Big Mouth: Responsive browsing

This article first appeared in issue 231 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

Some people reckon magazine columnists have it easy: while hard-working designers and developers pour endless blood, sweat and tears into their work, suffering at the hands of idiot bosses, cheapskate users, clueless clients or a combination of all three, pundits get to act like Roman emperors, dismissing months of work with a single thumbs-down.

That’s absolutely true – bouncing around the place in a toga shouting “release the lions!” is one of the best bits of the job – but it doesn’t stop us from feeling guilty about it on the odd occasion. “Is this really the best use of my powers?” the columnist might wonder as he or she writes that a famous tech CEO looks a bit like a horse. “Could I, should I, use my skills to build and spread joy, rather than heap derision on idiots – no matter how badly they’re asking for it?”

In that spirit, I’ve decided to fix the internet. OK, not the whole of it, but the end-user bit – which, let’s face it, is where all the really annoying things are. And the really good news is that it doesn’t involve writing any code, installing any software or buying any new hardware.

One I made earlier

You’ve heard of responsive web design. Allow me to introduce responsive web browsing. All you need is a tape measure, a pair of scissors, a ruler, some Sellotape and some good thick paper. I’d recommend Tesco’s recycled brown parcel wrapping paper, but realistically anything north of 80gsm should do the trick.

Ready? Then let’s begin. Switch on your Mac – you’re a designer or developer, of course it’s a Mac – launch your browser of choice and maximise it. Type the URL of your favourite high-profile website into the address bar and hit Enter. Now, get your tape measure and get the horizontal and vertical dimensions of your display – not just the screen, but the bezel too. Using the ruler, mark out an identically sized bit of paper. Use the scissors to cut it out, and then use the ruler to draw a rectangle in the upper left hand corner. The rectangle should be one inch from the left of the paper, three inches from the top and should be six inches wide and four inches high. If you prefer metric measurements, multiply those numbers by 2.54.

Got it? Now carefully cut out the rectangle and, with the Sellotape, firmly affix the sheet of paper to your monitor with the rectangular cutout at the upper left.

Notice anything? That’s right. There’s no banner ad at the top, no poorly selected stock photo, no retina-popping embedded video app in a sidebar packed with other animated ads. The content gets straight to the point and stops there without endless, tenuous, SEO-inspired linkage – and there are no horrible vitriolic comments, because there aren’t any comments at all.

Stop; I know what you’re thinking. What about responsive design? How can I ensure that my idea works not just for specific desktops, but for myriad mobile devices too?

The answer’s simple. Fold the paper. You’re welcome.

Photography: Iain MacLean

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