Responsive images for mobile: don’t sweat it

There’s been a lot of angst about how to best deliver responsive images within responsive web design. The best post to date about the issue is by Jason Grigsby, not just for the detailed analysis but because it also has some fantastic comments that add even more.

Most telling, however, is how the post concludes:

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m very curious to see what we decide.

I hope that if any of my followers and readers are experiencing RIC (Responsive Image Consternation), you don’t spend a ton of time fretting about it today. I don’t. Because clearly, no amount of analysis or fretting can definitively solve the responsive image issue today.

Most importantly, don’t let the lack of a perfect responsive image solution keep you from experimenting with approaches to adaptive, responsive design for mobile. Why? Because performance is important, but access is more important. Mobile later is better than mobile never.

There’s a lot of talk about performance being key to mobile success, and I can’t deny that. But if you compare viewing a desktop-only design on a mobile device to even a partially improved mobile experience, the issue of images is a complete wash. To do nothing at all for mobile means that people are loading large images on mobile devices anyway. But to do something — anything else — to optimize content, layout, or navigation for mobile means that there is still a net gain. Even if people are still loading full size images.

It’s like taking up running if you’re 10 pounds over your ideal weight. Yes, you can still start running today, and partially optimize the experience by getting some running shoes. Even if you’re not at your ideal weight already. So carry around a few extra pounds if you have to — running will still improve your health, even if your overall performance isn’t as fast as you’d like it to be.

So don’t let RIC get the best of you. Sure, we don’t want people unnecessarily loading larger images than necessary if we can serve smaller versions. But that’s secondary to starting elsewhere with efforts to be adaptive and responsive. Start with things that you know deliver value. Focus on what you know, and deliver minimally viable improvements today instead of waiting for the dust to settle on responsive image approaches. As long as the web continues to be imperfect, our solutions will have to be equally imperfect.

And my prediction on how long that state will persist? As long as we have the web. =)


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