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Experience Design

Responsive Web Design 2015 and the Totem Pole of Awesome



From left: Responsive Web Design presenters Karen McGrane and Ethan Marcotte with XD colleagues Tina Farmer, Martin Ridgway, Jennifer Siegfried, Cheryl Morton, Kristi Leach, Don Emory and Pete Eppestine

A contingent of XDers from across the country recently met up in New York City to attend the Responsive Web Design conference and workshop (RWD) led by the awesome duo of Ethan Marcotte and Karen McGrane. Several of us will be posting deeper digs on the subjects covered, but I wanted to share a few quick highlights from my perspective.

    1. Responsive Design Is Good for Everyone
      Ethan and Karen did a great job showing us how to integrate responsive thinking into every aspect of a digital project. It’s not simply where the breakpoints are, it’s how you think about your communication hierarchy, how you choose when to scale and when to crop images, and it’s always thinking about the people visiting your site. The point is to ensure you’re communicating a complete idea, visually or with text, on every device, so avoid trailing sentences and cluttered images.Ethan told us a great story about a news organization that started thinking about how to ensure they were conveying a story no matter the image size. They developed a style of cropping photos they still use today, but they did so long before the age of smartphones.
    2. Content First + Mobile First
      Karen emphasized the need to really understand the purpose of your content as well as the context. Not simply  “what device are they using,” but what does the site visitor need and how can you best deliver that? She reminded anyone who needed reminding that the scroll is no longer a hindrance, and neither is going to another page – people are reading books on their smartphones – but incomplete or confusing information is, politely speaking, frustrating.We had an open discussion about applying character limits and creating content that builds in depth, not simply length. Create different length sections to your story that both stand alone and complement each other. I’m going to be writing more about this in an upcoming post, but one essential takeaway is to resist the temptation of truncation.
    3.  From a Single Column to Awesome
      One of the highlights of day one was a content layout challenge that reinforced the important relationship between responsive design and a user-centric, content first strategy. Teams of four or five worked together from a list of elements to create a single column ordered by perceived need and priority.Later, we were challenged to defend our columns and then to rethink them with a more flexible approach that still focused on the user. I’m happy to say that the XD team came up with a compelling hybrid version, dubbed the “Totem Pole of Awesome,” and endorsed by Ethan as “possibly the greatest term ever” for the challenge.
    4.  Content Choreography & Content Modeling
      How content moves and interacts with the other site elements to serve both your site visitors and business objectives is critical to the success of a responsive site. Several blogs are planned to share what we learned, and how we’re thinking of applying Content Choreography and Content Modeling. As XD’s content geeks and word nerds, the strategy, research and content teams are ready to kick these ideas into high gear. Though we’ve been practicing the fundamentals of these two important steps to content management and distribution, Karen’s workshop really helped to solidify and build on the work we’ve started.
    5.  Responsive Is Here to Stay
      About 10% of Americans only browse the internet on their smartphones, and tablet and mobile device browsing is increasing at an exponential rate around the globe. When you consider these two simple facts, it’s easy to understand the importance of responsive web design for every project.
      Just because the word “design” is in title, this isn’t simply an art director’s problem. Creating truly responsive, user-centric websites is the responsibility of everyone on the team. That’s why we need to plan to actively involve and check in with each other, and to continuously improve our work in a cumulative fashion.

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Tina Farmer

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