Illustration by Kyle Webster
The constant stream of newly released digital products includes a wide variety of aspect ratios, screen sizes, and orientations, which is why it’s so important to create responsive web designs. Not only will it make your designs accessible to users, but it ensures visual unity no matter the device on which it is viewed.
Creating a responsive web design may seem confusing at first, but knowing a few of the UI design trends is a great way to get inspired and learn. Follow along as we explore responsive UI design and some of the trends that are out there today.
What is responsive design?
Responsive design is a developmental approach that ensures a user interface’s design adapts to the preferences of the user and the device they are using. This method doesn’t make assumptions about screen size, browser window, or even the device a person may be using. Rather, it encourages a versatile methodology for web design that automatically adapts the layout and structure of a UI to match the user’s preferences without hampering their experience when using the product.
Through responsive design, developers and designers no longer have to create separate web designs for each group of users, but rather they can focus on creating a web design that automatically adjusts depending on the user.
Why responsive web design is important
The simple answer is that responsive web design is accessible. With so many different aspect ratios and screen sizes, you can’t assume that your web design will only be viewed on a computer monitor or laptop—doing so could lead to fewer users. For example, if you designed a web page to be viewed on a desktop computer, and the majority of the users who engage with your content do so on mobile, users may encounter accessibility challenges.
Additionally, a non-responsive web design can severly impact the user experience for anyone who views your content on a device you had not planned and specifically designed for. This is why it is so important for designers to plan out how they want their designs to adapt in certain circumstances.
Tips and tricks for a responsive web design
To create a truly responsive web design you need to add CSS media queries, flexible layouts and grids, and responsive images. Here are some tips and tricks to help guide you throughout your design process. Also, make sure to check out some of the responsive design best practices to discover and learn more about how to build a functional and responsive web design.
CSS media queries
Adding CSS media queries to your CSS style sheet is a great way to make your web design responsive and adaptable. By adding a media query, you can create breakpoints based on various screen sizes, which allows you to control how the design will look in different states. If you are working with a developer, make sure to include breakpoint instructions during the developer handoff.
Do you want to see media queries in action? If you are viewing this blog post on a laptop or desktop, grab the right side of your web browser and start dragging it to the left so that you are essentially making the browser window narrower. As you do so, you will see the elements of the page respond to the window’s new dimensions. Now, at some point, you will notice when you reach a specific width, some things will move or disappear, like a button or the top navigation bar. These are the breakpoints that were created for this site using media queries.
Flexible layouts and grids
Using layouts and grids is important in determining the spacing between the elements and components in your design, which is why it’s imperative to make them flexible to the size of screen they’re being displayed on. A common trick that web designers use is to create a separate style sheet to switch to, which detects if the layout will be too narrow or wide. In doing so, you can prevent a web design from appearing broken on a 4k monitor versus in portrait mode on a mobile device. Also, keep in mind that flexible layouts and grids are not just important for web-based digital products but for responsive web apps as well.
When working with images in web design, you must think about how those images will look if the user decides to visit your webpage via a mobile browser. The site clearly cannot remain the same size unless you want the image to occupy the majority of the screen space. This is where responsive images come in. By assigning a max-width percentage to your image you can control how much screen space is occupied by the image.
Responsive design trends
With responsive web design becoming more widely used and increasingly considered a standard practice, there are a few emerging design trends worth noting. These include opting for vector graphics, responsive navigation bars, minimalistic web designs, and prioritizing elements for each breaking point.
With the increasing demand for dynamic webpages and the ability to shrink or grow the size of the screen, the use of vector graphics has become more common. Vector graphics are designed and exported using mathematical formulas so that the image remains clean and well defined no matter the size it is adjusted to. This means that logo you spent so long designing won’t look pixelated and distorted on a large 8k monitor.
Probably one of the challenges you’ll face first when making your web design responsive is how the website navigation bar should look on a desktop versus a mobile device. With limited space on a mobile browser, most websites opt to hide the navigation links and instead only display a hamburger menu icon that, when clicked, will display relevant page links. This has become so common that a new trend is forming in which the mobile navigation bar is used on desktop to maintain consistency no matter the size of the screen.
With so many sizes at which to view a web design, a minimalist design approach is growing in popularity. Minimalist design is very clean, with plenty of breathing room between elements on the screen.
In practice, a minimalistic design prevents a jarring experience that happens as elements appear and disappear between breaking points. The rule of thumb is the less you have on the screen, the less you have to adjust when responding to a different screen or window sizes.
As you build a responsive web design, you will likely want to prioritize some elements over others. For example, on a large monitor, a hero image may look great and be very impactful, but on a smaller screen, it may push too much of your important content below the fold. By prioritizing the elements of your web design, adjustments in screen size keep the design consistent.
The responsive web design and the dynamic designer
As important as responsive web design is, it’s equally important for designers to be dynamic and agile. This means constantly thinking of new ways to design more accessible digital products no matter the circumstances. In doing so, you not only improve the user experience but the overall design as well. Remember, a good design is an accessible web design. And that helps prevent barriers so users can use your web designs just the way you intended.