Responsive is more than just tricky visual design

There is a definite lack in technology preventing responsive design from being the amazing revolution that it should be. The big issue is that as yet, there isn’t a good way to tap into the wider context of a use case – we just get to look at screen size..

The premise here is, if you’re viewing a site on your mobile phone, the use context is completely different to if you are viewing it from google, thus the content that you need front and centre may very well be different also.

Imagine a fictional design studio – you’re heading to a meeting with the creative director and you’re running late. You realise that you’ve left the studio’s address on your desk at the office, you know which metro station you’re heading to but you can’t for the life of you remember what street their office is on. SO: you fire up Safari on your iPhone (or whatever browser / smartphone you use – you have a smartphone, right?) and you google the company. Upon hitting their website (we’re going to assume it’s *not* an old school flash site that probably wont work at all – rather, we’re going to assume that since you’re going to meet these guys, they’re on top of their game; their website is standards compliant and uses recent technologies)..

So: what you really need in this use case is, ideally: their address details and a link to a google map showing where their office is OR alternatively, a quick link so you can phone through and ask their receptionist for the address.

A desktop user may or may not be as intersted in the physical location of the studio’s office, rather this user is more than likely just browsing. Also, given the desktop context, it’s likely that this user can easily navigate around, so it might not be necessary to feature the contact or map links more prominently, instead they could easily be part of the standard navigation.

So the solution in these two distinct use cases is to show the map link or phone number front-and-centre for the user in the mobile context, while leaving these links in their normal places for the desktop user.

I’ve had this discussion/argument on twitter and forrst and Mark Boulton wrote a great piece on the need for more sensors. This is the major problem with the ideal of responsive design at the moment: we don’t have the sensors that we need. Imagine that the browser reported if a user was mobile or not. Or whether they were on a fast or slow link. Or if they were outside in bright sun. In fact, the number of useful sensors is problem only limited by imagination.


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