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Responsive Web design (RWD) is a Web design approach aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from mobile phones to desktop computer monitors).
It is basically the approach that suggests that design and development should respond to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation. The practice consists of a mix of flexible grids and layouts, images and an intelligent use of CSS media queries. As the user switches from their laptop to iPad, the website should automatically switch to accommodate for resolution, image size and scripting abilities. In other words, the website should have the technology to automatically respond to the user’s preferences. This would eliminate the need for a different design and development phase for each new gadget on the market.
Three key technical features are the heart of responsive Web design:
• Media queries and media query listeners
• A flexible grid-based layout that uses relative sizing
• Flexible images and media, through dynamic resizing or CSS
Truly responsive Web design requires all three features to be implemented.
The key point is adapting to the user’s needs and device capabilities. Suppose a mobile user will be viewing your site on a small screen. Taking the user’s needs into account doesn’t just mean adapting your content to the screen size. It also means thinking about what that mobile user will require first when visiting your site and then laying out the content accordingly. Maybe you’ll present the information in a different order. Don’t assume the user won’t need access to all the site information because she’s on a mobile device. You might need to change the fonts or interaction areas to respond better to a touch environment. All these factors influence responsive Web design.
While mobile devices are changing the display landscape, with the appearance of more and more small screens, don’t forget what’s happening at the other end of the spectrum. Displays are also getting larger and larger. Having to serve both segments shouldn’t stop designers from being innovative on either.
Starting with CSS 2.1, media types were used to apply CSS for both screen and print. You might remember these media types:
1. ..link rel=”stylesheet” type=”text/css” href=”style.css” media=”screen” />
2. ..link rel=”stylesheet” type=”text/css” href=”printfriendly.css” media=”print” />
That was it! Luckily, the W3C improved media queries in CSS3, moving them a big step forward.
Today, you can use media queries to scope styles to specific capabilities, applying different styles based on the capabilities that match your query. You can even combine queries that test for several features by using semantic operators such as AND and NOT). Features include width, height, max-width, max-height, device-height, orientation, aspect-ratio, resolution and more.
There are three ways to implement media queries:
1. Use the @import rule to import style rules from other style sheets:
1. @import url(style600min.css) screen and (min-width: 600px);
2. Put media queries directly in the style sheet,. This is the most common approach.
Implementing Media Queries Directly in a Style Sheet
@media screen and (min-width: 400px) and (orientation: portrait)
margin: 0 0 0 .5em;
border:1px solid #000000;
@media screen and (min-width: 800px)
margin: 0 0 0 .5em;
3. Include a query in a linked style sheet’s media attribute:
1. ..link rel=”stylesheet” type=”text/css” media=”screen and (max-device-width: 800px)” href=”style800.css” />
Because of the (cascading) nature of CSS, default styles are defined at the top with the media query matching rules and styles below. Styles defined at the top will be cascaded to the matching styles in the rule, or even completely overwritten.
Media Query Listeners
Taking media queries a step further, the CSS Object Model (CSSOM) working group at the W3C also created media query listeners, which provide an API for responding to media query changes. Instead of having to poll for changes or load several versions of a resource, you can use the API, for example, to download images only of a particular size when a media query match is triggered.
Today, Firefox and the Internet Explorer 10 Platform Preview implement media query listeners; you can see the demo “CSS3 Media Queries & Media Query Listeners” on the IE Test Drive.
Challenges, and other approaches
One problem for RWD is that banner advertisements and videos are not fluid. However search advertising and (banner) display advertising support specific device platform targeting and different advertisement size formats for desktop, smartphone, and basic mobile devices. Different landing page URLs can be used for different platforms, or Ajax can be used to display different advertisement variants on a page.
There are now many ways of validating and testing RWD designs, ranging from mobile site validators and mobile emulators to simultaneous testing tools like Adobe Edge Inspect. The Firefox browser and the Chrome console offer responsive design viewport resizing tools, as do third parties.
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