Responsive web design: What goes around…

“Responsive Web Design essentially indicates that a web site is crafted to adapt the layout to the environment that it is being viewed in.”1

At Generation X it has always been a first principle to consider the wide variety of user platforms when designing websites. Cross browser compatibility and varied browser resolutions have always been tested as an inherant part of the design process since I first began designing websites in 2003, so the concept of responsive web design is not new to me.

The term responsive web design, however, first came to my attention last month when I read an article by James Pearce entitled Not a mobile web, merely a 320px-wide one2, orginally written in October 2010 in response to Ethan Marcotte’s seminal article3 on A List Apart.

Proponents of responsive web design seem to fall into two camps – the purists and the adaptives. The distinction lies in whether exactly the same information is presented across all platforms – the purist arguemnt – or whether the design should respond to different platforms by delivering “different content and services altogether – or, at least, a differently prioritized version of the default desktop experience”.2 As is so often the case, both sides of the argument have much to recommend them.

Allied to the concept of responsive web design is that of Mobile First,4 whereby web applications and websites are designed for mobile devices first, rather than the mobile version being adapted from the desktop version. The case for Mobile First is argued in the book of the same title, by Luke Wroblewski.

I should point out that responsive web design principles have (not yet) been applied to this WordPress blog.

1 Responsive Web Design, Wikipedia
2 Not a mobile web, merely a 320px-wide one, by James Pearce
3 Responsive Web Design, by Ethan Marcotte
4 Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski

In Search of the Holy Grail

The Holy Grail, in web design terms, was first defined for me in an article on A List Apart:

“Three columns. One fixed-width sidebar for your navigation, another for, say, your Google Ads or your Flickr photos—and, as in a fancy truffle, a liquid center for the real substance. Its wide applicability in this golden age of blogging, along with its considerable difficulty, is what has earned the layout the title of Holy Grail.”

This is in fact the design layout that had already come (independently) to epitomise my own design ethos, by offering each viewer a site which fits into the screen area available. In most cases it remains so. However, both web standards and technologies are constantly evolving and it is necessary for the layout to evolve with them.

Like most enlightened designers the twin tenets of my design philosophy are accessability and usability. My personal interpretation of these is to provide the best user experience to the widest possible audience, where that audience comprises the target market of the website in question. To do this I look at industry statistics such as those provided by the The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to determine the requirements of my target audience both now and in the near future. It is impossible to future-proof a design, but by analysing trends a designer can maximise the longevity of a design.

In terms of browsers I currently design for Internet Explorer 6 and 7, Firefox, Safari and Opera. Where conflicts arise in terms of cross-browser compatibility I go with the majority in terms of audience which as of October 2008 favours Internet Explorer (IE7 26.9%, IE6 20.2%) and Firefox(44.0%). Current browser statistics can be referenced at W3 Schools, although it is important to bear in mind that visitors to W3C may tend to be more sophisticated than the “average” user in terms of browser choice.

*This article is very much a work in progress and I will continue to update it as time allows.

Under Fire

Generation X Hosting is currently experiencing what we believe to be a distributed denial-of-service attack, also known as a DDoS attack.  A distributed denial of service attack occurs when multiple compromised systems flood the bandwidth or resources of a targeted system in an attempt to make a computer resource unavailable to it’s intended users. Our network providers are working to blackhole the attack higher in the system.

Black hole filtering works by forwarding malicious traffic to an imaginary interface known as Null0 – similar to /dev/null on Unix machines. As an invalid interface, traffic routed to Null0 is essentially dropped. This technique also minimises performance impact during the DDoS investigation so that the rest of the network remains stable under the increased load. 

I am pleased to report that most mail and web services have now been restored and that in spite of the attack our web monitoring service is currently showing an uptime report of 99.96% across the Generation X network.

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