Great question! I guess the theory is that designs which take your particular environment into consideration will produce better experiences than one-size-fits-all solutions.
Imagine if pocket novels simply scaled down text size and layout, and came with magnifying glasses to help you read them? Giving the user a layout that’s better suited to their canvas size may result in them having to turn more pages (or scroll more), but if done right it should make the content more accessible and pleasant to consume.
Thankfully, some cold hard data is starting to come to light to support this theory. Here are a few recent examples where RWD has had a successful impact:
This does raise another valid issue though: user preference. When we make responsive design choices, we’re making assumptions about the context in which a user is viewing content. For example, you might assume that because a user’s canvas width is <400px that they’re on a mobile device, probably with a touch interface. However they could simply have their browser window at a narrow width in the corner of their desktop.
It’s our job as designers to make the best assumptions we can with the data we have available, but we’re not always going to get it right, and that’s when giving users options to customise their experience could be helpful (if done in a way that does’t impede the experience for everyone else).
Something we need to think more about, I reckon.