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Websites being built today need to be accessible on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. I will outline a prototyping process that we are experimenting with to efficiently create designs for responsive websites.
Increasingly, a website may be likely to be accessed using a mobile device as it is using a desktop or laptop computer. And more users are now only using mobile devices to access websites. Building websites that adapt to different devices is called responsive web design. I will outline a prototyping process that we are experimenting with to efficiently create responsive websites.
(Note: While I refer to using Drupal in this post, for the most part, the ideas presented here could be applied to prototyping for any content management system.)
A finished design prototype is the end-result of a conversation between the web designer and the client. It needs to communicate what the built website will look like and how it will work. It establishes the following aspects of a web design:
The traditional web design process goes something like this:
This traditional process has several drawbacks when used for designing responsive websites:
For defining a new prototyping process for our team I started with three ideas:
Instead of creating static wireframes & static JPEG mockup, this approach calls for building prototypes directly in HTML and CSS. This has several advantages:
Instead of designing for the desktop and then refining the site for mobile access, this approach calls for designing for the mobile device first. The idea is to start designing the mobile experience for the smallest mobile device first and then progressively add extra features for larger devices and computers.
This may seem like a radical idea that would limit what your responsive website could do and look like. Actually the opposite may be true and the mobile-first approach may lead to better designs for both mobile and the desktop. Luke Wroblewski argues that Mobile forces you to focus :
Mobile devices require software development teams to focus on only the most important data and actions in an application. There simply isn't room in a 320 by 480 pixel screen for extraneous, unnecessary elements. You have to prioritize.
So when a team designs mobile first, the end result is an experience focused on the key tasks users want to accomplish without the extraneous detours and general interface debris that litter today's desktop-accessed Web sites. That's good user experience and good for business.
When designing a house layout, an architect can position a kitchen anywhere. But it probably makes most sense to place it near a dining area. While a design problem can have many possible solutions, certain solutions are better and can be thought of as design patterns. In a seminal book titled A Pattern Language, architect Christopher Alexander and his co-authors outlined many such design patterns as a language that can be used to create good architecture and urban design.
This idea of defining design patterns has found into many disciplines including software and interaction design. Over the years, web developers and designers have evolved web design patterns that work well either because they are better in terms of usability, implement best practices, or if they are based on familiar conventions that have evolved over time.
We are now seeing new design patterns evolving for responsive websites:
Incorporating the above ideas I outlined a new process for our projects for building responsive websites:
In my next post I will write about the tools and techniques we used and how this process worked in practice.