It’s been a couple of weeks now since Chris and I left the comfort of the Primate office and ventured down to Brighton for the (now annual) Responsive Day Out conference. Since then the things I learnt have been percolating, bubbling away in the background, forming new ideas and pushing me to think differently. It would be selfish of me to keep this to myself so here are a few things that I found inspiring.
The day was packed with great insight on everything from design and project management, to development tricks and working practice. It’s really invigorating to hear people talk so passionately about their work as it helped to breath new life into my day-to-day processes. I left with a bunch of fresh ideas, keen to get back to work.
Designing in the browser
It’s always great to get an insight into other peoples workflow. It can reassure you that you’re on the right track as well as highlight things that you could be doing better. One of these areas was designing in the browser.
It’s something that I’ve read about before, but seeing Stephen Hay put it into practice in a real world context made things much clearer. It makes a lot of sense, take your content straight into the browser and design from there. Once you’ve marked up your content with the appropriate HTML you can start sculpting it, starting from mobile, step by step shaping that content into the final design.
The advantage of doing this in the browser is that you get a more accurate representation of how your website will look with the added bonus of not having to constantly tweak photoshop files. You’re designing and building in one, so it takes half the time! (well, at least in theory). Once you’re done with mobile you can move up to the next breakpoint, then the next. Slowly adding progressive enhancements.
In a perfect world, this sounds like a great way to work and is something that I am eager to try on a future project. However, getting content from clients isn’t always that easy, making this a harder approach.
However, this got me thinking… Perhaps there is a greater lesson to be learnt here, maybe we should be more directive with clients, building in time for content curation at the start of a project. Explain to them the importance of content and the benefits of having it up front. For design it means more informed decisions and for development it gives you a better understanding of scope. This all adds up to a leaner project and minimises the risk of overspend. It’s time to stand up for the importance of content, after all that’s why people are on your site in the first place.
User tasks / business goals
Sometimes user tasks and business goals aren’t exactly aligned. All users want to do it access the content on your site, while someone in finance wants to shove a ‘donate now’ button in their face every five seconds. This can be both off putting and insensitive, especially in the context of The Norwegian Cancer Society. These are real challenges that Ida Aalen faced when working on this project, but with the use of the Core Model she managed to do both.
The Core Model is about defining everything that’s important your users and your business, then you look for any objectives that overlap. Finding overlapping objectives highlights the core pages of your site, areas that will be higher in traffic and therefore can help you to achieve those business goals. It’s time to throw out the standard hierarchy and design paths for your users to follow. If they want to donate then guide them in an appropriate and timely way.
We should all be more mindful of these overlapping goals. Who knows exactly where a user will land on your site, lets make sure they have the right signposts to help them on their way. Weaving together their needs with your business goals has some pretty powerful results and how could the client not be happy with that?
For me, the most exciting thing that came it of the day was the idea of responsive ecosystems.
Dan Donald promised us that in the not too distant future we’ll have a utopian world where we’re no longer restricted by breakpoints. Instead we’ll build ecosystems of responsive modules that adapt to their environment. The modules will be aware of their context and adjust their size and style depending on their position. This opens the door for us to cater to any screen size (or shape), giving users a more tailored experience. This really is a true device agnostic approach… well maybe.
I’ve only scratched the surface of a couple of things I got out of the conference, but you’re in luck as Chris will also be posting his thoughts on the day. And if that still doesn’t satisfy you then the whole thing is available as a series of podcasts.
Finally, it wouldn’t be right to end this post without saying a big thanks to Jeremy Keith and the Clearleft guys & gals for putting on such a great event. It’s no small feat getting so many amazing speakers in the same room and it’s a testament to their love of everything responsive. My mind is now drifting ahead to next years conference and I eagerly await the release of tickets for Responsive Day Out 3: Return of the nth-child.