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Devs: RWD is 'not a war'

Responsive web design 'not always appropriate'

Web developer Andy Appleton has written a post stating Responsive Web Design is not a war. The post follows up on the furore over the GoCardless redesign, which, bucking industry trends, ditched a responsive design and returned to a single layout for all devices.

Appleton said vehemently pro-RWD (responsive web design) arguments, such as those by Elliot Jay Stocks (“the [RWD] war has not yet been won”), were too much of a 'black and white' way of looking at a nuanced issue. He claimed there was always a degree of appropriateness when it comes to using certain technologies in projects.

In the case of GoCardless, Appleton said a responsive site was detrimental to users in providing only a tiny amount of information and understanding about what was happening. He likened this to starting Google Maps from a zoomed in position rather than getting a global overview before deciding what to do next.

Speaking to .net, Appleton said there was a danger of website creators being assumptive about the fundamentals of websites, such as when it comes to RWD: “I find myself constantly assuming my current project will face similar issues to the last one and making decisions based on that. It's tempting and extremely easy to judge something based on an approximate experience rather than actually considering the problem at hand.”

Every site is unique

When it comes to RWD usage, Appleton thought each project was unique, and so setting hard and fast rules is a bad idea: “Try to think about what the site is trying to achieve and when users will be interacting with it.” Even when deciding on a responsive site, Appleton said it was important to leave control with the user, at least enabling users to zoom rather than disabling that functionality on a touchscreen, and preferably also enabling access to the ‘full’ desktop page.

Developer David Dixon agreed, although he added that RWD isn’t just about resizing existing content through media queries: “It’s about giving a user the best experience on a device as possible, whether that device is a desktop browser, a mobile phone or something else.”

Nonetheless, he thought similarly that RWD wasn’t always the right step to make a site work on mobile: “Every site is different, and although you can generalise to a certain extent, rules don’t always hold true. A good designer or developer will look at every aspect of a website before deciding something should/could be changed to allow better usability on different devices.”

Dixon elaborated that, in some cases, this may require media queries throughout, items being removed from pages at certain sizes, or sometimes nothing at all — beyond ensuring a site simply works. “Additionally, you’ll also sometimes find external sites, such as payment gateways, don’t optimise for mobile and so making a site responsive may in fact be more confusing for a user who suddenly ends up bouncing between different ways of displaying content,” he said.

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