For mobile devices the resolution is actually big, only screen size is small. based on that:
- For websites design, do we target screen resolution (e.g 1920x1080)?
- And for mobile apps. do we target the screen size?
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Responsive design is based on neither screen resolution nor screen size. Instead, responsive design is based on the content and how it's made which allows it to fit all sizes and resolutions.
The way you're thinking about responsive design is wrong. I assume you're coming from a more conventional print design background, yes? Designing for the web is much more freeing. Responsive websites don't often have the same, conventional breakpoints or specific sizes/resolutions that they are made for because the web allows for more than that - it allows for all screen sizes to be reached. A such, you can design using whatever sizes is right for what you're designing so long as they are reasonable.
With that being said, the best practice is to design in a mobile-first way, which really should be named mobile-most-important. This forces you to focus on the content that is most important and possible and then allows you do add more for bigger screens instead of forcing you to start with more on large screens then remove things when designing for smaller ones. You can read more about this in my responsive design primer.
But we also have to design in ways that allow for responsivity. The best practice of which is a live example, whether in prototype form or in some wireframing program, not a static document like a PSD. When it comes to the developer side, we should be using responsive units and structuring our code in a way that makes sense.
With that being said, you should put things in terms of pixels, meaning resolution, not screen size.
First, thank you all for the answers and precious guidelines, it sure helped!
Allow me to add my conclusion:
Practically, targeting mobile screen resolution is not a good UX, the resolution is too high for the small screen, fonts will be too small to read, icons will be too small to click, etc.
So, it's better to make the design based on the actual viewport size! This way it's based on what a user can see and feel.
To achieve that in real life, we should add a viewport width meta tag inside the
<head> of HTML documents:
<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">
This tells the browser to render the page with a width equal to the screen width so it makes sure that the HTML page width equals the screen width in terms of pixels. Development then can be easily planned with media queries targeting different mobile viewport sizes (which are kinda close to each other), and will produce more visually clear elements.
Please correct me if I am wrong.
Based on my humble experience I suggest the below steps for better responsive website development:
1- use view-port meta (see top), it will also boost the ranking of the webpage in mobile search results according to google. http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2015/04/faqs-april-21st-mobile-friendly.html
After testing, it appears that adding view-port meta alone will give your website grades in mobile testing tools https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/
2- you might want to consider applying mobile-first approach, it is always easier to go bigger than smaller (depends on how complex your website is)
3- Apply a hybrid responsive system, a mix between adaptive (fluid) and responsive (css media-queries), to accomplish this:
Use percentage for width and horizontal margins/ paddings. (vertical margins can have fixed pixel size if you like.. scrolling is not an issue anymore)
Use em for fonts, this way when you change the font size for the body (or html) in media-query all CSS elements will adapt to that size, using px will make it a nightmare because you have to go for each CSS class and change its font size.
Float div's to the left so they align correctly to available space (or right if your design require so).
4- Define the break points, use a responsive testing tool for that. I use firefox responsive design view, simply narrow the width until you reach the point where the website become faulty (e.g. 500px), that is a break point mark it down.
Apply the new CSS rules inside the media query for that break point (500px),
5- remember to preserve website quality and clarity! if elements becomes unclear and too close to each other, then expand elements width to occupy container width and make them stack vertically,
and remember to give a new font-size for the body so all sub-elements inherit a bigger font and become more readable.
6- Repeat the responsive test and define your second break point, Most likely you will not get many break points because we are using fluid design here and that is where using percentage's will payback!
I worked on a big website with heavy design elements before and it only required 2 media queries :)
Hope that will help
Great question indeed!
Just some thoughts here commenting a bit the contradictions we are facing today.
The technology is not what it should have being since ages.
We all should be designing based on real life units (or percived size), with some degree of flexibility and freedom to let the user do some aditional adjustments.
But to know the real life measurements we need both information. Phisical dimensions and Device resolution = pixel density.
But it turns that just some years ago, screen devices are starting to declare the pixel density. And some do not declare it to the server, just make a lot of publicity about it. (Aka Ipad, Iphone)
The display resolution can be detected by the operating system becouse it is imperative to send a signal accordingly, but for screen real life size we need a huge database of each model. Not good.
That leave us with just this screen resolution that it is some info that we can know.
But it is totally different to design for a big FullHD monitor than the same resolution on a mobil device. Both 1920x1080. Ouch.
A special case is that on projectors, becouse we have no clue of the projecting distance and viewers distance.
A partial solution are the media queries, and vector elements, etc.
For webdesign: At least untill we find something better.
Fluid design (percentages) and natural flow, well defined sections.
with media query probably at 1280
and/or at 1024
probably at 720
with device detection for aditional support.
For mobile native apps
As it is very specific, just follow the brand's gidelines, regarding UI and Icons.
Why choosing a small screen resolution on a FullHD mobile device?
A smartphone has a real resolution of FullHD but normally it is declaring a small resolution to the server and browser. You can test this googling https://www.google.com/search?q=what+is+my+screen+resolution so the media queries work.
How a responsive page reflows is based on the dimensions of the viewport (not screen) in virtual pixels (not real pixels).
On a traditional desktop where 1 virtual pixel = 1 real pixel, if your browser is set to 1000px in width, then the page will reflow to fit that.
On an iPhone 6, where 1 virtual pixel (Apple calls these points) = 3 real pixels, the browser width is the screen width and the content would reflow to fit the 417px width (even though that is actually 1242 real pixels)
So it is a bit weird, in that with the above examples, the device with the fewer real pixels actually be seen as a wider viewport in a responsive layout.