Book Review: Responsive Mobile Design

When it comes to writing about food, some books marketed as cookbooks and really just catalogs of recipes, and other books are about food but have lots of recipes as well. Responsive Mobile Design (and at Amazon), by Phil Dutson, is a cookbook of the second sort, about responsive mobile design that has lots of recipes.

I never really did get the cookbook format for computer books; the few I’ve bought I’ve inevitably answer a few questions, but I never really read them cover to cover. Phil Dutson’s book is different — not only are there lots of clear examples and how-you-should-go-about-doing-this kinds of things, but there’s lots of information about responsive design, and modern design for the web in general. As such, it worked really well — Dutson introduces a topic, talks about it in very specific terms, and then looks at specific points that require closer attention with technical examples or pointers to frameworks. There are lots of examples, and lots of figures showing the output of the examples, so you can really see what he’s talking about.

The book begins with some general observations about web design and content, which though lightweight technically, are a welcome reminder that it’s all too possible to create a technically excellent site that wouldn’t interest anyone. From there, he moves on to discussing basic layout principles with grids, tables, and measurement, before getting into the details of media queries and typography. There’s a whole section (three chapters) on how to make multimedia responsive, and then five more chapters on the specifics of tuning the performance of mobile web site, looking at everything from server choices to optimizing JavaScript and measuring performance with modern browsers. Dutson provides a clear, engaging style throughout; I planned on pacing myself by reading a couple of chapters a night to let things sink in, and frequently moved on to a third or even fourth chapter before stopping.

I got a lot more out of the book than I expected, and I had pretty high hopes to begin with. If I had to name a fault of the book, it’s that I’m not sure how well it will age in some regards. Dutson is very good about discussing proposed standards and differences between browsers, which should hold up well. However, he often provides pointers to frameworks, and it’s not clear how many of these frameworks will be around or kept relevant in the two-to-four year lifespan of a printed book. On the other hand, having those pointers and a summary of what’s available is great — if you’re just getting started setting up a site, it’s nice to know the pros and cons of the various packages you can start with. So I think his decision was the right one, and it may mean a little more time with Bing or Google once the book’s been out for a while.

If you’re at all curious about what makes a modern web site tick, or if you’re presently engaged in working on responsive sites, this is definitely a book to have.

Leave a Reply