What I mean by responsive design

A retweet, courtesy of Mark Asquith, popped up in my Twitter timeline regarding an article on Econsultancy titled "What do you mean by responsive design?".

An interesting and thought provoking article, and the main point I took away was made at the very end;

There is no way we would promise to build a client ‘a website’ without defining specifics. Why then are we happy to promise to build a ‘responsive site’ while leaving the exact nature of what that means rather vague?

This is an extremely good point, and it's one that I have been thinking about a lot over the past month or so.

Going in blind

Let's create a scenario.

When the sales guy or account manager at the agency where you work goes out to clients and sells responsive design, there is no definitive outline to what the client will get at the end of the whole design process.

Even at this point, it's the sales pitch that matters, and not whether it's even right to suggest a responsive solution for whatever the clients particular job is on this occasion.

Hell, if I was in the room, and I thought it was the right thing for the client (and with the type of sites I work on, it usually is), I'd be saying that responsive is definitely the way to go.

But at this point there would be no specifics. We can show previous work to give an idea of the kind of things we can do with responsive design, but you must place a hefty emphasis on the fact that these are simply examples, and their solution would be designed to fulfil their particular objectives.

Promises, promises

I think we can promise a responsive solution at this point, but as Paul says (and it's at this moment I realised that Paul Boag wrote the article!);

We need to clearly define our expectations or before long this is going to lead to disputes between client and supplier.

I could not agree more.

The meetings, conversations and processes that follow the initial sales meeting, or pitch as could possibly be the case, is where you begin to define these expectations.

And you need to make this clear.

You will be building a solution to fit the needs of the client and not building something to simply cater for the latest buzzwords in the web industry.

Once you've made this clear, you should be safe in the knowledge that you are yet to set expectations when it comes to what is termed a 'responsive website'.

How do you set the expectations?

With the way our processes are evolving to cater to responsive web projects, I don't feel that there is a single, particular point in these processes where we can say "That's it there, we've nailed how everything will work across all resolutions".

It will be an ongoing evolution, from scribbling wireframes on paper, to creating proof of concepts, through to the final, finished article.

Work closely with your clients, keep them involved every step of the way, engage with them and get them to help make the decisions and I don't think you can go too far wrong.

The best bit

Every problem can be solved in so many ways, and, at this moment in time, the solution you create could be something that has never been done before.

For us, as designers and developers, this is the exciting part.