Five Years Ago Today: Responsive Web Design’s Debut

Ethan Marcotte

It was five years ago today, Ethan Marcotte taught the web to play…nicely with all kinds of devices in all kinds of contexts. And he did it live on stage at An Event Apart Seattle 2010.

At the time, Ethan was already widely known and respected as a designer and front-end developer for his work with Airbag and Happy Cog. He had gained further fame by co-authoring Designing With Web Standards 3rd Edition with An Event Apart’s Jeffrey Zeldman, Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design with Dan Cederholm (later of Dribbble fame), and Professional CSS: Cascading Style Sheets for Web Design with a host of brilliant web designers and developers. But all of those achievements were a mere prelude to what Ethan did on An Event Apart’s stage on April 6, 2010.

For on that day, he made the earth move. After that day, nothing in web design or development would ever be the same.

Ironically, several of his fellow presenters at that show came close to presenting the very idea that was the focus of Ethan’s talk. An Event Apart’s Eric Meyer gave a presentation that showed how media queries could be used to help layouts adapt to non-traditional (i.e. mobile) browsing devices. So did Dan Cederholm. So, too, did Andrew Clarke. Four great minds were thinking alike—approaching the emerging challenge of multi-device design not from the backend (with a separate “m-dot” site), but from the front, with web standards. But, of the four, Ethan went the farthest. In his presentation, entitled A Dao of Flexibility (a hat tip to John Allsopp’s prescient article A Dao of Web Design, itself published fifteen years ago tomorrow), Ethan laid the groundwork for an entirely new way—a web way—of designing. He called it Responsive Web Design.

Celebrate the fifth anniversary of Responsive Web Design at An Event Apart—and the fifteenth anniversary of A Dao of Web Design at A List Apart—by sitting back and enjoying a 60-minute video of the presentation that changed everything. (And, hey, while you’re in the Videos section of our site, check out the other 23 hours of great ideas originally presented live on our stage—and now available to you, wherever bandwidth streams.)