Embracing fluid responsive design

Thinking of type and space in responsive palettes

Two decades ago, as we embarked on our voyage from the comfortable, predictable shores of print design to the fluid and ever-changing open seas of the World Wide Web, John Allsopp encouraged the acceptance of “the ebb and flow of things”. Ten years later, Ethan Marcotte coined the term “responsive web design”, kickstarting a seismic shift from fixed-width desktop sites – and their separate mobile counterparts – to single codebases of flexible design.

Read more about this approach
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Design and develop rapidly

Use a handful of related rules, building the system, not every permutation of its contents at arbitrary breakpoints.

Create bespoke constraints

Ensure consistent and harmonious designs.

Streamline communication

Improve communication and collaboration between design and development


The promise of Utopia

One way to ensure our designs feel at home on more devices is to add more breakpoints, enabling more nuanced design tweaks at more screen sizes. This comes with the cost of a more laborious design process, more mockup generation, more code, and more documentation.

Another way is to lean into the fluidity of the medium, recognising this perceived limitation as the advantage it truly is. Instead of tightening our grip by loading up on breakpoints, we can let go, relinquishing some of that control and allowing the medium to share the load. We can embrace the ebb and flow with a more fluid and systematic approach to our design foundations.

  • Design and develop rapidly

    Use a handful of related rules, building the system, not every permutation of its contents at arbitrary breakpoints.
  • Create bespoke constraints for your projects

    Ensure consistent and harmonious designs with streamlined communication and collaboration between design and development.
  • Visualise the invisible

    Componentise responsive space, codifying its implementation and behaviour.
  • Swap jarring breakpoint jumps for buttery-smooth interpolation

    Programmatically tailored type and space scales for every screen size.

Thinking this way encourages the curation of a system small enough to be held in short-term memory, rather than one so sprawling it must be constantly referred to.

James G – Digital Designer

Fluid type scales

An example

Scale step @min (320px) @max (1140px)
5 52.25 73.24
4 43.55 58.59
3 36.29 46.88
2 30.24 37.50
1 25.20 30.00
0 21.00 24.00
-1 17.50 19.20
-2 14.58 15.36