I recently gave a presentation called “Responsive Design and Bruce Lee: Be Like Water My Friends”.
While I don’t have the time (or rights really) to reproduce the entire presentation here, I do want to pass along a few things I learned while creating the presentation and a few things I’ve learned since.
1– Bruce Lee’s Jeet Koon Do style of martial arts is based around the idea of flexibility, and so is responsive design. Responsive design is geared for absolute flexibility and cross-device UX that matches the expectation of the user. Flexibility, however, means mastering a wider variety of skills. The expectations on designers to understand a wider and wider scope of information can be stimulating to some and frustrating for others. It begs the question — Would you rather be a jack of all trades or a genius at just one specific thing? For Jeet Koon Do masters, I’m sure the point would be to master a wide variety of styles and be flexible in implementation, but that idea doesn’t translate well to responsive design. The crux of responsive design at present is in creating ONE singular design that is able to be implemented across a variety of screen sizes, devices, and resolutions. In doing so, I worry that we’re forgetting about the importance of user experience even in the hopes of improving it. How can a singular, albeit flexible, design truly match the expectations of a user regardless of what device they use? There is much to improve in this realm.
2– Responsive design is a great design tool, but it isn’t the end of the line in design. The methodology and work flow aren’t clearly defined, so even though responsive design has sent a mini-shockwave through the design community, it’s still a concept that is intimately connected to front end development. While there is a push at the moment for graphic designers to become coders, I’ve yet to see any evidence that there are actually more and more people who are both amazing devs and amazing designers. It may happen, but I don’t believe we’re there yet. Since this is the case, it is important for a dev to explain what makes his/her life easier in terms of designing for responsive design and then allow a graphic designer’s images/text to fit in with the desires of the dev. This is awkward, but it’s also a reality in web design. Even though designers would probably prefer to take charge, they’re at the mercy of the dev in responsive designs.
3– Responsive templates are limited at the moment. It’s not that you can’t make really fantastic responsive design, it’s that responsive design is built on a grid that can be limiting for designers. Windows 8 has an entire OS built on templates, and designers have yet to reach the end of it so even though there are complaints that it is boring, there are few complaints that it is limiting. Responsive design, however, has yet to have true breakouts that are still in a template form but also push the boundaries of creativity and maintain usability. This is coming, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet.