Take the 2-minute tour ×
User Experience Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for user experience researchers and experts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What is the exact difference between fluid and responsive design?

I am bit confused about fluid and responsive design. Fluid is the one where we give width in percentages so that design will look good on browsers even if shrink or expand the browser. But what's different about responsive?

share|improve this question
Here you can switch between "adaptive", "liquid", "responsive" and "static" : liquidapsive.com –  user2267379 Feb 22 at 2:21
add comment

migrated from stackoverflow.com Aug 7 '12 at 20:21

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

4 Answers

The main difference is that Fluid Layouts (also called Liquid Layouts) are based on proportionally laying out your website so elements take up the same percent of space on different screen sizes, while Responsive Design uses CSS Media Queries to present different layouts based on screen sizes/type of screen. For some examples of both kinds of design, see Inspiration: Fluid & Responsive Design.

Fluid's intent is to keep the same spatial weighting to all elements, and works okay on different sizes of screens of the same sort. They tend to look okay on a 32", high resolution monitor and a 12" lower resolution laptop. They're pretty easy to implement.

Responsive design's intent is to serve different devices layouts tailored specifically for the type of screen. Your site's layout will generally be cut down to a single column on a smartphone for example.

For a deeper look, check out Fixed vs. Fluid vs. Elastic Layout: What’s The Right One For You? by Smashing Magazine, which goes in depth on the primary changes in Fluid design. They also have Responsive Web Design Guidelines and Tutorials for an overview of responsive (with plenty of links should you want to dig deeper into Responsive Design).

Responsive Design is very much "in" at the moment thanks to Mobile, Smashing actually has a whole tag for responsive design.

share|improve this answer
Thanks for this exceptional good answer and making it clear what is the exact difference between fluid and responsive design. –  Benny Skogberg Aug 21 '12 at 6:07
I would think properties of fluid design would be a part of most design approaches/strategies, be it responsive or not. Whilst of course you can have fixed size layout, many designs will be fluid up to a point before the media queries kick in. –  LaserBeak Jan 9 at 1:09
add comment

Fluid Design means that different sections of the site are defined relatively (eg, an element is 50% of the page width). No matter what browser you're using: Smartphone, Tablet, Desktop, the site will look (mostly) the same and have the same proportions (this element will take up half the screen). This is because in your CSS, everything is defined in terms of percent, or ems, or some other metric that scales nicely from device to device (Whereas defining fixed sizes in pixels might make and element take up half the screen on a desktop, the whole screen on a tablet, and be bigger than the screen on a smartphone).

Responsive design is usually more on the programming side, where you detect the user's browser (via useragent) or the size of their screen, and actually show them a different view based on the size of their device. For example, you might use a three column layout for desktops, a two column layout for tablets, and a single column layout on smartphones. In this case, the view on each device looks very different, because you are actually changing the view based on the device.

Twitter Bootstrap can do both of these, and they have some nice examples on their site:

share|improve this answer
add comment

You are correct in that a fluid design is one that uses percentages to allow for content to grow or expand based on user's device screen width. Responsive takes fluid (or fixed) design one step further with CSS3 @media queries. The @media query targets specific intervals (or devices) where a developer may change specific content to improve upon UI/UX.

A simple example might be a form in a fluid design with inputs that are width:90% which will stretch according to screen size. This might look nice on a mobile device, but larger tablets and desktops will look rather unpleasant, so you could target [@media screen only and (min-width:600px)] and reset the width to be a smaller percentage, making it responsive.

One step further, a web site navigation menu may be fluid and stretch across the top of a desktop, but a developer could target an iPhone [@media screen only and (min-device-width: 320px) and (max-device-width: 480px) { #nav {different style...} }] to display the menu as separate buttons.

share|improve this answer
add comment

the confusion probably stems from the use of the term fluid design to mean also responsive adjustment of elements based on context. e.g. text box expands as user types in more. so fluid doesn't just have to mean percentage based css property. responsive design is a much broader term that is the result of good ux design. the right kinds of things happen based on context or even backend data, providing good (cue) feedback to user.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.