Responsive Design: Five Years Later

April 6, 2015

Five years ago today, Ethan Marcotte introduced the Web community to the concept of responsive design in a talk that he gave at An Event Apart in San Diego. The idea has forever changed our industry and the way we approach building sites.

I first learned about responsive design by reading Ethan’s article on A List Apart. But I don’t know that it made much of impression on me at first. But later in the summer, I heard Ethan on The Big Web Show. As I heard Ethan and Jeffrey discuss the concepts of responsive design, I knew it was going to leave a big mark on the industry.

I eagerly anticipated the release of Ethan’s book on the subject. I bought it on the day it was released and quickly consumed it. A month later, I had the privilege of getting to hear Ethan in person at Front End Design Conference. He gave us a preview of how he was applying these new ideas to the redesign of the Boston Globe, which would not launch for another 2 months. I really enjoyed talking with Ethan at the conference after party.

It was a treat to finally see these ideas worked out in a major site when the Boston Globe launched their new site in September. There is nothing like a working example to begin to see more of the potential of an idea. I was eager to try my hand at building a responsive site and finally got a chance when I built a side project in October.

My first major responsive project came in 2013. I was tasked with retrofitting an existing fixed width site into a mobile first responsive layout. It was the first of many projects where I would start with a desktop design and “design” mobile and tablet layouts. One of the most notable is Web Standards Sherpa, which I wrote a case study about at the end of last year.

Today, I am a seasoned veteran of building responsive sites. I still used Ethan’s foundational ideas but layered on top of that are more ideas and techniques that others have contributed to the conversation over the years. Mobile first, conditional loading, and compressive images are among the many ideas that have made building responsive sites better. Performance is a hot issue today that I am continually challenged to think and rethink my approach.

Thanks Ethan for sharing your thoughts five years ago. And thanks to the Web community that continues to layer upon Ethan‘s foundation.

I think I am going to celebrate by reading the second edition of Responsive Web Design tonight.


Here are a couple of books I would recommend:

  • Responsible Responsive Design by Scott Jehl. Great book to help you think about performance.
  • The Mobile Web Handbook by PPK. A must read to understand the mobile environment.
  • Implementing Responsive Design by Tim Kadlec. One of the first books for front end developers to help them tackle the challenges of implementing responsive sites.

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