Thinking Responsively: A Framework for Future Learning

Illustration: Brad Colbow for A List Apart

Three years after The Web Aesthetic, comes my second article for A List Apart, Thinking Responsively: A Framework for Future Learning. From the introduction:

Responsive web design changed everything about how we think and work on the web—and five years on, we’re still exploring the best ways to approach our practice. If we want a web that is truly universal, we must consider our users, our medium, and our teams in new, adaptable ways. Looking at where we’ve come from and where we’re going, Paul Robert Lloyd proposes a philosophical framework for our work on the responsive web.

Intended to inform a broader discussion about the principles that underline our work, I thought I would share some background as to how this article came about.

Finding Principles

Having spent much of 2013 speaking about the web aesthetic and other topics, last year I decided to take a break and instead focus on my work at the Guardian. Keeping my ears open to ideas that could form the basis of future talks, when Ethan Marcotte spoke at Responsive Day Out about the need for a responsive framework not about execution, but about philosophy and quality, my ears pricked up.

Ethan’s talk mentioned principles, so I summarised that event by categorising each talk under one of five (responsible, polylithic, pragmatic, collaborative, flexible), but clearly more thought was needed. Being asked to speak at this year’s CSS Day gave me the opportunity to do so.

As I prepared for that talk – beyond getting somewhat sidetracked by climate change and politics – I wondered whether, instead of creating new principles, I could instead identity familiar themes and draw out commonalities. Reviewing the discussion that had taken place over the last five years, I coalesced these themes into a framework that would address the medium, those who use it, and those that build for it, ourselves.

From Outline to Article

Having presented my talk, I was left with an outline that looked like the beginnings of an essay. With my thoughts needing further clarification, I reached out to Rose Weisburd at A List Apart, to see if they would be interested in helping me edit and publish an article based on the talk.

They were, and Lisa Maria Martin was assigned as my editor. Lisa helped me sharpen my core message, which increasingly focused on people and process, over technology and tools. At each stage of the editing process, she questioned and encouraged in equal measure. That the original outline was whittled down from 4,500 words to almost 2,400, should give you an idea how much review and revision took place. I’m presenting Responsive Principles again at Web Expo in Prague next month; it will be a better talk thanks to Lisa’s help.

This article is intended to be a comma, not a full stop. If you haven’t already, please read the article and provide feedback. Do you see these principles reflected in your own work already, or can you see them doing so in the future? I would love to hear your thoughts.