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Be flexible. Be fluid. Be responsive.

Today I want to talk a little bit about flexibility issues. And I´m not talking about yoga, because I haven´t seen my yoga-mat from very close for a long time (that´s another issue). I´m talking about making flexible, or fluid, responsive websites. Responsive webdesign, in my opinion, can go from developing one, (fixed or fluid) layout for all physically large and medium-sized devices (including iPads) plus one separate layout for all physically small devices (icluding all smartphones), to going all the way and combining a fluid set-up with different layouts for various screensizes and resolutions.

Just a quick explanation on what is a fluid and fixed layout, just in case you never heard the terms before, because maybe you are not a webdeveloper (but then I really hope I can charm you with my issues with responsive webdesign. I certainly hope so!). For a fixed layout, the developer defines a fixed width of a certain amount of pixels (for example, many websites have a fixed width of 960 px), which means that the website looks exactly the same on every screen, with on bigger screens a lot of blank space on the sides, and on smaller screens a horizontal scrollbar. Fluid layouts use percentages to define their widths, which means that the content resizes according to the screen resolution. More information on the differences between fixed and fluid and the pros and cons can be found here.

Illustration of iPhone stretched to fit more content

I know that there are quite a lot of people out there, internet users, that don´t really use their mobile devices (or don´t have one) to intensely explore the internet, only as an emergency option or to check specific websites or apps that are specifically directed to users that are on the move, like train timetables, flight information, the weather, etc. These users generally spend many hours behind a laptop or another bigger-sized device during the day (or night, not to exclude the night owls among us), at least a sufficient amount of time so that the need of exploring the internet mostly can be done there, and not necessarily on their iPhone on the way back from work. These users wouldn´t expect webdevelopers to even worry about responsiveness.

I have no idea how many of us fit this profile, but I´m guessing today this is still an important group, maybe still the majority, but also most probably a decreasing group, possibly heading for extinction during the next decades. So let´s say it is important to worry about responsiveness, the question I´m dealing with today is: How flexible do I want (my websites) to be? How far do I want to stretch it with this? Are 2 versions enough (a different layout for smartphones) or do I want to go further and consider many more screen resolutions and sizes, from the huge 27” Apple iMac to a little less huge, to big, to average and small, and smaller.. down until the smallest smartphone screen.

I think the answer I give myself today is: Be flexible, but don´t stretch it too far. Also consider the type of content you´re showing: is this mainly text, or are there lots of images? In case of mainly textual content I would opt for only one desktop/laptop version with a fixed width, plus one separate fluid lay-out for all small-sized mobile devices. If the website´s main objective is to show photos or videos, I would create an additional lay-out for the biggest screens, to really make use of all that space to show your visual content.

Next week I will follow up on this topic, looking into the difference between screen size and screen resolution. As you might suspect, within the whole ecosystem of (mobile) devices, we find not only many different physical sizes (centimeters), but also many differences in screen resolutions (pixels) and combinations of the two! Oops.. how do we deal with that? See you next week!

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