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What We Learnt From The Responsive Day Out Conference

Responsive Day Out photo collage

Beware our sycophancy

The other week, Espen, Chris and I travelled down to Brighton to attend the first ever Responsive Day Out conference. Organised by the wonderful Clearleft and featuring speakers from the BBC, Guardian and Opera browser along with industry heavyweights like Elliot Jay Stocks and Mark Boulton, it was fantastic day of learning, knowledge exchange and industry insight. Suffice to say, we all came away with flowing creative juices, tingling synapses and unbridled responsive enthusiasm.

Here’s some of our individual thoughts from the conference.


They say the most valuable lessons are the hardest to learn (or did I just make that up?) and I think I stumbled upon two such lessons at Responsive Day Out:

1. Responsive web design represents a major shift in the design process. Static visuals are becoming ever more inept at communicating how a site will work – and drawing a pretty picture for each device simply won’t cut it. To quote Mark Boulton, I have to start thinking ‘fluid first’.

2. As web designers we have to embrace the real output of our process, namely HTML & CSS. For a long time I likened front-end build to printing, in so far as the designer creates a layout and has another set of experts create the finished article. This analogy is flawed at it’s core, because print is static and web ain’t. Therefore I have to pull my finger out and learn how to code (sarcastic thanks, Elliot!).

Both lessons are quite uncomfortable if I’m honest. Not only because Bart (our head dev) told me so a long time ago, but mainly because they represent a major shift in both my design process and the tools I’ve used within it. Yet considering we’re at the cusp of a new era of web design – nay, visual communication – I cannot help but feel excited at these challenges. Bring it, RWD!


First of all, more than anything the conference was very motivational, and I came away totally pumped on RWD! Throughout the conference there was a common theme of “RWD is hard, but it gets easier” and I must say at times I thought to myself that they were making it out to be harder than it actually is. This led to a realisation on my part that the real challenges of responsive builds are project management and design. We developers are using the same technologies we have used for years, albeit with slight differences, but it’s still HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Perhaps designers have the biggest challenge, moving from designing statically to designing fluidly.

Many of the developer topics from the day centred around the idea of efficiency and it was really fascinating to hear both Andy Hume and Tom Maslen talk a little on how the Guardian website and the BBC website serve assets. It’s something we will be taking a closer look at on the sites we build here at Primate. It was great to hear the Richard Rutter and Josh Emerson from Clearleft discussing asset fonts, something which I’ve really enjoyed using on recent projects. I think it’s always been important to be aware of site assets, and to minimise page load size, but the growing number of mobile users really brings this to the forefront. What I would say to other developers is that it is vital to make conscious decisions on what makes up the web pages you serve. If it’s not a conscious decision, chances are you could dramatically reduce page size, and greatly improve the experience for your users, especially the mobile ones.


For me, as much as I took something away from every talk, there were a some general overarching themes (along with a few specific points) that really struck home.

1. The philosophy of RWD is as important to the industry as the shift from table builds to CSS or the concept of web site accessibility. It’s not a fad, it’s not a flash in the pan, it’s a gigantic, gleaming, granite milestone in the progression of the Internet. Indeed, there was a strong feeling at the conference that RWD should be a mandatory, unquestionable part of any new site and, even as Jeremy Keith boldly stated, not an extra service that should be charged for but simply a standard, natural component. This has definitely influence the way we are thinking about including RWD in our business.

2. Cutting the mustard, my new favourite phrase. Thrown around by a few speakers, there was a clear notion of favouring progressive enhancement over graceful degradation when implementing RWD. Stop trying to retro fit complex sites to get them working with old browsers but instead, define, design and build a core experience that will work for all and then, depending on browser and device compatibility, enhance it to create premium experiences. This way, users on any platform can still interact with the important part of the site – the content – but not at the expense of embracing progress. Hell, if this approach is working for the BBC then it can work for us all.

3. “Implementing responsiveness does not make a web site boring, bad designers make boring sites”. Mark Boulton’s catchphrase of the day and one that I couldn’t agree more with. I guess I’m firmly in the ‘stop making excuses’ camp alongside him.

All-in-all, a great day out. Thanks again to Clearleft and all the fantastic speakers for making it happen.

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Author: Gordon McLachlan

Gordon is uncomfortably good looking.


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  1. Jeremy Keith March 13, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Thanks, guys. Glad you enjoyed the day.

  2. Espen March 13, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    Thank you, Jeremy – an excellent day out at a very reasonable price. Who cares about free coffee and name badges, it’s the line-up and the shared wisdom that counts!

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