Responsively winging it, together

On Friday, I had the pleasure of attending Responsive Day Out down in Brighton. Organised by Jeremy Keith and the guys at Clearleft, the day was full of great, well focussed talks on varying aspects of Responsive Web Design (RWD), which I'd highly recommend you check out when the videos are put online.

There were a lot of things I took away from the day, some of which helped surface things I'd been mulling over for a little while. RWD is still in its relative infancy in lots of ways; designers are having to rethink not just their process, but the whole way they go about designing a website. Developers are making the best of the tools and standards available to them, while filling in the gaps with hacks (nothing has really changed here though has it?!).

Both Sarah and Laura both mentioned in their talks that they feel like they've been 'Winging it' as they've been working with RWD, and I completely agree with that sentiment. Speaking to others at the event there was definitely a sense that many of us were there to ensure that we have been winging it in the right direction.

I've been working on a large scale responsive redesign for the past year. When the project started back in May last year, a lot of the design decisions we were making could best be described as making calculated best guesses. RWD was very much the buzz word at the time, with smaller blogs and sites showing basic usage. Components like multi-level navigation and search filtering patterns were non-existent on these sites, and these design patterns are still only relatively recently starting to emerge as larger websites redesign their sites responsively. A lot of the inspiration we took when making decisions came from native applications which had been faced with similar design issues previously.

Back to present day and we are still winging certain aspects. Handling images responsively is a choice of what hack is best for the job, with proposals still being actively discussed and formed, while advertising on the web is very much stuck in a fixed width way of thinking to say the least (although ideas are starting to be talked about).

I think as an industry we should be immensely proud of how far RWD has come in such a small amount of time; the speed of uptake has been phenomenal over the last year. That is in no small part down to how designers and developers have embraced the issues RWD has thrown at them, really getting behind the philosophy when it could have been easy to get bogged down in some of the less important issues.

When asked how much of a shift RWD has made in our industry, Mark Boulton summed it up by saying that the shift has been so big, it has not only impacted on our way of thinking and working, but has reached far beyond - clients, advertisers, marketers, managers have all had to rethink their ways of working with the web. Again, it's a testament to what the web community is doing in terms of educating and promoting RWD best practice that it's uptake has been so well received by these groups of people who can be wary about budgetting extra cash for a project unless it makes sound business sense.

RWD brought about a change in the way we previously thought about the web, not just a change in technique; no fixed widths, no set devices, and a future where we will have less and less control over how people choose to interact with the websites we create.

If theres one thing we can guarantee, it's that our industry will never be standing still, but events like Responsive Day Out really show how much our community cares about addressing emerging issues in the right way, and more importantly that we are all winging it in the same direction.