Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Design

Responsive Design Workflow: An Interview with Stephen Hay

Tim Kadlec interviews Stephen Hay, author of Responsive Design Workflow, on breakpoint graphs, using the terminal, and why his mantra is have fun and keep learning.
Like this article? We recommend

Like this article? We recommend

Tim Kadlec: So I hear you're a big fan of Photoshop.

Stephen Hay: Actually, I am. But not for everything, and certainly not for design mockups of responsive sites and apps. It's great for things like image editing (go figure) and image asset creation. Also, many people use it successfully as a type of sketchpad or brainstorming canvas to try things out.

For the record, I use GIMP, but that's mainly because I followed Rolf Steinort's excellent Meet The GIMP! video series for a while, learned a lot and found that GIMP can do most of what Photoshop can (and even a few things it can't). Both are great pieces of software; Photoshop is admittedly more polished from a design standpoint, but hey.

Tim: That makes sense. The reality has always been a bit more nuanced than "Photoshop vs. Designing in the Code."

One thing I find interesting is that while much of the frequent discussion about why not to design in software like Photoshop has been about avoiding presenting static mock-ups to clients. But you purposely show your clients static visuals—why is that?

Stephen: I purposely show my clients static visuals only the first time I show them design visuals. The user experience is multi-faceted, so every aspect of what you show to a client is a potential distraction, keeping you from the information you need. When I only need to know the client's reaction to the visual direction of a design, I don't yet want them to be distracted by layout or rendering issues on a particular device, or whether they like that funky hover effect.

Tim: You also make use of a deliverable called content breakpoint graphs, which are something that was new to me. Can you explain briefly what that those are?

Stephen: Sure. I started creating breakpoint graphs in order to visualize the breakpoints used in a design. Since responsive web design has become more complex, breakpoints are no longer only the points at which layout changes. We might have breakpoints for device features, CSS property support, or anything else. Inspired by Stephen Few's bullet graphs, breakpoint graphs are a form concise, visual documentation of these breakpoints.

I don't like long-winded documentation. Breakpoint graphs get to the heart of the matter. When done well, you can understand the responsive parts of your design at a glance.

By the way, you're saying "deliverable", but breakpoint graphs are not necessarily something you would have to deliver to the client. That would depend upon the client and the project. They are particularly useful for the design and development team.

Tim: A lot of your workflow revolves around using the terminal. That can be kind of intimidating for many people—why are you such a big fan?

Stephen: Because it's awesome.

Tim: Short, sweet, and to the point. Can you elaborate a little for anyone still on the fence even after that compelling argument?

Stephen: Actually, I only use the command line for certain tasks, because at the moment there is nothing that works better for me. In other words, I want to do certain things, and the only software I know that manages some of those things just happen to be command line applications. I'm not religious about it. That said, I think it's often a good idea to move outside of your comfort zone a bit. At the end of the day, I was schooled as a designer, and if I could learn my way around a terminal, I'm pretty sure most people can if they give it a try.

Tim: Well said. So how did you decide you needed to step out of your comfort zone? Was there anything in particular that made you realize you needed to shake things up a bit?

Stephen: I just needed to get things done in a way that didn't make me want to hang my clients from a tall building by their toenails.

I had a project several years ago for which I had to make more Photoshop files than usual. Unfortunately, it became one of those projects in which the client wanted to have everything absolutely perfect before development started. One problem being, of course, that when it was perfect, it was only perfect in Photoshop. Every single minor change we made to the designs would have to be done again in code.

Another problem we had to deal with was the nature of the changes. Things like slightly more space between headings and paragraphs, column widths...basically any small change you can think of that means resizing or reflowing your whole Photoshop file. And the client doesn't always understand why adjusting the margins around headings requires so much work; they don't see you resizing and making manual changes to 17 files. So you can explain it, but they want what they want.

That's annoying, but it's not weird for people to want to see what they're going to get. So two things really started eating away at me:

  1. Even when the client thinks they're seeing what they're going to get, they actually aren't. By making pixel-perfect pictures, we're setting the stage for disappointment during development.
  2. One or two lines of CSS in a web-based mockup would have solved problems like "the heading issue."

I couldn't get over the fact that the tool was causing me to spend hours or days on something that could have taken seconds or minutes. That just didn't let me go.

Things like that tend to force me out of my comfort zone.

Tim: Any parting words of advice for the kind folks reading along?

Stephen: Just question everything. Your assumptions, your tools, your workflow...

A confession: originally I wrote the chapter about web-based mockups first, because it seemed the most complex. While writing, I actually changed my mind about which tool to use for web-based mockups. I used to use a Haskell-based static site generator called Hakyll, which is fantastic. But when I learned I could do the same thing with another tool I already used for style guides (Dexy) and with some added niceties, I researched, played and stopped work on the chapter for a few months and field-tested the new tool on real projects while working on other chapters. When I was really comfortable with the new mockup process and convinced it was better than what I had done previously, I rewrote the chapter. And I'm glad I did. I've even added more useful stuff to my workflow since finishing the book.

It's all about exploration and finding ways of working that are not only smarter, but make otherwise mundane tasks more fun and less tasking as well, so the core of your work comes back to the foreground.

I usually end presentations I give by saying, "Have fun. Keep learning." If you're doing both of those, you're doing great.

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive:

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020