What is device-agnostic?

Most people are familiar with what ‘responsive design’ means (we’ve all seen our fair share of car commercials) and the average person will know what a ‘device’ is but the term that usually stumps is ‘agnostic’.

Now to be sure there are probably some people who know the term as something that denotes a person’s religious beliefs, or lack of them as it were. Agnostic in this sense means someone who believes that there is no way of knowing what is true about the universe and the existence of a ‘god’. In other words, they don’t believe or not believe in God.

Now if you read PC magazine you’ll see that they have a different definition of agnostic completely. They say that ‘device agnostic’ means that a program is not tied to a particular device to be able to be used, read, seen etc. What that means in layman’s terms is that a website that is device agnostic will be able to display on any device, be it mobile, tablet or PC.

How this approach differs from traditional web design.

When a company uses a device-agnostic approach to website design what they’re really saying is to hell with the device, the content is the most important and should be center stage. The device is thus relegated to the background and is much less important.

This differs greatly from traditional web design which is made with the frame of the device as the framework of the websites elements, placing more importance on how the content is framed and indeed making said content almost something of an addendum.

The mobile-centric school of web design sees the mobile devices frame as the most important part of the design puzzle and, like traditional design, focuses on the device and not the content.

Basically what the device-agnostic approach to design is saying is simply to forget about the device and focus on the content of the website. Of course this turns web design on its ear by making the content the most important over design or development.

Device-agnosticism, responsive design and user content

When it comes to this new design idea one of the most vital tasks will be to first anticipate the needs of the user. If you’re designing with a strict agnostic approach the content will be presented on any device but one must first ask if said content is what the user wants.

Indeed a completely device-agnostic design approach in some ways is quite ineffective because it gives only 1 user experience regardless of the device that’s being sued. A better way to design would be to adapt the content to the device based on the user’s preferences.


Mobile is exploding around the globe as the primary way to access the internet. Soon the term device-agnostic will become moot as ‘responsive design’ takes over and the content of any website is delivered in a unique and user friendly way on all devices.

That being said both terms still reflect a focus on content or devices instead of the most important factor; the user. The simple fact is, websites are made to be read and consumed by people and that’s who should be at the center of the web design equation.