I am building a fairly large scale application that runs in the browser, and only on intranets.

It is essentially a website, as in it's still just content viewed in the browser. But it's not a "website" that people visit on the internet, it's something that is used exclusively on corporate intranets. Some of these corporations may have browser restrictions.

Most of the tasks are fairly administrative, a lot of complex forms, tables, notifications.

I am trying to decide if a responsive design should be used in a case like this, or if we should build to a fixed width. We have a captive audience - they don't get to decide if they use this browser-app or not. We want it to be as useful and friendly as possible, but I don't see a good reason to use a fluid/responsive design.

Any thoughts on this? There is a lot of talk about the pros/cons of using a responsive design for a website, but not for a "browser app."

3 Answers 3


Since this is intranet only, I assume it's only used during work hours? Unless you're expecting a fair amount of people to access it via mobile or other lower-res devices I wouldn't bother with a responsive design.

We have an Intranet too and our fixed layout keeps things easy to change and we know exactly what minimum screen size our users are getting.

Complex forms and tables simply don't work on mobile devices; my company's intranet site would be completely unusable due to some (necessarily) large tables and forms, so discouraging mobile use is really a good thing.

If using the fundamental features of your site (complex forms) on a mobile device would be difficult, enabling mobile platform use is only going to cause pain for user and designer. I couldn't imagine trying to fill in our 200+ field payroll form using my phone and I would never make/allow my users to do so either.

  • This isn't meant for mobile devices. A lot of it is just about fending off people who wonder why there is all this space on the sides. I don't have any feedback on how you design a website that is essentially a intranet administration tool, not a real website with conversion and editorial content. Everything is designed to work within the sweet zone around 950px. The content of the app doesnt really call for anything wider. It's sort of based on the single column github layout.
    – Sean-ux
    Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 5:56
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    950px is almost exactly what our site was. Complaining about "space on the sides" sounds like a misguided attempt to use all available screen real estate. Our site is 960px and if you saw it on a 1024x768 monitor you'd know exactly why. If any of your users will be using that res/old monitors (which you may) that should be reason enough to keep the fixed width.
    – Zelda
    Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 14:27
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    Alternately, show them what the site looks like using all the pixels and no whitespace. The risk here is if they think it looks good you're doomed. Depending who you talk to they may not respect whitespace; I've noticed accountants are disturbingly at ease with confusing jumbles of information with no whitespace.
    – Zelda
    Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 14:32
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    The product I am working on is an extension of an older product, and the older product full embraces the "desktop in the browser" paradigm. Full fluid design, edge to edge, sidebar, top bar, rows and rows of tabs. Basically it tries to cram a Windows 98 admin tool into a modern browser. My job is to break it out of that paradigm and make a web-app that is easy and clutter free. So, first thing I did was axe the idea of a fluid, full screen design, and axe the idea of a sidebar. I guess I am just dreading the inevitable peanut gallery comments from people who fear the change.
    – Sean-ux
    Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 17:42

Responsive design works better for websites and news portals than for applications, because it's natural to dedicate 'secondary' space for non-essential data that can be added and removed from the site as the user's resolution varies. Using these 'ancillary' items isn't part of the user's workflow, so moving or removing them isn't a huge deal. If a user doesn't understand why the 'recently updated' and 'also related' widgets aren't appearing on their colleague's computer, it's probably not all that important.

Applications, however, can be different. In applications, the items in sidebars and widgets tend to be controls that relate to the objects in the 'main' space (think formatting controls for a textarea in the center of a page), or controls that navigate users through their workflow. Users need to be able to learn where these sorts of objects are, so your application needs to place these controls and functions in consistent places to aid learn-ability. That could make responsive design a bad idea.

Are you being requested to create a responsive design because your client expects users to connect via mobile and tablet devices? If that's the situation, might I suggest rolling out a dedicated mobile version rather than resizing the desktop experience? Mobile users have their own particular needs, and aren't well-served by simply smaller versions of the 'main' service anyway.

  • There are security restrictions on browser and devices at a lot of these places. The customers vary greatly, but they all will be using this in the digital security domain. There is no expectation right now for mobile or tablet devices to be used with this app. And, many places are stuck on IE7 due to policy.
    – Sean-ux
    Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 5:44

You'd have to find out what is the most common way your users will access or view this app. Will it be more likely to be viewed using a desktop at work or is it something that they would access via a mobile device or both?

On that note, if you wanted it to be as user friendly as possible, then there is absolutely no reason not to use fluid/responsive design as long as it does not affect functionality. Your only constraints will be development time and budget.

  • Desktop only. It's a intranet only app, VPN only, and also often restricted by security policy. Budget and time are still fine, it's more of a choice on how much I want to maintain it. With the rigid nature of the content and the UI, I just don't see a responsive design helping at all, other than impressing other designers.
    – Sean-ux
    Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 5:49
  • Then I think you've just answered your own question here.
    – Ely Solano
    Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 23:35
  • Well, I don't get to make final decisions, so I may very well be tasked with making a 100% fluid or responsive design. I'm looking for some response from other people who have built browser-based administrative tools. Most of my experience is in forward facing websites where the decision would be easy. But using something like the twitter bootstrap responsive grid (goes from 1170px, to 940px, to 724px, I really have no idea if that's something that an internal app should use. It's a much bigger task to design an interface that can fit 3 different widths.
    – Sean-ux
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 2:44

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