We often like to look back at points which caused paradigm shifts in our practise. The introduction of responsive design by Ethan Marcotte was one of the big ones.

We’d long known that the web was about embracing flexibility and about a dynamic, infinite canvas rather than fixed paper sizes. There were a fair share of designers practising this too by desiging fluid, scalable websites. To the mainstream however, embracing flexibility meant little beyond supporting a few different browsers and two different screen resolutions.

That was then. It’d been three years since the iPhone’s release. Tablets had made their debut, but smartphones were about to reach critical mass. Diversity in the shape, size and form factor of devices accessing the web was now a ripe reality. And Ethan struck on hot metal with the idea to “design for an optimal viewing experience” by querying for and adapting to the user’s environment.


While responsive design might’ve initially arrived as a primer on using media queries, it feels more like a philosophy than a specific technique. The philosophy being, to recognise and build for web design’s known unknowns, to secede certain control to the user, meet them in their environment of choice rather than dictate one particular context on to them via your design choices.

The responsive web design philosophy fits so well with the principles of the web that it is now as ingrained in our processes as using CSS instead of <table>s for layout.