Mark Boulton: The Business of Responsive Design

Orde Saunders' avatarPublished: by Orde Saunders

Mark Boulton was speaking at Handheld Conference about responsive design, these are my notes from his talk.

The north face of the Eiger (Ogre) is an 1800m concave vertical rock face.  Hinterstauze (sp?) with three others decided they'd climb it - in winter as the waterfalls are frozen.  They got about a third of the way up...

What is responsive web design?

Is it XXX first?  It's a change!  It's a useful term to describe a time of change.  We have our heads around it but others haven't.

Structured content

The number one thing people wanted from CERN website was information on what's happening.  It's also what they produce the most of.  The scientists don't like it when they sense the information is being dumbed down so to meet all expectations we need structured content.  Demand of audiences are conflicting so there are different sections with the same story presented in a different way.  The web is not a knowable place, we don't know where or how our content is going to be read.  It's OK to have the same information presented in different ways on different screens.  RWD is forcing designers and developers to think more about content. 

With a news story it starts as a wire headline which then grows as more media is added.  The story is the link.  How the content comes together is the focus.  It's not design, it's structured content.


The waterfall process is really easy but it no longer works.  People are now increasingly working in proximity.  In advertising you don't win a project - you win an account, you work with them over a longer time.  This is like Kevin Spacey and NetFlix with House of Cards, the old method of the pilot doesn't work for them - there's no time to see how the story plays out, they are playing the long game.

Sometimes we are exposing our clients to how the sausage is made and this freaks some of them out.  They aren't used to seeing things as a mess during the process and don't have the experience and confidence to know it will work out in the end.  The rope-a-dope can be useful - let the client wear themselves out.  Don't hide from content, use content early - write it yourself at the beginning and the client will fix it for you because the mistakes you make will be obvious to the client as they care about it.  Increase the fidelity of the design over time - clients are expecting a big reveal of the design which is missing in this approach, need to manage this expectation.

The trend

Responsive is the new buzzword, people want a responsive X.  Is responsive the right thing in your situation - it may not be.  Responsive navigation is hard, can't always fit the same navigation in the space available.

Marginal gains

To make up a 15% deficit gained by dopers British Cycling looked to find lots of small gains that added up to 15%.  Look for marginal gains throughout your process.

Back to the Eiger:  When they got stuck at an overhang they traversed it to get to a place where they could carry on up the face.  The Hinterstauger traverse opened up the face for other climbers.  We are creating this traverse for the web, future generations will be able to follow the paths we create through the wilderness.

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