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Repoll! Whose Responsibility is “Mobile” Design?

Published by Chris Coyier

In this first time ever in CSS-Tricks history, we're going to re-run the same poll we've ran in the past. Now, more than five years after the original poll, we're going to ask:

What is your opinion as to the web designers role in mobile design?

If you have to decide where more responsibility lies, you would say:

  • It is my job to make sure the website looks and functions well on mobile devices.
  • It is the mobile devices job to make sure my website looks and functions well.

You can vote from the actual poll on the site. In the sidebar on larger screens, down a ways on smaller screens.

I realize the language is a bit funky here, but I'm trying to keep the question the same so that the difference in data collected is meaningful. I realize that we've expanded our thinking lately and that "mobile" isn't as useful of a word as it used to be (i.e. doesn't cover TV's and game consoles and refrigerators and whatnot). If you'd like, consider the question in the context of that wider array of devices.

I also imagine many people feel it is a combination of responsibility, so choose which you feel the weight of responsibility is higher. Or if equal, abstain from voting.

As I wrote in the last wrapup five years ago about the (now defunct) Adobe Device Central:

I hope I never need to consult this for just regular websites. There are just too many devices all with different screen sizes and capabilities it would just be a nightmare.



  1. Covarr
    Permalink to comment#

    It’s my job, but I feel like it’s an incredibly frustrating job because different mobile browsers don’t render things consistently. It’s one thing to support a variety of devices and screen sizes, but it’s ridiculous the way every mobile browser seems to have a different idea of what an inch is, and needs different CSS resets just to not overflow things in funky ways.

    Mobile browsers are, IMO, about where desktop browsers were ten years ago, not so much in feature support, but in standards-compliance and consistent behavior. Even two webkit browsers won’t render things the same.

  2. Both, obviously. Mobile devices can’t do anything about their connection speeds and physical device size, but they have an obligation to stay as compliant as possible with the latest standards.

    If I have to choose: I’d say right now the developers are behind devices on average. Most sites on the web have no or poor accomodation for device size and type.

  3. I consider it my responsibility because you can’t trust all the devices out there do things right. Web standards get us 80% of the way, but the last 20% is all on us.

  4. knowitall
    Permalink to comment#

    Great to revisit the question! Looking forward to see the results.

    (On a knowitall grammatical side-note: the headline should read »Whose Responsibility is ›Mobile‹ Design?«)

  5. Kevin Rutten
    Permalink to comment#

    Definitely our job, for the most part.
    I mean, mobile browsers “should” render things similarly across the board, without having to resort to browser specific hacks, etc. That could be a long list as to what “we” expect from a mobile browser, and realistically, I don’t see it ever being perfect. Just as desktop browsers iecoughcough have been giving us issues.
    On a different but still relevant note, the amount of work I have gotten in the past couple years for people wanting new websites for mobile compatibility has been awesome.<br/> I’m not complaining. More work for us.

  6. Judging by today’s standards, I think a “Both” option is quite necessary :)

    It’s a combined effort of browser vendors and us Web Designers/Developers to adhere to the standards and best practices.

    As it is, I can’t answer that poll without that option.

  7. Elias
    Permalink to comment#

    Now that there’s a good degree of standarization of mobile browsers and technologies to detect screen sizes using frameworks and common languages (javascript, css, etc.) it’s my responsibility as an “updated” web developer to create websites that comply with standards, look and feel good on most of the devices.

    Come on, its not that hard to focus on the most common devices.. (ie android phones with screen sizes between X and Y, android tablet with screen sizes between X and Y, iphone, ipad(s)).. its not worth it to focus on devices that were made 3 or 4 years ago given the fact that everybody changes its phone every 2 years or less (, so that should make it easier..

  8. If there was a standard would leave to mobile devices.
    Unfortunately, this will not be and we developer are the keystone.
    The same goes for the browser.
    We are waiting for everyone to go in a direction to facilitate our work … but it is not.

  9. Sharikul
    Permalink to comment#

    Great poll, Chris! The web and the devices that display it have changed significantly since 2008 so it’ll be nice to see the results. I personally feel that it’s my job to make sure that my websites look great on mobile devices, and with CSS 3 Media Queries allowing me to do this, I have no excuse.

  10. Looking forward for the results, but I think its my responsibility to make sure that my site looks well on mobile devices.

  11. Ferdy
    Permalink to comment#

    I really don’t see any difference w.r.t. this question between desktop and mobile. In the desktop world we have inconsistent browsers, and there nobody would argue who is responsible for making sure it all works: it’s the developer. The same is true for mobile.

    Of course, it should be said that sometimes it is a shitty deal, and that browser vendors should stick to standards as well. But even if they don’t, it is ultimately our responsibility, for which we have an answer: progressive enhancement.

    • I don’t completely disagree with you, but… …Is it really always the developer’s responsibility for desktops? For example, most American developers in 2013 would say “I don’t support IE7 or worse. If it’s important to you that your site work for IE7, there’s an extra charge.” On more than one occasion, I’ve noticed Opera doing something slightly flaky on a desktop and decided the 1% market share didn’t justify the expenditure of my time and the client’s money to diagnose.

      Today, I define most of my units in px (to accommodate IE8) first, and then rem. But, at some point, I’ll drop the px.

      I understand the logic of Progressive Enhancement, but I can question assuming the worst possible scenario and situations that won’t exist in the future as a starting point. I often see a site in my mind’s eye with box-shadow and border-radius before writing a line of code. Shouldn’t we, as Wayne Gretsky once said, be skating to where the puck is going to be, instead of where it’s been?

    • Karl, the Gretzky comment is perfect!

  12. It is my job to follow standards. It is the mobile devices job to follow standards. Then the only question is how small I let the viewport be before functionality or readability begins to degrade.

  13. Abstaining.

  14. Websites work fine on mobile devices without any CSS. Any issues are a result of the designer/developer writing code that doesn’t work.

  15. Justin
    Permalink to comment#

    I agree with others that there needs to be an option “both.” It’s ultimately the developer’s responsibility because they need to let the client know that if they don’t have the budget for making the design be responsive to all devices, then they need to figure out a way to fit within the budget. But if devices decide to not adhere to standards, then it’s not the developer’s responsibility to own one of those devices to write code to meet that device’s standards.

    But I also don’t like the whole switch to “responsive” design for all devices, because I feel like it’s taking away from creative design in exchange for the 5-15% of visitors coming in through mobile. It depends on the website and type of visitors. And I’ve looked at a lot of my past designs that are not responsive on mobile devices, and they look fine!

    It feels like to me, that the more responsive websites are becoming, the more designs are looking all the same.

    And lastly you always get rogue platforms, like let’s say, oh I don’t know, IE, who decide they’re just going to do their own thing and make everyone conform. It’s still the responsibility of the designer because people are choosing to use that platform, but if every platform did that, it would be a nightmare and websites would cost a lot more to build.

    • I think we all agree “both” have responsibility. But to make this interesting the poll has to be the same as in 2008.

      But I also don’t like the whole switch to “responsive” design for all devices, because I feel like it’s taking away from creative design

      Responsive design doesn’t take away from creative design. Nowhere in the creating fluid grids, using media queries, and having flexible media does it decree that your designs have to be not-creative.

      I feel like it’s taking away from creative design in exchange for the 5-15% of visitors coming in through mobile.

      This site sees less than that. Facebook sees more than half. Stats like that are only relevant on a per-site basis.

      And I’ve looked at a lot of my past designs that are not responsive on mobile devices, and they look fine!

      That’s totally fair. Some sites desktop version does work fine. But then you look again. Does it really? Could that navigation be a little easier to use? Could you pare down the size of the page a bit? Does it make use of any of the unique capabilities of the current device? Fine is fine. Better is better!

  16. Responsive is reality of work in this particular segment of time in this particular segment of space.
    Luckily, I do my own coding, so nobody is to blame. When I design, I just simply design (on old fashioned paper) whatever feels write at the time, and then, when I switch on coding… nightmare begins . When I switch to communication with customer, nightmare turns to nightmare embedded in another nightmare, spiced with browser inconsistencies. Specially if I leave IE conditional stylesheet as last thing to do. Now I’m trying to make checklist for dummies (me), and to really start with mobile first and IE second. If I make it look acceptable in IE, CSS3 will make it great in other browsers,

  17. Permalink to comment#

    I found that it was really interesting to read that wrap-up from 2008 (hard to believe that it’s been 5 whole years!) I remember that when the iPhone first came out, I’m sure that people weren’t even considering responsive design at that point! Perhaps it was that people were so amazed by the iPhone’s browsing experience that they automatically assumed that they could just “pinch-to-zoom” to see the website better. (After all, it was one of Apple’s major selling points…)

    However, since that time period, one might go so far as to say that it was the App-explosion and the App Store (and eventually Google Play) platform that helped responsive sites become more mainstream as people started thinking:

    Hm… I wonder if we could create this app using just web standards so that users don’t just have to use the dedicated app on this specific device.

    Anyways, just my food for thought.

  18. Hello Chris,

    I believe it should be my job to make it mobile friendly but the browser development team also should make it consistent to render the site both on pc and mobile browsers. That way we don’t need to test all the functionality on mobile browser.

    Using many of the articles and code snippet available here on your site, I was able to make my site ABAP Help Blog (zevolving) mobile friendly using CSS media querries. Thanks Much.

    Naimesh Patel

  19. It’s ours, there are many different mobile devices and companies don’t have the incentive to work together to provide the user with a similar experience. At best, we can expect them to co-operate to an extent so that developers can actually provide something to the end user that will be worthwhile.

    Therefore, developers need to be the final critic. You’ll know who your users are better than anyone else through visitor stats, and know what features are important to them now and in the future. With that insight you should know what devices need to be supported and what features should be prioritized.

    Really though it is everyone’s responsibility so the poll is a bit leading. It’s the user’s responsibility to have a mobile device with a Webkit browser, otherwise they should lower their expectations on how well their browsing experience should be (relative to the people in the same social/economic position). It’s the developers responsibility to develop something functional, and that level of functionality is dependent on the mobile device and it’s popularity and the website’s purpose. It’s the mobile device’s responsibility to make profit, and in order meet that responsibility they usually need to comply to some web standard (like w3) and provide support for popular features (pinch to zoom etc).

  20. Permalink to comment#

    I’d say both but more mine.

    It does make you have to rethink things from a creative stance as you’re getting ready to build but not sure how much it “limits” that per say. What’s really required is planning for it from the beginning. If you’re the type of designer who utilizes very heavy graphics and slices and dices full photoshop mock-ups it can be a nightmare. If you use mostly CSS, some jQuery, and select choice graphics you should be fine.

    Liquid designs are something I used from day one and swore never to go static. However I have recently started a new method of static to a nice width then responsive once it gets to a certain size. My liquid sites were just coming out to large for less than 1400×900 screens, windows laptops mainly, and was throwing me off. Then I went way overboard with my first couple responsive go rounds and it just turned out a mess. Had to go back and do a complete clean it up. For those reasons now while I pre-plan for smart phones/tablets I like to have the set size as a base that works for medium to large screens and finish the responsiveness after that is completely to my liking.

    That being said it is tricky when there are so many different sizes to consider and some graphics and other problems persist on hand helds no matter what you do. Most everyone only uses the default browsers anyway and never gets to Dolphin or Opera or Firefox etc, even though they’re better. Shit I bet 80%+ don’t even know they exist.

  21. Permalink to comment#

    It is not the device’s job to magically create mobile views of content only designed for desktops. That’s why I voted “my job”.

    Within a team, however, I don’t think there is a clear distinction of which designer / developer / role should be focused on mobile design. That is, all members of the team probably ought to be “thinking mobile”.

    As Responsive Web Design is extremely content-focused, I don’t know that this particularly flavour-of-the-month approach works at all without major contributions from the team or person responsible for your content. Fobbing RWD over to a designer or developer and expecting to get back something content-agnostic is insane.

  22. Definitely the device’s job. Or at least it should be. Right now it’s the designer’s job but we already have several browsers (on a few operating systems) to work around, we don’t also need to worry about various mobile OSs, OS versions, more browsers, various screen sizes, AND countless devices. Cars aren’t built around crappy roads, websites shouldn’t be built around crappy browsers.

  23. We are talking about the product for that it is our job to take care that the site doesn’t look like crap.
    Device’s Job: Take care and support (all) new standards

    It’s also not a bakers job to take care of well produced flour, he’s just using it like we use the syntax.
    (sorry for bad english :)

  24. Outstanding poll! Looking forward to see the results.

  25. Both of course … software (I get why the wording is the same as the previous poll, but a device as such doesn’t really have a responsibility toward mobile web design – the browsers on the device have) needs to comply to the rules. Mobile browsers still have a long way to go …

    But in the end it’s the developer that has to cater to his audience. I see a few analogies to the real world here (bakers, roads, hockey) but remember that the web isn’t like the real world. The fundamentals of the web revolve around accessibility where choice of browser is considered a fundamental right. It sucks that some browsers behave badly but if you can’t handle that you have no place developing websites.

    So yeah, in the end a site is a developer’s responsibility, mobile or desktop doesn’t really matter.

  26. Yannick
    Permalink to comment#

    It is my job to make sure my mobile site looks great on a mobile device. I cannot ask a phone to properly display something that was designed to fit a 1920×1200 pixel desktop screen.

    I should also not bother trying to bend my site to fit all devices. I should concentrate on one category of screen – big desktop screen – and then, do it all over again for mobile devices.

    Responsive, you say ? Maybe for tablets and phones, definitly not for “one size fits all”, in my opinion. A dedicated mobile site is often better designed than a responsive one. But that is only my €0.02 opinion.

  27. Allon de Veen
    Permalink to comment#

    Some things have to come from both sides…

  28. I think the responsibility is somewhere in between the web designer and mobile devices (mobile browsers).
    I believe the problem is (again) in the browser engine itself. Responsive layout for different screen sizes is now pretty much straightforward, but the BROWSER engine is what’s creating a nightmare.

    An example, on the same device, let’s say an Android tablet, our supposedly “responsive website” looks fine. but wait! Someone who’s using firefox for Android has a completely different opinion, and thinks it looks crappy. Is it about the stock browser anymore? Firefox for Android ? Chrome for Android ? or Dolphin ? We tried looking at it this way, and hell broke loose (even with the help of Modernizr)

    Cheers from Dubai!

  29. CBOsh
    Permalink to comment#

    I wish I’d have seen and had a chance to respond to the earlier poll. Without qualification, then or now, the responsibility rests with me. The device may do a passable job, but it has to deal with a complete spectrum of possible sites, so it’ll never do as good a job as I can for individual single site, because I have knowledge of, and control over its markup.

    Presenting the content in a usable way, on as many platforms as possible, is my responsibility to my client, and creating good mobile – and print – styles within the client engagement are a standard I’ve maintained since 2005. In the “old days”, I used media=”handheld” to load the mobile CSS, which admittedly wasn’t well supported, but that single, extra set of styles did help some visitors with compatible devices.

    Modern support of media queries has been a breath of fresh air — they make it so much easier to present a site to visitors on a variety of mobile devices — and there’s no rational reason I can think of not to custom create a mobile experience, other than a client’s budget constraint.

    Interestingly, I find very few clients who fail to see the value in a good mobile presentation of their Web site, and even fewer who decline to contract for a mobile-friendly site.

  30. norman
    Permalink to comment#

    Not to get New Age Philosophical but, it is never this OR that. It is always this AND that. Creation is made up of paradoxes. Everything is attached and defined by its opposite. up down, big small, in out, man women, positive negative, always 2 sides to a coin but only one coin. So when you say its on us, well don’t we make up the standards? we are our standards. We choose to support IE first, even when they don’t follow the standards. Even when its not us, its us. SO I have to abstain. :-) because it is both.

  31. Crispen Smith
    Permalink to comment#

    It’s on us, not so much to create a pixel perfect copy on each device, but to make sure that there is a good set of behaviors or choreographed changes to allow any device to present the best possible user experience.

  32. Nicklas
    Permalink to comment#

    Why is this asked for mobile design specifically? I think the same answer would apply for designing normal websites. It’s up to the developer to make sure the webpage follows the current standards and have graceful degrading for the non-supporters. It is however impossible to support every little detail on every device.

    I’m really just by how the question is asked. I don’t get the point of it.

  33. Jim
    Permalink to comment#

    Desktop browsers have come so far over the last 10-15 years. It is actually quite painful that we have to repeat all of that iteration, strife and struggle with all the parties involved all over again for mobile. I realize you can target a large portion easily, but why is there no standard browser/standards accepted at least on a similar level as the desktop products. I understand features missing between phones but you get the point I’m trying to make. It’s something that seems to be progressing faster than we did on the Desktop, but it is still annoying to go through this all over again.

    Ultimately it is our job, maybe we need to hammer the vendors more.

  34. peeela
    Permalink to comment#

    I believe the mobile devices are playing much more nicely than in 2008, and as such, web designers feel like they have more control over their design outcomes. Perhaps the 45% in 2008 who felt it was the devices job (browser) to make the site look better will feel more empowered now than they did then.

  35. Nicole Rose
    Permalink to comment#

    It’s definitely on the developer. The whole of web history has been the developer being in charge of creating UI and functional consistency across browser chaos. Why would this change now that there’s another wild card of multi-device UI’s and functionality thrown into the mix.

    Personally, I like this challenge and feel that it really has expanded the role of the developer. Most front-ends are doing some degree of UI engineering and UX architecture when it comes to multi-device experiences. Especially when it comes to using 1 code base for all devices in a responsive setup. The developer is most in touch with the differences between devices and how to address this in the markup, css and js. I don’t want a device doing more than it does now, which is offer to me a range of device-specific viewing and interaction experiences that I can then manipulate.

  36. Evan
    Permalink to comment#

    I think the designer/programmer has a responsibility to not make assumptions about the dimensions of the screen/window they’re building for, and to use generally good design principles, i.e. avoiding hack and ensuring things will degrade gracefully if some feature isn’t well supported.

    I think web browser developers have a responsibility to build software that recognizes the start of the art in web design. It is the user agent’s job to take well-formed code created by designers and do something sane with it. They should not expect platform-specific workarounds for bugs or particular (mis)features they implement that aren’t widely supported. They should, even must, do a better job of making sure their users have up-to-date rendering engines – it doesn’t undermine their ability to market hardware upgrades, but goes a long way to making sure everything works well for most people.

    A missing option(!) for the poll is the standards authorities themselves. The box model and varying behavior of length measurements in different contexts, more than anything in my opinion, makes it difficult to design pages for user agents of vastly different display sizes. Things like better support in the standards for proportional sizing of elements and handling other issues that crop up with touch screens and other aspects of mobile devices are essential. But I guess it’s just sort of taken for granted that the W3C will never be responsive to this stuff…

  37. Evert
    Permalink to comment#

    Right now, “mobile design” simply translates to “different screen sizes”. Responsive design to me has been hyped to a point where it no longer makes sense. We started out in the past with discussions about screens, screenreaders, braille-devices, printers etc. Which nobody thought were “sexy” enough to hype about. But essentially that is what responsive design is. Creating a site or web-app that functions on different types of devices, delivering the same information in a usable way.
    Often people talk about device agnostics, and then give an example of a non-existing or future device (like a refrigirator, or glasses, etc.). The funny thing is, those examples always involve screens in various sizes. I never hear anyone giving an example about holograms or direct-to-brain-stimulation.
    So, I find it very difficult to answer this question. What do you mean by “mobile design”? If you mean presenting the content in a usable way regardless of device be it a printer, a screenreader, a monitor or a holographic projector, then my answer would be the hardware, because they need to be backward compatible (standards compliant). I cannot design for devices I cannot imagine or know about. If you mean who should make it “look” good by making use of the special abilities of each device seperatly, then I would say it is the designers job.

  38. I find the a question: “the mobile device’s job to make sure my site looks good?”
    akin to asking: “is it he road’s job to make sure I walk or drive properly and get to my destination safely and on time?”

  39. Permalink to comment#

    I find if you don’t over-design the page then it’ll usually work on a mobile device with a minimum of effort.

  40. I feel like there should be some consensus on who’s responsibility it is because designing a website for a device becomes very complicated when the browser on the device is trying to adjust the screen size as if it were a larger device.

    So I guess in the end, I want it to be mine so that I can have more control. There’s no way for mobile browsers to know how I want my page to look on a smaller screen unless I tell them.

  41. It’s a two way street…I think it’s the responsibility of mobile device manufacturers and mobile OS developers to stay on track with the latest changes in HTML, CSS, and the like…the less compatible they are with the latest technologies limits designers as to what code they can and cannot use. That being said, older devices will continue to be old and translate code in old-fashioned ways. Good designers should have the ability to tackle compatibility issues so the user gets the best experience possible regardless of which device they use.

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