A List Apart is considered by many front-end developers to be the holy grail of websites. Along with Smashing Magazine and a few other sites, ALA not only sets trends but helps to define them and provide tutorials for users.
In 2010, Ethan Marcotte wrote this in article for A List Apart:
“This is our way forward. Rather than tailoring disconnected designs to each of an ever-increasing number of web devices, we can treat them as facets of the same experience. We can design for an optimal viewing experience, but embed standards-based technologies into our designs to make them not only more flexible, but more adaptive to the media that renders them. In short, we need to practice responsive web design.”
With that, a term and a trend were born.
Over the next few years, web designers and front-end developers began using responsive design or adaptive design as their standards. In 2013, it was arguably the most important skill to have and was listed as a requirement in nearly ever web related job description.
But is responsive design the wave of the future or just a passing fad?
As a web developer, I have seen innumerable designers pitch responsive design ideas to clients only to have that be the first line item crossed out for budgetary reasons.
“We will make that a phase two item,” clients might say.
Or they might respond, “We just do not have the budget for that right now. Maybe in the future we will do an iPhone app.”
OK, fair enough.
Surely, though, the biggest sites around must be responsive if this is a cost effective and important measure.
Of the sites Alexa lists as the most popular in the United States, only YouTube is even somewhat responsive. Wikipedia attempts to be responsive but, as this corresponding screenshot shows, it is not without flaw.
Once a user searches Wikipedia on a mobile device, it switches to their mobile site.
Even Google, the company owns YouTube, is not responsive — and its homepage consists of little more than an input field and a logo.
Some of the top 10 sites that are listed, such as Facebook and Amazon, include some responsive features but they are minimal at best.
Perhaps the plans for these big companies is to roll these features out incrementally over a longer period of time but, on the whole, it seems like these companies have already invested in mobile apps and have no real reason to switch away from them.
Mobile apps provide a lot more firepower for these popular sites and it is likely that they will stay the course in their own little (or gigantic, in these cases) ecosystems moving forward.
Examples like these raise questions: Is responsive design a pitcher’s pitch or a songwriter’s song? Is it something that other developers and designers alike admire and use mainly to one up each other on their portfolios?