September 2011

Why responsive design matters to me.


The exact peak date of the Hubbert curve has been predicted by many scientists but isn't known. And anyhow, it’s not about exactness more about communicating a period of transition for the oil industry, the dependency on a status quo, the urgency in changing a collective mindset.

For me, responsive design, mobile first, rethinking the mobile web all emerge from an analogous point in time where mobile internet traffic will exceed desktop traffic. Not so much a question of ‘if' but ‘when’.

Either way, the mobile, tv, tablet markets will outstrip the growth of the traditional 1024x768 desktop in the coming years and this will change the way we think about building websites.

The status quo of designing fixed-width (or at least a minimum width) interfaces for people with larger screens and then seeing the non-desktop services as secondary projects becomes counterintuitive if the majority of your audience are accessing your product by some other means, and that the means becomes ever more varied.

If you build many views of your service, which one gets the most investment first?

The most capable platform? The one with the most users now? The one you think might have the most users when you deliver the project? The one your management team uses?

Do you split your investment (and team) across each one thereby reducing your velocity on each individual platform? Or do you linearise your projects and stagger their delivery across a year or two?

Sure, companies can outsource or temporarily expand their teams to build things in parallel, which isn't free, but when the money dries up you'll have twice or thrice the amount of code to maintain and extend, which also isn’t free or sustainable.

You'll be chasing your tail whatever you pick unless you've got enough developers to build & maintain a few versions of everything, but that is really hard.

Responsive design solves the traffic problem by focusing development effort on a single interface, your internal teams all become feature oriented, not platform specialists.