Responsive design has totally ruined desktop web experience (rant)

I’ve been in web design and development business since 1996 and have I have seen numerous web design trends come and go, some more useful, some less, but until recently they all had some coherence, style and overall general usability in them.

But in the past few years I’m becoming more and more frustrated by what responsive (mobile-friendly) web design is doing to the desktop web experience.

I mean if I look at what an average responsive design looks like on a desktop, in comparison to what it looked 5 years ago, the responsive design is usability crap; – big colorful buttons (intended for 5-year old kids?) taking over the entire screen, much too large font sizes to read normally, flat stupid looking icons, normal text menus being replaced by menu icons with fast food names, huge photos replacing all other creative design ideas… and to make it worse, all websites have started to look more or less the same!

Sure, it looks nice and useful on mobile devices, but the desktop web experience unfortunately went down the drain and is much worse than what it was just a few years ago…

Do you as a desktop user and designer feel the same or have you fully embraced this new trend?


I’m not sure how you equate responsive design, with the faults you mention. Big buttons? Huge photos (lazy) instead of putting in extra effort with cool design ideas? Yeah, that’s not RWD…that’s the designers being lazy and not having imagination. Usability/accessibility? Still the developers fault. RWD doesn’t restrict your design…

The only thing I can think of, that you meant, is the extra effort RWD needs (really almost no effort, but some people do it very wrongly which makes it very difficult) and that extra time takes away from the usability, accessibility, and design of the page. If that’s what you meant, then that still falls on the developer, because it should be almost no extra effort to make it responsive.

Frameworks are contributing to websites looking the same, but also I do agree many look the same.

Overall…RWD is not at fault for your issues.


I totally agree!

What can we say or do?


I agree with most of @RyanReese’s observations.

Oh, I laughed at the hamburger icon reference.

The design aesthetic changes over time. Remember poofy hair and paisley prints in the '80s?

Good design is tough and labor-intensive.

So many clients say, “I want my site to look like this”, and we can do it with a template. Few web designers are making the money from local clients.

Finally, build-your-own products and CMS templates are affordable for small business owners too.

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Well, my secret mastermind plan was to start an online campaign where we would set up notification windows on all websites we control, with the following message:

“This site is best viewed on a REAL computer. You know… the thing with a large monitor and a keyboard attached to it.”

But on the other hand it’s kind of a loosing battle, so next to complaining about it, we’ll probably just have to wait for this design trend to move on… as luckily all trends do.

But during that time we can still do our best to be as best designers as we can be and try not get sucked totally into this big-fonts-big-buttons-big-photos-hamburger trend.


I agree with you that the current web design trend is not entirely RWDs fault and that RWD could still be used to design useful websites in a much different manner.

So yea… maybe it is the lazy designers fault and their current obsession with making websites that are primarily mobile-devices friendly and screw the desktop user.

Now I remember being able to use most websites without having to think much about it. “Don’t Make Me Think!” used to be a holy rule in web design? Where did that go? As when I visit most trendy designed websites today I’m like WTF??

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It’s not ANY of RWDs fault. Example: In the olden days, let’s say you could only get steak off the fire by using your bare hands. RWD brings you gloves or a spatula. Now you are fat, and now you die.

“Yeah, screw RWD for giving us the ability to get fat and die! Even if they meant well!”

That’s ENTIRELY what it is. Responsive web design does not do ANYTHING to inhibit designers or developers. It merely BRINGS tools to the table. It does not TAKE anything away.

Well, I wouldn’t say “screw the desktop user”…the sites are still decent and do their job. Even if they aren’t to your liking :slight_smile: .

There’s a desire to be unique; standout, and bring that WOW factor. That results in KISS not being used :wink: .

This is 100% not RWDs fault at all. This is the developers fault. Blame them for being lazy.

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The very principle of RWD is to make a site work well on any device.
If done well, it will. If done wrong, it won’t.
RWD is a good thing.
How people implement it isn’t always good.


Don’t confuse design trends with functional improvements. RWD means for most web developers that the horizontal scrollbar doesn’t ever need to appear. Which is just someone getting their jollies off media queries.

(“real” responsive design works on the idea of sending the least amount of BS to anything with a mouse-turd-sized screen, because unless we can measure, we’re assuming mouse-turd screens are running on batteries, have crappy low-power CPUs, and are attached to crappy networks and slow speeds and lots of outages… so images, scripts, fonts and other garbage need close regulation. However, this seems to not be the case with most sites claiming to be “responsive”-- instead, they just mean the web page is squishy when you shrink your browser window)

The design you’re talking about is a combination of Apple styles, Microsoft Metro’s “flat” styles (not that they invented it, but they popularised it), and nowadays it’s Google’s Material design, which mostly appears to be an overuse of SVGs and the Metro “flat” look but then with super-subtle drop shadows that half your users will probably miss anyways, combined with a strange belief that people need flat interfaces to appear more 3D, despite the fact that they still feel pretty flat to the touch, rendering the whole idea a bit moot…

Also a “minimalist” blog style has been going around, popularised by a couple of Turdpress themes (thanks deathshadow for that term), and more recently by sites like These are mostly a large header image followed by a single column of large, readable text. I believe some of us know that large header image as the “12MB image of someone smiling at a salad” as described in a tweet by @wilto.

I’ll argue with you about the large readable text and even the kindergarten buttons-- users with crappy eyes and crappy motorics are so happy they finally have text they can actually read (instead of that 11px Arial crap designers have been foisting on us all these years) and buttons we can mostly hit even if we’re kinda sh*tty using pointing devices (the bright candy colours and the flat “unclickable” look are another matter).

…though I do know of one visual impairment that does worse with larger text, that being where your vision is restricted by a “tunnel”, or peripheral vision is low. In those cases, larger text can make it difficult for the user to see an entire word if it’s somewhat long.

So mostly what you’re seeing is what we call a “trend”. Responsive design as it is right now might also be a trend the way WAP sites were, but the idea of a design that doesn’t care too much about screensize is probably going to stick around, and not really worth hating since it gets rid of (usually painful) horizontal scrolling thing.


Hi M, Thats ok if I’m allowed to zoom out the text. But too often designers use various tricks to block me from zooming text in their perfect poc. Even in a desktop browser I’m forced to zoom images too so those crap designs doesn’t skew. We are talking major companies here, like iirc MS presenting its new browser to mobiles they guess.

I’m happy to have the pleasure reading your accessibility points again.


But can we really assume that? I mean we probably could if this was early 2000s, but today computer screens, battery life, CPU speeds, internet speeds are more than suitable to handle large amounts of almost anything that can be thrown at it.

Yes, that’s exactly the style/trend I had in mind.

But they were able to read web text before this huge fonts mania started. On the design end this was called Accessible Design for Users With Disabilities and was even inlawed in some countries. All the user had to do was exercise browser controls to increase font and icons size as needed.

And I’ll argue that for most users 11px or 12px still much easier to read than 21px+. Look at most of the books or newspapers in print – they almost univerally use 11-14px font which is optimal for most readers.

I for one had no problems with most sites until recently, but with this huge fonts trend I’m forced to reduce the size of fonts on almost every other site to make it more readable (and my peripheral vision is fine).

Optimizing for minority, while hurting the majority is bad design.

Let’s hope so! :slight_smile:

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It’s funny how differently things can be seen. Although I agree that there is a sameness to everything at the moment, I really like the simplified, linear inferfaces that are popular right now. Designs of old, with all their clutter, were confusing and ugly imho. The only thing I dislike is sites that don’t clearly indicate what they are for or how to navigate them, but there seems to have been a big improvement in that recently.

Something like this, for example, looks fantastic to me, and is a clear and direct way to present content: I’d much prefer to look at that on my 27" iMac than a mess of sidebars, menus and whatnot.

Like others said, your rant is not RWD default and it lies on the developer. However, the philosophy behind RWD is something that I don’t quite agree with. The philosophy is 1 View Source code for multiple end-devices. From the cover, this sounds very good but what about testing? Your fix for phone view may break pc view. Also, who’s to say that phone/table view must have all the functionality of pc view? That’s like asking we want all the RC vans features w/ 50" LCD TV has into a bike. Personally, I don’t think that makes sense. Unless the application is very simple, I would not implement RWD and go w/ individual view technology that can dictate it’s own features and how the user should navigate. Thankfully, I didn’t had to do RWD yet :smile:

What? No. How can a mobile media query interfere with desktop?!

Noone. Noone argues that.

[quote=“sg707, post:13, topic:189922”]
Personally, I don’t think that makes sense.
[/quote]You’re right. You agree with many others. Noone is arguing that it must be identical.

I see…

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who’s to say that phone/table view must have all the functionality of pc view

Consumers, for one, want most or all of the functionality from the desktop view on their mobile device. And users are the reason those sites exist, so…

Your fix for phone view may break pc view.

As @RyanReese says, if RWD is being done properly, there should be no broken “desktop view” compared to your “mobile view”

“This site is best viewed on a REAL computer. You know… the thing with a large monitor and a keyboard attached to it.”

That’s ridiculous, from a developer’s viewpoint. Have you seen any recent statistics on mobile devices? Most sources I’ve seen agree that they’re either equatable with traditional desktop/laptop usage, or have surpassed them. It’s a matter of developing for the market before us.

And as others have said, the issues you have are design related annoyances, against design choices, but have nothing to do with RWD itself. Personally, I don’t mind a lot of the recent design trends mentioned in this thread, and many of them are not “usability crap” but are tailored for usability, and for accessibility in some cases.

the desktop web experience unfortunately went down the drain and is much worse than what it was just a few years ago…

I couldn’t disagree more.


It definitely can affect all the views if you change any code. There will be a specific code for each view but some will be shared. Such as ItemView. Say in PC, the tooltip is broken and fixed it. This could in turn break tooltip on phone view. Put it simply, there’s going to be more testing involved for any coding changes. Of course, there is an automated solution to test…but setting such a environment could be very challenging and time consuming. As for asking a full feature on phone really depends on the complexity of the applications. For emails, this is considered simple. Consider say Online Code Review Tool. I certainly don’t want to do code review on my phone… At most, I just want to see the status of Code Review requests and comments posted by other teammate… Something tells me that this is a really bad example… but I’m hoping you get my point.

It definitely can affect all the views if you change any code.

You probably do know more than @RyanReese, who I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) does do RWD pretty regularly, about RWD, then? :wink:

I think the point here is that as long as your RWD is done correctly, there should be no real risk of “messing up one view” with changes to “another view” especially since that’s still the wrong mindset - there is no “phone view” and “desktop view” if the site is truly responsive. There might be breakpoints where there are media queries, but hopefully more than those two :smiley:

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If this thread was called ‘Annoying design fads have totally ruined my web browsing experience’, then that would be fair enough. But pinning the blame onto RWD is just nonsense, I know words to this effect have already appeared here, but the message does not seem to be sinking in.
You could blame developers who think mobile first and desktop second when designing a site, but I don’t think that is universal, nor should it be.
Personally I’m a desktop man, I don’t care much for tablets or browsing on my phone. But in creating websites I would not ignore the fact that a growing number of web users are into moblie devices and should be catered for if a site is to be successful.
In converting websites that were originally in a rigid design to a fluid RWD I have aimed to keep the desktop view just like the original. Even for someone like me who is not a full-time or pro web-developer and a relatively new convert to the concepts and methods of RWD, it wasn’t that hard to do once you grasp the basics. I found that the compromise comes (for obvious reasons) at smaller sizes when there is less space to play with.
So maybe I could be guilty of ruining people’s mobile experience with RWD, by putting desktop first. :smile:

I mean if you do it wrong, sure…Otherwise, no there is no possible way. But then I’d just blame you for doing it poorly in the first place.

Again, if you do it wrong, sure it will be like that.

Get proficient, and it’s like tying your shoes.

I do RWD literally every day, to confirm. I think might have a bit more insight into this subject.


You trying to tell us you know more than someone who has ‘Thankfully’ never had to do RWD?