3 responsive design disasters — and how to avoid them

Default avatar.
April 23, 2015
3 responsive design disasters — and how to avoid them.

Responsive design methods are very helpful to developers because they allow us to serve content to the widest range of devices without having to maintain separate versions of the site and without some of the negative drawbacks to other methods such as scaling and fluid layouts. This article will highlight the top 3 mistakes designers encounter with responsive designs, and will provide some strategies for avoiding these mistakes.

Scaling vs. fluid vs. responsive

There is a lot of confusion over these terms and designers often incorrectly use them interchangeably. In truth, each of these are distinct evolutionary steps in layout technique that have emerged over time in line with advances in technology. Scaling layouts are designed to scale every element relative to every other element. They are responsive in the sense that they will scale the content dynamically in response to changes in the size of the viewport. The layout itself remains static, changing the size of every element to maintain a consistent appearance. scaleAbove: example of a scaling layout at different resolutions: the design sacrifices readability for consistency. Fluid layouts are different because they scale container elements relative to the size of the viewport. This is achieved by using relative units such as ems to overcome the problem of shrinking text. The design can be broken by the user scaling it. fluidAbove: example of a fluid layout at different resolutions: the design sacrifices consistency for readability. Responsive layouts don’t scale anything. Instead, they change what is displayed depending on the size of the viewport. responsiveAbove: an example of a responsive layout at different resolutions.

Disaster 1) Wrapping menus

If you use a navbar at the top of your page, a responsive design is supposed to snap” it to a more compact format when the page is displayed on a small screen. But this does not always work perfectly if the display area is wider than the break point, but too small to display all the menu items in a single line. The result is a menu that wraps. wrap_menu There are several ways to solve this problem. The first is to reduce the number of items displayed horizontally on the navbar by sorting them into categories and sub-categories. You can then use drop-down items to display the sub-categories when a category is selected. The second way is to change the break point to a lower value. The actual number to use is the width at which your navbar starts to fail, not a specific device size. The third way is to use a different menu for devices, such as a sliding drawer.

Disaster 2) Using fixed width images

Content areas are usually set to a size relative to the viewport. So when a fixed-width image is wider than the size of the area, image cropping occurs. scrollAbove: example of a bad fixed-width image that is too large: now it has scroll bars and content is pushed off-screen. You can avoid this problem by using relative units to set the width of the image, or if you use a framework that supports it (such as Bootstrap) you can use a responsive image class (eg: class=“img-responsive”). resizeAbove: The same element with a responsive image class approach: now scroll bar is gone.

Disaster 3) Element distortion

This one is a bit more obscure, but essentially what happens when your layout is displayed on a small viewport is that any unhandled columns behave like rows. This is a problem because the distortion of the content unintentionally changes the hierarchy of your design. wrapAbove: column becomes a row, distorting content. The solution is obvious, yet it is surprising how many people struggle with it: simply set the height, width, and padding of the element explicitly. If it moves out of position and covers other elements, you can force it to be where you want by wrapping it in a div and setting margins.

Planning helps avoid mistakes

This article has discussed only the 3 most commonly encountered responsive design disasters, but there are plenty of other ways for a good design to go wrong. Preventing errors is not too difficult. Modern browsers have built-in responsive layout testing, so plan your design well and test often.

Emma Grant

Emma Grant is a professional freelance content writer from Ireland. Over the past three years she has travelled the world while running her business from her laptop. You find her at www​.florencewritinggale​.com

Read Next

Are Simple Websites Better For Business?

As web design technologies raise the bar on what it is possible to achieve on a realistic budget, there’s a rising deba…

Apple Opts for AR over VR at WWDC

An Apple VR headset has been one of the most widely-rumored devices of the last few years, and it was finally settled a…

Exciting New Tools for Designers, June 2023

We’re halfway through 2023 already, and the number of incredible apps, tools, and resources for designers is mounting.

3 Essential Design Trends, June 2023

This month we are focusing on three trends within a bigger website design trend – different navigation menu styles and …

15 Best New Fonts, May 2023

The choices you make when selecting a typeface have more impact on your design than almost any other decision, so it’s …

10+ Best Tools & Resources for Web Designers and Agencies (2023 updated)

Having the ability to envision a tastefully designed website (i.e., the role creativity plays) is important. But being …

20 Best New Websites, May 2023

This month, there are tons of great new agency websites to get excited about. 3D animated prisms are a popular theme, a…

How to Find the Right White Label Website Builder for Your Agency

Web design agencies face a lot of obstacles in closing the deal with new clients. One of the most common ones is the ar…

Exciting New Tools For Designers, May 2023

There are hundreds of new tools for designers and developers released each month. We sift through them all to bring you…

3 Essential Design Trends, May 2023

All three of the website design trends here mimic something bigger going on in the tech space, from a desire to have mo…

10 Best AI Tools for Web Designers (2023)

It’s time to stop worrying if AI is going to take your job and instead start using AI to expand the services you can of…

10 Best Marketing Agency Websites (Examples, Inspo, and Templates!)

Marketers are skilled in developing strategies, producing visual assets, writing text with high impact, and optimizing …