Four Mobile Buzzwords - Responsive Web Design, Mobile Web, HTML5 and Mobile First

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With the explosion of mobile devices in the market, a number of new terms have been created to deal with the development and design of websites on these devices. I've been researching some of these and thought it would be helpful to share some things I've found. I'd love any comments on how you might define them and how you may be using them while working on your Web projects.

"Responsive Web Design"

The term first became popular when Ethan Marcotte coined the phrase on "A list Apart". He has since written a book on the subject. As a fairly new design technique the technical details are still changing, but can mostly be summed up into three main aspects:

Some extensive details on these subjects can be found here:

These sites displaying examples of responsive Web design:

"Mobile Web"

This one is thrown around a lot, but I think misunderstood by many. Yes, mobile has changed the Web, but I think Jeremy Keith explained this well when he said, "There is no mobile Web." The video is one hour long, but the short version is that the definition of "mobile" itself varies with the number of different types of devices that has come out recently. Once you start limiting the Web to specific devices, you lose the great, flexible power of the Web. The default way websites have been designed is fixed because print design is fixed. The Web is not fixed; it is flexible and we should design accordingly.

Jeremy Keith - There Is No Mobile Web - BD Conf, Sept 2011 from Breaking Development on Vimeo.


HTML5 is a language for structuring and presenting content for the Web. HTML5 offers a number of new syntactical features that allow many new possibilities especially when it comes to multimedia. Many things that were once done only in Flash can now be done with HTML5. This is important because HTML5 does not require any additional downloads and is not proprietary. It does; however, require a browser that will support it. Here are some charts showing browser compatibility:

"Mobile First"

Luke Wroblewski was probably the first to introduce this term. Luke gives three reasons why we should design for mobile first:

  • Mobile is exploding
  • Mobile forces you to focus
  • Mobile extends your capabilities

I think my favorite of the three is that mobile forces you to focus. When we design for a large desktop screen we have lots of space, and I think we often throw in details that may not be useful to the end user. With a small screen such as a mobile phone we are forced to prioritize and only include the most important content. I think this in turn leads to a more user-friendly website and is easier to be more user-focused.

It wouldn't be right if I didn't end with something related to food. Here's a link to the BBQ Sausage Recipe of all Recipes. Did I mention it has bacon in it?

View additional blog posts on mobile and responsive Web design.

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