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"Responsive Web Design" Book Review

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Ethan Marcotte is excited about Responsive Web Design. I've read his articles, listened to him speak, so I thought I'd read his book and see what else he could possibly have to say on the subject. Quite a bit, as it happens…


Giveaway Winners Announced!

Congratulations to Stephen Eyles and Tommy Saylor, who were picked randomly from the hundreds of entries! We have more book reviews and giveaways in the pipeline, so if you weren't so lucky on this occasion stay tuned and maybe fortune will shine on you next time!

A big thanks goes out to A Book Apart who stumped up a couple of copies to giveaway to Webdesigntuts+ readers.


My Thoughts on the Book

I chose the paperback copy. As much as I love my kindle, I was born before 1990 and will therefore always have a soft spot for well designed print. I'm also a fan of yellow, which made it a no-brainer; I wanted this thing on my non-virtual bookshelf.

That brings me nicely on topic, because it's our relationship with print which has arguably caused this current need for change. We're historically used to designing within the physical boundaries of the printed page, and, as web designers, we've translated that directly to the browser. Issues arise when our fixed-width layouts are viewed in smaller browsers, or devices with smaller resolutions - let's face it, no-one wants to see a horizontal scrollbar on a vertically orientated website.

Ethan Marcotte has a solution (note I didn't say the solution, which he's often misquoted as promoting). By harnessing the power of flexible layouts, in combination with CSS3 media queries, we can selectively tailor our designs to respond to whatever the browser situation might be.


In his book, Ethan walks through his thoughts, gives sound reasons why we should approach things differently and discusses where the web is headed - all the while tempting us further with his cool robotic-themed example website. This is more than a step-by-step guide however, the robot site serves simply to demonstrate each step of the process as he sees it.

responsive web design robot website

We begin by looking at relative measurements and flexible grids. Never quite gotten to grips with ems in web typography? You won't find them more succinctly explained than here.

Once he's converted a static, pixelated .psd into flexible units, he moves onto responsive images. There's a lot to take into account where images are concerned, and there are several approaches in making them responsive to various situations, but Ethan explains things clearly in his approachable style.

The next checkbox comes in the form of media queries. Their origins, purposes and practical uses are covered before we look at applying them to the ever-improving robot website.

We finish off by looking at fallback options (media queries are CSS3 spec when all's said and done) and a couple of things javascript can help us out with when targeting mobile devices.

responsive web design

So that's the meat and veg of the book, but does it do its job of teaching us effectively?

Ethan's good at writing and teaching, and he's a proven designer and coder. Those are all key, though what makes this book so effective is his personality. The factual content of educational literature can be duplicated, but Ethan's sense of humor makes this book uniquely entertaining from start to finish.

What does this mean for you as a student? It means you're going to finish this book without putting it down. Billed as "Brief books for people who make websites" the A Book Apart publications aren't huge. They're to the point, digestible and inspiring. Read Ethan's book and it will change the way you look at your next web design project.


Responsive Web Design is available from A Book Apart
$18 + shipping for Paperback, $19 for eBook, at time of writing.

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