01 March 2012

the melee and confusion over 'responsive'

So… the hot thing in the web the last few months is a book called ‘responsive web design’. It’s a good book, very tactical, applicable in may instances. So why do I bring this up? Because like many things, it is getting distorted, misinterpreted and in some ways both under and over acknowledged.

The over arching goal of all IA, IxDA’s, UXA’s etc is to match the experience we help to create with the context of use and to some extent the expectations of the user. Back before there was something called interaction design, I used to hire industrial designers. Not because I was doing industrial design, but because they, more than any other school of design understood context. And in the 15 years that I’ve been working in this space, it’s been an constant effort to be more contextually aware.

Responsive design is not a thing. It’s not really even a set of tools or methods. It’s simply a book title. It is a book about trying to embrace context across the many devices that now have access to the web.

At the executive level there is always a danger of over simplification. New executives often use catch phrases as levers to promise progress… SEO, agile, and user centric are recent examples of this. I doubt many at the VP level of fortune 500 companies have taken time (or should) to read the book. So logically, the have an abridged definition. That definition is often optimistic as user experience folks struggle to achieve in alignment with product or engineering regarding their user experience aspirations.

So when you’re talking upwards in your company about ‘responsive’, what do you think they hear? More often than not, the key words heard will be ‘more efficient’, they’ll also hear ‘one-size-fits-all”, they hear ‘cheaper’. The responsive book is not targeting and should not be targeting any of those. All of that work is about making the experience better. Our customers rarely need mobile tools while setting at their desk. And they likely don’t need every feature on their handset.

Here are four simple constructs for developing web experiences for a range of devices and context.

~ Design to scale for multiple screen sizes. (yep, pretty obvious)

~ Consider the interaction differences between key/mouse, and touch devices.

~ Prioritize based upon the context of use.

~ Include or exclude functionality thoughtfully across devices anticipating the context of use.

There is not a lot of magic or need for ‘special sauce’ in the mobile space these days. A good, well educated user experience architect (UXA) will have deep understanding for context of use and will take care to thoughtfully investigate, empathize and consider these uses in the design. This is what good interaction design is.