A beginner’s guide to responsive web design

As mobile traffic continues to increase, ensuring your website is optimised for all devices is essential. Now the dominant source of web traffic, you are missing out on valuable leads if your site is not fully optimised for mobile. A responsive web design is one way to optimise your website for mobile.

What is responsive web design?

An example of a responsive web design displaying on a PC, tablet, and mobile device

Responsive web design is an approach that focuses on ensuring web pages and design elements render on different screen sizes while ensuring usability. Whether you view a responsive website on mobile or desktop, it will function seamlessly.

Before the rise of responsive web design, many websites would either not be mobile-compatible or have a separate mobile site. However, with responsive web design, there is no need to create multiple versions of your site.

With responsive web design, you typically start designing for a mobile device before adapting to bigger screen sizes and resolutions. Responsive web design is similar to mobile-friendly design. However, there are two significant differences.

Mobile-friendly design is usually just a smaller scale of your website on mobile devices. Functionally, the website still works for mobile users, but the site is not designed primarily with mobile in mind. Some sites may require extensive scrolling or zooming on certain features, such as buttons, while others may be missing on mobile.

A responsive web design ensures all design elements and features on your web page are functional on mobile devices. A responsive design offers the best possible user experience as all design elements will fluidly re-size. CSS, HTML, and JavaScript combine to ensure a design that adjusts seamlessly to all devices and screen sizes.

There are different elements necessary for a responsive web design:

  • HTML is used to determine the page structure and content.
  • Fluid grids to automatically arrange columns to ensure they fit on different screen sizes.
  • Media queries to alter the design based on the device.
  • Flexible images with no fixed display size.
  • Flexible layout code to resize page elements accordingly.
  • CSS is used to determine the design and display of HTML elements.

What are the benefits of responsive web design?

A person holding phone displaying a responsive web design

The biggest benefit of implementing a responsive website is the positive user experience it helps generate. User experience (UX) is one of the biggest factors affecting user satisfaction when browsing a website. The better the UX, the better for both you and your users.

Ensuring your website is fully functional and usable on all devices and screen sizes ensures a seamless, positive experience. Ideally, your website should create relevant and meaningful experiences. If a user cannot read content, interact with elements, or fill in a form, this does not help them achieve their goal.

In the worst case, a user will abandon your site and visit a competitor instead. With such a competitive online environment, you cannot afford to lose valuable web visitors. In contrast, providing a positive user experience will boost customer loyalty and retention.

Another benefit of implementing a responsive web design is its positive impact on SEO. You need an effective SEO strategy if you want your website to stand out in organic search results. With a responsive web design, you’re already well on the way to gaining higher rankings.

Since 2015, Google has slowly shifted towards mobile-first indexing. As a result, the mobile version of a site will be prioritised for crawling and indexing. This also means the algorithm was updated to give priority to mobile-friendly sites.

Your online visibility and web traffic will naturally increase with higher organic listings in the search results. As you don’t have to optimise several site versions, focusing your SEO efforts on one responsive site is much easier.

Alongside the benefits outlined above, here are some additional benefits:

  • Improved conversion rate.
  • Reduces the maintenance requirement for different website versions.
  • Consolidate your analytics and reporting.
  • Saves you time and money during development.
  • Responsive designs load faster, improving page speed.
  • Reduce bounce rate.

How to check the responsiveness of your web design?

Different devices showcasing a responsive web design

If you’re unsure whether your web design is responsive, there are easy ways to check this. The first is to try loading your website on both mobile and desktop. Here’s an example of the difference when viewing the Dreamscape homepage on desktop and mobile:


Dreamscape homepage on desktop


Dreamscape website on mobile

Alternatively, you can check both using your desktop browser. Opening the dev tools in your browser allows you to view a website in different screen sizes. For example, Dev Tools in Google Chrome provides a wealth of viewing options:

Using Chrome Dev Tools to check web design responsiveness

Another method to check the responsiveness of your web design is to use an online tool. Previously, Google offered a separate mobile-friendly testing tool, but this has now been integrated into Google Lighthouse.

To use Google Lighthouse, launch Google Chrome and open Dev Tools. Then, click on the right shift (>>) in the top right corner, then Lighthouse.

Google Lighthouse in Chrome's Dev Tools

Running this test in an Incognito window is recommended to avoid any plug-ins interfering with the results. Start running the test and wait for the results. You’ll then be provided with different scores in a traffic light system:

Google Lighthouse scoring example

The test for mobile friendliness comes under SEO. If your web design is not mobile-friendly, you’ll receive some critical suggestions:

Google Lighthouse recommendations for improving web design responsiveness

If you don’t want to download Google Chrome, use HubSpot’s Website Grader, which Google Lighthouse powers. Both tools will give you an insight into how mobile-friendly your web design is. This test has a specific score for mobile and will provide suggestions for improving the mobile-friendliness of your site:

HubSpot website grader exampleHubSpot website grader tips example

How can you implement a responsive web design?

A group of people holding designs for a website on mobile

After testing your website, you may discover that it’s time for a responsive design. A responsive web design can be implemented through a few steps that help ensure users have a mobile-friendly website experience.

1) Breakpoints

The first is to set breakpoints. A breakpoint is the point where the content or design elements of a design adapt to suit the device’s screen size or resolution. Responsive breakpoints are necessary so that the layout can automatically adjust for optimum viewing.

You should implement breakpoints for the most common device resolutions to ensure a responsive design across desktop, tablet, and mobile. These resolutions would be:

  • 1920*1080
  • 1536*864
  • 1366*768
  • 414*896
  • 360*640

2) Fluid grids

Alongside breakpoints, you also need to use fluid grids to ensure a responsive web design. Fluid grids are a type of grid layout that allows you to place content in a layout corresponding to the device it will display. Then, whichever device loads, the website will determine which fluid grid is used.

These grids are divided into columns with scaled heights and widths instead of fixed dimensions. This ensures that content can be viewed seamlessly on small mobile screens and wide desktop monitors.

3) Setting a viewport

The viewport is an important element in responsive web design. Without a viewport, browsers have no idea how to control a page’s dimension and scaling. As a result, pages without a viewport will appear very small and unreadable.

4) Responsive images

Images are a vital part of any web design, helping to communicate messages clearly and easily. However, image size can become insufficient on smaller devices without setting the width property. That’s why it’s important to use the width property on all images to scale appropriately depending on the screen size.

Also, adding a max-width property will ensure images scale down and will not scale up beyond their original dimensions/size. If necessary, you can also set different images to appear depending on the device or browser width.

Check out these tips for optimising your images in web design

5) Responsive typography

You should also implement responsive typography to ensure that text is clearly readable on all devices. Typically, this is done by setting a viewport width. The text size will then adjust depending on the browser window size.

6) Media queries

Media queries are another technique necessary for implementing responsive web design. They let you set different styles depending on browser sizes, ensuring that content rendering adapts to the screen resolution.

As more internet users continue to access and browse the web from mobile devices, the need for a responsive website is now essential. If your business suffers from a non-responsive web design, get in touch with our team and we can advise on how to upgrade to a response website.