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Should Users Have the Option to Switch Off Responsive Design?

By Craig Buckler

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There are few reasons not to use a Responsive Web Design. Unless you have the time, budget and inclination to develop a separate mobile site or app, RWD techniques can assist your users on mobile and older devices.

But what if a user doesn’t want a mobile-optimized view of your site?

This question has been discussed by industry giants including Bruce Lawson and Roger Johansson. The possible reasons include:

  1. The user regularly uses the desktop site but becomes disorientated in mobile view.
  2. The mobile website hides content or features the user wants to use (admittedly, that may be bad design decisions but many sites do exactly that).
  3. Modern smartphone browsers render desktop sites reasonably well and a user prefers scanning and zooming.
  4. It would allow developers or support personnel to view desktop layout issues when using a mobile device.
  5. Shouldn’t the user be able to select what’s best for them?

On the plus side, the concept appears to tick usability boxes and providing options is a good thing.

Or is it?

How many people would understand the switch? How many would use it? In my experience, non-technical users prefer fewer choices and, ideally, want the software or someone else to select what’s best for them. In addition, could they hit “switch to fixed layout” then find it difficult to revert to mobile view.

I’m sure there will be some good use cases but, personally, I think RWD offers more compelling advantages to the majority of users than disadvantages to the minority.

Perhaps this is a real issue users have encountered with your site? Or perhaps this is an over-engineered solution looking for a problem? I’m leaning toward the latter, but would love to hear your views…

Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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