Takeaways from Responsive Day Out 2

Sadly, I missed last year’s conference. Luckily for those of us who couldn’t make it, all of last year’s talks are online.

The general notion of last years event seemed to be one of fear and doubt; we’re all winging it and we’re all trying to figure things out as we go along. I’m certaintly filled with fear and doubt and that everything I’m doing is somehow wrong, so to hear others express similar concerns is comforting.

It feels like we have come along way since then. RWD is maturing and our processes and workflows are catching up. We still have a long way to go, though.

I’ve still not processed it all but here are my initial takeaways from this year’s conf:

Just because we can, it doesn’t mean we should

A couple of the talks, Sally Jenkinson’s in particular, alluded to responsibility. There’s a lot of new and interesting ‘shiny’ stuff on the horizon. It’s easy to be blinded by these new technologies but we need to carefully consider each use case and ultimately ask the question: is it really the best thing for our users?

Personal projects are a great place to play with these new technologies and push the boundries before applying them to client projects.

Be lazier

Ethan admitted in his talk that he considers himself to be a bit lazy. He explained that by carefully considering a problem, we could do less and still achieve the desired result (his example showed how many sites proportionally resize embedded elements with JavaScript, when actually it could be done with a relatively simple bit of CSS).

What Ethan was actually advocating, in my opinion, was not being lazier but being smarter. Rather than jumping to JavaScript, or a quick hack, we should carefully consider what we are trying to achieve. And by doing that, we could potentially save ourselves work by doing less.

People are the difficult part

We’ve all been working hard to adapt to the technical challenges that responsive design brings with it. And, by and large, we’re getting good at it. But it’s not the technical parts that we are struggling with: it’s a people problem.

How do we communicate with our clients? How do we include our clients in the process of designing responsive websites? It’s no good just showing the client a desktop version and then surprising the client with a mobile version.

We need to sit back and consider how we educate our clients and how to include them in our design process.

Of course, communicating with our clients has always been important but RWD, by its very nature, requires us to communicate with our clients more frequently.

Content break points, not device break points

I’m guilty of still thinking about break points in terms of devices. Up until recently, I still had SASS files called ‘desktop’, ‘tablet’ and ‘smartphone’. The words desktop, tablet and smartphone mean less and less when it comes to size. A small tablet is roughly the same size as a large smartphone and a large tablet the size of a small laptop.

We should be thinking in a device agnostic way. We should be thinking in terms of content.

Stephen Hay’s talk perfectly illustrated how this works. Scuplt the text using a small viewport, tweaking the type until it feels right. Then make your browser window larger until it breaks. That’s your break point. Now tweak the design until it feels right, resize your browser and find the point at which your design breaks and so on.

Content first

One of the major hurdles that needs addressing when it comes to my design process is content. Traditionally I’ve used a waterfall process that has content coming at the end of the project. This doesn’t really work, nor should we try and make it work. Content is so important to the effectiveness of a website so why should we push it to the end of a project?

We need real content to design our websites.

I need to put much more emphasis on content in my process and focus on moving it to the start of the project rather than something that is slapped in without much thought at the end.

We’ve come along way, but we still have a long way to go

Stephanie’s talk was about new media queries such as @media (light-level). While each one sounded exciting initially, Stephanie was quick to point out concerns. These new technologies need careful consideration and it’s not instantly obvious where these will be useful.

Dan’s talk was about using element queries (making content respond to its container’s dimensions, rather than the viewport). He talked about how at the BBC he had used JavaScript to achieve this. This is another area where it’s not clear the best way to go, although there are lots of smart people thinking about the problem. I expect we’ll be talking a lot more about element queries in the next few years.


It was a really great day. If you missed it, I recommend listening to the talks online.

Brighton is a lovely place with so many great places to eat and drink and the conference was one of the most rewarding I’ve been to.

If there’s a Responsive Day Out 3 (please let there be, @adactio), I’ll be there.

A massive thank you to all those that made the day possible: Jeremy Keith, Ethan Marcotte, Rachel Andrew, Stephen Hay, Ida Aalen, Oliver Reichenstein, Stephanie Rieger, Sally Jenkinson, Kirsty Burgoine, Dan Donald, Inayaili de León and anyone else I’ve missed.