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Recap: Ethan Marcotte Speaks About The Future of Responsive Design

  • keyweb
  • Mar 28, 2014

When it comes to best practices on the web, there is no higher priority than Responsive Web Design (RWD). RWD is an approach that aims to create websites that respond to the devices that are used to view the site, optimizing the delivery of the content for those specific screens.

On Wednesday, March 26, AIGA Richmond, along with sponsors CO+LAB and CapTech, was kind enough to host Ethan Marcotte—The Man, The Myth, The Legend—known for coining the term Responsive Web Design, authoring the spectacular book Responsive Web Design, and for producing 95% of all internet GIFs.

Here are some of my takeaways from Marcotte’s talk:


Mobile completely debunked our notion of control.

“Our control over the Web was an illusion”

The web was a very fixed and static place before the iPhone was released in 2007. The iPhone release is widely considered to be the pivotal point in our modern tech revolution, and the way we have constructed websites has dramatically and exponentially evolved over the past 7 years.

The Mobile Revolution made us realize that what we thought was a fixed and static place was actually the one of the first truly flexible media platforms, and our industry has struggled with the best way to accommodate this in the products that we create.

Responsive design doesn't have to compromise speed and performance.

Responsive design does not equal low performance

Many sites implementing some sort of responsive or mobile optimization have seen significantly higher conversion rates on mobile devices, but not all in the web community think that RWD is the solution to the problem of a multi-device world.

In 2009, the average size of a webpage was 320 KB. As of 2013, the average page size has ballooned to 1.6 MB. This exponential page bloat mostly results from the inclusion of more images of larger size in our web pages. While the proliferation and saturation of mobile devices and page size have increased, the infrastructure to deliver the web has not, and many critics of RWD have cited this reason in justifying their anti-RWD position.

There were 7 billion mobile subscriptions in 2013, but the internet speeds of 60% of those subscriptions were on Edge/CDMA technology or lower. Many of the popular sites today have large page sizes, and the prevalence of slow internet speeds dramatically affects the effectiveness of our responsive designs. This disparity between what we can do with the web and how users can consume the web creates what Marcotte referred to as a “seam” that forces us to address the core function of a website: delivering content.

The hard truth about websites

As a designer, I struggle with the harsh reality that the web’s core purpose isn’t to display beautiful things. Its core purpose is to communicate, to function as the medium through which a message is communicated to a potentially unlimited number of people. Form follows function. Please don’t misunderstand me—design plays an important role in effective communication, but it is not the sole important factor in creating a usable experience.

We as members of the web community should shift our focus towards creating more consumable experiences that will always deliver the content to the user, regardless of device or internet speed. And we need to make sure that we keep best practices like this at the forefront of our process to ensure that we create a website that will deliver the best possible results for our clients by delivering a responsive, beautiful, usable and consumable experience.

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