, we've debated the value of mobile sites for years and mobile sites have clearly won.

1. It Defeats User Expectation — This is not a fault of responsive design, but rather the designer. We need more, skilled responsive designers. A responsive site should act and feel like a regular mobile site.

2. It Costs More and Takes Longer — A mobile site usually requires two separate code bases. With a responsive site, you can maintain both the desktop and mobile experiences from the same place. Also, a good responsive designer is cheaper than a desktop and mobile designer. If it's costing more, you're doing it wrong.

3. Non-Responsive Designs Usually Work — This isn't specifically targeted at responsive design, but rather all mobile websites. By your logic, any mobile site is subpar. While I think you should always include a link to the desktop version (which can be easily achieved by switching out the stylesheet), I don't think desktop sites are superior. A desktop view might be appealing to a small percentage of power users, but the majority of users will appreciate a tailored experience. Just don't hide functionality. You should be able to accomplish the same tasks on mobile that can be achieved on the desktop.

4. There is Often No Load Time Benefit — You're doing it wrong. A good responsive design will have a much lighter weight than a desktop version. There is no reason a responsive site can't function in the same manner and achieve the same performance as a mobile website.

5. It’s a Compromise — Again, this is a power user issue. Always offer the option to view the desktop version.

It is silly to argue against mobile design. Screen real-estate is more valuable on a mobile device and our designs should reflect that. If your argument is responsive design doesn't offer performance benefits, than you probably need to reconsider your workflow and RWD structure.


This reads like someone's justification for their own lack-of-talent with media queries and CSS, or their laziness toward creating an optimized experience for all users.

"Responsive" is a trendy buzzword thing for what solid digital designers have been doing ever since Netscape 0.9b tossed alignment into the image tag (among other things)... paying attention to how a design looks on multiple screens. We just have more screens and means by which to optimize for those screens now.

And I'm really not sold on "mobile first" either -- feels like another short-lived trendy buzzword thing. Scaling a mobile design concept up to the desktop is shorting your 1024w and up users. Designers who care think about all screens at a design's inception... then plan the CSS accordingly.


I AGREE. Responsive design is only NECESSARY 1% of the time, and is poorly implemented 99% of the time. Most modern mobile devices can show full desktop site scaled down, with pinch-to-zoom functionality. Personally, I get annoyed with "mobile pages" and responsive layouts.


This argument might as well be, "When you implement things poorly, they will be poorly implemented."


We used responsive design for the library discovery interface we produce, our UX chap did a nice presentation about the process (and why we chose a responsive web app, rather than a native app): http://www.slideshare.net/Shuckle/retrofitting-adaptive-desi... http://www.slideshare.net/Shuckle/web-app-and-responsive-des...

Well received by customers and end users. We started bottom up, rather than top down, so decided what was important and hid or removed the rest.


It does cost more, it does take longer, but it is basically worth it if only because you are delivering a better user experience on every device. That is the point of responsive design.

Also, to that end, a good responsive design is not going to destroy your ability to navigate the page. It should make it easier.

The hard part of responsive design is dealing with pages that don't always have the same layout. It is a lot of manual tweaking and better tools and frameworks are needed to make responsive design faster, easier, cheaper. It's still largely a new technique.

But, after being knee deep in a responsive site redesign from the ground up, it's totally worth it for the end user.


Responsive Design doesn't have to be a pain if you just do a little bit of thought, research and planning, and a little bit know and care about your craft. Let the content inform the design, and plan from the start for flexible designs.

It is going to get a LOT easier when I'm done with the next revision of Edit Room... Designing to multiple custom breakpoints is amazing... [1]

Going responsive and flexible does involve a leap of faith, and articles like this one are from folks who have not yet taken it.

[Edit Room is fast, flexible design prototyping and css animation.](http://www.edit-room.com)


His arguments are poor. These are the two most egregious.

(1) It Costs More and Takes Longer. Yes, designing something additional takes longer; however, if he compared the time required to add responsive code to the time it would take to setup mobile detect and an alternate theme, than this point may have some more sense even though I'd still side with responsive code.

(2) Non-Responsive Designs Usually Work. No. That's why we're having the discussion. If regular designs worked, there would not be a need.

This is a problem that a lot of companies struggle with. It's fine to criticize responsive design, but bring something to the table.


I actually agree with the juxt of what he is saying, though the article could have been better, maybe with a more in depth analysis of user experiences, examples and actual data.

If you have a modern mobile browser and if the site itself does not meet any special mobile criteria/demographic/call-to-action, let's be honest this is the vast majority, then the default experience actually trumps the responsive one.

ps. I say this having a mildly popular responsive framework on github, and I don't care because I often prefer non responsive BUT well build sites in the default view on mobile.


Like the author says, I would argue that it depends on the experience. The first thing to determine is: what is the core experience you're going after. For example, if you're an e-commerce website and your visitors expect to be able to find things, follow things, and then buy things, a mobile website that leaves out key functionality is frustrating.

There have been many a time that I've searched desperately for the "desktop version" of the site because I need to do something that the mobile version doesn't allow me to.


I wrote a fairly elaborate newsletter regarding the lessons I learned from responsive design. There are no absolutes when it comes to this. The decision varies from site to site.

If you believe that all websites should be responsive, then please read my newsletter. How my revenues went from $25k to $19k / month average when we redesigned and went responsive. How changing it back has now boosted the revenues even higher than before.

http://eepurl.com/przMX


A lot of this article seems to be making the point, "My iPhone handles non-responsive websites well." Which is cool for your iPhone. My Kindle 2 is not as good at it.

There's progress to be made on both sides of the problem: websites adjusting to devices, and devices handling websites that don't adjust. That iPhone is good at the second half of that is cool and all, but I think it would be a big mistake to base your whole website's mobile strategy on just iPhone.


This article is a fucking joke


This is not a constructive comment.


I can only assume that this was written by a developer who does not really use their mobile device to browse the web much, if at all. In 2008 I was "developing" for mobile web, but not actually using mobile web, and would have agreed with all of the OP's points. As I started to actually become a user, the benefits of responsive design became quite obvious.


This article seems way off in so many different aspects, especially the example where they keep the sidebar beside the text on the mobile version and say it is better.

I understand the point of view that responsive isn't the answer to everything, but saying that dekstop versions of sites 'work' couldn't be more wrong in terms of just about everything.


I like responsive design when it rearranges and resizes.

I do not like it when it adds/removes information from the page.


Terrible article. The problem with it is that you effectively explained why typical responsive design (specifically) is not worth it. The older you get, the more accustomed you become to expecting everything the same way. Accept change! There is nothing wrong with it!


I was going to read this article, but since I'm using an iPhone and your article isn't responsive.... I didn't read it. Responsive is about capturing your audience. This article is the perfect example of why you should do responsive.


This is an opinion. People are allowed to have them. The article may make points that some (many) don't agree with, but that doesn't make them not valid. That said, the title of the article inflates the argument.. just a tad.


Ironically, that scrolling social media box on the side was covering some of the text while reading this on my galaxy s, leaving me wishing you had implemented some kind of responsive design.


I couldn't disagree more.

Most importantly, I'm not sure it is safe to say users expect an IDENTICAL experience (experience being the most important word) on their mobile as they got from their desktop.


I feel like it isn't worth it but for a slightly different reason.

Responsive design isn't designed from the ground up specifically for mobile. In a mobile first world, that makes the difference.


Data or it didn't happen. There is 0 data to back up any of these points. If you're basing your design decisions on generalizations in 2012, you're doing it wrong.


Using only simple blogs to prove responsive design is unnecessary is like using only nails to prove that powertools are unnecessary and all you need is a hammer...


"too hard, too much time" is just an excuse. It's a relatively new process so it will take some time for us to straighten out best practices.


Sure, sounds like laziness as mentioned before. The non-responsive designs "work" because your users haven't experienced something better


Really weak article. This actually makes me look down on ManageWP as a brand.


Uhm... Anyone else have a hard time reading this on iPhone?


Can't post comments on the post anymore... This just me?


Works for me!


Let's not feed the troll. This is utter nonsense.


Laptop - is it considered as a mobile device?


call it whatever but I do need to be able to see/read websites correctly on desktop, mobile, tablet etc.


couldn't disagree more with this article


starbucks.com is a great example of how responsive design can be brilliant. Try resizing your window.


couldn't read the post since i'm on a phone




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