Having missed out on last year’s event – and after hearing such positive feedback – I was especially looking forward to Responsive Day Out 2.
Curated and hosted by Jeremy Keith the event was organised into 3 loosely themed segments followed by a Q&A session with the speakers from that section at the end. The format itself worked incredibly well, the Q&A sessions at the end providing a unique and relaxing environment for some off script discussion around the general theme of the segment, whilst also demonstrating Jeremy’s skill as a host for a chat show that surely must be in the works.
Collectively the talks covered a variety of workflow challenges, future concerns and case studies. I’ve mentioned a few of my personal highlights below.
Stephen Hay – Sculpting Text
Stephen’s got quite a skill for taking higher-level concepts in how we approach our work and demonstrating how to actually implement them. I was a big fan of his Responsive Design Workflow book and this talk carried on the themes mentioned in the book. Takeaways from Stephen’s talk were the encouragement to start designing with your content, quite literally as plain text, gradually adding style as you understand the content hierarchy. Doing this in the browser at a mobile viewport encourages focus on typography and legibility whilst fancy CSS can come later. At UVD we do this in development already; we write the html first and apply the styles once we’re happy with the markup, but actually moving this to the design stage also seems like quite a smart idea.
Rachel Andrew – Grid Spec
Having been burned in the past by using flexbox for full-page layout, I had empathy with Rachel’s enthusiasm for the Grid Spec. However, my few forays at looking into it were dampened by the horror that is the syntax.
Rachel did a great job of cutting through a lot of complexity with some good demonstrations and her enthusiasm for it has encouraged me to give it another look. I still can’t quite shake the feeling that the web doesn’t need grid layout solution of this complexity. However, the core problem of being able to arrange content independent of source order is still one to be solved.
Ida Aalen – The Core Model
Ida gave us a run through a case study on the re-design of the Norwegian Cancer Society, specifically from a user research perspective.
With a lot of talk about designing for the content, it was refreshing to have a talk that was focused on how to generate and develop that content. The main element to her talk was an explanation of what she describes as the “Core Model”: pages of content that align incredibly well with business goals and user needs.
Ida gave us a great walk through of how to facilitate the generation of that content in user workshops with Core page hand outs, which enable a group of users to detail how they’d expect to arrive at those pages, what they expect to see and ultimately where they could go from there. Overall, this was an incredibly interesting talk on the business and user cases for responsive design.
Dan Donald – Element Media Queries
Dan gave a talk on a subject that is probably a top wish list item for responsive web designers (now that responsive images are become a reality) – Element Media Queries.
The core of the talk was around the fact that, despite the on-going effort for modularisation and de-coupling of components, with media queries we only have the viewport to react to. Wouldn’t it be great if a media query could be written to react to changes to whatever space the parent element had available? After a demonstration of a polyfill he’d engineered to test the viability, was a rallying call for other developers to demonstrate use cases for this in order for browser vendors to start to seriously consider implementations.
Conceptually the idea is sound, however there are significant technical hurdles to overcome that are not easy to resolve. Definitely something to keep an eye on, especially since the responsive images community group have decided to act on it.
Dan also has a great collection of resources here.
Oliver Reichenstein – The Container Model
A slide-less and eccentric Oliver Reichenstein entertained with a narrative on the current problems with information architecture. His ‘content container’ approach was described as a solution to pointless categorisation of content and the creation of big tree information that other content then branches off.
Another area it addressed is the organisational politics of arguing over the allocation of space for content on webpage. By having full width containers everyone gets the same amount of space and the priority is a strict vertical one. This not only encourages the creation of good content, Olivier argues, by creating a hierarchy on priority rather than an arbitrary space for a category of content to site, it is less confusing for a user to have to cognitively balance two columns of unrelated content.
Fascinating insights though the talk itself could have benefitted from some visuals, as it’s quite an abstract idea to communicate entirely verbally.
The keynote for the day was delivered by Ethan; a man who needed no introduction (and was not given one by Jeremy).
The big take away for me was that progressive enhancement and it’s role in responsive web design is ultimately the lazy approach: avoiding the polyfills and desperate attempts to make things work across all devices and resolutions. Ethan touched on a lot of things that we all think we know (as was ignorantly pointed out by one ‘youtube’ commenter during the Q&A ) but it’s important to be reminded and reassured by such an intelligent and modest speaker.