In Responsive Web Design, Screen Size Needn’t Dictate All Your Design Decisions

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With wearables rapidly entering the market, digital designers can now add one more device to the ever increasing list of diverse devices to design for.

In this multi-device reality, responsive web design has been the go-to design strategy for many design teams.

The overall strategy for responsive design is usually to:

  • Take design decisions based on screen size
  • Support all input methods

But taking design decisions solely with screen size in mind might not (always) be the best idea.

And neither is assuming you can support all input methods.

So is taking design decisions based on screen size wrong?

Of course not.

We’ve all seen that conversion and engagement pretty much always increase when web designs are responsive.

This report from the biggest Swedish publisher, Bonnier, shows how they managed to increase revenues by 160% compared to the same month the year before.

Or this report highlighting how the O’Neill Clothing online store saw a 101% revenue growth on iPhone after they redesigned using a responsive design.

Facts hard to argue with right?

It’s obvious that they have the great impact on the bottom line… why mess up a good thing?

Well, as people use more diverse devices to access the internet, taking design decisions solely on screen size fails to take into account how different Web experiences really are. (or should be).

Too much focus on screen size might very well fail to create a UI that addresses the real needs of people.

LukeW points out; screen size is not a very good proxy for determining:

  • If there’s even a browser running on the device (no Safari in the Apple Watch for example)
  • Network speed
  • The capabilities of the device (again, Apple Watch supports force touch, how does that correlate with screen size?)

Screen size never accounts for different input methods or the context of usage (slouched in the sofa vs standing squeezed between people in a speeding subway are very different scenarios).

As you quickly see, screen size (and resolution) is only one part needed to take into consideration when taking design decisions.

Why including all the input methods might not be the best thing



Along with screen size based design decisions web designers have generally accepted “all” input methods; clicks, taps, touch events, keyboard presses (to start with).

Which up until now has been a very pragmatic (and functional) way of dealing with the inherent uncertainty of the Web.

But there’s a problem with this as well:

It’s likely going to become unsustainable. we have to start factor in new input methods like device motion, force touch, hand gestures.

Especially when we have to start to factor in new input methods like device motion, force touch, hand gestures, biometrics etc.

Supporting all input methods will become increasingly difficult.

Adapting designs to screen size is of course not unimportant.

But if we assume too much based solely on screen size, we run the risk of neglecting other important factors which, based on context, might lead to failing user interfaces.

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