The trendy examples of modern responsive design have grown quite popular out of a need for homogenous interfaces among an ever-growing sea of devices. Based on the rules of supply and demand, where there’s a demand there is supply. The immense popularity of flexible website layouts has created a market of educational tools for developers and designers alike.
In this article I’d like to share a few responsive web design techniques that can be applied to any layout. Each website project is intimately different yet great designers can recognize the common similarities in most work. If you’re new to responsive design or just looking for some ideas then be sure to check out the suggestions in this post.
Handling webpage navigation is one of the largest topics in the responsive design community. Each website is different and has a different set of requirements. For example a smaller blog like Treehouse only needs a few top links which can be shifted into an expanding hamburger menu.
In contrast the website for Comedy Central is much larger and needs a larger solution. This site is a personal favorite of mine because it’s so well-designed and usable at all screen sizes. Beyond a certain point the top navigation switches into a sliding menu with multi-level links.
Granted not every website needs to completely hide the navigation at smaller sizes. There are various solutions to responsive navigation and how you approach the topic will greatly hinge on the requirements of each project. A website using 3 nav links can be organized differently than a website with 13. Take a look at some popular navigation examples to see what other designers have created.
Inspiration: Responsive Web Design Portfolio Layouts
Flexible Page Content
Managing dynamic text is a lot easier than you might imagine. You just need to recognize when a page is getting too small and claustrophobic for the amount of text fitted onto the screen. This is a visual cue that page content needs to be limited by increasing font size and line height.
Both headings and paragraphs often need to be adjusted when it comes to page content. Depending on the style of a website you might be handling a lot of content(blogs, forums) or a smaller amount of content(startups, mobile app pages). The goal is to create a simpler reading experience without being too simple.
Visitors should be able to read the page content quickly but they shouldn’t need to swipe down every 3 seconds. If the page copy is too big then it can become annoying and difficult to navigate the website.
It’s also common to rearrange elements in the layout from horizontal to vertical. You can see one such example on Kava Ruzova which isn’t exactly content-heavy but does have a certain flow to the layout. Content flow is something you want to keep in mind at all times.
Image content is second only to text on the page. Images are used within content and for other frills like icons and vector graphics. Fluidity is a big part of responsive design – in fact it’s probably the most important part. So every responsive website should support fluid imagery.
This can be accomplished with a small bit of CSS like in this Stack thread. Developers are more than willing to share their code snippets with the world and open source has created the backbone for a powerful movement.
Responsive design is so much easier because we can all share code and solve problems together. Also keep in mind that images are only one part of dynamic content – videos are also prominent in a lot of modern websites. Thankfully responsive embed codes also exist thanks to free code libraries such as Bootstrap.
If you’ve read anything about responsive design then you should be familiar with the term breakpoint. This point occurs when the browser width meets a certain pixel value and new CSS properties go into effect. With fixed relatable breakpoints you can build a responsive layout that always resizes at exactly the right width.
However breakpoints aren’t just about resizing content. The best breakpoints create a new method of viewing the website by restructuring content in the sidebar, footer, header, and main page. Beyond a certain threshold it makes sense to drop that sidebar and give more room to the page text.
I recently found an article that covers major principles of responsive design with accompanying animated graphics. I would definitely suggest skimming through those examples to see how they stack up with the fundamentals I mention in this post.
Knowing when to create a breakpoint is very simple – you recognize the exact point at which the current layout starts to break down. This happens when the composition is getting squeezed too tightly, lacking space, lacking rhythm, and eventually becomes unusable Create a breakpoint just before that moment to alleviate some tension.
While determining a breakpoint is easy, knowing how the layout should respond is more difficult. You have to think about which elements need to be resized or reorganized and for what purpose. Does text need to be larger and more spacious? Do nav links need to be smaller and squeezed tighter?
Also keep in mind that you can have more than one update per breakpoint. In fact you could revamp the entire layout at a single breakpoint if needed. The possibilities are endless and your goal is to find the major sweet spots for crafting a layout that’s flexible and usable at every screen resolution.
With these techniques in place you should be well on your way to building unique and flexible websites. Responsive trends are still evolving with with the times and changing based on the needs of users. The field of web design itself is always evolving and it helps to have your fingers on the pulse of new ideas.
Check out this related post on responsive design: