File Under: Responsive Design

Embracing the Flexibility of the Web With ‘Responsive Enhancement’

A handful of the many canvases your site will adorn. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired.com

When most of us see the phrase responsive design we think of Ethan Marcotte’s original definition — fluid grids, flexible images and media queries. While those are the essential elements of responsive design, developer Jeremy Keith says that designing responsively also means approaching your designs with a different mindset.

There’s a video (regrettably not embeddable) of Keith’s talk on “responsive enhancement” at the recent Webdagene conference in Oslo where he argues that, to design responsively, we need to drop our “consensual hallucination” about what a website is. Much as we might like it to be, a website is not a fixed canvas. It’s not the 600px-wide canvas we used in the 1990s, nor is it the 960px-wide canvas that’s de rigueur today. A website has no width and never has.

Part of the reason responsive design sometimes feels foreign is that legacy of thinking that websites are things with widths. As Keith says “we didn’t embrace the inherent flexibility of the web, we didn’t see it as a feature, we saw it as a bug.” And so we built fixed-width sites for what was and still is an inherently flexible medium.

Keith’s talk gives a great overview of why responsive design is actually what the web has always been and how you can embrace that inherent flexibility in the web. It’s a must-watch for anyone interested in building great websites.