I intend to read Ethan’s book and will eventually get around to incorporating some of these techniques into future projects, and I’m hoping to eventually have a responsive layout for this site. But there are a few things about this whole responsive design trend that concern me a little bit.
I Thought Fluid-Width Sites Sucked?
UPDATE: (June 14/2011) In this section, I’m not saying that full-width fluid layouts are the same as responsive layouts; but the underlying concept is the same. Those old-school layouts, for various reasons, never really caught on.
I’m definitely one of those developers who has coded fixed-width layouts pretty much exclusively. The closest I’ve come to making my sites “fluid” is allowing the header and footer to expand the full width of the screen (like on this site’s current design). The rest is usually squeezed into a fixed container div that’s margin-autoed.
So again, my understanding of fluid layouts is pretty limited, and I’m not formulating any definite opinions here. But I am concerned because of the fact that fluid width layouts are nothing new; they’ve been around for a while. But they never really caught on as the best way of laying out a site.
From what I can tell, a fluid-width page will look fine on a user visiting a site on a Mac because, generally speaking, a Mac user doesn’t have maximised windows. While a Windows user (like myself) might have a very wide monitor (like I currently do) thus making fluid-width sites like Wikipedia look awful and unreadable.
One commenter pointed out that this was a feature on Wikipedia to aide page zooming, but I personally don’t see a difference in zooming when the main content is at a fixed width.
Is it just my imagination, or are most of the people who are pushing “responsive” layouts working on a Mac and exclusively using non-maximised windows? Again, I’m not making any definite statements here, and my ignorance in this area might be swaying my current view, but I see this as a concern because the average web user (i.e. our clients’ audience) is not on a Mac.
Make ‘Em Good
There have been arguments against the use of media queries (I know, media queries != responsive web design), which everyone should consider. I hope Ethan has addressed those issues in his book.
Jeremy Keith was recently on the SitePoint podcast to defend his view of responsive design and to clear up some misconceptions and misrepresentations, so I encourage everyone to listen to that broadcast.
Personally, I would like to see responsive layouts that do not incorporate full-width fluid techniques. For the reasons mentioned above, full-width layouts can be very hard to read, and often present too much information on a horizontal plane, making it seem as though the content is overkill.
So, my advice is, if you’re going to use responsive techniques, then do it right. A new Media query showcase website displays some excellent examples that are worthy of imitation, and that work much better than the Wikipedia-style full-width layout. So check those out if you want to get into these types of layouts.
It’s the Future! (Maybe)
I wrote this article because I noticed a lot of people tweeting about responsive design being the future of the web. I’m all for encouraging best practices, but I’m also cautious about accepting new techniques blindly. I think it’s wrong when people accept trends without first researching (objectively) whether this really is the best solution.
Whether or not responsive design is the future of the web, Ethan Marcotte is going to sell a slew of books pushing the technique. So I honestly can’t consider his view “objective” in the truest sense of the word.
I’m going to get around to reading Ethan’s book, and I’m definitely going to play around more with media queries and responsive techniques. But I’m certainly not going to assume that we’ve now found the holy grail of web design without first giving it an objective and thorough test.