Book Review: Responsive Web Design


Ethan Marcotte’s Responsive Web Design is an example of what can happen when an incredibly intelligent person is allowed to write in their own voice about a technique that they not only firmly believe in–but that they are using every day. It’s a compact book but Ethan manages to fill it full of plenty of information and he does so in a conversational, often humorous tone that will make you laugh at one sentence and then force you to thoughtfully ponder the implications of the next.

Ethan doesn’t present RWD as an end-all-be-all approach. He simply presents it as a potential solution (a good one). In his own words:

…more than anything, web design is about asking the right questions. And really, that’s what responsive web design is: a possible solution, a way to more fully design for the web’s inherent flexibility.

He does discuss the three main ingredients he laid down in his original article (flexible images, media queries and fluid grids) but he goes beyond that and acknowledges some of the initial concerns people had about the approach, and introduces some methods to potentially fix those trouble spots. Rightfully, he cautions “these aren’t problems with responsive design in and of itself–we just need to rethink the way we’ve implement it.” In his own delightfully humorous and approachable way, he challenges you not just to take a more responsive approach to your design, but to do so with a great deal of care and thoughtful consideration.

The final chapter is chock-full of topics I would like to see discussed in a bit more detail: responsive assets, context, and mobile first (which will be fleshed out in more detail in Luke’s upcoming book) for example. That’s not intended to be a slight in anyway to this book–the excellent A Book Apart series is intended to be concise and get you back out and working with your newly acquired knowledge and the content Ethan covers fits the book, and the spirit of the series, perfectly. This is just me being greedy and pining for a sequel of sorts.

It’s a bit sad to think about, but after all these years, we are just now starting to really embrace the web for what it is–a truly flexible and malleable medium. I don’t think it is out of line for me to suggest that Ethan’s book will soon be viewed in the same light as books such as Jeffrey Zeldman’s Designing with Web Standards–as a book that challenged the way we practiced our profession and helped to push us forward.

To make a long story short, you would be doing yourself an absolute disservice by not buying this book. It lives up to the hype and then some.