Responsive web design: what it is and how to use it?

A computer, tablet, and phone on a table.

The devices we use to search the web change at all times. We’re transitioning to either smaller or bigger screens, and that means that the pages we visit need to change as well. Today, a website needs to track the screen size of the device people use to access it and display itself adequately. And responsive web design (RWD) is what makes this possible. 

In the past, the only way around it was to create a parallel mobile version of your site and send mobile users to it. However, that’s far from ideal. It splits your audience, and all of your content needs twice as much attention to achieve the same results. On top of that, lots of people don’t want to deal with that much work.

On the other hand, having a website that isn’t optimized for mobile is one of the biggest web design mistakes you can make. More than half of all web traffic these days comes from mobile devices, and Google takes the mobile version of your site as the main one. So, it must offer a good user experience if you want to rank well. 

Keep reading, and you’ll learn what responsive design is and how you can use it to make your site better. 

 A woman testing her responsive web design.
Responsive web design will make your site look nice on both big and small screens.

What is responsive design?

Web pages that you create this way you can easily and successfully view on any device. Your content will adapt to any screen size or browsing condition you throw at it. Here are the basic principles it works upon:

  • Your content and site change shape and size depending on the screen’s width.
  • It shows only as many media queries as the given screen can display at once.
  • Your images and media are flexible – they respond to different screen sizes.

Back when computers were the only way to access the web, it was easy. People optimized their sites for the average screen size, and that was it. However, today you have to think about phones, tablets, computers, and even smartwatches. The situation is far more tricky, and that makes RWD design a thing that every site needs. More people will be able to use your interface, and that’s what it’s all about. 

Is adaptive web design the same thing?

It seems that lots of people think that adaptive and responsive design are the same thing. And it’s not hard to understand why one may think that. However, these are two different concepts

When it comes to adaptive web design, it only works with the predetermined widths of the screen. It will recognize the size of the screen it’s loaded on and display a suitable layout. That sounds good, but there’s still one problem with it.

Let’s say you need to create a job board for your company. Of course, you want a job board that is functional, so you go with adaptive design. However, if people look at it on a resolution you didn’t include, they won’t see it correctly. They’ll have a bad experience on your site, and they won’t want to work with you because of that.  

On the other hand, the point of responsive web design is that it’s entirely flexible. As the screen resolution changes, the website’s elements will shuffle around to give you the best representation of what you should see. This is its main selling point. With new devices coming out almost every day, there are numerous screen sizes, and this is the only way to service them all. 

 A woman designing a site on a piece of paper.
Adaptive web design is a step in the right direction, but it’s not a solution that is as good.

How to make your website design responsive?

Now, you know what responsive design is and why you should have it on your site, so let’s take a look at how you should use it. We’ll tell you what changes you need to make to your website and what things you need to focus on. 

The layout

As web development experts at wpfullcare.com suggest, the website layout is what will make or break your responsive design efforts. It’s the first step you need to take, and if you skip it, none of the others will make much sense. 

First, imagine your layout without thinking about responsiveness at all. Pick a screen width that fits most of today’s computer monitors, and start working on it. When you feel like you’ve got it, start adding media queries that will make your layout responsive. 

One trick you can use here is to use a 1×1 aspect ratio on your content. If you don’t do that, most browsers will default to a full view of the page. That will shrink your content, and your visitors will have to rely on a zoom feature to read it. This makes for a terrible user experience, and it’s something that might lead to you not getting any website traffic. 

Media responsiveness

Media queries make it possible to display your content as it should look on any device. The trick here is to always use proportional sizes instead of absolute ones. For instance, if you’re setting up a featured image, make its width 100% rather than 800 pixels. This way, it’ll occupy the whole screen no matter what size it is.

On top of that, be sure to use compression on your pictures. You’re creating a site that should look good on mobile, so this is vital. These devices have slower internet connections, and your visitors might access your site through limited data plans. By compressing all big files, you ensure that the site will load quickly, which should always be your priority. 

And the last thing you need to think about is typography. Of course, keep in mind all the most popular typography trends, but avoid absolute sizes at all costs. If the screen is big, there’s no reason for the text to be small. On the contrary, if the screen is tiny, the writing has to be as well. Setting your font sizes to percentages will make this happen. 

A person looking at pictures on a tablet.
Besides the layout, photos and text on your site also need to adapt to the screen size.

Testing

To finish off your responsive web design project, you need to test it. Do everything you can to make sure that the site works across as many devices and conditions as you can think of. Most browsers these days have a testing feature where you can choose your screen size, so be sure to take advantage of that. On the other hand, you should still do plenty of testing on physical devices that you can use for the purpose. Once you’re positive that everything is as it should be, make your improved site live, and let people enjoy it. 

Meta description: Read this article to learn what responsive web design is and how you can use it on your site. Get all the latest tips, tricks, and advice from experts. 

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