What is Responsive Design?

Responsive 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. It eliminates the need to resize, pan, and zoom when viewing the website on a mobile device.

In this web design approach, page elements such as columns and images reshuffle as the viewport grows or shrinks. For example, when viewed from a desktop or laptop you may see a three-column design. This may reshuffle to two columns for a tablet and a single column for a smartphone. It is also possible to hide certain items such as background images on smaller screens

How did Responsive Web Design come about?

Responsive web design is a response to the exponential growth of mobile devices. With mobile devices accounting for more than half of all website traffic, businesses wanted to ensure that potential customers will have a great experience when accessing their website on a mobile device.

Early websites had fixed design layouts which means a container or wrapper is used to hold all the elements on the page such as images, columns, fonts, etc. The width of the container is defined using fixed units (pixels). The container width will not change even if the browser is resized or a different device is used to view the website.


That means if you have a huge monitor and the width of the webpage is designed for regular-sized screens, the web page will have big margins on both sides.

On the other hand, when viewed on smaller screens like on mobile devices, you won’t see the whole width of the page, and the text would be small and difficult to read. In short, the user experience would be bad for many mobile users.

Web designers and website owners wanted to make websites more mobile-friendly. Before the rise of responsive websites, two approaches were used to make websites mobile-friendly.

One is by building a separate 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 because of limited space. But having a separate mobile version has some disadvantages which will be discussed in detail in the succeeding sections.

Another is by creating a mobile app for your website. Unlike a mobile version which can be accessed through any browser on your phone, a mobile app needs to be downloaded and installed on a mobile device before it can be used. A mobile app can be very effective for some types of websites like social media, online marketplaces, gaming, travel booking sites, and news organisations. However, for some businesses, it may not be cost-effective to create and maintain one.

In 2010, responsive web design was conceptualised by Ethan Marcotte. In this approach, web designers follow a set of instructions that help web pages change their layout and appearance to meet different screen widths and resolutions.

Responsive web design has gained popularity in the past few years. Many web designers are recommending responsive design for the following reasons.

What are the Top 10 reasons to Use a Responsive Design?

Works on all devices

A responsive website adapts to any screen size and orientation (portrait or landscape). Whether you are using a large monitor, a laptop, a tablet, or a mobile phone, the website would look good and function well.


Responsive web design can help you save more money because it eliminates the need to build and maintain two or more separate versions of your website.

Easy to maintain

A responsive website is easier to maintain. If you need to edit or add new content or make any changes to your website, you only need to do it once. On the other hand, when you have a desktop and mobile version of your website, you have to make changes to each version of the site.

Improved user experience for mobile

When built using the mobile-first approach and best web design practices, responsive websites can provide a seamless user experience for visitors regardless of what device they are using.

Consistent user experience

Many people use multiple devices in accessing the internet. Someone might research for a product using their mobile phone while they are out and about and then continue to browse the same website using their desktop when they get home.

When the website uses a responsive design, that user will have a consistent experience regardless of the device they used to access the site.

Great for search engines

Google recommends responsive design and uses it as one of the main factors in rankings.

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.

Also, it is more efficient for Google and other search engines to crawl and index your single URL website.

It is better for your analytics

Since you only have a single URL, it is easier to monitor your analytics because you only have one source of information.

Faster development

Developing multiple versions of your website can take longer. Sometimes, developers need to create several mobile versions to ensure that the website will work on most devices. Since there is no need to create multiple website versions when using responsive web design, the development of a website can be relatively faster.

Return on investment

When your website visitors have a great user experience, it can translate to a better return on your investment.


New technologies and devices are constantly being developed. In case a new device with a different size takes off in the future, responsive web design can still be used since it can support any breakpoints.

What are the Limitations of Responsive Web Design?

Responsive design is a great tool for web developers and designers because it allows them to create a website that works on all devices. But as with any product, the final outcome depends on the person handling the tool to create that product.

Ensuring best performance with responsive design

Note that responsive web design delivers the same code to all devices. It doesn’t matter if the person viewing the website is using a desktop, a tablet, a high-end smartphone, or a low-end one. It also doesn’t matter what type of internet connection is being used.

And here is where the issue of performance can arise. A responsive website viewed from a low-end smartphone relying on a spotty internet data connection may take longer to load and may not function as intended because it doesn’t have the same computing resources as a high-end phone or a desktop. This will give the user a bad impression.

For a seamless user experience, developers must use the current web design best practices which include optimising for speed and mobile.

This means that they should avoid using tons of animation and features that may slow down the website especially for lower-end devices. They should also optimise the images for the web. This entails choosing the best image format and compressing the images to decrease the file size while retaining acceptable quality.

Creating usable experiences

Responsive web design involves reorganising the design elements to make sure that they fit narrower and longer viewports. But it shouldn’t end there. Developers and designers must work together to see what the end result of the shuffling looks like and how it affects the user experience. They have to ensure that the design is usable at all screen resolutions and sizes.

It is thus crucial to conduct usability tests on designs across all platforms and conditions to ensure that the design is usable for most users.

Mobile-first approach in responsive design

When responsive design first gained traction, designers were used to designing for large screen sizes and for mobile devices separately. The challenge now is to create one design using the responsive approach that would look good both on desktop and mobile displays.

While the responsive design allows designers to reshuffle the elements to fit on a smaller screen it doesn’t always necessarily mean that a responsive website is fully optimised for mobile.

As mentioned, too many design elements can be heavy for a mobile phone and might affect the website’s loading speed on a lower-end device. The usability of the website across all devices must also be considered.

So what web designers do in this situation is to develop websites with full features, and then cut back some of these features for mobile. Along with using optimised images, this process makes loading times faster and enhances the user experience for mobile users.

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.

This makes a lot of sense since it is easier to scale up from a simpler design that was built for mobile than try to fit a complex design into a smaller device.

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.

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

Responsive web design must be Anchored on Solid Web Design Principles

An effective web design must be anchored on solid web design principles regardless of what web design approach one is using.

Fit for purpose

The visual design and the functionalities of a website will all depend on the website’s purpose. When the web designers understand the purpose of the website, they will only include what is essential and will design according to the goals of the website and the client.

Visually appealing design

For a website to be effective, it must catch the attention of the viewer. It takes only less than a second to impress website visitors.

The use of white space, quality images that appeal to the target audience, readable typography, logical layout, and colour harmony all contribute to the visual appeal of a website. It is also important that all the pages on the website have consistency.

User experience

The ultimate goal of website design is to create the best possible experience for the user. The website must be easy to navigate, visually appealing, easy to use (not too many steps to complete an action), and fast among other things to ensure that the visitors will be satisfied and will be encouraged to return to the site in the future.

Responsive Web Design Services in Brisbane

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-on-one to discuss your website design project!

Written by Raeleen  |  4 November 2021