Why un-responsive websites annoy me

By Geoff Muskett

Like all web designers I started off making fixed width, usually 960px, sites. Which was fine back in the day, very few people were browsing on anything other than a desktop or laptop computer. Of course, the sites still work and I’m proud to show them. But the online landscape is different now, and and since I started making responsive websites a couple of years ago, fixed width sites bug me more and more every day, and it’s not just about mobile and tablet browsing.

It just works, go responsive!

The point of responsive websites is that the all content is accessible on any device. Device agnostic is the buzz phrase.

What responsive web design actually means for the user is that the site adapts to suit their browsing preferences.

It’s the Don’t Make Me Think mentality.

Whether you’re laid back on the sofa browsing on your phone or iPad, at work using that ancient monitor because the IT budget has been frozen, or at home on a nice big desktop monitor; a good responsive site seamlessly serves up an appropriate layout. The user is usually none-the-wiser, which I love; IMHO this is a good time to say the best design is invisible.

“But most people have big screens”

Despite the fact that desktop screen size is creeping up and up, it’s not a good argument for making a fixed width site. If you’re anything like me you have lots of programs running at once, right at this moment I have Chrome, Illustrator, Photoshop, Coda, CokeKit, Spotify and Mail all using my CPU. Many of these I’ll use simultaneously side by side – right at this moment I have two windows open for Chrome, one of which I’m typing this blog post in – my work window, the other on the right is for research which has lots of tabs on the go.

On a 13″ Mac Book neither my work or research windows are anywhere near the classic width of 960px. In the work window, WordPress’ admin UI is only partially responsive. I guess this is because WordPress has mobile apps, which is great, but my workflow is proof that there is a use-case for all sites to work in a thin desktop browser window. Microsoft recognised this multi-tasking insight with Snap Mode on their tablet pc.

The research window is a constant frustration. When I come across a fixed width site, which is a lot, I can only see a small portion of the site so have to scroll horizontally to find content. OK it’s not that much of an effort, but it makes me think and potentially means I miss useful content.

Analytical proof

If it’s proof you’re looking for then fire up Google Analytics. Under Content, go to In-page Analytics. From there you can select Browser Size and you’ll see how much of your site visitors are seeing based the size of their actual browser window, not just screen size. It’s a really useful tool when considering where to put call-to-action buttons and important content, and of course to justify a responsive layout.

Final thoughts

Making sites responsive is way more than simply ‘a mobile version’. In fact it’s not a mobile version at all, it’s the same set up styles serving up layout based on the users preferred browsing platform / settings / choices. It means sites just work, and no-one had to think any harder than they were already.

Here’s to not thinking.



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