Responsive Web Design Techniques You Should Know

In 2010, Ethan Marcotte urged developers and designers to practice responsive web design (RWD). He maintained that designers and developers can future proof their work by designing websites that adapt to any device. No wonder RWD has become one of the web design practices many designers and developers swear by.

Amazingly, responsive web design reached critical mass just eight years later. Responsive web design has quickly become a standard practice for those who want to create a tailored and consistent experience across various devices, including those yet to be released.

The Lowdown on Responsive Web Design

For most contemporary websites, a satisfying user experience revolves around a responsive design. Over a decade ago, most people surfed the web using their desktop computers. However, much has changed since then.

Case in point: in 2020, the number of smartphone users worldwide is close to 3.5 billion. That is a 9.3% increase from the year prior. Statistics also indicate that 96% of Americans own a mobile phone, and 81% of those phones are smartphones.

Today, people have learned to prefer the convenience of mobile phones for web browsing. They don’t use laptops or desktops as much – hand-held devices are much more convenient for this task. During the third quarter of 2019, mobile devices generated half of all website traffic globally.

The primary goal of any self-respecting online force inadvertently goes towards maintaining a responsive design. It ensures that the user experience is exceptional across various devices, even if the layout can appear slightly different. For example, you can present information in a single column on a smartphone and two on laptops, but the content format and the brand value remain the same.

At its core, a responsive design produced by highly skilled creators minimizes panning, zooming, scrolling, and the confusion that usually follows this action. It can make the experience highly enjoyable for all site visitors, regardless of the type of devices people use to access your site.

Three Defining Features of Responsive Websites

The following are the three defining features of responsive websites:

1. Media Queries

According to Marcotte, a media query allows you to do more than target specific device classes. Media queries also will enable you to inspect the physical characteristics of the device rendering your work.

In essence, media queries allow developers to utilize condition checks to alter web designs based on the properties of the device used. It is considered far more superior than just defining breakpoints in HTML/CSS.

2. Fluid Grids

When developers render flexible grids through CSS, the columns will automatically rearrange themselves. Hence, it fits the browser window or screen size, regardless of whether the user is on a 13-inch laptop, a 21-inch desktop, a 5.5-inch mobile phone, or a 9.7-inch tablet.

Fluid grids make it possible for designers to maintain a consistent feel and look across different devices. Not only that, but fluid grids can also help ensure you can save time and money as it allows designers to update one version of the website versus many.

3. Flexible Visuals

For Marcotte, flexible visuals refer to using code to prevent rich media files from exceeding container dimensions. As the “flexible container resizes,” the visual within it does the same. Now that over 8.4B unique devices exist, flexible visuals will allow you to create classic designs that can adapt to any device, no matter its shape or size.

Responsive Web Design Techniques and Best Practices You Should Know

Websites can easily break out of standards if regular checks, updates, and evaluations take place. To ensure your website is responsive and up to par with requirements, below are some of the responsive web design techniques and best practices you should keep in mind:

Eliminate Friction

Adopting a mobile-first approach to responsive web design can help designers assess what is required to achieve their primary objectives. As you build desktop and tablet versions, you can start thinking about secondary goals and user flows, calls to action (CTAs), and micro-interactions to ensure that you can deliver what customers demand.

It would help if you took on a clean, user-first approach and eradicate any unnecessary friction that won’t aid the primary or the secondary objectives.

Here’s one good example of eliminating friction: Since most mobile user interfaces are tricky to navigate, switching to a one-page checkout for your mobile e-Commerce could be a game-changer. Having multi-step checkouts for desktop eCommerce is considered ideal.

Design for Thumbs

One thing that makes responsive web design a tricky business is the way users interact with different devices. They access desktop websites via clicks and keyboard presses but use swipes and taps on mobiles. There are physical differences between how people approach interactions based on the technology piece of their choice. It would be best if you give this interplay a profound consideration.

Mobile phone users hold their devices in their hands while desktop computers are usually propped on tables and rarely change their location.

The mentioned differences can significantly change how mobile UI designers design tap targets alongside other crucial UI elements that users interact with. Other examples include:

  1. Typically, users expect to find the main desktop navigation at the very top. However, on mobile phones, it resides at the bottom because thumbs won’t reach the top with ease.
  2. Other interactive elements should be effortless to reach. It means they should be kept in the center of the screen because it is more difficult for the thumbs to reach the corners and sides of the device screens.

Ideally, CTAs and important links should have a height of 44px so users can tap them with ease. Tiny tap targets are considered bad for usability.

Consider the Native Hardware of Mobile Devices

Mobile hardware like the GPS service and the device camera is not explicitly reserved for native apps. It is important to remember that responsive web design is more than just “making everything fit.”

Responsive web design also includes adapting to the capabilities of the device. Since mobile devices have easy-to-use cameras, some micro-interactions like data input are more convenient on the smaller screens if your website properly leverages the native hardware available.

  1. Top-up/credit card scanning (since forms can be tricky on mobile)
  2. Social media photo-sharing (since media is already on your device)
  3. Two-factor authentication (since you are already using your mobile device)
  4. Quickly checking analytics/stocks (since mobile apps can simplify information)
  5. Performing a web search using voice (since hands-free is way easier than typing)

Create Adaptive/Fluid Layouts

Understandably, not all users will maximize the capabilities of their desktop browsers. While designers consider the responsive breakpoints of users’ preferred devices, what happens between those breakpoints should also be considered.

Essentially, responsive breakpoints should “reflow” the content and layout to a new device. However, it needs to account for all the sizes in between and should naturally stretch/adapt as the browser resizes. When designing adaptive/fluid layouts, please consider the following:

  1. Setting maximum and minimum widths will enable the “don’t go bigger/smaller than this” scenario.
  2. Percentage units allow the elements to be fluid.
  3. SVC image formats can scale up without compromising the quality.

Keep Landscape Orientation in Mind

Keep in mind that mobile viewports can display in landscape orientation. While a fluid layout can make your content more adaptive, losing a significant portrait share can hinder accessibility and usability.

Typically, navigations are safe; however, they can make scrolling harder. This condition is less optimal since the user needs to scroll more on the landscape. Designers may also need to consider landscape breakpoints as well.

For example, rather than using tiled elements that stack vertically on mobile, it can be displayed as a slider with right and left navigation buttons. It means users won’t have to scroll anymore.

Lazy Load Videos and unimportant Images

Images, and especially videos, make up a considerable chunk of the total download size of most websites. However, not all website media must load at once. Two scenarios can delay media rendering: render-blocking media should download after downloading the content and layout. Below-the-fold content naturally follows the user scrolls below the fold. We refer to this practice as lazy loading.

Lazy loading ensures the loading of non-important and heavy elements is delayed enhancing page performance. They do load up later, but not before the crucial visual elements also responsible for maintaining a decent SEO rating. Lazy loading improves the browsing experience of users, and we have already witnessed that UX has a big role in Google ranking.

Don’t Forget Your Typography

It is crucial to consider your website’s legibility across all devices and platforms. However, on mobile, you need to be extra attentive to the readability needs of the users. If visitors can’t read any of your content or value propositions, they are unlikely to stick around.

Ideally, you need to ensure your content is easy to read to avoid leaving your readers squinting. It will help if you are also mindful of the typefaces you use on your site and make sure they make for good legibility on small screens.

Don’t forget to balance the body font sizes and headings for the size of the device. Understandably, you don’t want the font sizes to look drastically different across devices and various displays. Otherwise, they would look awkward and unnatural to read.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few of the core changes you need to be done before running a responsive and well-optimized website. By auditing your website, you can find out if it fits the mobile-first demand of the modern age.

Since most likely half of your traffic comes from mobile, ensure you do not alienate those users by providing a sub-par mobile experience.

Getting your website ready for all the challenges and regulations does take a well-ground team. It is nearly impossible to pull it off without the expertise and experience of a real software agency. Have a project too big for your own devices? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Our design experts breathe website responsiveness, and they know how to design an award-winning eCommerce website. They won’t leave a pebble unturned until you end up with a smooth-running online business ready to be worshipped by your clients.


Mariya Videva | UX Strategist  | UI/UX Designer

Mariya is an experienced User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) expert, with a strong tendency toward improving Customer Experience (CX). After a successful brainstorming session, she implements the user experiences used by millions of users thereafter.
There is no problem big enough for her not to tackle a solution to sometimes sophisticated user flows. User Experience Strategy sits at the heart of her actions, making her think ahead of time and beyond implementation.