Axes of responsive design

August 2011

The early responsive design literature talked about fluidity of the layout and embracing uncertain and uneven properties of web browsers but the early pioneering efforts have stopped at responsive web design, in essence an interaction and CSS problem ignoring the other aspects of the many and varied types of http clients.

I think over the coming months responsive design will evolve in to other areas, responsive bandwidth design, responsive cpu design, responsive content design, taking the mobile first approach to more than just screen width and applying it to all the properties a web client might possess.

For our current project we are attempting to adapt and respond to the following axes:-

A lot of these properties we can detect already with simple media queries or plain old JS feature detection although some we'll need to wait a little longer to sniff accurately.

For example, there's no good way to detect CPU on the client but as the DAP project moves from W3 meetings to specifications and from nightlies to mainstream releases developers will have a set of detailed hooks on which our interfaces can adapt.

Being able to dynamically respond to the users device in this way is a kind of surreptitious, ambient personalisation, giving the user a optimised experience without them having to visit a different URL.

In the future one can imagine decorating html documents with a handle to control performance intensive aspects of pages like complex animations. Perhaps if the users battery is 10% we shut down background http requests or tone down the whole UI.

The interesting challenge will be to see how we make this usable. A UI that adapts under your feet is an unpredictable one.