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What responsive web design is (and isn’t)

There’s been an interesting discussion unfolding on the Mobile First Responsive Web Design group on LinkedIn regarding support for IE 6 and 7.

The discussion can be split into two basic camps:

  1. My clients still get a lot of traffic on IE 6 and/or 7, so support for those browsers is very important.
  2. IE 6 and 7 are really old and aren’t used on mobile devices anyways, so RWD isn’t important for them.

So what do I think? If you aren’t supporting IE 6 and 7, you’re not doing responsive web design. Let me explain…

It’s more than content choreography

When most people talk about responsive web design (or RWD), they’re talking about fluid layouts and shifting content - also known as content choreography. That’s part of RWD, but that’s not what RWD is really about.

Responsive web design is about providing access to content no matter what device or browser a person is using.

Your content should be accessible on everything from an old BlackBerry to a state of the art desktop computer… and yes, even Internet Explorer 6. Of course, supporting older browsers and devices doesn’t mean your site has to look pixel perfect on them.

If you take a truly mobile first/progressive enhancement approach to web development, your site should work on any device running any browser. It may not look as pretty, but it should still function.

And if it doesn’t? Well, it’s not responsive.