Elliot Jay Stocks at Responsive Day Out
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Our thoughts about Responsive Day Out

Head shot of TomBy Tom O’Malley

On Friday, three of the guys from the office hopped on the train to Brighton and headed to ‘A Responsive Day Out‘, hosted by the folks at Clearleft.

Responsive design is becoming increasingly important today and something which we kept at the forefront of our minds when we recently redesigned our site (resize your browser to see what we did).

With the importance of responsive web design already in mind, we thought it would be beneficial to get as many of the guys to the conference as possible. Unfortunately, Alex had double booked himself so he couldn’t join in on the fun, but we gave his ticket away to Jo Lancaster (we hope you enjoyed the day too Jo!)

The conference saw around 200 people show up, all eager to learn and hear what each of the speakers had to say and among those 200 were Si team members, Tom (Lead Designer), Oli (Lead Technical) and Mike (Developer). We chatted to each of them this morning to get their thoughts on the day and what they’d learnt/taken away from it.

Tom’s thoughts

I’d been to a few evening based conferences, such as Heart and Sole and Altitude, but never to a full day conference and one which was so specifically targeted on one subject.

However, I’m so glad that I made the trip to Brighton. The conference was incredibly inspirational and left me in deep thought about how I can adopt a completely new way of working.

As each speaker came and went, the resounding opinion was that we should be rethinking the way we work. I’m certainly one of these designers who has found it difficult to break away from the idea of fixed width design. To combat responsive design, I would design different versions for tablet/mobile and then work with developers to fill in the gaps, working down from the largest possible size.

This day helped me to understand that, there are indeed ‘no edges’ and it’s not about device, but about viewport. We need to adjust layout where it feels right for the design and not let devices dictate. To use a phrase I heard several times on Friday, we need to be ‘device agnostic’.

My whole process needs to be re-thought. This is a pretty big statement, but one which I’m committed to seeing through. There were several variations on processes and although I’m not sure which is the best way outright, in time I’ll find one that’s comfortable for my workflow.

Will I ditch Photoshop for the browser? For me this is like taking a paint brush away from an artist, but I do concur, that designing in the browser has many advantages and I believe that if I can find a way of using Photoshop to create the ‘atmosphere’ and give greater emphasis to other processes, then I might strike that balance. Not all the decisions need to be made in the graphics application.

Having originally started as a fine artist, qualified in Illustration, practiced in magazine design and then transitioned to web, the notion of RWD is another learning curve and one which I need to ensure is part of the creative process.

‘A Responsive Day Out’ completely reinforced, informed and inspired me. It provided assurance that the path I’m currently on is the right one and this will not only benefit me, but Si digital on the whole too.

Oli’s thoughts

Although most of the projects I work on are back-end related, I found ‘A Responsive Day Out’ to be very insightful, both technically and on a project theory level. Sarah Parmenter and Laura Kalbag helped me understand how we can seriously improve future project planning approaches with our clients, while Josh Emerson and Richard Rutter gave some amazing advice on improving application performance from a front-end and server perspective.

I also learnt from the amazing Bruce Lawson from Opera, how much effort goes into making web technologies a better place through well thought out specifications that get sent off to the W3C. Tom Maslen and Andy Hume both gave amusing and extremely valuable talks on how the BBC News and The Guardian deal with different device scenarios through progressive enhancements. Each of the speakers had their own input and direction, which resulted in very diverse, but insightful and engaging talks.

I left the day with not only a sore brain, but a wealth of knowledge that I cannot wait to implement into new and existing projects.

Mike’s thoughts

We all know internet browsing is becoming increasingly popular on mobiles and tablets. As a result, many agencies are now starting to offer responsive design as standard. With this in mind, the process we use to design a responsive site needs to be re-thought. As Tom explained, we currently work in a way that’s comfortable to us, first designing a full scale site and then working our way down to the smallest size. But of course, just because it’s comfortable to us, doesn’t mean it’s the most productive. Instead, we should consider perhaps getting our clients to first sign off on the content hierarchy and how the content will change depending on the device it’s viewed on, rather than the design first.

Creating sites with responsive design in mind will certainly be a learning curve. As it stands, there currently isn’t a definite way of how to do things or how to work. New best practices are being discovered and updated all the time and W3C standards are still being drafted. However, it is very much a case on staying on top of those best practices and finding ones that suit us a team and which we can work with. I like what a challenge that could potentially bring to us.

There was also talk that some people believe that responsive “fluid” designs should have always been part of the web and that the fixed width designs we have used for the last decade or so actually “broke” the web. Others believe the fixed widths solved the problem quite well at the time, but now it’s time to revisit fluid websites that take the shape of screen size/resolution. It was interesting to hear the different theories and takes on this, but my overall opinion is that fixed widths didn’t break the web, instead they made the best out of what we had to work with at the time, but now responsive/fluid design is definitely the way forward.

Our thoughts overall

Collectively, the guys came back buzzing with excitement, ideas and great  new ways to enhance our current work flow, benefiting us and our clients. Attending conferences such as this really help to energise and inspire us to keep creating amazing work. We always learn a lot and it’s a testament to the industry that we’re in that speakers share their experiences with new technologies and processes that in turn, help galvanise us all.

If you’re interested in the direction the front-end industry is going, then we thoroughly recommend you go next year.

Images from Marc Thiele’s Flickr set.

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