A New Approach (Pt I)

Two streams of thinking I’ve found fascinating to see develop over the past year or two are “responsive” (or “adaptive”) web design and a “mobile first” approach. Perhaps because I’m never really involved in mobile-specific projects, it feels like responsive web design has generated more discussion and prompted more writing amongst those I know. But however separately these topics have been discussed, it feels as though they share the same ethos: we can create better experiences by embracing the inherent flexibility, power and dynamism of the web.

Hearing Jeremy Keith speak at DIBI last week helped clarify a lot of the thoughts I’ve been having surrounding the topics. To begin creating better experiences, the first step we need to take as designers is to start relinquishing this delusional idea of control we have over our designs as concrete visual pieces. Every time we fire up [insert your graphics editor of choice] and punch in canvas dimensions at the beginning of a project, we’re simply perpetuating this fallacy that the web is some kind of fixed canvas we can design for. It isn’t. It never was.

640×480? 800×600? 1024×768? Basing the width of a website on the resolution of a desktop computer monitor, particularly when we have no idea what the viewport width might be, has never been the right thing to do. But now, finally, the reality of the exploding mobile landscape has brought the inadequacy of our approach into sharp focus.

Design for the web demands an approach further divorced from the visual communication practices of the past. This is not to say we should disregard any of the undeniably crucial work of designers over the course of history; we should must learn from them and carry that awareness with us always. I don’t think it’s possible to reach our full potential as designers of the web without doing so. But the web is a unique medium unto itself, and designing for it should be approached appropriately.

Why all the babbling?

Being a designer for a product, I rarely create websites these days. But I’ve taken on a small project that, in the process of completing, will hopefully help answer some of the questions I have about responsive web design and design for small screen (by doing, as opposed to just reading about).

I’m not claiming that what I’ll be doing is in any way groundbreaking. I personally know people employing the same, or at least similar, techniques in their work right now, and have been for some time. But I know more still who aren’t, so I’m keen to open up my own experience in the hope it might act as some sort of reference. Through comments, it’d be great to build some discussion around the approaches I’m taking as I work through the project.

The project

The website is for a new company hosting bi-annual comedy shows in Edinburgh. It’s purpose is simple: to be the primary source of information for upcoming shows, providing visitors with methods of booking tickets, and encouraging them to sign up to the mailing list.

With the project proposal and contract signed, the first step has been to procure the content.

Part II next week. Part II is here.