Strong opinions, weakly held

Responsive design is the near future of Web page layout

Where is Web design headed? For a preview, check out the Boston Globe. It looks like a perfectly normal newspaper Web site, until you start resizing the browser window. The page layout is dynamically altered so that it properly size whatever window is being used to view it. There’s no more “click here for our mobile site” button or a link beseeching you to download the site’s app in somebody’s app store. This technique is called responsive design, and its creator, Ethan Marcotte, consulted on the Boston Globe’s implementation. He’s written about his role in the project on his blog.

I suspect that responsive design is going to be adopted widely. The Boston Globe provides a compelling blueprint. The next step will be approachable frameworks that enable people to create responsive designs without having to build them from scratch on their own. As soon as I saw the new site, other sites that redirect you to a special site just for mobile devices or offer links to a mobile version of the site seemed completely out of date.

I want to build everything in this fashion from here on out.


  1. The most interesting thing about the design, to me, is that it’s impressive enough that backburnered the typically inevitable discussion of the economics behind the new model. Everybody’s talking about the new design; no one’s talking about the fact that the content that yesterday was free will cost > $200/yr moving forward.

    It’s an interesting strategy. Rather than attempt, as the Times did (and the Times, remember, owns the Globe), to arbitrarily establish a paywall, you couple that decision with the release of a slick new interface. Then hope no one notices; see their FAQ for confirmation of that.

    I have no idea whether it will work or not, but I’m sure everybody in journalism will be watching closely to see.

    And for disclosure’s sake, yes, I’m a regular Boston Globe reader.

  2. I thought this was ancient knowledge…

    If I recall correctly, you can size things in tables as a percentage instead of a fixed width, but people started deciding their stuff looked better in some fixed width.

    Not as slick as the globe’s sections perhaps, but people really could have been doing a better job for years.

  3. it’s not just scaling versus fixed width, Quillian — based on the size of the window, it either shows or hides sidebars and other frames, or even reformats the article to what might be called “iPhone reader” mobile style. much more significant changes.

  4. As I said, not as slick as the Globe, but the concept of fitting in the browser was there for a long time. As neat as the Globe’s site is, it’s getting other websites to embrace the concept that’s difficult.

    There are a lot of people (some I’ve worked for) that think they should be able to project their website exactly as they imagine it, not as you want to read it.

    Maybe this will change, but I suspect the Globe’s layout will not be the norm for another few years. Maybe I’m cynical, it would be nice to be wrong on this one.

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