This is a bit old - you may or may not notice the date on this post but it's over a year old. That doesn't mean it's not useful but we all know how fast things chance on the web so there's a chance that techniques and technologies described here could be a little dated.

Responsive web design – should we turn it off?

There is always plenty of talk about responsive web design (RWD) and a few articles have jumped out at me recently.

I have a few thoughts, of course, and some approaches to stuff myself.

The first two posts from eConsultancy and CSS-Tricks both present issues with using RWD. In fact I mis read the first post as an attack on RWD, however the intro states that the author is a supporter of RWD and wants to make these discussion points.
Neither article detracts from responsive design but highlight the point that despite being a idea that’s a few years old now it is still new, it is still something we are getting used to, there are still problems we’re finding in our implementations and I don’t expect once we solve the issues in these two posts we will have it nailed. We’ll find more issues as we go on.

The last post from Bruce Lawson presents an interesting case, where possibly the option to browse a site’s ‘desktop’ version from a mobile might be preferable. It’s something I remember hearing from many people who didn’t see the need for responsive design when it first started being talked about, mobile browsers are built to handle desktop width sites, pinch and zoom works well for it so why do we need to change things? However I believe that serving an optimised site works and there are plenty of statistics around to prove it.
In the case Bruce presents I see this as a learning curve, however unlike the previous issues it is a learning curve not for us as developers, but for users. As RWD sites become more prevalent around the web then users will get more used to seeing it and won’t be confused when an optimised site loads up.

Since starting to implement RWD on sites I’ve only used an option to turn it off on one project. It wasn’t a strictly responsive site, it had a desktop version and a mobile version. At a certain width a mobile site would be served rather than using a user agent or other type of switch. The client wanted a more app like experience on mobiles and as such removed some content – it’s not my personally preferred approach but it’s what the client insisted upon. Anyway the site footer contains a “desktop view” link which reloads the page but sets a cookie. The header of the site has the mobile css in a separate file that is not loaded if the cookie is set. A back to mobile view link also appears if the cookie is set. This obviously means serving up two CSS files to a mobile site which isn’t ideal, but it works neatly.

I’m still a fan of responsive design and see no real reason to turn it off, and I think there are problems as described with all the posts but this is all part of the learning curve for both us and users.