Responsive Design & Other Terms You Need to Know

Anyone who has worked in web design for a while knows that trends come and go rather quickly. If you aren’t familiar with the latest technologies, techniques and terms you are going to look outdated in a field as fast moving as this one, and that is a sure way to turn off potential clients and job offers.

If you look at some of the industry-leading web design firms out there, one thing can be assured; they all make an effort to stay on top of what is hot in web design right now. Down the road, some of these terms will likely become obsolete; however, for the near future these are some of the things you need to be familiar with in order to be recognised as being at the top of your game.

Responsive Design

Mobile dominates the web right now, and this can be attributed to the 1 billion plus smart phones sold over the past ten years. As web designers, the saturation of smart phones really changed the game. Now, sites needed to be designed so that they could be viewed on a standard screen as well as the smaller screens of mobile device users without losing any of the user interactions.

That is where responsive design came into play. By making use of flexible layouts and flexible images the site would determine the size and orientation of a screen through the use of media queries, and scale the content, elements and layout accordingly. Essentially, the site “responds” to the visitor’s environment and provides a high-quality user experience regardless of screen size.

As a web designer, responsive design plays an important role because not only does it promote good usability, but it is essential in helping sites rank well with the search engines as shown by Google in their February, 2015 blog post on Webmaster Central Blog that stated, “we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.”


Before the mobile device explosion, visitors navigated websites using a mouse or even their keyboard. Smart phones and tablets took these peripherals out of the equation and left users to navigate with their fingers on the screen. As small navigation buttons and tiny text links are hard to click with the tip of your finger, web designers need to think outside of the box; hence the gesture.

Instead of larger buttons that take over vital screen real estate, the trend is to create tall websites that the visitor can easily scroll through or navigate with the flick of their finger across the screen. Instead of clicking a button or rolling the wheel of a mouse, a few gestures of the finger will navigate the user through a modern website on a mobile device.

Forward-thinking web designers build sites with gesture navigation in mind for the sake of their visitors. When users are forced to click small areas they often become frustrated as they inadvertently click the wrong area or even have trouble clicking anything at all. Opting for a page that allows visitors to easily navigate to what they are looking for keeps them happy, engaged and coming back.

Digital storytelling

Content is always the most important part of a website, so finding new ways to deliver content to your visitors is essential because no one wants to be presented with a wall of text on their screen to read. Visitors want to be engaged and entertained, and digital storytelling is one way to accomplish that.

The concept is often used to help easily explain difficult concepts or to make content more memorable. It starts with developing a good story around your content, and then the magic happens on the website. Using HTML, CSS and sometimes a bit of JavaScript, you create animations, motion and interactions that help drive the story to better present your content. Often used with digital storytelling is parallax scrolling, a web design technique in which the background moves at a slower pace than the foreground to create a three-dimensional appearance.

Digital storytelling has a place in web design because people are always looking for ways to better present their content to visitors. Having the ability to build exciting and interactive websites to make a story more exciting will be paramount as a web professional.

Modular design

Responsive design often divides a web page into a fluid grid so that elements move between areas as the screen size is compressed. Modular design takes the grid-based approach as well by partitioning the screen into scalable, reusable modules that often look like cards or tiles on the page. Sites like Pinterest and Instagram rely on this trend, as do many other sites, because it presents a clean, organised look that is extremely friendly to responsive design.

Outside of it being so responsive-friendly, modular design doesn’t have many more functional benefits for designers. Instead, it is more aesthetically pleasing since content is easily compartmentalised and organised, with each piece fitting into its individual module on the screen.

Unlike many of the trends that come and go in the world of web design, those discussed here build the foundation of where the web is going. With a focus on mobile-first design and a return to good user experience, understanding these terms and how you can put them to work will not only keep you current in the industry, but will also help you build sites that take the fundamentals of good design and expand them into something beautiful and functional.

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