Why Responsive Web Design isn’t enough

Responsive Web Design (RWD) has been the hype word (or concept) since Ethan Marcotte introduced the word in 2010. Well maybe not that long but at least last couple of years. Now everybody builds and releases RWD sites. And it seems that mobile aspect is on the requirement list on most of the projects.

RWD as a word has grown since it’s introduction. Originally it involved technical things like media queries, fluid grid and flexible media elements such as images. On fundamental level it meant that the same content should be available on different devices. Today RWD is split in two. The one that web enthusiasts mean and second one rest of the people understand.

The latter in my experience means sites that perform good on a decent internet connection and a desktop sized device. They scales down to a small screen size but the performance isn’t that good. In most cases it’s quite bad and can even go to a point where the site is unusable on a mid priced mobile phone. You know, those cheap Android based phones most of the people outside web communities use. I know this because most of my web browsing outside my work is done through a mobile device and some times it’s a crappy Android.

These pseudo-RWD sites do have the basic concepts of RWD like media queries and flexible media elements. But they miss the whole point of RWD by including lots of javascript and big images. The page size grows to 2 megs and loads 5 to 10 seconds before it’s usable. And after that the experience is mostly infuriating because of all the javascript trying to capture every touch movement on the page. Or a social media plugin hides some essential elements so that the key content on that page is inaccessible.

So what’s the point of RWD if these sites miss it? It’s not the flexible part everybody tries to achieve. It’s the part no-one seem to remember except the web enthusiasts. You know, the part that I think Ethan originally tried to tell us. And what most of us already know. And what the real RWD has grown to.

The real RWD means a site and it’s content should be accessible on all devices. And accessibility is more than “flexin’ the site” to mobile. It’s about performance on the crappiest phone used on the site behind the slowest internet speed available. It’s about serving the core content first and enhancing the experience after that. And most of all it’s about the courage to stand your ground and speak up when a pseudo-RWD site is being build.

Sometimes the best RWD site is the one that doesn’t flex to mobile.