A Response to ‘Responsive Web Design is Not the Future’

I fundamentally disagree with this entire article. Let’s address each point:

1. Web Performance

The fact that the author references Tim Kadlec’s Blame the Implementation Not the Technique article and still makes these claims is pretty amazing.

“We can’t predict future behavior from a current experience that sucks. —Jason Grigsby

The fact of the matter is that yup, a lot of responsive sites are overweight. In fact, all web pages are overweight. Even dedicated mobile sites can be overweight. Blame the implementation, not the technique.

I believe web creators need to treat performance as design. That has nothing to do with responsive web design, and everything to do with prioritizing performance instead of treating it as an afterthought.

2. Complexity

there is no denying responsive web design is inherently complex.

This is just the beginning

Welcome to our new reality! It’s not that responsive web design is inherently complex, it’s that the Web landscape is inherently complex. However you want to address this complexity is up to you (which brings us to our next point), but there’s no denying this is our new reality.

3. Time and Money

I address this in How Much Does a Responsive Web Design Cost?. Yes, responsive web design costs more…than doing nothing. You can ignore the multitude of devices accessing the Web at your own peril. And sure, you can make dedicated experiences for every device class. That certainly won’t cost extra time and money, right?

4. UI and UX Limitations

Responsive websites are limited for utilizing or recognizing key mobile features such as user location, connectivity, device limitations, software potential, and user needs.

No they aren’t. The author is playing into the The Myth of the Mobile Context, but again there’s nothing stopping responsive designs from taking device capabilities into consideration when designing multi-device web experiences. It’s called progressive enhancement and it’s up to us to use it properly.

Moreover, the web community is coming up with a whole ton of responsive patterns to serve the right UI to the right context.

Preventing Innovation

For example, the banking giant JP Morgan Chase thought about the specific characteristics of mobile devices that they could use to enhance the online banking experience, instead of simply reformatting their desktop website for mobile customers.

Their mobile app has a feature called Quick Deposit that uses smartphone cameras to take pictures for depositing checks.

This is just silly. The author talks about taking advantage of unique mobile capabilities by highlighting the deposit by camera feature by Chase Bank’s native mobile app.

Of course getUserMedia support in the browser is getting better, but this is beside the point. The fact is that nothing is stopping responsive sites from taking advantage of unique device capabilities. We have lots of ways of detecting features and introducing enhanced functionality when a particular device can handle it. Again, this is called progressive enhancement and it is our friend.

Come Aboard

The fact that this article was posted on an influential design blog is disappointing. This kind of shallow thinking is what leads organizations to embrace short-term solutions instead of addressing the legitimately hard problems we’re facing.

Let’s use this stuff as incentive to keep working together to make the Web awesome on the host of connected devices out there.

56 Comments

  1. Krishna

    Very Nice Article!! how about the responsive web design for the huge data tables with multiple headers?

  2. I’m very weary of any article that is this bold (meaning, the one on sixrevisions) being posted with the date April 1st. Could be a joke.

  3. Does he want people to keep pinching in and out to browse on a mobile device? Good God…

  4. It is nice to have read both articles – your’s and the one you are reacting to.
    I do not find it disappointing that the article you critique is on a reputable web site. It is important to allow a multitude of viewpoints versus a dogma on the future of web design.
    Cheers,
    Mark

    • I do not find it disappointing that the article you critique is on a reputable web site.

      Trust me, I’m all for constructive dialog on legitimately tough problems. But that article was anything but. It was a shallow dismissal of the entire approach without providing any concrete reasons or alternatives. What I got out of it was “It’s limiting, slow and one-size-fits-all,” which is entirely false.

  5. It was almost not worth giving it the grace of a reply.

    I always think these articles are only there as link bait. Good retort though.

  6. Great counter points. I like the future of RWD mixed with progressive enhancement.

    @Krishna – here is one take on responsive tables, not sure about multiple headers, but I’m sure there is a solution to the problem: http://www.zurb.com/playground/responsive-tables

  7. Thank you Brad for writing this retort! I can’t believe how an article like that got posted on a site like Six Revisions.

  8. Good responsive to six revisions article. But optimization is area where responsive still lack.

  9. The issue with RWD is that it tries to be the solution to an unsolvable problem.

    HTML and CSS were designed long before the average joe knew what a mobile phone was let alone owned one. And long before anyone even conceived of a “smartphone”. It was created before tablets and before most people ever used something as “quaint” as a laptop.

    It’s technology designed for use on a computer with a reasonably large screen.

    Now it’s being cajoled into being all things to all people with hacks, media queries, javascript, UA sniffing and a variety of other techniques simply to allow bloated and over complex sites to load.

    To me it’s the solution to a problem that doesn’t need to exist.

    Two things solve the problem:
    1) Overhauling HTML and CSS themselves. When something as simple as an image gives you a headache because it’s tricky to resize and there are no simple built in mechanisms to help you serve it appropriately then radical changes need done. (Not surprising…as I mentioned above HTML/CSS were never designed for the modern world)

    2) “Designers” need to get a grip and simplify their approach or they risk becoming obsolete themselves. The trend is towards flatter, simpler, faster, leaner sites. Table based spacer.gif and flash-based monsters went the way of the Dodo for a reason. Next on the chopping block are excessively tinsel-ed sites where the “design” has clearly been given more importance than the content.

  10. So Six revisions article had to be an april fools or else I dont know what to make of it…

  11. I believe their article was an april fools joke

  12. C’mon guys!
    Just because Mighty Google says that RWD is the way to go doesn’t mean you have to listen!
    The big G is NOT always right!
    I have experienced this many times.
    Just like the obsolescence of the Keyword Meta. BS! Google still use it people!
    For me, simple=better. So I create html mobile sites for my clients.
    The Mobinaute is an extraterrestrial compared to the PC surfer. Two different needs.
    My 2 cents
    Mario Bruneau

  13. “The issue with RWD is that it tries to be the solution to an unsolvable problem” – just because something is difficult or challenging doesn’t make it unsolvable. HTML and CSS just need to catch up with what’s been a pretty sudden game-changer. Sure, in an ideal world it would be faster, but it’ll get there. I can’t see how a fundamental overhaul of HTML/CSS is even an option at this stage.

    Mario, “simple=better” surely ties in pretty well with a mobile-first responsive strategy. Unless you mean for yourself as a developer, in which case, sticking with what’s easy as a developer is a sure-fire way of losing touch and clients. Plus pretty much every bit of research I’ve ever read suggests that mobile users want to do EXACTLY the same stuff as desktop users and removing functionality in mobile sites has got us into a position where lots of people’s first action when hitting a mobile site is to look for the link to the desktop version, which is a shame.

  14. You have to add social share buttons on this one.

  15. Dyl

    RWD is not the future, atleast not the foreseeable one – that is, until current website owners, especially business website owners, pay to get their websites re-made to be Responsive. I doubt very much that 30 thousand tradesmen will pay to have their websites “turned into What?” – Small business attitude is practical, if it works, it works, if it shows my contact details, that’s all I need.

    From what I’ve seen to date, there is this fetish need by designers to create mad brands and landscapes – small business owners care about their name and reputation, but don’t care two hoots about Brand Design in the way that some RWDesigners do – so, until someone can device a system that will convert a fixed width/dims website into a Responsive one, whilst preserving the exact original layout and design, look & feel – online, automatically and for free, then RWD will belong to designers & well-funded businesses. 80% of websites are not mobile optimised, I wonder how many of them are willing to re-pay for a new Responsive website, not many, atleast not yet… As well as the above user/technical arguments, the question is fundamentally about adoption of RWD by business and website owners, the latter exlcuding web designers.

  16. Dyl – as long as you can prove ROI I’m sure plenty of small/mid sized businesses would embrace investing in their websites. At Splice we’ve seen around 95% of existing and new clients embracing RWD. I think one of the reasons so few small businesses currently have mobile sites or even a mobile strategy is lack of education. Web agencies need to educate using usage stats and demos. If you show most saavy business owners how poorly their site displays on a mobile phone, then explain that around 30% of their overall traffic is seeing the same thing, most would be keen to resolve the problem.

  17. Echoing what other said. You got April fooled. The Facebook example was a giveaway. Also, the nonsense. That was a giveaway as well.

  18. @Dyl: If you would know RWD a bit better, you would realize, that RWD can be made on simple small business sites with ease and without explicit more costs.

    And because there are so many unchanged sites online doesn’t mean, that they have to be redone at once. Every new way takes time and every new way which becomes popular will alter and adapt.

    RWD also means that it is not only a technique, but a way of thinking and prioritizing content. And this is one of the most important points towards good design, I believe.

  19. Design should be creative and responsive. Good article for designer.

    Thanks

  20. Planning is essential to improving performance. Know what you need, prioritize and plan to implement what’s absolutely essential for mobile. I believe implementation truly is the problem. Responsive design is not a feature but a layout tool. In it’s most basic form, responsive design allows designers to morph their layout for a multitude of resolutions. How the site performs is ultimately going to be based on how much extraneous information you, as the designer, have asked a client to load. And we’ve come back full circle to good planning.

  21. Luke,

    You basically end up coming round to what I said. Sure the problem isn’t unsolvable but RWD assumes that HTML and CSS are fit for purpose. Increasingly they aren’t. You say HTML and CSS need to catch up…pretty much what I said further down my post.

    It’s always exciting to be involved in web design but we’re starting to see the sluggish nature of standards creation really beginning to hurt.

  22. Mario,

    Keywords are more important in the content rather than in the meta tag. I’m pretty sure Google themselves stated that the keywords meta tag is not used in their results. From memory it was back in 2010 that they said this.

    Proper and meaningful headings, titles and keywords in the content help.

  23. Dyl

    Luke, I think you are 100% right on demonstrating loss/gain of ROI through demo & illustration – but I have also spoken to many SMEs, and they all say more or less the same thing: “I don’t want to be over-stretched with new customers/orders, I’m happy as it is”, and “I have no idea, I’m on Y**l, and a few other DIRs”, and “If they can already see what I do and how to get in touch with me, then keep it as it is for now…” – Other businesses have said “I’ve already paid 2k for the one I have, why should I pay to upgrade”…, yes, yes, OK! Stories, sure, and I agree, one day these businesses will re-invest, either with help from local GOVS, or via some affordable solution – that’s the point, RWD will only become common once it is commonly adopted by *all* of those who either commission or produce websites, that will take years! As long as it took for any previous standard to take root – the quicker RWD is adopted by the above parties, the quicker it will become a common standard, because it will have. Now, I believe that in the near future when someone says “Make me a R-website, please” – what they’ll get is either a custom installation of DRU/JOO/WP, or a Saas, such as BC – then, BC is great, I love it, but its out of reach of most freelancers, so OS CMS is the key.

    I say, provide RWD service to all businesses for free! Not by hard-labour, but automatically, who remembers mobilize.js? Do we need to solve that unsolved P maths question to deal with a few structural variables – heck, most business websites are terribly designed, inaccessible, brandless, I’m sure a brand new R-website would be warmly received, anyway, lets move away from brand in RWD, forget the canvas – keep things simple – data and information, not Flash-like UIs… show me the info!

  24. In my opinion RWD is the future, education of customers and ‘growing pains’ will need to be overcome and adapted to, but isn’t that already happening? I can assure you it is in Cornwall, UK

  25. Nate Pagel

    GREAT article. Thanks!

  26. The UI and UX limitations must be used for utilizing and also recognizing some of the key mobile features.

  27. I came here straight from the SixRevision article. And you pointed out what I called “lacks of clear perspectives” in my comment.
    We must be pragmatic now, and creative for the future. But, hey, the author of the SR article is relatively young, and will learn how to make websites for real clients one day (at least I hope for him).
    Cheers.

  28. I agree, however if your website is on top and if the design of your website is not good then might customer will find another website. So I think web designing is also necessary in today and the future as well.

  29. Brad, you’ll forgive me if I find your statement about a “constructive dialog” to be ridiculous, as you are the mastermind behind WTFMobileWeb.com and WTFQRCodes.com, which is by definition a “shallow dismissal of the entire approach without providing any concrete reasons or alternatives.” You set the tone for the discussion, so you can’t complain when others use it against you.

    That being said, if you really want to provide awesome web experiences, and not just be a cheerleader for responsive web design, you should use your rebuttals to address what are serious issues with many responsive web sites today. If they’re not adequately addressed, and developers continue to churn out bloated, slow “responsive” web experiences that don’t provide a good user experience or provide relevant content your movement may lose the momentum that you’ve gained as businesses turn to better, more profitable alternatives.

    As it is you’re just preaching to the choir, as dissidents like me turn to voices that are more honest and have less to gain from the trend of responsive web design.

    Re: Web performance, I brought up the same issue in a Search Engine Land column last month called When Responsive Web Design is Bad for SEO. Though responsive sites can be made fast, most of them aren’t. And as an SEO consultant hired to help my clients provide a better user experience and drive more revenue, I find it hard to recommend responsive web design when I see so many sites that are doing it wrong, and doing it wrong in a way that is harmful to their users and their revenue. If designers don’t get a hold of this issue, more people who don’t make the distinction between responsive web design as a theory and responsive web design in practice will make it hard for the methodology to thrive as is.

    Re: UI and UX limitations, progressive enhancement relies on the same textual content as a base that’s served to all users. So if we recognize that users on different platforms have different needs, not from the mythical mobile context, but from actual keyword data that defines user intent on different platforms, there’s no way for designers or SEOs to change that copy with responsive web design. Even if you use progressive enhancement. And again, the fact that so many critically-acclaimed responsive websites are in many cases unusable today (see Microsoft.com, Starbucks.com and Disney.com’s usability and SEO issues in my latest Search Engine Land column), makes it questionable that users and site owners will tolerate this type of implementation if these many SEO and UX issues with responsive sites aren’t resolved soon.

    Re: preventing innovation, when I made this point originally in Search Engine Land with these examples the point was that existing apps do a better job than most websites, responsive or no, of using those features that mobile devices have access to that desktops and laptops don’t. I’d love to see examples of responsive web sites that have done what mobile apps and some dedicated mobile web sites have done, and contain features that are useful to people who use their device regularly to make calls, find things around them and take photos. If they exist they’re definitely not the norm. Most responsive sites that I’ve seen have been retrofit responsive sites that make the traditional site mobile-friendly. And while this is better than nothing it’s certainly not as innovative as it could be.

    I’m suggesting this might have something to do with many responsive web design advocates’ insistence that there is no mobile web, and that content should be the same on desktop and mobile. It’s a shame because in his Myths of Mobile Context that you cited Josh Clark said that we should be doing more for the mobile user, but responsive websites unfortunately rarely do.

    It also doesn’t help that responsive web design advocates are so often citing cost efficiencies as a reason for implementing responsive rather than dedicated mobile sites. Responsive projects as a result get started with the idea of doing the bare minimum to address mobile users, and this leads to the usability issues that exist with so many of them.

    It’s unfortunate that you can’t recognize that these are serious issues with responsive web sites today, as they could be threatening the future of the movement. For the record, I’m not anti-responsive web design. I think it’s appropriate in many cases. But with all of the issues that I see with it today, including many mentioned here, it’s difficult to imagine it replacing the mobile Web if these things aren’t resolved.

    If you’re honest with yourself and with your followers and get off your responsive web design soapbox for a minute you might come to a similar conclusion.

  30. Great Information about Web Performance. Thanks so much for sharing with us…

  31. Evan R

    Responsive design… isn’t.

    One size… does not fit all.

  32. Demetrio

    yikes dude, did you tree reading this poster, I mean article on a large page?… One more example of the solution being worse than the problem.

  33. Joe

    “From what I’ve seen to date, there is this fetish need by designers to create mad brands and landscapes – small business owners care about their name and reputation, but don’t care two hoots about Brand Design in the way that some RWDesigners do”

    Love this DYI. It’s what I see all over these responsive design articles. I think there’s a movement by young designers. Most of the responses I see to people criticizing responsive design or at least trying to have an informed discussion on the subject are mainly “your opinion is garbage” or “that’s bullshit” or “you clearly aren’t doing it right.” Is this just me? Where is the actual discussion? I see little actual defense of the responsive design and mostly just attacks of the valid points made in the articles.

    I’ve also noticed a lot of trendy “buzzword.js” frameworks. There’s an article almost every day on a new “buzzword.js”. What happened to just HTML and CSS? What happened to just having a web page? I’ve been in the business for years and have seen my fair share of trends but the responsive web movement is extremely strong.

  34. Spot on Brad. RWD is the future. It’s not done growing and changing, and it most likely never will be. It’s up to us too keep innovating and pushing the boundaries to make it better.

  35. After starting the use of Responsive web designing it has become very easy to design our website for mobiles. earlier we used to redirect to mobi.domain and design that page too. so after this responsive web designing it has become very easy to design a website both for pc’s and mobile devices.

  36. Love this article!

    RWD is absolutely a great solution to the issue of different screen dimensions. Sure maybe you could create dedicated version of your site for each device…but is that really worth the cost?

    Martin Crisp
    CEO, PowerStory

  37. good information provided thanks.

  38. Both are awesome article :) let see in 2020…. i think RWD won’t cost more than mobile version.. anyway i really love RWD

  39. I agree with this article. Responsive design is almost a necessity for businesses because the use of mobile devices is exceeding the use of laptops and PC’s.

  40. love your writing style – excellent job.

  41. charlotte

    I use @media in css to define what happens to various sized browsers. My teacher insists that I also have to use the meta tag in html with IN ADDITION TO THIS.
    Is this not redundant?

  42. More reader/writers see this good stuff, and the very best then get linked to even more. As a result, link frequency follows a Zipf distribution, with disproportionally more links to the best postings.

  43. It is true that the responsive web design is a current trend, but it is quite difficult to keep responsive web design technique for a log time because it is not much smaller in download size when viewed on smaller devices.

  44. Nathan Brook

    I disagree that responsive sites cost more. I have been looking at responsive design themes in WordPress and find them to be good. Responsive design is not the future of web application but its present that time.

  45. Akash Agarwal

    Nice blog. The information provided in this blog about web designing services that very useful. Thanks for sharing with us.

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  47. “Does he want people to keep pinching in and out to browse on a mobile device? Good God…”

    What’s better, pinch in and out or scroll scroll scroll in one direction, impatiently, to find out if the content you need is somewhere in the scroll?

    A desktop view is perfectly suitable, and the pinch and zoom affordance is a better experience than linear scroll with no indication or way of knowing what content is going to be where.

    What is intuitive about linear scrolling on a RWD site? If you don’t see what you need when landing on a page, you have to scroll scroll scroll, especially if you’ve been to the site on a desktop. Where is that sidebar you saw? Why is it half way down the long scroll, or at the bottom? Or is it even there. RWD offers no information to the user about where the desktop content might have been moved to. And to the first time visitor on mobile, it is essentially myopic, and induces only linear scrolling. That can’t be right, long term.

  48. Web Designing is very necessary for website representation, without good designing customer will diverse to another site. Today’s demand is that the web designing is must be excellent.

  49. Good Article. How that Responsive web design strategy in 2013?

  50. Awesome response to the last article. I’m pretty new to responsive design, but I love it and hooked. I personally think if you use the correct methods of development and design towards this technology, your sites will be be flawless. Its all about optimization and clean code. I’ve seen quite a few examples of poor techniques of responsive design. Its always good to learn from the bad. Its obviously crap if you don’t use the technology correct.

  51. sushant

    Hi Brad , Nice post, i really like the shock and awe created by the title.

    We have now crossed into the Brave New Digital World – in which consumers are always connected’. People today are using more than one device computer, tablet, phone, etc and they use it in complimentary fashion.

    The 2013 ComScore mobile report states that ‘Smartphone’s have surpassed 125 million U.S. consumers and tablets are now owned by more than 50 million. In this scenario, it becomes imminent to take the different form factors and capabilities of each device into account when designing their website.
    In my quest to learn more about the RWD, I have registered for a webinar on Best practices in Responsive Web Design, it looks a promising one http://j.mp/125MSXv

  52. andy

    What’s better, pinch in and out or scroll scroll scroll in one direction, impatiently, to find out if the content you need is somewhere in the scroll?

    A desktop view is perfectly suitable, and the pinch and zoom affordance is a better experience than linear scroll with no indication or way of knowing what content is going to be where.

    What is intuitive about linear scrolling on a RWD site? If you don’t see what you need when landing on a page, you have to scroll scroll scroll, especially if you’ve been to the site on a desktop. Where is that sidebar you saw? Why is it half way down the long scroll, or at the bottom? Or is it even there. RWD offers no information to the user about where the desktop content might have been moved to. And to the first time visitor on mobile, it is essentially myopic, and induces only linear scrolling. That can’t be right, long term.

    Is this a troll post? You cannot be serious.

    A well structured page shouldn’t require endless scrolling for a start and with proper navigation on a responsive site it’s eliminated anyway.
    Not to mention a well designed responsive site should bear enough resemblance to it’s desptop counterpart that it shouldn’t be confusing to users anyway.

    But sure, go ahead and keep making fixed width websites, see customers flee.

  53. Responsive sites are definitely a trend. I believe that in web design that you need to keep up to date with trends. People come to sites that leave a good impression on you. The bad thing is that responsive will cost a lot more and companies don’t want to spend the money on it.

  54. Incredibly educational look onward to visiting again.

  55. Great article! RWD is certainly picking up pace now! Leads have doubled in the last month alone!

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