One of the recurring themes at the Responsive Day Out was how much of a sea change responsive design is. More than once, it was compared to the change we went through going from table layouts to CSS …but on a much bigger scale.
Mark made the point that designing in a liquid way, rather than using media queries, is the real challenge for most people. I think he’s right. I think there’s an over-emphasis on media queries and breakpoints when we talk about responsive design. Frankly, media queries are, for me, the least interesting aspect. And yet, I often hear “media queries” and “responsive design” used interchangeably, as if they were synonyms.
Embracing the fluidity of the medium: that’s the really important bit. I agree with Mark’s assessment that the reason why designers and developers are latching on to media queries and breakpoints is a desire to return to designing for fixed canvases:
What started out as a method to optimise your designs for various screen widths has turned, ever so slowly, into multiple canvas design.
If you’re used to designing fixed-width layouts, it’s going to be really, really hard to get your head around designing and building in a fluid way …at first. In his talk, Elliot made the point that it will get easier once you get the hang of it:
Once you overcome that initial struggle of adapting to a new process, designing and building responsive sites needn’t take any longer, or cost any more money. The real obstacle is designers and developers being set in their ways. I know this because I was one of those people, and to those of you who’ve now fully embraced RWD, you may well be nodding in agreement: we all struggled with it to begin with, just like we did when we moved from table-based layout to CSS.
This is something I’ve been repeating again and again: we’re the ones who imposed the fixed-width constraint onto the medium. If we had listened to John Allsopp and embraced the web for the inherently fluid medium it is, we wouldn’t be having such a hard time getting our heads around responsive design.
But I feel I should clarify something. I’ve been saying “we” have been building fixed-width sites. That isn’t strictly true. I’ve never built a fixed-width website in my life.
Some people find this literally unbelievable. On the most recent Happy Mondays podcast, Sarah said:
I doubt anyone can hold their hands up and say they’ve exclusively worked in fluid layouts since we moved from tables.
Well, my hand is up. And actually, I was working with fluid layouts even when we were still using tables for layout: you can apply percentages to tables too.
Throughout my career, even if the final site was going to be fixed width, I’d still build it in a fluid way, using percentages for widths. At the very end, I’d slap on one CSS declaration on the
body to fix the width to whatever size was fashionable at the time: 760px, 960px, whatever …that declaration could always be commented out later if the client saw the light.
Actually, I remember losing work back when I was a freelancer because I was so adamant that a site should be fluid rather than fixed. I was quite opinionated and stubborn on that point.
A search through the archives of my journal attests to that:
- 2003: The long debate
- 2004: Regurgitating the chestnut
- 2004: Fixed vs. Liquid… yet again
- 2005: Fixed Fashion
- 2005: Transparent liquid
- 2005: A List Too Far Apart
- 2006: Fixtorati
- 2007: New Year’s Resolution
- 2009: Zoomfusion
Way back in 2003, I wrote:
It seems to me that, all too often, designers make the decision to go with a fixed width design because it is the easier path to tread. I don’t deny that liquid design can be hard. To make a site that scales equally well to very wide as well as very narrow resolutions is quite a challenge.
In 2004, I wrote:
Cast off your fixed-width layouts; you have nothing to lose but your WYSIWYG mentality!
I just wouldn’t let it go. I said:
So maybe I should be making more noise. I could become the web standards equivalent of those loonies with the sandwich boards, declaiming loudly that the end is nigh.
At my very first South by Southwest in 2005, in a hotel room at 5am, when I should’ve been partying, I was explaining to Keith why liquid layouts were the way to go.
That’s just sad.
So you’ll forgive me if I feel a certain sense of vindication now that everyone is finally doing what I’ve been banging on about for years.
I know that it’s very unbecoming of me to gloat. But if you would indulge me for a moment…
I TOLD YOU! YOU DIDN’T LISTEN BUT I TOLD YOU! LIQUID LAYOUTS, I SAID. BUT, OH NO, YOU INSISTED ON CLINGING TO YOUR FIXED WIDTH WAYS LIKE A BUNCH OF BLOODY SHEEP. WELL, YOU’RE LISTENING NOW, AREN’T YOU? HAH!
I’m sorry. That was very undignified. It’s just that, after TEN BLOODY YEARS, I just had to let it out. It’s not often I get to do that.
Now, does anyone want to revisit the discussion about having comments on blogs?