“What was this year about?” That’s always the main question when I brief the design team after a conference. After my last two visits to Brighton for Responsive Day Out, it’s been easy to pick one or two threads that create a narrative through the twelve talks. This year, there were certainly topics that received repeated attention. Accessibility got a big nod from start-to-end, as did progressive enhancement, with good reason: being agnostic to the capabilities of a user and their device is a no-brainer for responsible, future-proof websites. But when I step back and try to answer my team, it’s fair to say this year had a bit of everything and nothing in particular.
Three years ago, we were thoroughly stuck into responsive web design and things were messy; many of the processes and techniques we’d settled into weren’t as flexible as our new fluid grid systems. Jeremy Keith started the ‘day out’ so we could share and solve such experiences, and Sarah Parmenter kicked off the discussion with an honest admission we could all attest to: “we’re winging it”.
Through such conversation and experimentation, we’ve put many of those early struggles behind us and moved onto the next level of increasingly diverse, niche problem areas with their own dizzying depth. For example, beyond evergreen principles like accessibility, this year’s speakers touched upon collaborative methodology, intelligent layouts, offline support and component modularisation. This variety and specialism prompts me to consider a slightly different question: “What is responsive web design about?”
I think Jeremy answers the question well in his own review of the event: “The truth is that responsive web design is just plain ol’ web design: it’s the new normal”. At JH, we’ve certainly been doing nothing but responsive websites for years; dealing with screens large and small is our natural state of operation. As we’ve adapted to responsive design, and its practice has become the norm, we need it less and less as a tentpole term. I’m sure many other attendees go days and weeks without saying it. Is the term dead then? Not for the time being. Practitioners may be moving onto new challenges and thinking responsibly, but it continues to serve a purpose in conversation with clients — it helps say we’re building websites the right way.
Since 2013, Responsive Day Out has served as an annual barometer of this transition. There’s much more to come, as reflected in this year’s final quarter which looked into the future. We don’t know if digital wallpaper will be the next big thing, only that the openness, accessibility and flexibility of the Internet means new paradigms are guaranteed to uproot us again. So, as we hone our skills for today’s projects, we must also be prepared to assess and adapt to the next challenge.
In this light, the importance of such conferences cannot be overstated — Jeremy has played his part, delivering three brilliantly sharp events through good curation and a snappy format. Sadly it’s the right time for Responsive Day Out to fade into the sunset. Let’s hope, when the next big thing happens, and we rally around another term, someone’s ready to assemble the gathering we’ll need.