I am a former print designer, and I am stubborn. When I took my first tentative steps toward designing for the web, I developed a loathing of designs that flexed and retracted with the browser. On witnessing that massacre of text, I recoiled—from line lengths that stretched between awkwardly short and eye-bleedingly long, from designs that seeped at the seams, all the grace and elegance of their fixed counterparts pouring out in every direction.

I’ve come around, slowly (cf. stubborn, above). But I’ll confess it wasn’t until Ethan started talking about responsive web design that my reform was complete. Because prior to hearing about his framework, I saw fluid design as almost wholly in opposition to the proportions and grids that make design pleasing: I found it nigh impossible to imagine an approach for design in which the beauty of good typography could persist without erecting walls to protect its territory—without ensuring a solid, fixed foundation. As Ethan handily demonstrates in Responsive Web Design, I was wrong: beautiful, typographically rich designs can emerge from flexible roots. Moreover, they should do so; the web is not print, and letting go of the control we used to have, while embracing the beauty of the new medium, is something we must all do, sooner or later.

And Ethan shows us how: not content to merely address the technical requirements of responsive web design, he also delves deep into how we need to think about web design today, what with the web in your pocket and your TV and everywhere in between. An inveterate storyteller, he shows how he arrived at his methods, thereby making them available to us all. Moreover, his writing is also as hilarious as his designs are lovely. (It’s nearly enough to make you hate him.)

It’s been my privilege to edit all of the A Book Apart titles, and none more so than this one: Ethan’s technical chops combine with a witty and clever writing style to make a book that’s both fun and educational. At only 150 pages, its brevity means you can read, laugh, and get back to work—quickly, because the book is far too inspiring to keep you away from your desk for long. Coming as it does after Erin Kissane’s book it establishes another design principle in our list: that of designing for the content before the screen size, recognizing that it is the former that is most important to our users, while the latter continues to diverge.

Responsive Web Design is available now; joining it later this year will be excellent books from Aarron Walter, Luke Wroblewski, and our own Jason Santa Maria. With each new book, the entire list gets better; I can’t wait to see what the next books will teach me.

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Responsive Web Design

Ethan Marcotte

Marcotte’s methods are smart, and his storytelling and guidance even smarter.