2. Juni 2018

Designing a Website? Be a Little Bit Lazy

The other day I watched a talk given by Ethan Marcotte at the Web Conference An Event Apart. It's titled "Laziness in the Time of Responsive Design". He got me at lazy. Yes, I do go to work every day, my apartment is fairly clean and I do my master's on the side BUT I'm also always on the search of possibilities that will make any of these areas of life a little less crowded. Did Ethan Marcotte deliver on his promise to show new ways of being lazy at work? Yes and no.

Let Go of the Idea of Controlling the Web Experience 

Here comes the lazy part. It's about letting go of the wish to be in full control of what the user of your website will see. What sounds so Zen is owed to the number of different devices we access the web on today. While in print you control exactly what goes where and what the reader will see, on the web you can't anymore. Not only are there countless different formats but also many different input mechanisms: keyboard, touch, speech or a combination of these.

What do you do as a web designer who has lost the control his print colleagues have? You let go. As designer Trent Walton beautifully put it: "I traded the control I had in Photoshop for a new kind of control – using flexible grids, flexible images, and media queries to build not a page, but a network of content that can be rearranged at any screen size to best convey a message." Today you can't plan out the whole experience but you can design the chunks of content which will make up the whole. These chunks will then be inserted into the grid of a site. Thus a website will look differently to many readers but it's up to the web designer to make sure all content is presented within a grid system that adapts well to all kinds of formats. And this is where laziness ends.

Design Your Website Grid Wisely 

Web designers need to mainly be concerned about the grid that holds their designs. Grid layouts offer an amazing amount of possibilities but they're not trivial to code nicely. When done perfectly, as a reader you will never think: "Oh, this website was meant to be read on desktop." or "That's a weird break here on this site." The grid will adapt seamlessly on any device, following Trent Walton's maxim: "Like cars designed to perform in extreme heat or on icy roads, websites should be built to face the reality of the web's inherent variability." 

Side Note: Regularly Take Out the Trash on Your Site

All of us producing content for the web are guilty of hoarding it. We don't want to throw out stuff that is still perfectly fine. Instead we hide non-priority content on level four of our navigation and hope for the best. Level four in your navigation is like the dark corner of your closet that never sees light and which you keep ignoring because you know it would take weeks to clean it out. And you don't need that corner so badly anyway, so... Guess what: As soon as you make your site responsive and cleverly hide your navigation behind a hamburger, your user will suffer from your mess. Ever opened a navigation on your smartphone and almost got stabbed by a navigation with a thousand sub navigation items where you totally got lost? Don't do that to your readers. Be nice and tidy up. Is really all of your content helpful? I don't think so either. Deactivate sites your user doesn't need and put your favorite content up on your portfolio if it makes you feel better. 

If you are a web designer and want to get more specific technical information on how it's done, watch the whole talk. It will be worth your time. 

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