Last Updated On September 19, 2023

Responsive Web Design- Basic Patterns, Principles, and Examples

Responsive Web Design- Basic Patterns, Principles, and Examples
By Team TIS

Responsive web design is the practice of creating websites that display evenly on all devices as the design adjusts itself automatically as per the screen size of the user i.e. whether desktop or mobile. While the Internet has brought globalization across the world, mobile growth has also picked explosive growth in recent years taking mobile internet usage to remarkably higher levels. The growth of mobile internet usage has surpassed the use of the Internet over desktops and laptops, thus forcing the developers to know about the trending term “Responsive Web Design”.

Definition of Responsive Web Design

Although there are numerous definitions of responsive web design available over the internet, I will explain here one of the most general definitions of this new term.

Responsive web design is a design approach that is aimed at developing websites suitable to work on all types of devices, which have different screen sizes such as mobile phones, tablets, and kindle fires.

When the term did come into existence?

A good question to answer, and for getting an accurate answer we have to go back to the dark days of mobile internet when it had not been so much popular and the majority of the websites were served via a technology called “Wireless Application Protocol”. Moreover, the browsers on mobile phones and tablets were limited in terms of bandwidth, standard compatibility, and CSS. Hence, the need for a technique of adapting a website’s layout to a device’s display arises.

The urge of having this technique was first written by Cameron Adams in 2004 but the term “Responsive Web Design” was coined by Ethane Marcotte in May 2010 in his “A List Apart” article. The complete theory and practices concerning this new technology of developing websites were explained by Ethane Marcotte in his book named “Responsive Web Design”.

Key Principles of Responsive Web Design

The vital difference that separates responsive design from other web development approaches is its focus on including breakpoints in the website design instead of targeting different devices.

If you are developing a responsive web design, you must adhere to the key principles of this technique, which are listed as follows:

  • Use Fluid Grid Systems
  • Adaptive Design Approach
  • Targeting Vital Content
  • Mobile First Viewpoint

Use of Fluid Grid Systems

Organizations whose websites don’t really change that much should explore the responsive website design option which is the Fluid approach. From the term fluid, these responsive web designing services employing this technique have no fix or true form. Just like water or any other liquid, it takes the shape of its container. In this case, Fluid sites automatically adjust to whatever screen width they are viewed on – from the relatively smaller screens of some smartphones to the bigger screens of tablets.

A fluid responsive web design is created by using percentages for widths, instead of a definite range of pixels. If done by a reputable and experienced responsive web design company, sites that are built using the Fluid approach will always appear balanced and proportional.

Consisting of a series of rows and columns, the fluid grid systems convey order and consistency in a responsive website design. They present an organizational framework to help in creating the order in which the information needs to be presented over the site. This organizational framework makes it easier for the visitors to follow the information conveniently and get what they are searching for.

For example, a website might have 3 columns next to each other in the desktop version, but in mobile versions, these columns will become narrower, and hence, it is better to present these columns in stacked format over a mobile screen requiring the user to scroll the web page to see the content.

An example of a responsive website with a fluid grid system is given as follows:

On desktop and tablet view, the “Quick Links” and “Global Projects” is placed next to each other while on the mobile screen, the latest news takes the entire width of the screen while the Global Projects and Quick Links are located below, which can be accessed by scrolling down the web page.

However, since this method is more all-encompassing compared to the adaptive method, a lot of resources should be dedicated in terms of ensuring that the width percentages are calculated and coded properly, hence, the testing phase of these sites can be pretty extensive. Another disadvantage of this technique is it assumes that responsive web design technology will always be preeminent in mobile web design. However, as anyone involved in professional web designing services knows, there is nothing constant in this practice but change.

The Adaptive Method  

The adaptive method is executed by creating web layouts based on different width ranges. Typically, this method produces three layouts that are targeted for specific widths such as tablets and mobile devices. However, if a user is browsing via a device with a screen size that falls outside these width ranges, browsing issues may start to surface. This is one of the disadvantages of using this approach. Another disadvantage website built using this technique is not forward-looking. This means that it would work on the most widely used devices today.

On the other hand, an advantage of this approach is a relatively easier testing process since there are only three layouts to be tested. Also, since these layouts are specifically made to the most prevalent widths of the hottest devices at a given time, a responsive website design company can assure a client that his site is optimized for the majority of mobile internet users.

So, who should use the adaptive method? This approach is highly recommended for websites or organizations that redesign their sites frequently. Businesses whose online marketing strategies involve developing new mobile executions every so often and do not really stay with a specific mobile site version for more than two years will find the adaptive approach advantageous.

Targeting Vital Content

Prioritizing the most relevant information and fields such as vital content for both visitors and site owners is important for devising strategic responsive design. You need to take care of the content while designing your website through the responsive technique as it plays a major role in making your website searchable over popular search engines.

The perfect example of a responsive website design, which sticks to its priorities, is US President Barack Obama’s website:

When the width of the site narrows, the “DONATE” button comes at front and center along with the “Log in” and “Create Account” buttons while the “Email” and ZIP“ buttons form the leftover points. Impressively placed, the “THE VERY LATEST” option tops up a list of easy-to-tap links. The pictures are prominent over the site with central calls to action remaining unaffected.

Mobile First Viewport

Do you know that most websites get 25% traffic through mobile while 75 % traffic through desktops? But then also, responsive web design is becoming increasingly popular, why? Your approach should be focused on desktop visitors first.

While this logic is used in website design but logically, if we design the website as per desktop configuration, we might end up putting a lot of features and functionalities in our website, which is otherwise unnecessary for mobile users since they wouldn’t be able to access those features on their smartphone browsers. With a mobile-first viewpoint, we begin loading the complete bare necessities on smaller platforms, which leads to a better website viewing experience that avoids needless lag.

Understanding the Basics of Responsive Web Design

Considered a set of modern techniques and tools, responsive web design aims to rearrange the way information is displayed according to the device’s capabilities. The key to this technique is a response, which means procuring information about the devices, reacting, and showing an adapted version of the website.

The basics of a responsive web design include the following points:

  • Use of Media Queries
  • Use of Simple Layouts
  • Use of Flexible Grids

Use of Media Queries

Media queries are simple filters, which are executed in CSS styles. They help in changing the styles easily depending on the characteristics of the device rendering the content, consisting of the display width, height, type, resolution, and orientation.

You can place all the styles which are required for printing within a print media query like this:
< link rel=”stylesheet” href=”print.css” media=”print”>
Moreover, you can apply the media queries in two other ways that can be easily embedded in a CSS file:
@import and @media.
For performance, any of the two methods are preferred over the @import syntax as this:
@media print {
/* print style sheets go here */
@import url(print.css) print;

You can also implement media queries depending on the viewport sizes.
The syntax of media queries, which can be executed depending on the device configurations is:
@media (query) {
/* CSS Rules used when query matches */

Use of Simple Layouts

It might sound boring, but keeping your site’s layout simple is the first thing to execute while developing a responsive website. Try to keep your HTML coding simple and clean and don’t apply too much tricky code like CSS3 special effects or JavaScript for designing the critical parts of the website’s layout.

Use of Flexible Grids

Use flexible grids while building a responsive website because flexible grids use columns for organizing the content and offer relative instead of fixed width for adapting the viewport size. Fluid layout is the best way to get adept at different screen sizes and orientations.

Adding Viewport Meta Tag to the Responsive Website

The viewport meta tag changes the behavior of a mobile browser by altering the “virtual viewpoint” of any device. The virtual viewpoint is the view of a mobile screen, which is different from the default view. Hence, it is called a virtual viewpoint. It allows the screens to have definite zoom behaviors.

The code snippet used in a responsive template is given as follows:

This code snippet tells the mobile phones not to zoom and also allows the responsive template of mobile devices to be loaded in the scripts.

Here is the table explaining the Meta Tag Viewpoint properties:

Data Table
Width The width of the virtual viewport of the device.
Device-width The physical width of the device’s screen.
Initial-scale The initial zoom when visiting the page. 1.0 does not zoom.
Minimum-scale The minimum amount the visitor can zoom on the page. 1.0 does not zoom.
Height The height of the “virtual viewport” of the device.
Device-height The physical height of the device’s screen.
Maximum -scale The maximum amount the visitor can zoom on the page. 1.0 does not zoom.
User-scalable Allows the device to zoom in and out. Values are yes or no.

Vital Patterns and Modules of Responsive Web Design

There are numerous patterns used in Responsive web designing. However, the most important patterns used in this technique include:

  • Mostly Fluid
  • Column Drop
  • Layout Shifter
  • Tiny Tweaks
  • Off Canvas

Mostly Fluid

This is the most popular pattern used in responsive web design and is perhaps the most simple as well. This pattern consists of a multi-column layout, which introduces bigger margins on huge screens and relies on fluid grids and pictures to scale from huge screens down to small screens.

The biggest benefit of using this pattern is it usually needs one breakpoint between the large and small screens.

Column Drop

It is another popular pattern of responsive web design, which comes with a multi-column layout and closes with a single-column layout, dropping the columns along the way as the screen sizes become smaller.

However, unlike the Mostly Fluid pattern, the general size of elements in this pattern stays consistent.

Layout Shifter

This responsive web design pattern does the most when it comes to adapting according to varying screen sizes, which means different layouts are used on different screen sizes.

Although it requires a little more effort than the Mostly Fluid and Column Drop patterns, it is implemented on most responsively designed websites.

Tiny Tweaks

This pattern has the simplest form of adaptation and is used by those businesses, which prefer the simplicity of web pages within a single-column layout. It works well with single-column layouts like text-heavy articles and one-page linear websites.

For those who are bequeathed with such simplicity, multi-device adaptation can just be a few tiny tweaks to the image layout and font sizes.

Off Canvas

Instead of stacking the content vertically, the off-canvas pattern puts less frequently used content, including the app menus and navigation off-screen and displays them only when the screen size is big enough. In this pattern, the content is just a click away on small screens.

Google’s Supported Configurations of Smartphone’s Optimized Websites

Typically, Google supports three configuration types for smartphone’s optimized websites:

  • Websites that use responsive web design on the same URL with each URL serving the same HTML for all devices along with the use of just CSS for modifying the rendering style of web pages.
  • Websites that use responsive web design on the same URL with each URL serving different HTML for all devices relying on the type of device used by the internet user.
  • Websites that have separate URLs for both Smartphones and Desktops.


If we talk in the technical language, responsive web design is a setup where the server always sends the same HTML code to all devices, and CSS is used to alter the rendering of the page on the device. Responsive Web design is growing in popularity at a very fast pace and in the imminent days, almost all websites have to use this latest technique on their websites if they really want to succeed in this competitive marketplace. Your online business success will definitely get a major boost if you cover both desktop users and mobile users because, in the coming years, mobile internet usage is surely going to leave behind desktop internet usage. 

So, if you require any professional assistance in using it for your website, you can hire skilled responsive web designers for getting the finest responsive design services at the industry’s best price. Connect with an expert from TIS today and we will be happy to help you.

By Team TIS
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