Responsive design, although still in its infancy, has redefined how we should think about and approach designing web pages. We believe responsiveness as a bolt-on, or an afterthought, to a pre-existing design is the wrong way to go about things…
Responsiveness takes time. It takes a clear, focused understanding of content and hierarchy. When creating a responsive site for a CMS (we do that a lot, funnily enough) we have to embrace the fact that content will always be in a state of flux. Not only do our sites need to respond, the content does too. Responsiveness isn't just a technique or a feature, it needs to be considered an innate part of the design and content strategy processes.
Responsiveness should not be retrofitted. Very, very rarely can responsiveness just be plugged in to an existing design and result in an effective, responsive site. The site will be responsive only at face value. The site will change at different viewport sizes; some things will be bigger, some smaller, some will disappear altogether. That's it. And we must question whether this is really responsive design.
Responsiveness is a mindset and a strategy as much as it is a technique. Media-queries and content reshuffling does not make a design responsive. They are simply tools and techniques of our craft. New and exciting tools, but tools nonetheless. Like all tools of our craft, they must be used responsibly and for the right reasons.
Simply bolting-on responsiveness - uninformed - to an existing, non-responsive site is not the way forward; responsiveness requires a completely redefined approach to content strategy, it requires going back to the very beginning and redefining the core decisions that drove the initial design forward, it requires drawing new conclusions and new ideas to ensure that the integrity of the content is intact no matter how large or small a screen it is viewed on and it requires a plan rooted in these new ideas and concepts. Only then can a design really be considered 'responsive' - anything else is just 'moving things around.'
Design decisions that were made to ensure content fits within a fixed width go out the window. Superfluous elements/widgets need to be eradicated. Control over the width and behaviour of every element must be rescinded and the design and content need to flow and interlope with each other at the whim of the users' device. Designers, authors and editors need to take responsibility for what the user sees. Every item of content needs to be interrogated. Does it serve a purpose? Superfluity can run rife when you are given the tools to create and design content; responsiveness and superfluity cannot co-exist.
Responsive is a mindset that has to be shared by designers, clients, authors and editors. It is the marriage of fluidity and cohesion, the embrace of constraints that are no longer fixed but fluctuate. It is not a bolt-on. It can't be retrofitted without going right back to the very basics of design; the content.
Our job as designers is to give content a visual presence, to understand hierarchy and to make sure every decision we make serves the integrity of the content and the needs of the user. To do this within the new, flowing confines of responsiveness requires us to restart the design process, to generate new ideas for how we can serve the user and maintain the visual presence of the content, all done responsibly within this new approach to design. Designers, authors, editors, clients - anyone who is involved in presenting or creating content - need to take responsibility and embrace the new ideas that are brought to light when a responsive approach is taken to design and content.
This change in mindset, for everyone involved in the site, is something that can never be achieved simply through bolting-on some new techniques. If responsiveness is required, the entire design process must start with that in mind. This is fine with a brand new site or a complete redesign, it informs our process from the very beginning. When a site already exists, at any stage of completion, responsiveness - true responsiveness, can only be achieved through back-tracking and reevaluation. Only then can we make the informed, responsible decisions that go into creating an engaging, beautiful, responsive website.