What is Responsive Web Design? Why Do I Care?

Last Update: January 14, 2016

What is Responsive Web Design and Why Should I Care?

As a certified webmaster and SEO consultant, I'm often approached about requests for a responsive web design. Believe it or not, about 50% of these peeps have no idea what this is, so I thought I would provide an explanation and clarification on the term "Responsive".

What Is Responsive Web Design

re·spon·sive rəˈspänsiv/ adjective

"a flexible service that is responsive to changing social and economic patterns"

synonyms:quick to react to, reactive to, receptive to, open to suggestions about,amenable to, flexible to, sensitive to, sympathetic to; aware of

"several consumers said the company hadn't been responsive totheir needs"

According to Wikipedia:

"Responsive web design (RWD) is an approach to web design aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing and interaction experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones)"

Basically, this is an "adaptive" web design that allows your website to look pretty on all hardware platforms: Desktop, SmartPhone, Tablets and so on:

A little history.....

I began building websites back when we had to handcode EVERYTHING!

Slowly, website builders like Hotdog and MS FrontPage became available and made things sooooo much easier. Wow, an Interface for creating a website. No more handcoding every little thing.

But, still there were no such things as smartphones or tablets yet. So, all websites and themes were developed as "Fixed Width" or a few standard width options for multiple type desktop monitors.

Many websites are still built fixed-width - as are many themes.

Why do I Want a Responsive Website or Theme?

By the year 2008 there were about 400 Million portable device (phones) users accessing the Internet. In the next few years this grew to beyone 1400 Million and by the year 2015, mobile (phone and tablet) users accessing the Internet jumped above and EXCEEDED desktop users by 200 Million and it's still climbing.


Thereby, if you're not using a Responsive theme or website design, you're giving up a bunch of traffic. The presentation of a fixed-width website on a mobile phone is horrible!


Now, don't let this freak you out. :-)

It's just something to seriously consider when building your websites and choosing a new theme down the road. I have switched themes a lot and am always looking for two main aspects of a theme, responsive and page load speed. (Also, consider built in social icons so that you don't need to load an extra plugin - this reduces server requests and can make a huge difference on speed).

Update: How to Find and Select a Responsive Theme in WordPress

When you go to your WordPress dashboard and go to search new themes add a filter for "Responsive".

It's one of the check box options:

I have noticed though that some themes are starting to say "mobile friendly" and not "responsive". You can't filter these ones unfortunately. You'll have to check the descriptions.

I hope this wee blog was helpful!

Cheers,

pj


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WillingToTry Premium
Whew, I am definitely going to have to to go back to school (college) to learn more about web design from a responsive point of view!

Thanks for an excellent post PJ, it's really good to have someone with your experience and knowledge here at W.A.!
How times have changed!

Kind regards,
Arthur.
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Pio Premium
Thanks PjGermain for the information on Themes. I'm researching as I haven't really done much on my website. Hence the look around for ideas!
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Crystalone Premium
Thank you again PJ wonderful information.
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PjGermain Premium
Much appreciated Crystal!
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Iosbourne Premium
Very useful info!
Thanks a lot.
Iv
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PjGermain Premium
Much appreciated Ivor!
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dickw Premium
Thanks Pj. Nice morsel of info. Where are the other ten pages. LOL
Have a Happy Thanksgiving.
I don't know if you fry your turkeys. I have been doing it the old fashion way, you know where you burn your house down. Now Butterball has an indoor turkey fryer for $100. Walmart now carries it for $86!! Cool beans.....Dick
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PjGermain Premium
LOL! Awesome Dick!
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Mark1957 Premium
Very helpful as usual Peej........
Thanks
mark
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PjGermain Premium
Much appreciated Mark!
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Dmorrow Premium
Thanks again Peej, for being so willing to share your knowledge with us!

Blessings,
Debby
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PjGermain Premium
Thanks a bunch Debby!
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AchuthanN1 Premium
Thank you Pj.You are always helping us.Great job.
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PjGermain Premium
Thanks again Achuthan!
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PSenwelo Premium
Thanks PJ, super helpful post.
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PjGermain Premium
Thanks very much Patricia!
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Worthgirl101 Premium
Thanks again for sharing your knowledge
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PjGermain Premium
Thanks very much! I do hope it was helpful!
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AussieJeff Premium
Thanks PJ. Really great and informative info...
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PjGermain Premium
Thanks again Jeff!
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LindaJ57 Premium
That was new to me. Thank you Pj!
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PjGermain Premium
I hope it was helpful Linda!
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Lifecracker Premium
Didn't even know this! Thanks very much Pj
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PjGermain Premium
Much appreciated!
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pitters Premium
Top of the morning to you, PJ,
Thanks for your very helpful post . . .
It actually helped me to answer a question (first time I've been able to do that) (◠‿◠✿)

see my comment on MudreM's post ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
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PjGermain Premium
How timely! Thanks very much!
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JeffBoivin Premium
Thanks PJ ! Sure it helps. RRRRReally appreciate :) Best Regards, Jeff
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PjGermain Premium
LOL! Thanks a bunch Jeff!
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AlexEvans Premium
Hi PJ, thanks for the tips and advice, you sort of notice the shift traveling around everyone seems to be doing more on mobile devices. I can see if we don't keep up we will get left behind. Thank you for sharing.
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PjGermain Premium
Exactly! Thanks again Alexander!
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LLiu Premium
Pj this made allot of sense to me and it is the direction I want to move towards. There is still allot that I have to learn on this, but I am starting to see the bigger picture now. Thanks to people like your self, it really helps !
Linda:))
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PjGermain Premium
Thanks again Linda! Stay motivated!
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Sheila50 Premium
PJ you sure know how to help others!
Thanks for this wee blog! Lol
Sheila :)
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PjGermain Premium
I believe in good Karma Sheila! :-)
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Mike-Writes Premium
Great blog PJ. This is going to be a big help.
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PjGermain Premium
Thanks a bunch Mike!
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hasmiza Premium
Agree and already tried this responsive theme.
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PjGermain Premium
Awesome Hasmiza! Thank you!
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gappleby Premium
This wee blog was way helpful!

Thanks,

Gordon
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PjGermain Premium
Thanks again Gordon!
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BobZeiss Premium
As usual PJ a clear and understandable slice of the cake of knowledge. Brilliant!
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PjGermain Premium
And so close to Thanksgiving! LOL! Thanks again Bob!
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Isabella18 Premium
Such a great blog. So many people have questions on this, including me!
All the best,
Isabella
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PjGermain Premium
LOL! Thanks so much Isabella!
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EFors Premium
Thank you for the information, it´s bookmarked, and I will have it done. :))
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PjGermain Premium
Thanks very much Elma!
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KeithJames Premium
Thank you very much for great info and I will take this into account on my next website.
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PjGermain Premium
Much appreciated Keith!
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WindyCityUSA Premium
Great to know , thank you.
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PjGermain Premium
Thanks very much Luis!
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RoopeshG Premium
Hi Peej..it makes 100 % sense, but I am just concerned about changing themes. I am worried that if I change a theme to a more responsive one, then I will loose content, or my post or pages will be disrupted.Is this true? I am using the omega theme.
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PjGermain Premium
No sir, I have swapped themes several times. Your pages and post content is always kept in tact. That's one of the beauties of WordPress. Go in there .... Appearance>Themes and check out a few using the "Preview" function. This will allow you to see how it will look before you commit.
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TanjaRita Premium
If you are really worried, set up a test site (just make a free siterubix site) and import the contents of your current site. Then switch the theme on your test site and see if it is what you would like.
Here is some training by Kyle about switching themes (I don't think he talks about making a test site though)
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RoopeshG Premium
Great Stuff.Thanks Peej, will check it out!
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RoopeshG Premium
Hi Tanja.
Awesome idea,thanks for the link.
Take Care
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TanjaRita Premium
You're welcome. Just make sure when you make the test site that you don't activate all in one seo as you don't want it indexed in google.
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dianegailit Premium
Thank you for the great information! I guess it really makes sense that some designs would be better than others. Now....to figure out what works and what doesn't.......I guess it is trial and error.
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PjGermain Premium
A bit, yes, Diane. But, many themes are coded differently. Some, while responsive are not coded efficiently. But, yes, it can be trial and error with free themes.
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Harrysastar2 Premium
Another lesson learned, thanks PJ.
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PjGermain Premium
Thanks very much Harry!
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SundanceKid Premium
so how do we know which of these themes we have to choose are responsive or not?
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PjGermain Premium
From Tanja:

When you go to your WordPress dashboard and go to search new themes add a filter for "responsive". It's one of the check box options. I have noticed though that some themes are starting to say mobile friendly and not "responsive". You can't filter these ones unfortunately
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PjGermain Premium
See updated blog post above. I added in a screenshot and some text from Tanja! :-)
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SundanceKid Premium
Thanks for that - got it. But I cannot see how to check my already installed theme.
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PjGermain Premium
I would do a search on Google for that. Sorry!
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GeorgeEkman Premium
Good stuff Pj I always keep anything from you, keep it coming good buddy.
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PjGermain Premium
Thanks again George!
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mijareze Premium
Great blog! Learned something today!
Ed
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PjGermain Premium
Much appreciated Ed!
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sydlippett Premium
Hello again PJ,many thanks for another very informative blog.
Kind regards,Syd
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PjGermain Premium
And, Thanks AGAIN Syd!! :-)
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BarryJ Premium
Something more to think about. Your blogs are always informative and thought-provoking. Thanks much.
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Merceadez Premium
Fascinating blog post. I got a responsive theme right away. Now I'm even more happy that I did.,lol
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PjGermain Premium
Outstanding Merceadez!!!
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jtreloar Premium
Great article. There are many people who do not have a clue that if your site is not responsive it will either not rate at all or just not rate very high in Google. Bing and Yahoo are following right along with this. I hope more people see this article and take it seriously, otherwise their site could be in jeopardy.
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PjGermain Premium
Well said, Jacqueline!!! Thanks for the comments!!!
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Great info. Especially about how important a responsive theme will be going forward due to the increase of mobile access.
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PjGermain Premium
Much appreciated Daniel!
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dibbs0529 Premium
Awesome info, I use responsive web design in some of my courses, more for actual HTML coding etc, but this is a huge topic and it will change as devices change shape and structure. Awesome work thanks again!
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PjGermain Premium
Cool! Thanks a bunch Kody!
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2Al Premium
PJ, thank you for sharing a helpful blog.
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PjGermain Premium
Thanks again Alma!
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OldMCSEGuy Premium
Certified by whom?
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KatieMac Premium
thank you for the reminder I made sure the themes I chose were responsive, have a great weekend PJ
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PjGermain Premium
Thanks very much. You do the same Katie!
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debzo Premium
Thanks for clarifying :)
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PjGermain Premium
Gladly, thanks Deb!
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paulgoodwin Premium
HI PJ as always so interesting - I am still trying to build my first simple site and get it right let alone the next generation site!!!!
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PjGermain Premium
:-) You're doing great Paul! Stay motivated!
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SimonBorg Premium
Useful information !
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PjGermain Premium
Thanks Simon!
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mjdimarco Premium
Interesting blog. Do you have a list of WP themes that are particularly "responsive"?
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TanjaRita Premium
When you go to your WordPress dashboard and go to search new themes add a filter for "responsive". It's one of the check box options. I have noticed though that some themes are starting to say mobile friendly and not "responsive". You can't filter these ones unfortunately
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PjGermain Premium
Awesome, Thanks Tanja!!!
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mjdimarco Premium
Thanks Tanja!
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TanjaRita Premium
You're welcome!
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stephenavae Premium
Great post, PjGermain :)

I had the exact same experience.

I've been a software developer for 17 years. I still remember when everything was done "by hand", so to speak.

Over the years, the emergence of new devices demanded a new approach to coding/designing to fit those devices )))

It amuses me when I sometimes come across job vacancies online, where it states : "wanted.......web designer.........skilled in responsive design.........browser compatibility...........fluid design concepts.....etc, etc :)
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PjGermain Premium
LOL! Exactly Stephen!!! Thanks bro!
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Lol

Apparently whoever writes the job description has NO clue...
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JeanR Premium
Great info, Thanks for Sharing.
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PjGermain Premium
Thanks very much Jean!
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