Responsive design is becoming irresponsible

Posted by on Jan 18, 2013 in Design | 0 comments

Responsive design is becoming irresponsible

Responsive design is all the rage these days. No grid system is worthy if it’s not responsive, “mobile-first” is the first thing that experienced designers tell their clients and so on. Recently, Smashing Magazine published an article about “preparing websites for the unexpected” which is just another piece of “responsive propaganda”.

First of all while the article suggests it will teach us to prepare for the unexpected, the only examples include desktop and mobiles. If I recall corectly, responsive design was supposed to solve the problem of tens of different screen-sizes out there, but more an more I read articles that only shows the 2 extreme. I understand that it’s easier to illustrate a point using only 2 examples but if it where to take into consideration only the 2 extremes it would be easier to implement 2 versions of the website, mobile and desktop.

At one point the author suggests, for the sake of the reader, to break long articles into small pieces, for mobile users. Which obviously raises more problem than it solves. How the editor of a website who’s writting an article in an WYSIWYG editor determine the best way to split articles, if it’s so important not to force the user to scroll that much? How is going the article going to be splint on a portrait iPad or Galaxy Note? Does it matter that the user is in landscape or portrait mode? Can anyone imagine adding breaking points in a WordPress post?

In another recent article from Smashing Magazine, we are told about the benefits of the PICTURE tag.


The “Art Direction” use case. Image credit: W3C.

Looks nice doesn’t it? But how would a user know that  viewing the “desktop” image on its mobile is wrong? The designer has some knowledge about the technology and can envision a “better” solution, but the user is ignorant about this issues. If it were to really be responsive we would need to account for network speed as well and deliver “not-so-perfect” pictures for people on slow mobile connections. The people I talked to prefer they wait a little more for a “retina-enabled” picture than get an average picture fast. I remember a usability talk where there presenter was baffled when his 50 year old mom was able to adjust to the new Apple mouse (at some point Steve Jobs decided to change the scrolling direction) in a matter of seconds although the usability-minded people where screaming its a bad move.

Most of the time people go with what they receive. Unless they are told otherwise they will not know the difference. There are places where people can learn to spot the differences but not everything is comparable. People can detect if a website is faster or slower than another but they will give the benefit of the doubt in some cases (like people that will accept a slower speed if they see beautiful screens) but you need to think hard about why the story about the President’s dog has a picture where the dog is 20% of the picture and not 100%.

Now, let’s assume for a second that I’m wrong and ponder this question. Who are the people that we are trying so hard for? Do you really want to please people that will flip out if their images on the smart-phones are not properly resized and cropped or that long articles are not split into flippable screen-sized chunks? The road to  hell is paved with good intentions. People are starving to death in many places of the world and yet we try to improve the lives of people that change their smartphones every year?

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