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Issue: 63 - Mar 14, 2014
One-Size-Fits-All Web Sites: Not Always a Genius Move
By: Joe Dysart
Joe Dysart

While often ballyhooed as a panacea for the wide variety computing screen sizes veterinary Web sites must accommodate, one-size-fits all Web sites are actually a trade-off that sometimes end up being more trouble than their worth.

The problem: these ‘responsive Web sites,’ as they’re known – or sites that auto-sense a device’s screen size, and then respond by reconfiguring text and graphics to fit that screen size - often render on desktop PC’s with ridiculously large text and other over-blown, tedious features.

“I have been to many Web sites by big companies and they have not adopted for responsive design,” says Sean B. Jamshidi, owner, DesignFacet (, who has been designing Web sites for decades and has little love for responsive Web design. “There must be a reason why.”

The impetus behind the approach makes sense. Web designers using responsive design take great pains to ensure that anything that appears on traditional-sized Web site will look good on the smallest of screens – even a smartphone. 

Says Rupinder Dhariwal, co-founder, Creative Cranes (http://www.creativecranescom), a Web design firm:  “We are heavily pushing responsive Web sites to our new clients and updating a lot of existing sites to include this functionality.”

Plus, by sticking with one Web site for all screen sizes, vets can generally save on Web design costs - as compared to attempting to maintain one site for desktops and laptops, a second for tablets and a third for smartphones.

“Updates are also easier to apply to versions for all screen resolutions, since there is no need to work on multiple website versions,” says Michael Dobkowski, president, Glacial Multimedia, a Web design firm.

And a single Web site generally translates into higher rankings on the search engines, given that all the traffic to your practice goes to one location on the Web. Split up your presence with three Web sites – traditional, tablet and mobile – and search engines like Google will split the traffic ratings to your presence on the Web three ways. 

“I have been building responsive sites for a year already,” says Edwin James Lynch, manager, Geoffrey Multimedia, a Web design firm that updates Web sites for universities. “They work everywhere.”

Also, some big guns in the tech industry – including Google – are ‘all in’ when it comes to responsive Web design. 

“Many Web site marketing firms had provided a minimalist mobile Web site in addition to a site designed to be viewed on a desktop, prior to the rise of responsive design,” says Dan Goldstein, president, Page 1 Solutions (, a Web design firm. “While Google had originally stated that this was a good option, more recently Google has made clear that responsive is better.”  

Adds Cyndi Miller, CEO, Miller Public Relations, which offers Web design as part of its services: “Responsive Web development is our current standard of practice for our clients. It’s not an upcharge or an add-on. It is part of every Web design package we offer. That’s how vital we believe it to be.”

Even so, generally speaking, the problem dealing with the ‘tyranny of the tiny’ – or ensuring that every Web site design looks good on the smallest of smartphones – is that responsive sites often render as ridiculous monstrosities on desktops and laptops, and are often difficult to use on bigger screens.

In addition to poster-sized headlines, you’ll often find that responsive Web sites make generous use of wide swaths of blank space – space that you must scroll through with repeated spins on your mouse when using a desktop PC - but often looks just fine on a smartphone. 

Plus, responsive Web sites that need to feature a great deal of text also often look more like train wrecks than anything else on a desktop. 

One glaring example: on a desktop PC, the text on a responsive Web often runs the full length of a 23” screen, so it will shrink down nice-and-tidy when viewed on a smartphone screen. For the mobile user, that’s convenient, since the responsive Web site reconfigures text margins to fit a palm sized screen. But for the desktop user, trying to read a sentence 23 inches long is not nearly as much fun – unless you’re a giraffe.

Says Russel Uresti, a Web developer with Schoology (, a learning management system, who is an avid advocate of responsive design: “Often, so much emphasis is made about mobile devices and making the site look good on a phone or tablet that designers will overlook extremely large monitors and fail to design for them.”

Incredibly, the scores of designers championing responsive Web design are either unaware of the unacceptable usability they’re creating for desktop and laptop users – or they’re silently willing to sacrifice desktop and laptop usability in the name of the iPhone and related trendables.

“It kinda becomes a fanatical point of view that they keep about their work,” says Design Facet’s Jamshidi. “They design more for themselves than for the client.

Media Queries (, for example, an ever-expanding gallery of what many responsive designers consider to be the best and brightest that responsive Web design has to offer, in fact showcases dozens of examples company Web presences that when viewed on desktops, are simply bad.

The Republic of Quality (, for example, a Web design and marketing firm whose site is featured prominently on Media Queries as a shining example of responsive Web design done right, is actually emblematic of everything that is wrong with the design approach.

Visit the home page for the company, and you’ll find bloated text and graphics that look better suited for a children’s book than for a company trying to market to other businesses.  Click for more detail to the sites “Our Projects,” page, and you’ll find text that runs the full length of a 23” desktop screen. Plus, you’ll be treated to one-sentence project descriptions that take four times longer to read on a desktop than they normally should because the text and line-spacing is unnecessarily gigantic.

Ditto for The Republic of Quality’s Blog: If you like blog’s that look more like posters on a desktop PC, you’ll love this blog. Otherwise, not so much.

Meanwhile, you’ll find similar, unnecessarily overblown text and graphics at another Web site showcased by Media Queries as the ideal of responsive Web design: the site for The Next Web ( Ironically enough, the Next Web is a magazine, conference and education company that reportedly stays on the ‘bleeding edge’ of where the Web is headed.

Other designs heralded by MediaQueries that leave many desktop users scratching their heads: Build (, a site for a Microsoft-sponsored trade show, Paid to Exist (, a personal growth site, and Modo Design Group (, a Web design firm.

When challenged by desktop and laptop users regarding usability, champions of responsive Web design often insist that bad responsive Web design in more an indictment of the designer behind the Web site – rather than the responsive Web design method.

“RWD, like anything, can be done well or it can be done poorly,” says Milligan College’s Parker.

Responsive Web design proponents also maintain that given the frenzied proliferation of smartphones and tablets, mobile is the de facto standard. The days of desktops and laptops are numbered, they say. And any rational designer, they insist, most proceed with a ‘mobile first’ strategy. 

Unfortunately, on that point, the statistics tell a starkly different story. Deloitte (, the market research firm, predicted that for 2013, more than 80% of all the surfing on the Web would be done on desktop and laptop PCs, according to Jolyon Barker, managing director of global technology, media and telecommunications at Deloitte.

Put another way: Sure, there are plenty of people with smartphones tagging the Net for a minute-or-so while waiting in line for their latte at Starbucks. But any serious and substantial use of the Web will continue to be overwhelmingly done on desktops and laptops.

Bottom line: The next time a Web designer shows up at your office promising to build you a state-of-the-art, responsive Web site that will deliver a consistent and optimized user experience across the wide variety of devices and platforms that Web surfers use, make sure you read the fine print.

Fortunately, if you’re reading it on a responsive Web site, it’ll most likely be the size of a wooly mammoth.

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.

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IMAGE:  Responsive design is not “an upcharge or an add-on, it is part of every Web design package we offer,” says Cyndi Miller, CEO, Miller Public Relations