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Responsive Web Design != Mobile

October 12, 2013

I do PSD Conversions for a living. In other words, I turn photoshop designs into web sites - and I’ve sliced over one hundred. I’m (somewhat) of an expert when it comes to creating custom themes for WordPress.

1996 - 2010 / The Good ‘Ol Days

Before responsive web design, I only had to write one set of code. Web sites were normally designed to fit large 17 inch CRT monitors at 1024x768 resolution, and my job was easy.

2010 - 2012 / My site looks crappy on my iPhone

Thanks to Steve Jobs and this article by Ethan Marcotte, my TSC (time spent coding) has almost doubled. Both mobile devices and that article single handedly changed the landscape of modern web design. And when the giant eye of Google declared, “if you’re site doesn’t gracefully degrade to mobile, we’ll unleash the orcs!”

Thus, responsive web design was here to stay. At first it was, make sure the site looks OK on my iPhone. No problem. A second set of CSS code via media queries. Kind of a pain in the ass, but I like getting paid.

2013 - ? / “Hey Greg, we want this sidebar widget, which normally does ABC on desktop - to do XYZ on the iPhone”

At this point, I’m already writing two sets of code, so why not a third right!?

Somehow, clients just expect us designers to become the white wizard of middle earth and conjure up a mobile sites too. Well, responsive web design doesn’t equal mobile. Let me say it again: RESPONSIVE WEB DESIGN DOES NOT EQUAL MOBILE!

Responsive web design means I will optimize your web site for mobile viewing. In essence, your site will gracefully degrade to smaller screens.

Notice I didn’t say, gracefully enhance? That’s my whole point. Responsive web design is accomplished by using both fluid grids and images via CSS3 media queries. That doesn’t mean the client is allowed to send me a responsive PSD with a very different design. That my friend, is a mobile site and yoouuu shaaaalllll not passsssss!

To wrap up

My job is to make your site looks good on mobile devices - not summon a giant eagle to fly your web site off into the mobile functionality sunset.

Mobile first, unobtrusive JavaScript, and progressive enhancement is a completely different concept than responsive web design.

If I (the coder) have to “enhance” the functionality of your web site (based on screen-width), and if that functionality is so important to you, then I suggest you pony up - and pay for a separate mobile site.

I’m not just grumpy at clients. After all, who can blame them for trying to squeeze a little something extra out during these “tough economic times”. I’m also grumpy at those responsible for scoping contracts. Times are changing. The web moves really fast, so it’s more important than ever to manage expectations.

Potential Clients: Remember, responsive does not equal mobile.

Those responsible for scoping: Tell those potential clients EXACTLY what responsive web design is - or better yet, tell them what it isn’t.

Image Credit


Director of Engineering @WebDevStudios / Author & Editor @WileyGlobal. Read more about me.