In the last few years, one phrase has turned much of our industry upside-down: “responsive web design”. The concept has become so central to many designers’ and developers’ work that in 2013 it spawned its own conference: Responsive Day Out. I wasn’t able to attend (largely because I didn’t know it existed), but when Responsive Day Out 2: The Squishening was announced, this year, I managed to nab a ticket and, on the day, hopped on a train down to sunny Brighton.
I won’t recap the entire day’s talks (that’s already been done, extensively and excellently, elsewhere), but suffice it to say all the speakers were engaging, interesting, and several of them made me look at the business of web dev & design in a new light. The topics ranged from technical specifics to more high-level project management, but over the course of the day a common theme emerged: “content-first design”.
It goes like this: the traditional 960px three-column layout is no longer a smart way to begin a site design, and a one-size-fits-all layout & UX will likely not be suitable, or even useable, on today’s proliferation of internet-connected devices – not to mention tomorrow’s. Instead, start with the one thing that should be consistent across all devices: the content. Begin with raw HTML, add some simple styles for typography and colour, and adapt layout and interface according to the device.
Of course these ideas are nothing new; progressive enhancement and ‘cutting the mustard’ have been familiar parts of the web designer’s toolkit for quite a while now, even if we don’t always stick to them. But seeing the whole thing linked together, and given a collective name, was like having a lightbulb click on inside my head. Good ideas are often the ones that, in hindsight, seem obvious; and for me, content-first design definitely falls into that category.