What is Responsive Web Design?

Responsive web design is an approach that ensures that all pages of a website look good and function consistently on all devices, be it a mobile phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. To create a responsive website, web designers follow a set of instructions that help web pages change their layout and appearance to meet different screen widths and resolutions.

Why is Responsive Web Design Important?

There are over 6 billion smartphone users in the world. On top of that, mobile devices account for more than half of all website traffic.

These stats push business owners to give more attention to the needs of mobile users in the hopes they will get a slice of this pie.

Responsive web design has become an important strategy for businesses in strengthening their online presence and improving their lead generation and conversion rates.

  • Here are the top reasons why businesses should embrace responsive web design.
  • Responsive websites are cost-effective and easier to maintain
  • Before responsive design became a thing if you want to have a mobile-friendly website you have to build a desktop version and a mobile version of your website (for example, website.com and m.website.com).

A mobile version is an alternate version of your website with simpler navigation, fewer images, larger fonts, and graphical buttons instead of text links. Some content from the website version may also be omitted.

A mobile version of your website can be directly accessed through any browser on your mobile device. It is not to be confused with a mobile app that needs to be first installed on your device before it can be used.

While mobile website versions serve their purpose in providing a mobile-friendly experience for the users, they are recently falling out of favour because of the additional costs of building multiple versions of a website, among other reasons.

Also, any changes that have to be made for your website must be done across all the versions. With responsive design, you only have to make changes on one website.

Developing a responsive website eliminates the need for multiple website versions, therefore, cuts the costs for building and maintaining websites.

Responsive Websites Provide Optimal and Consistent User Experience for all Types of Devices

Your website may look beautiful when viewed on a desktop. But it might not be as good when viewed on a mobile device unless responsive design or some other mobile-friendly design approach was applied.

Texts will be too small to read, photos may not display properly, some features may stop working on the mobile device, and the website may be slow to load. Visitors will have a poor user experience. They will abandon your site quickly and you will lose out on your potential customers.

Having a mobile version of your website will significantly improve the user experience. However, it still has its limitations since the stripped-down version of your website may not provide the consistency that your users want.

With responsive web design, your users will be served more or less same content and experience regardless of what device they are viewing it from.

When you have a website that looks and functions consistently across all devices, you will build a positive perception of your brand and help keep your users engaged.

Positive brand perception and great user experience all contribute to lead generation and conversion.

Responsive Websites are Better for Google Algorithms

Since 2015, Google has included mobile-friendliness as one of the main factors in their rankings. A responsive web design helps your website rank higher in search engine results.

Also, unlike websites with dedicated mobile versions, you will need only one URL for your website. When someone views your site from a mobile device, your website doesn’t need to be redirected to a mobile site. This is better for your SEO.

How Does Responsive Design Work?

To build a responsive website, web designers use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), a style sheet language that is used to define styles for web pages including design and layout, and how a website’s view changes on different screens. 

Responsive web design was first conceptualised by Ethan Marcotte. According to him, it operates on three technical ingredients: media queries, fluid grid, and flexible images.

Media Queries

Media queries let you define completely different styles to suit different screen and browser sizes and other parameters such as orientation (landscape or portrait). You can rearrange and reorder existing elements such as columns, rows, and containers.

To do this, web designers decide on the breakpoints–the width of the screen where you use a media query to implement new CSS styles.

Fluid Grid

In simplest terms, a fluid grid acts like a fluid–it takes the shape of its container.

In more technical terms, a fluid layout uses relative measurements like percentages or ems instead of absolute units like pixels and points. At a given breakpoint range the layout adjusts to suit the screen size and orientation.

Flexible Images

Images on responsive websites move and scale along with a flexible grid, container, or column instead of overflowing it. Relative measurements or percentages are also used for the images to make this happen.

The downside to this approach is that even mobile users have to download the full-sized image and might affect their web page load speed. But there are ways to get around this.

One of the methods used by designers and developers is to upload multiple versions of images on the server and serve the appropriately sized images as needed. However, it may cause an overload especially for an image-heavy website because then more images are needed to be uploaded.

Another way is to use CSS to crop the images dynamically using the overflow property as the container around them shifts.

Hiding some of the images and giving focus to non-image content is another workaround for this issue.

Responsive Typography

As responsive web design became popular, responsive typography was added to the core principles of this web design approach.

Responsive typography ensures that the content is legible and looks good on all devices. Font sizes must be adjusted appropriately to match the screen size. Generally, small screens and extra-large screens require larger typefaces for better readability. 

Web Design Best Practice

Responsive web design is a great approach to use if you want your website to be able to compete online. But it is not the end-all-be-all in web design and development.

Responsive web design must be built on solid web design principles to maximise its benefits.

Here are some of the best web design practices.

Less is More

Less is more when it comes to web design.

You don’t want to overwhelm your visitors with a lot of visual input. Too many colurs and font combinations, long blocks of texts, and sometimes even too many photos can detract from the main message you are trying to put across.

Likewise, giving your audience too many choices at a time can hinder their decision making process.

Also, making them hurdle a lot of steps just to download an ebook, or checkout their items, or talk to a person can discourage your visitors from pursuing the task they are set out to do.

Visually Appealing

Visually appealing websites will grab the attention of your visitors and keep them engaged. This can be achieved by the proper use of images, white space, colours, visual hierarchy, and more.

Clear Call to Action

Calls to action spur your users to take an action — to buy a product, subscribe to a newsletter, or book an appointment. Calls to action must be clear and highly visible on the page.

Intuitive Navigation

Web design should be intuitive. It should take just one look for your visitor to know how to navigate through your website and use its functionality.

Optimised for Search Engines

Integrating SEO best practices for your website which include using responsive web design, is essential to get higher search rankings and more visitors to your site.

Optimised for Speed

Some web design features may affect the websites performance especially on mobile devices. Web designers need to employ best practices like optimising images for the web to ensure that they will not slow down the site.

Consider a Mobile-First Approach to Design

When designing for a responsive website, web designers must not only think of fitting the website content on any device type but also enhancing the user experience of everyone.

Mobile devices generally have less computing power than a PC or a laptop. Loading tons of images, animations, and features may be slower on mobile devices especially the low-end ones. Slower loading time discourages the users to continue browsing your site. It also hurts your SEO.

When responsive design first gained traction, designers were used to designing for large screen sizes. While all the elements and content of the website may stack nicely on the mobile display with the responsive web design approach, it doesn’t always mean that the site is fully mobile-optimised.

So what web designers did then was to develop websites with full features, and then cut back some of these features when designing for mobile to simplify, make loading times faster, and enhance user experience for mobile.

However, since mobile usage has surpassed desktop, many designers nowadays use the mobile-first approach to web design. This means they design the content, features, and functionality with the mobile in mind first, and then add more layers of features and functionalities for larger devices.

Mobile-first approach saves up the trouble of trying to adapt complex features of a website into smaller screens. It is easier to scale up from a simpler design that was built for mobile.

Also, when the mindset is set for mobile-first, web designers are also able to prioritise the core content and functionality of the website because they know they have limited space to play around with for mobile devices.

In a way that also helps in streamlining the website because the designers have already identified the most essential elements early on. So when they scale up for larger screens, they already know what works, and what to focus on.

Combining mobile-first approach with responsive design creates better user experience not only for mobile users but for everyone.


To get ahead of the competition, many businesses nowadays have shifted to responsive websites because of their many benefits like cost-effectiveness, easy maintenance, SEO friendliness, and the potential for greater returns.

But responsive web design is more than just a set of rules that designers have to adhere to. Responsive web design must be built on solid web design foundations for you to reap its maximum benefits.

It is important to partner with a digital company that has firm foundations in web design and development.

Mettro, a leading web design and development company in Brisbane, provides top-notch responsive web design services for any type of business.

We are a proudly Queensland, independently owned and operated digital agency that has been delivering award-winning website design & development and digital marketing for over 20 years. We are dedicated to solving our client’s business problems with smart, simple digital solutions and have the testimonials to prove it.

We’ve built thousands of digital solutions including apps, eCommerce websites, custom software, eLearning applications, WordPress websites and Shopify Websites.  Contact us or book a one-one-one to discuss your website design project!

Written by Raeleen  |  3 August 2021