What do you think about using responsive web design techniques in a desktop application? We need more space for large data and since all monitors today are widescreen, it could be good practice I think.

Here is a window which changes layout on resizing:

enter image description here

4 Answers 4


The concept is good, but you have to be careful about the site changing in ways that confuse users.

For example, if I usually use the app in a window, but sometimes maximise it, having the controls move position entirely would be a little annoying. There may be a good reason for it though, so you just have to weigh up the pros and cons.

I like the LessFramework, which has some good examples of how responsive design handles changes from large to very large formats. You may find it useful.


Apart from moving the buttons - as noted by JohnGB, probably not a great idea on a web app - the wire frame you include seems to suggest a similar 'amount' of content can be entered.

You also say

since all monitors today are widescreen

which is not entirely true and RWD also allows for smaller screens also, so if you do pursue this approach its would be worth taking this into account during your planning.

  • Also, even people with widescreen monitors often tile windows.
    – JohnGB
    Commented Sep 16, 2011 at 17:36

Responsive design techniques were introduced to solve a problem: How can a cross-platform application be viewed (& used) successfully on a variety of (differently limited) devices?

Monitor dimensions, aspect ratios and pixel densities are probably less likely to vary on a laptop or desktop computer.

I would suggest thinking about the specific context your application is likely to be used in.

Eg. Is the resolution of your target users likely to be restricted? Are many users likely to use widescreen monitors? Which other programs are likely to be open / used at the same time as your application?

If you have a scenario where automatic reconfiguration of your interface layout makes sense, then use responsive techniques.

Thinking generally; if your application is provided with a greater area of screen real-estate, I think it's sensible to make use of it - but I'd choose to avoid re-positioning of a UI layout as a window is resized, as this could lead to confusion.

One major difference between a web and native application, it the fact that a native application can make use of the host operating system's windowing system.

There's less restriction in a desktop environment (Windows / OS X / Linux), so the original problem tackled by responsive design might be less relevant.


Responsive web design (RWD) primarily addresses the screen size, aspect ratios and other display characteristics' variations that don't seem to be an issue in desktop applications nowadays.

Most desktop applications are comprised of modules that may be resized or hidden individually and a size of a display mainly affects the amount of modules that can be displayed simultaneously, not how controls arranged withing each one.

Controls Rearrangement

Any kind of automatic view components or module controls rearrangement is a sacrifice for a specific purpose that should not be done until it's necessary. Generally, a rearrangement within a module is even less expected from a desktop application, thus it should be done until it's absolutely necessary.

The change suggested by the example in the question doesn't seem a good alternative to a full-screen mode that can give even more space for large data to render.


Summing up the above, RWD approach can be used in desktop applications, though very carefully. Since in most cases there are different issues to be solved, and the behavior brought by RWD in generally not expected from a desktop application.

It should be noted here, that if an application comprised solely of a web-view, it can be perceived as a web-application making RWD more than relevant in such case.

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