Restaurant responsive website design

Responsive website design explained: Why and how to make your website responsive

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

As mobile technology continues to evolve, websites are no longer designed primarily for desktop monitors but have to function seamlessly across different devices. Consider your own habits: How often do you find yourself scrolling through sites on your phone compared to your desktop? 

This shift in user behavior has spearheaded the rise of responsive website design, ensuring websites perform optimally on any screen. In this article, we’ll discuss the key components, benefits and best practices of responsive web design so your site works flawlessly on any device.

Table of contents:

What is responsive website design?

Responsive web design is all about flexibility and adaptability. It ensures that a website looks good and works well, whether someone’s viewing it on a desktop monitor or smartphone screen. This provides a seamless user experience, regardless of device.

Here’s how it all comes together:

  • Fluid grids: Fluid grids are the backbone of responsive sites. Instead of setting rigid pixel values, percentages are used. This makes the elements on a page resize proportionally, so everything fits nicely, no matter the screen size.
  • Flexible images: Like the grids, images need to adjust to size. By setting images in relative units, they can grow or shrink within their containers. This prevents images from spilling over their boundaries, which can mess up the layout and user experience.
  • Media queries: These are clever bits of CSS that websites use to apply different styling rules based on device features, like screen width. Media queries let us fine-tune how the content looks on different devices without needing separate websites for each device type.
Static and responsive website design comparison

Static and responsive website design comparison


Check out our guides on how to create a website and stunning website color schemes to help build your website today!

The benefits of responsive website design

Responsive website design isn’t just a trend; it’s best practice in web development. Here are six key benefits that underscore why you should design your website to be responsive:

  • Increased mobile traffic: According to a report from Exploding Topics, over 60% of global website traffic originates from mobile devices. A responsive design ensures mobile users have a good experience on your site, keeping them engaged longer and reducing bounce rates.
  • Lower bounce rates: A responsive and optimized mobile site provides a much better user experience for the visitor. Therefore, it is much more likely that they’ll stick around for a longer period and explore different areas of your site. 
  • Faster web pages: Mobile users generally have shorter attention spans. Studies from Google show that if a site takes longer than 3 seconds to load, 53% of users are likely to abandon it. Responsive design and modern performance techniques like responsive image display and caching layers can help web pages load faster, increasing user retention.
  • Lower maintenance needs: Maintaining separate sites for mobile and non-mobile audiences can be costly and time-consuming. With a responsive design, you can manage one site that automatically adjusts to all screens, simplifying web maintenance and development.
  • Improved SEO: Responsive design can help with SEO because Google favors mobile-friendly websites. With just one website that is easy to update and optimize for all content and links, common SEO errors that occur with multiple site versions are reduced.
  • Easier analytics reporting: Google Analytics and similar tools now cater to responsive websites by condensing tracking and analytics into a single report so that you can see how your content is performing on different devices.

Website design layouts and dimensions

Designing for the web today means embracing the fact that there’s no one-size-fits-all website dimension. Even within different devices, from smartphones to large desktop monitors, screen sizes and resolutions are continuously evolving. The type of device users prefer also depends on the context—someone might browse recipes on a smartphone while cooking or use a desktop computer to order promotional products for their business.

Understanding specific audience patterns is necessary to effectively design for a range of devices. Tools like Google Analytics provide insights into the most common devices and screen sizes visitors use to access your website. This data allows you to adopt a responsive design approach, which adjusts to any screen size.

Basic web design layouts

When designing a responsive website, it’s practical to develop at least three distinct layouts to accommodate various screen sizes. This approach ensures that your content remains functional and aesthetical across different devices.

  1. Small devices: Screens smaller than 600 pixels in width, typically smartphones in portrait and landscape orientations. The design should prioritize simplicity and readability, focusing on essential content with easy navigation suited for smaller touch targets.
  2. Medium devices: Screen widths between 600 and 900 pixels, like tablets, larger smartphones and smaller laptops. Here, you can introduce additional elements that wouldn’t fit comfortably on a smaller phone screen, such as side panels or more complex navigational structures.
  3. Large devices: For screens wider than 900 pixels, including desktop monitors and large laptops, the layout can expand significantly. This allows for more expansive elements like multi-column layouts and additional components. The extra space allows more room to create a more detailed browsing experience.
Responsive website design across three different devices

Responsive website design across three different devices. Source: by Mike Barnes via 99designs by Vista

Responsive website design best practices

Focusing on user experience is essential in responsive web design. It’s not just about fitting a desktop site into a mobile screen; it’s about considering how users interact and what content they seek on different devices. Here are some best practices to follow when designing a responsive website.

Prioritize user experience

Understand that user interactions vary by device. Design should facilitate an intuitive experience by making essential content easily accessible and ensuring that interaction is intuitive and straightforward.

Adopt a content-centric approach

Start with your content as a central focus rather than designing for the latest device specs. Consider how your content will display on a desktop and how it will adapt on a mobile screen, ensuring consistency and fluidity in user experience across devices.

Develop streamlined layouts for engagement

Space is limited on mobile devices. Design with a clear hierarchy and minimalism to guide the user intuitively through the content toward key actions, like purchasing or contacting. Ensure important buttons or links are prominently placed and easy to interact with.

Website responsive layout for desktop and mobile

Source: Responsive website design via Vista x Wix

Use flexible images

Images should adapt smoothly to different screen sizes. Use CSS to set images to scale based on a percentage of the screen width, allowing for consistent appearance from desktops to smartphones.

Implement intuitive navigation

Effective navigation is especially important on mobile devices. To make extensive menus more manageable, consider using familiar elements like hamburger menus, dropdowns or tabs that scroll horizontally. Ensure interactive elements are sized so they are easily tappable, adhering to recommended sizes for touch targets.

Use interactive elements

Enhance the user experience with interactive features like pinch-to-zoom and swipe gestures, especially for image galleries. Avoid interfaces that require fine motor precision and design with the average finger size in mind to keep UI elements accessible and usable.

Craft adaptable designs across devices

Create designs that maintain integrity and usability across devices, which may involve working closely with developers. Consider having multiple fixed layouts for different screen widths to simplify the design process, although fluid designs can offer a more seamless experience across devices.

Tools and resources for building a responsive website

Essential tools and resources to ensure your responsive web design adapts smoothly across different devices:

  • Web browsers: It may sound basic, but your browser is an invaluable tool for testing designs. By using multiple browsers, you can see how your site appears under different rendering conditions. Adjust the size of your browser windows to simulate different screen sizes.
  • Mobile devices: Testing on mobile devices gives you a real-world view of how your designs will perform on phones and tablets. This hands-on testing is essential for understanding user interactions and ensuring your site is mobile-friendly.
  • Responsive design testing tools: Tools like Google Resizer allow you to preview how your website will look on various devices and screen sizes. This can streamline the design process and help you to spot issues quickly.

By using these tools and following these best practices, you can create a responsive website that not only looks great but also functions well on any device, providing an optimal user experience. That way, you can be sure your business has a digital storefront that shows up in search results, attracts leads and converts them into customers.