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A Responsive Day Out

Recently Clearleft put on Responsive Day Out, a one day conference with thirteen short talks and some fireside chat. A seaside day out for our designers & front-end developers: how could we resist?

A view back up the ranked seating of the Corn Exchange theatre.
The event was held in the Corn Exchange theatre

A quick aside: what is a responsive site?

The name is applied to many different aspects of modern web production but at its core it’s a simple proposition: content should be the focus of a design, and that design should adapt to fit whatever device the reader is using.

With this in mind, what techniques can we use? A favourite is @media queries (as seen on the recent Kyan responsive rebuild). These let you query the width of browser window and hence set styles that adapt the website layout to better work with the reader’s requirements. Taking a step back, we can design page components that will work across multiple configurations rather than being a fixed size. We’ve done this before when fluid layouts were more commonplace but with new CSS abilities we can keep the visual fidelity we’re used to across a multitude of screen sizes.

The day

The venue was the rather lovely Brighton Dome (which incidentally has just had a rather lovely rebranding); the format a set of quick-fire presentations on a whole range of subjects pertaining to responsive design. There was a mix of technical dives and philosophical overviews; overall it was a well balanced day.

In particular we liked Anna Debenham’s Playing with Game Console Browsersconsole browser support is a subject that’s hardly touched on in the standard web circles – and Laura Kalbag’s Design Systems that introduced the benefits of a pattern library for responsive designs.

Other talks that stood out were Tom Maslan’s Cutting The Mustard – expounding the ‘mobile first’ development methodology in a way that immediately made the benefits seem common-sense – and Bruce Lawson’s What’s Next In StandardsLand – in particular his overview of the upcoming Flexible Box Layout specification which will be a real change to the way we build sites once support is there for the majority of users.

What we’re going to do

This year we’re really ramping up our efforts with responsive design and development; for the majority of our sites it’s now clear that this is the correct default approach. The interesting part is going to be the necessary amends to our workflow. We have previously produced pattern libraries when requested by a client, but making them a key part of the design will help both the developers and the clients understand the core design concepts for the site or application. It feels that a responsive workflow will also lead to greater co-operation between the front-end development and design teams, which can only be a good thing.

One thing remains certain though: this is an exciting time to be building the web.