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Think Responsively

02-22-12 Ben Callahan

Responsive web design: a set of techniques or a mindset? Ben Callahan shares his thoughts.

I’m sitting in bed a few days after our first Build Responsively workshop. Truth-be-told, the past few weeks have been exhausting. I don’t know that I’ve ever really appreciated what it takes to run a workshop like this, but our one-day adventure gave the Sparkbox team a taste.

I had the honor of closing our day-long workshop, and I concluded with a single slide carrying the words, “The Responsive Mindset.” My pal (and our Technical Director, Rob Harr) and I have been discussing this idea over pints for the past few months. I think this philosophical conversation stemmed from Ethan Marcotte’s (@beep) response on Twitter about how wasn’t responsive. At the time, it didn’t use a fluid grid.

Now, Ethan coined the phrase, so I’m certainly not one to argue with him. We do strongly believe in the three core techniques he’s so eloquently described together as “responsive web design.” However, we’ve been around the block enough times to know that these three techniques only get us so far. In a year or two, there will probably be a whole new set of problems that we can’t tackle with this handful of techniques.

So, what am I trying to say? As an industry, we have to embrace the ideals behind responsive web design knowing that these specific techniques will fade at some point. We can rest assured that the very ideals driving us toward RWD will serve as a solid compass in our quest for a better website.

  • We believe that content should be available to as many people as possible.

  • We believe that our work on the web should never position the device as an obstacle between the user and their goal.

  • We believe that a user’s experience in attempting to achieve their goal should be as positive as possible.

RWD gives us a way to execute on these beliefs which we didn’t have in the past. I’m not saying that we need a new term to define this or that we must elevate our current terms to mean more than they do now. However, I can’t help but wonder if the term “responsive web design” will slowly fade away—hopefully grafting its ideals to the language we’ve always used to describe what we do: Web Design.

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