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What's the width of your website?

Hmmm... Let me think.

I've been designing websites that adapt to the width of their browser since my very first website in 1995. Back then, it pretty much meant paragraphs that are wider on a larger screen. If anything, it looked weird. But I could not let myself waste all that real estate. I mean, look at my blog! There's not much wasted space. And yet, I love simplistic and overly sparse designs such as Terry Apodaca's blog (doesn't seem to be working anymore) or Brad Frost's blog just to cite a few. All three blogs (counting mine) have one property in common: They work on 2560px wide screens down to 320px wide screens.

In other words: they have no width.

No, they have not.


And this is why getting a new design by starting out with a set of PSD files is a bad idea. Actually, it's so bad an idea that it's almost a guarantee to get it wrong. Web design is fundamentally driven by an opposite force than print design is. With print design, you start with a blank canvas and try to fit your content in it. With web design, you don't have a canvas! All of your readers will provide their own canvas, so you have to take a different approach. Start to define the content you want to see printed, then play with it on a phone, a tablet a huge screen. At that stage only you start do set up "zones" or "areas" that will define the regions of your page (meat, navigation, title, footer, etc.). After that, you will play with them and see how they fit on all the different screens out there. From there, you iterate and define it. And then you put real data in there, and you usually have to start over.

Of course, for a blog it is very simple, since there is so little: Entries, a menu, a title. On more complex websites - think Amazon or eBay - the task if much more difficult. But it's also much more rewarding.

But responsive designs are not only about screens, they are also about other surfaces on which your words could be printed... Yes, printers on dead-wood-paper. If you look at both blog mentioned in my first paragraph and try to print them... Oh my. What a mess.

And mine, well, not much better, if better at all. But at least, I have the excuse of having started my blog last week ;-)

Now that it's in my head, you can be sure I'll get it done by next week.