Friday, July 22nd, 2011

What ‘Responsive Web Design’ means to designers who can’t code.

There’s been a lot of excitement and ho-ha about responsive web design recently and it seems to have been a major talking point at the conferences this year.

Like many web designers and developers I’ve just started experimenting with RWD myself and honestly believe it’s the way forward now we have many screen sizes and devices to cater for.

What is Responsive Web Design

For those of you who don’t already know – responsive web design essentially means coding a website to have a flexible layout which adjusts to suit screen widths and devices accordingly.

This is acheived using CSS media queries and techniques to present a varierty of image sizes.

You can see some great examples of Responsive Web Design in action by visiting one of the sites below or indeed this one (though still some tweaks to make) and resizing your browser window*.

Hicks Design (One of the first examples I came across and still one of the best – check Jon’s redesign blog post from June 2010)
CSS Wizardry
Matt Hamm
David Bushell
Thirst Studios (hot off the press!)

Hopefully you can see how usefull this can be in providing one website for all rather than directing to bespoke mobile sites which has been the previous trend.

So what does this mean to designers who can’t code?

Essentially I think it means this:

Learn and learn fast.

Responsive Web Design has made it more important than ever for web designers to understand code.

Without a basic understanding many ‘web designers’ will be left behind as RWD becomes standard for website builds. It will mean more decisions and development time for the developer (who may not understand design) and likely lead to poor results.

Another issue will be how to present designs to clients and RWD makes a strong case for designing in the browser.

Designing 3 or more different layouts in photoshop to present your client will not only be more time consuming but also potentially misleading.

Personally for sometime now I’ve favoured starting in photoshop then quickly moving to html/css before presenting to the client. An approach I’ll continue with responsive design.

Is it important for designers to be able to code? I certainly think so.


For those of you wanting to learn more on Responsive Web Design here are some resources I think you’ll find useful.

A List Apart – Responsive Web Design
Responsive Web Design
(Printed book – I’m yet to read but heard good reports)
inuit.css (a great starting point for developers)
Techniques for Context Specific Images
(CSS Tricks)
Fluid Grid Calculator (quickly and easily create a custom fluid grid)
Guidelines for responsive webdesign (Smashing Magazine)

*provided you’re not browsing in Internet Explorer 6/7/8**
**Unless the developer has also used respond.js

4 Responses to “What ‘Responsive Web Design’ means to designers who can’t code.”

  1. Frank says:

    Great article, thanks. What do you mean by learning how to code? Do you mean hand-coding HTML5? Or CSS3? Or do you mean learn how to code JavaSCript?

  2. admin says:

    @Frank – yes I mean HTML & CSS.

  3. Greg says:

    RWD means that designers need to make 3-4 layouts for each page design to show the CSS author what the end goal is. That doesn’t mean the designer has to do it. But, it does mean a designers work on a single project increases dramatically.

    In fact, a great designer is far more expensive than someone who writes markup. If anything, RWD means the designer should focus more on design, and less on code, because there is more to a design than ever before.

  4. admin says:

    @Greg – I’ve built quiet a few responsive sites recently and am yet to have anything but the desktop PSD supplied, generally the designer and I would just a conversation about how the rest should work and create it in code.

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