Responsive Design: Is it Better to Use a Device-Agnostic Approach

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The ever-changing demands of the clients and the urge to bypass the competitors leads to a new set of innovation all round the clock. Technology has advanced in a mind-boggling manner over the last three decades. New techniques have cropped up, the terminology has changed and is on the road to a newer progress. Constant evolution in the web design forte keeps you on your toes and is the main inspiring element in your success for online design and development.

The terms that are currently doing the rounds in the technology circles are device-agnostic and responsive design. With the boom in the mobile devices usage and its affinity for the Internet in demand, web designers and developers are always keen on using the responsive deign in their work. This enables them to adapt their content and design elements to any device. Sometimes both terms are used simultaneously, but labeling the responsive design as a technique using the device-agnostic approach can be an intricate matter.

The main question that surfaces in the minds of the users is:

What exactly is this device-agnostic approach and if at all it is necessary to pin it up with responsive design?

Device-Agnostic: The Meaning

The term responsive design is all over the Web and most of us are aware of the intricacies involved with this design. A device is well familiar with everyone, but what about agnostic?

Well, according to the dictionary, agnostic is defined as “a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.”

Taking this into consideration, device-agnostic stands for a design that is not limited to a particular device. Something that is machine-independent, thus ensuring that the website does not depend on the device it is being loaded on.

The hardware and software that relates to this terminology, is compatible across various systems, requiring no manual modifications and can run on a wide range of devices, laptops and desktops which are much in demand.

Ethan Marcotte, when first coined the term” responsive design,” encrypted “Responsive design is not about ‘designing for mobile’. But it’s not about ‘designing for the desktop’, either. Rather, it’s about adopting a more flexible, device-agnostic approach to designing for the web.” thus, the design is device-agnostic as it emphasizes mainly on the users’ needs and demands, irrespective of the device.

Easier said than done, it’s not all that easy. Recent studies carried out by Google’s Our Mobile Planet 2012, shows that the way a visitor uses and engages with a site differs and depends on the device being used. The environment, the time of the day and other factors collectively known as ‘user context”, were also considered while finding out the result.

Device-Agnostic Approach Vs Mobile-First and Traditional Web Design: The Difference

Considering the device-agnostic approach to web design and particularly responsive design, the scenario differs from the other approaches, as the device becomes secondary in this approach. The content takes the main role. Whereas, the traditional web design, consists more of the framework and the elements of the screen together with framing the content.

The mobile-first phenomenon basically caters to using the design for the mobile-experience category, thereby again focusing on the device.


The terminology device-agnostic elaborates its approach for responsive design and considers to forget about the device. This has a major impact on the sequence of the creation of the web design, with the design, development and creation of content changing their occurrence places. Responsive design, further caters on focusing on content creation, but keeping in mind the device parameters.

Device-Agnostic, Responsive Design and User Content: The Relation

Understanding and anticipating a user’s needs is a very important aspect in designing the effective web pages and content creation. A responsive design that strictly adheres to a device-agnostic approach presents the content in the best possible manner that is suited for the device on the screen. The real question is:

Is this the content that the user was looking for?

Well, the answer seems to be in the negative. Google’s Our Mobile Planet 2012 throws light over the fact that the information accessed and the tasks completed by the mobile users differ and are based on the available device.

Thus, a device-agnostic approach is too good to be true, as it considers to offer a similar user experience and content irrespective of the device. In fact, the design should be adaptive to the device, in nature and should also offer the task, a user mostly wants to perform on that device.

Together with this, anticipation of a user’s needs basically requires to create user content based on the data related to the user’s activities, movements and engagement with the content. Now the question that crops up is:

How to analyze the activity even before presenting the content?

Well, the best approach, you can take is to avert to a “best guess” approach and can start publishing the content. You can then evaluate the user activity and perform the task analysis. Together with this, you can rearrange the project phrases from the typical design, develop, sequential content creation, to a content creation, design and development sequence. This change in the hierarchy focuses the entire perception to elevating the decision-making process about the content.

This might sound easy and a quick-fix solution, but creating a rich website in the modern era might require more than just re-arranging the flow of creation. It might require you to think out of the box and move away from the normal order of site design and simultaneously work upon the content, development and design process.


Filtering the designs on the basis of a device-agnostic approach helps to cater to the current expansion in the usage of mobile devices to access the Internet and thus the term becomes redundant in usage. This methodology is being quickly absorbed within the essential elements of responsive design and there will come a time when it will no longer be needed to give it a separate identification and approach.

The one thing that should be in your mind while designing and developing is that both terms tend to focus on the device, instead of the user. Thus, instead of relaying more stress on the device, the needs of the user should be of utmost importance. A responsive design eases out the user’s decision of performing a specific task, as it provides them with an easy access to the tasks.

Responsive design can be both device-agnostic as well as content reactive, thereby providing optimized content for the device in use. The basic optimization should be a result of the task and content analysis, thereby making the user receive content in the context of the environment.

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Andrew Jhonson is founder of BestPSDtoHTML. He loves creative designs, photography, paintings and everything about innovation. As an Internet entrepreneur, he constantly tries to develop new ways to bring content faster and closer to the end users in a more streamlined way. His main focus lies in inspiring all the designers and develpers with all new ideas through his blogs.

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