BDConf: Ethan Marcotte presents Rolling Up Our Responsive Sleeves

In Rolling Up Our Responsive Sleeves, Ethan Marcotte (@beep) discusses how to work through many of the challenges that arise in the responsive web design process.

  • Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man. -Henry Adams
  • Transitions are important. When you can’t compare your previous experiences to your new environment, you can feel isolated and alone. We’re reinventing and charting a path from our old way of thinking to a new way
  • “Tablet” and “mobile” as terms are becoming so broad they are becoming really useless.
  • Solve the parts, not the whole problem. Focusing on the enormity of a problem can inhibit you from solving it, so you should carve it up into individual tasks.

Fluid Layout

  • Fluid Grids— Equation for converting fixed positioned units to fluid units:
    Target / context = Result
  • Designing with fluid grids is about designing and managing proportions, not fixed dimensions.
  • Invest in the structural foundation of your content, not of layout. Site structure is a slow system to evolve and hard to change. Layout is the fastest system as the landscape is constantly changing.
  • We should build networks of content, not of pages. Design is now the relationship between individual components, not rigid pages. Check out Starbucks style guide and see how they created their design system.
  • Width, hierarchy, interaction and density all influence layout.

Mobile First

  • Mobile First— Avoid starting large then shrinking down.
  • “The absence of support for media queries is indeed the first media query” – Bryan Rieger
  • Just because an element doesn’t fit on small screens doesn’t mean you should remove it. Simplify before you suppress.
  • There are many ways of handling adaptive navigation, and several responsive navigation patterns are emerging.
  • Let the content, not device widths, determine the breakpoints in responsive designs.


  • Advertising is challenging because ads are fixed width and inflexible. This introduces fixed elements to an otherwise fluid environment.
  • Smashing Magazine hides their ad content for smaller screen sizes, which is bad for performance. It’s challenging to handle advertising across different layouts.
  • Layout is the easy part of responsive design. Advertising is proving to be a worthy adversary.

Media and Images

  • Media and Images img, object { max-width: 100% } for images and media
  • Video doesn’t maintain their aspect ratios across different screens. Check out FitVids for a solution.
  • Images can be very expensive from a performance standpoint. Start with the small screen image first then enhance.
  • Two important rules for responsive images: start with the small screen image first then enhance up from there. Only make one HTTP request per image.
  • Responsive Images: How they Almost Worked and What We Need by Mat Marquis
  • Categorizr: A modern device detection script
  • Invite the user in to make choices about the experience they want. We can’t make assumptions about everything. Do they want the hi-res images or low-res images/videos? Perhaps it’s easier just to ask them.


  1. Awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Craig McPheat

    Epic education still required to legal and risk departments. It seems to be sinking in with marketing, they’re starting to let go of daft concepts like “the fold.” In financial services, we have regulations about the placement of terms in relation to marketing offers. These depts are really struggling with new viewports and content being consumed on anything other than 1024.

Comments are closed for this post. If you've got something to add, feel free to reach out on Twitter.