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Responsive design: stories from the coalface

Lately, the web industry has been preoccupied with responsive design. Questions, approaches and opinions abound.

Last Saturday we added to this ongoing conversation at the excellent standards>next in Manchester. Our brief was to deliver a frontline report from the coalface of the web industry about the ways in which responsive design is applied in a commercial agency environment.

Sam & Wil talk responsible, Responsive web design

Through our work with clients we’ve come to realise there is an increasingly wide gulf between esoteric industry rhetoric and mainstream understanding. There is also an inconvenient truth that designing responsively can take more time and cost more money. Our argument is that a pragmatic approach to responsive design can be used in even the most cost sensitive projects, but we need to bring our customers with us.

Five years ago a supermarket charging for plastic bags would have been seen as commercial suicide. In this environment Marks & Spencer introduced Plan A, a strategic approach to responsible business that carefully outlined the benefits and rationale of this new direction. Their plan, led by former CEO Sir Stuart Rose, was to remain “half a step ahead of customers”, no further.

As we vie for projects in a competitive environment where tough economic times have squeezed budgets, the web industry faces a similar challenge. We too must explain to customers the benefits of a responsive approach and be able to back this up with proper, credible evidence.

We also bear a responsibility to improve and streamline our working practices to reduce costs. This is one of the main reasons we developed Gridpak, our tool for rapidly creating responsive grid systems. The more cost-efficient we can make responsive development, the quicker it will be accepted and adopted.

We know Gridpak is not a one-stop, cure-all panacea; it was never designed to be. Like all tools it has limitations, but we believe it is a useful part of the responsive designer’s armoury. As the field evolves further we will undoubtedly see a proliferation of similar tools and approaches. People will ultimately choose the ones that work best and fit their workflows.

Since launch, we’ve added important features to Gridpak like the ability to adjust gutter widths and column padding in percentages as well as pixels. With our next release we’ll introduce a more flexible approach to allow the creation of a wider range of asymmetrical grids, but we can go much further.

That’s why we’ve open sourced the Gridpak codebase on Github. We’d love to see it become a truly collaborative effort where people get into the code and make their own improvements.

It’s great that responsive design has gained such momentum within the industry, but at times our discussions can be a touch isolated and introspective. We shouldn’t assume that because we think this is important clients will automatically follow suit. There is much more to be done to bring them with us.

Our slides are now available on Speaker Deck, and the audio will shortly be available from standards>next as a podcast.

Erskine Design
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