A Small Business Guide to the Web: Responsive Web Design

In this installment of our series, where we explain tech jargon in plain language, we’ll tackle the term responsive web design.

Some Background

Responsive web design, was coined in a 2010 A List Apart article by Ethan Marcotte. He proposed a new approach to web design that would allow sites to respond to the properties of the device they were being viewed on.

Up until this point designers had been building sites with the assumption that they were being viewed on desktop or laptop-sized devices. But with the rise of the smart phone, users were being served desktop-sized sites squeezed into phone-sized browsers.

Cue squinting, pinching, and zooming.


Responsive web design is the answer to the problem. It recognizes our multi-device reality, and provides a set of strategies and technical approaches for the construction of resilient sites.

So What?

If your site isn’t responsive

Your site seems like it works pretty well — does it really matter that it’s not responsive? Almost certainly, yes. Responsive design isn’t some flavor of the week or a faddy design style. Mobile devices are the norm for navigating the web, researching products, and making purchases. Here are a few quick facts that illustrate help this:

If your site isn’t responsive you’re increasingly missing out. If you’re not sure if your website is responsive Google has a tool you can use to check.

If your site is responsive

You know your site works on a phone, so you’re good right? Maybe, but it depends. Not all responsive is created equal. It’s more than scaling images and stacking columns. If your site was designed primarily for desktop display and squeezed down to fit on a phone, your users may be downloading massive images and stylesheets they don’t need. This slows loading times and makes for an all around crummy user experience, and even minor slow downs have been shown to negatively impact revenue.

Google’s mobile friendly tool can help you determine some of this, but there’s no tool that can completely holistically evaluate user experience. Instead you can take some time, navigate your site on a phone, and make some observations about your experience. Here are a few things to look for to evaluate how your site performs.

  • Does it load quickly?
  • Does it feel fast, or does it stutter?
  • Is the navigation easy to use?
  • Can you find what you want?
  • Can you fill out a form or contact someone easily?

If you find yourself answering no to a lot of these questions it may be time to think about updating your site.

How Can We Help?

If you need help updating your site, or you’re not sure where to go from here, contact us, we’d be happy to talk.

Further Reading

Thinking Responsively: A Framework for Future Learning

Planning for Performance

Mobile First Responsive Web Design

If you liked this article you can read more in the series here