Responsive, adaptive and reactive web design

Last update : June 25, 2014

Responsive web design is creating web layouts that can adapt to a multitude of displays and devices. Using this technique, you can eliminate the need to create device-centric designs and allow your content to be displayed from a single source, on an unlimited number of mediums.

Web designers often transform their desktop layouts into something optimized for devices with smaller screens by adding additional javascript and additional css code. That’s not the right solution for mobile devices with less powerful CPU’s and slower network connections where speed and low roaming charges matters more than on desktop PC’s. Simply resizing the same application to fit on multiple devices doesn’t necessarily ensure the best experience for users.

The main objective of responsive web design is to load only those files to the device which are really displayed and to minimize the file size of the downloaded elements, including images. Responsive web design is the practice suggesting that design and development should respond to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation. Adjusting images to make them context-aware, according to the different screen widths or devices is another important aspect of responsive web design.

The pioneer of responsive web design is Ethan Marcotte, a web designer, developer, speaker and author, living in in Boston, Massachusetts. His blog is called Unstoppable Robot Ninja.

The technical ingredients for responsive web design are :

  • fluid grids
  • media queries
  • adaptive images
  • viewport settings

Some web designers prefer the term adaptive instead of responsive for these technologies, other call it reactive.

A recommended approach to start with responsive web design is to start with a mobile first layout. You have to keep in mind that most internet users do not keep a browser open full screen.

Links to some useful documentation and scripts about responsive web design are shown in the following list :

Books :

Scripts :

Blogs :