Re: Responsive Design Is Always Appropriate

  • Web Design & Development

Recently, there was an article by Vanseo Design (which posts lots of great articles about the web), about when responsive design is appropriate. He says this near the end:

Responsive design is the new baseline. It’s the new foundation for building a site and it serves as a catchall for everything you don’t specifically design for, which will include far more devices than you will design for.

Many sites will never need more than this baseline. Those that do will create device specific designs to enhance the responsive one, not replace it.

You can read the post here. Which was a response from several others about dedicated mobile sites versus responsive.

His ultimate conclusion from the back and forth was this: your base design should be responsive, tack on dedicated experiences as needed by which platforms you want to target. While I think that this is great (and correct) advice, something bugged me about it.

Cool Notion. But…

Think about that last line: “Those that do will create device specific designs to enhance the responsive one, not replace it.” According to some other industry experts, if we are really doing our job designing responsively in a responsible way, we really shouldn’t need any dedicated solution for any platform. Needs will have already been addressed though responsible design, development, and testing decisions using the tools at our disposal.

Furthermore at that point, a dedicated solution seems somewhat redundant and unnecessary. You already have something that should work on everything. Why bother maintaining something extra just for the iPhone, Kindle, or Nook? Why are we singling out those users? Didn’t we just say everyone should be alright if we are doing our jobs?

I hear this already: “But the client wanted us to do it!” Honestly, I haven’t met a client who wanted to pay for both a responsive and dedicated solution at the same time. Further, I see this as possibly the clients playing favorites to a particular device or platform. Even if we’re just “enhancing” the original design, we’re still creating a situation where one person gets one thing, and another person gets something else. It’s no different than saying “This site was built for Internet Explorer only. Come back and use that.” If they really must cater to a specific platform for specific (and legitimately verifiable)  reasons, that’s not a job for a responsive site. Instead, maybe it’s the job of a dedicated native application.

Web sites are inherently open. They are meant to be seen and used by anyone. If you go only after one segment, one device type, or one browser, you are betraying the very core of what a web site is. Surely, a better solution is available. We don’t want to be going back to the days of “you need X to view this site”. We also don’t want to take away (or add) information for just a particular subset of users. That doesn’t really solve the problem. That’s not the web.


As always, we need to question why. Why does the client feel they need a dedicated mobile site? What are they trying to accomplish there? Maybe there is a better way to get the job done. Maybe if they absolutely need to go after particular users, a native application would work better. The advantage of which is the site is always just the site, no matter how you access it. No more, no less. The native application is a separate entity where we can refine the experience to the smallest and subtlest detail for that system and its users. I know if I were a user and my buddy and I visited the same site on two different platforms and got two differing experiences, whoever got the short end of that stick wouldn’t be a happy camper. It certainly wouldn’t endear me to the company knowing that I wasn’t as important to get some extra content or feature.

With any site we should always aim to keep experiences, content, and features consistent across any and all ways a user gets there. Anything else is just playing favorites. Possibly to the detriment of the site and the brand.