Square Peg, Round Hole: RWD is not the answer

In his book, Ethan Marcotte (who coined the term ‘Responsive Web Design’) states “But most importantly, responsive web design isn’t intended to serve as a replacement for mobile web sites.” Much of the controversy regarding RWD is a result of people using RWD instead of specific mobile sites as a long-term solution, rather than in addition to a mobile site or until a mobile site can be made.

Ethan coirned the term RWD

At first, Responsive Web Design appears to be an amazing solution. A responsive site means that you only need to make one site, which in turn means that there is less maintenance and Search Engine Optimisation needed, and therefore it is not as expensive. This may appear to be an advantage, but it isn’t.


RWD is cheaper, but ‘cheaper’ very rarely coincides with ‘better’. A responsive site is made for all devices, but this also means that it isn’t made specifically for one. A platform-specific user interface will usually lead to a better user experience than a generic user interface. RWD is a jack of all trades, but a master of none. Another major flaw of RWD is its data usage. RWD assumes that the device is desktop, and then scales it according to the device. This means that a RWD site will load excessive data that it won’t even use, such as full resolution images that are too big for the screen. Considering that mobile data is severely limited, wasting data on unnecessary detail is simply not acceptable. If your site chews through your user’s mobile data, they are going to stop using your site.


Senior Account Manager at SiteMinis Randy Ferree argues that a responsive design is better than no mobile-optimised experience at all, but responsive design is only a temporary solution to a bigger problem.


A sentiment is shared by Patrick Emmons, director of professional services at Adage Technologies, who states that responsive design is a “smart move”, as it is “easy and safe…if you don’t have the resources to invest in a specific platform.”


The appeal behind RWD is that it is cheap and (comparatively) easy compared to a full-fledged mobile site, which makes it suitable for individuals or small companies. However, for large companies RWD is not acceptable, as it offers an inferior user experience than a dedicated mobile site. Companies that treat their users poorly tend to not have customers for very long if those customers have any choice. Offering an inferior experience to mobile users in order to save money will make those users feel as though they are regarded as inferior customers, and they will instead use an alternative that offers a more complete mobile experience.


If you can afford mobile website design, you should make one. A mobile user is no different than any other user, and they should be treated as such.

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