A Beginner's Guide to Responsive Web Design

Sarai Hansen

May 15, 20153 min read
A Beginner's Guide to Responsive Web Design

Are you looking to create a website that will look great across differing devices and or screen sizes? Have you thought about creating your site using responsive web design? Wondering what in the world responsive web design is?

In our fast-paced, technology-driven world, creating a website takes more than just slapping your logo on a web page and hoping your audience will be impressed by your great use of white space. With much of web browsing being performed on a vast number of mobile devices, a site must be able to respond well to each individualized device.

Sounds intense, I know! Let's go over the basics of responsive web design one at a time.

What is Responsive Web Design?

Simply put, responsive web design is the art of creating a website that will work on every device regardless of screen size. This allows your audience to have a great experience when viewing your site, regardless of any device they use.

A website used to be constructed using fixed-width layouts. This does not work anymore in our day of smartphones and tablets because every screen size is so different. Enter responsive web design: a great way to customize your site so that it can scale to any smartphone, tablet or desktop screen.

Why is Responsive Web Design Important?

If your audience is not able to view or navigate your site quickly from any given device they will loose interest. We live in a day of ease and comfort.

A priority for any site is to create the optimal viewing experience for your audience. The way to do this is through responsive web design. Responsive web design makes reading and navigating your site a breeze for your viewers.

There are benefits for creating a responsive web site for you as well. Instead of having to create multiple web sites for desktops, tablets, mobiles, etc., you can have one URL across the board, regardless of screen size, platform or orientation.

How Does Responsive Web Design Work?

Responsive web design includes creating a site with flexible layouts, grids, images and media queries. This will result in your site being able to scale to size based on the device your viewer is using.

Responsive web design is broken down into three main categories:

1. Flexible Layouts or Grid

Flexible layouts are created using percentages or units. By using percentages your site is able to respond to differing screen sizes. For example: If you use a percentage of say 50% for the width, the width will always be half, or 50%, of the screen, regardless of the screen size.

2. Media Queries

How your site will look on any given device depends on the screen size with which it is shown on. Media queries allows your site to respond to where differing modules (header, sidebars, etc.) are placed on your site, depending on the device or screen size your site is viewed from.

For example, if your site is being viewed on a desktop your modules may be set with your header at the top with two or three sidebars directly underneath, side by side. When your audience views your site on a mobile phone, the modules respond by shifting the order in which they are viewed. Your header will still be on top with your main content and sidebar modules placed one on top of the other, creating a longer scrolling site.

Media queries allow you to create an optimal site for any device. A lot of phones these days are capable of viewing content in both landscape and portrait mode. Media queries allow your site to adapt to whichever mode (landscape or portrait) in which your audience is viewing the site.

3. Flexible Images

A rather large problem most developers run into is creating a site where images scale correctly without losing resolution. A quick, (and usually the best) way to make your images scale to differing screen sizes correctly is by using the max-width property with a value of 100%. A max-width value of 100% will ensure that your media will scale to differing screen sizes.

A few other ways in which you can create a flexible image include:

  • Hiding and/or revealing portions of images
  • Creating sliding images
  • Foreground images that scale with layout


Creating your site using responsive web design will eliminate so much hassle for you and your viewers alike. A responsive web design will create an optimal viewing experience for your audience, while at the same time saving you countless hours of creating multiple sites for differing devices and screen sizes.

What has been your experience with using responsive web design?