Responsive Web Design: The Next Mobile Mega-Trend


We’ve all seen, heard and felt the huge shift toward mobile. In case you need a reminder, these stats tell the story:

What’s responsive web design?

Responsive sites are mobile-friendly. But not all mobile websites are responsive. A mobile website is a separate site. Visitors on phones are redirected to a separate site, usually at an address such as or

But with responsive web design, one site works well on both desktop and mobile devices because it rearranges itself depending on the size of the screen. It “responds” to the browser. Big screen desktop? The site looks great with big images and several columns. Small screen phone? The big photo disappears, navigation consolidates, and page elements shift into one column.

It’s one site, but it looks great on phones, tablets, and desktop computers. One site to build, one site to manage, one site for Google to crawl.

Tip: To see if any site is a responsive web design, just click the bottom right corner of your browser and drag the mouse up and left. If the site layout changes as your window gets smaller, it’s responsive.

Welcome to the biggest trend in mobile.

The word is out, and the marketing world is waking up. Monthly Google searches for “responsive web design” have gone from zero to 18,100 in the last 2 years. This graph shows the interest in responsive web design. Looks kind of like a hockey stick…

Are website owners responding?

Not so much. Aside from a few big brands, media companies, and boutique design shops, very few companies are building fully responsive sites. Even web design companies are falling behind. Only 4% of the companies in Crain’s Web Developer Directory have responsive websites. In fact, 80% don’t even have any kind of mobile website.

Cobblers’ children go barefoot? Many Chicago web design companies don’t have mobile-friendly websites.

– 80% not mobile-friendly
– 16% separate mobile website
– 4% responsive web design

Tip: Mobile-friendly websites are especially important for companies active in email marketing and social media. Traffic from these sources is often on mobile devices.

Back in my day…

Ten years ago, I had to convince people that a content management system was a good idea. Now, everyone expects their website to have a CMS. Responsive will be the same. Just as we expect our sites to look good on Chrome, Explorer, Firefox, and Safari, within a year we’ll all expect our sites to look good on our phones. One site for all devices.

Technology and design trends are ready. Not a bad time to design a website. If your planning a site now, make responsive one of your requirements. And if you’re already in the midst of a web design project, it’s not too late to ask…


  1. Truly responsive web design has its flaws – most sites are content with a desktop design and a mobile design. Why spend the effort to make a site responsive when it’s easier to design a mobile-only site and redirect users there?

    • I agree there are flaws, but I am curious what flaws are at the top of your list. The one advantage is a responsive website is literally scalable – so as more devices or screen sizes become popular, the website can be modified to accommodate. Is it cost effective to keep building new websites for each device? As a website administrator will you want to manage the content for multiple devices? Google would prefer to crawl just one website. And if the design can be made optimally at all sizes, then there should be no usability flaws.

    • I can think of four advantages:

      1. Time: one site to manage an update
      2: Cost: one site to build
      3. SEO: one site for Google to crawl
      4. Stats: all of your stats are in one place

      We used to have two separate sites and ran into several problems. I think the pros are starting to outweigh the cons and responsive will become the standard…

  2. While I like the theory of a purely responsive design, I do have a concerns. Namely, there are advantages to each platform that don’t exist on the other. In addition, people expect very different things on each device. So a single design can leave both experiences worse than they’d be as separate sites.

    A few quick examples:

    1. A desktop/laptop is almost always connected to a fast internet connection. A lot of smartphones are still operating on 3G speed when away from wifi. This means visually stimulating design (pictures) would have to be sacrificed. AJAX may not perform as well on a smartphone. Right?

    2. A desktop/laptop is a much larger screen. You are most certainly going to have to make layout sacrifices to make sure your site scales well on a smartphone.

    3. A smartphone is great at making a call. A desktop/laptop isn’t. Having a call to action that’s centered around a phone call makes a lot of sense on a smartphone – maybe not so much on a desktop.

    As someone that manages my company’s site, I do agree that maintaining two different versions is a pain in the neck. But that’s why we’ve made our mobile version almost text only (using css instead of images for visual appeal) and super lightweight. It loads really fast, gives the important information quickly, and the user just clicks a big button to call us.

  3. There is a fast-paced move toward mobile computing. There was a time
    only a few years ago where very few people had smartphones. They are
    now the norm. Not that long ago, consumers wanted the biggest possible
    screen on all devices. Now people are moving toward tablets and
    netbooks to keep connected at all times. When a large chunk of
    potential customers are accessing websites from hundreds of different
    devices with a wide array of screen sizes, responsive design makes

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