Responsive Design Requires Strategic Collaboration

I’ve been recommending to many of my customers a responsive design approach for a while now. I’ve always felt that it provides a consistent branded experience across multiple devices with less ongoing maintenance. The trade off is that it does take more effort to define, design and develop a responsive website.

There are lots of articles about responsive design but this one I read on the Real World UX website is the first one that takes a broad overview of the cross-functional perspectives that should be considered. In  “Deciding whether to go responsive requires strategic collaboration” the author details considerations from the business strategy, user experience and development area perspective. For each area there is a list with a need and a short explanation of that need.

The article stresses the need for cross-functional collaboration to broaden the understanding of the needs in each area involved in a responsive website design project. Without this understanding conversations between the areas may “devolve into arguments rather than constructive dialogue”.

The one thing I find missing from this article is a solution to facilitating these sometimes difficult cross-functional conversations. I believe you need to have an experienced Business Analyst involved in the project. Their role are to elicit requirements from all stakeholders in the project – that includes design and development needs. It is their job to be able to communicate those requirements clearly to all parties involved and make sure they understand each others perspectives. I also believe that a strong, independent Project Manager will keep those cross-functional teams on track and informed during the project.

I like the lists of cross-functional considerations in this article. My recommendation for a successful project would be to include a Business Analyst and Project Manager (or someone who can perform both roles) as a part of your responsive website project team.

Happy Birthday WordPress

Can you believe WordPress is now 10 years old. It seems like it’s just exploded over the few couple years. WordPress now much more than just a great blogging platform it’s also a robust content management system. The article WordPress is 10 years old today: Here’s how it’s changed the Web on The Next Web opened my eyes to several things I hadn’t known about WordPress. Many high profile sites such as The Next Web, CNN, TechCrunch, GigaOm, Dow Jones, UPS, NBC Sports, TED use it as a platform. A statistic quoted in the article surprised me – “WordPress has 52 percent of the Top 100 blog market share on the Internet. This number dwarfs other platforms like Drupal, Gawker, BlogSmith, Movable Type, TypePad, Blogger, Joomla, and Tumblr”. In addition, WordPress says that it now powers more than 66 million sites! That’s pretty great for open source software. For me I’ve found it a great tool for creating sites and as a wire framing tool. Check out the article at least to watch WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg give the 2012 State of the Word address.

Do I really need a Graphic Designer?

I’ve heard this question before. As my expertise is in business analysis and development my short answer is always yes. I have dabbled in web design and I can recognize good design from bad but I would not classify myself as a Graphic Designer. I am always in awe of the individuals who can listen to a client’s description of who they are, what they do and what they want their site to look like and turn it into a beautiful functional design.

After reading the article Why It’s a Good Idea to Hire a Graphic Designer on the Design Theory website I now feel I have a better vocabulary to “sell” the hiring of an experienced  professional graphic designer. They use the old adage that a first impression is everything. I would add that you also don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Visitors to your site make a lot of initial judgments on what the see when they first arrive . You may have the best information to share but if it’s presented poorly it will be ignored or missed. A Graphic Designer will capture the attention of the target audience and present your message to them so they will respond to it.

Are Keywords and SEO Dead?

The article Keywords Are Dead? Long Live Keywords by George Stevens on the Social Media Today website confirmed my view of Search Engine Optimization. People search with keywords so if you want your content to rise to the top of any search result results for a given keyword, your content better be relevant to that keyword. I’ve had many customers ask me about SEO and I always point back to their content. As it says in the article “good quality content will have all the keywords you need”. Search engines decide relevancy based upon content and the words in that content. You need to spend a good amount of time thinking about how your content is structured. Including your keywords in not only body content but headers and navigation as well. This will greatly improve the relevancy of a given keyword on your site.

The article goes on to discuss the death of SEO. It positions professional SEO as being in business to “trick” Google and other search engines. Since searchers want relevant results to their keyword search, Google’s aim is to be “un-trickable” or “SEO proof”. I agree with the author that as SEO practices must evolve. As long as people use search engines to find information there will always be a need to optimize the content of your website.


Design Hasn’t Changed

Even with the digital revolution, visual design and its underlying principals haven’t really changed for the last 50 years. I was surprised when I read that in Why Design Hasn’t Changed a Bit in the Past 50 Years by James George on the Design Festival website. I thought for sure that with the advent of electronic communications and social media that couldn’t be true.

The article explained negative space and how book margins are determined for both print and electronic versions. I learned that the application of the rule of thirds for composition was first recorded in the late 1790’s. Even older than that is the Golden Ratio which determines the most aesthetically pleasing ratio between areas in a composition. Examples of this can be found in the structure of a seashell as well as the Mona Lisa.

My favorite part of the article will make my UX and IA friends happy. For many years I have heard them quote Hick’s Law and Fitt’s law while reviewing visual designs for me. Hick’s law basically states that the time it takes to make a selection from a menu of items is determined by how the information is organized. The more information presented the more time it will take for your visitor to find what they’re looking for. Fitt’s law looks at the size of your menu items and states that visitors will instinctively navigate to the largest menu on the page.This can be good or bad depending on your goals. The author illustrates these laws quite well using the craigslist and eBay websites.

While the underlying principals haven’t changed but visual designers still need to apply the principals correctly in all the different digital communication vehicles we use today. The biggest challenge will continue to be that you cannot always control the size of the view-port or client side software where your target audience sees your message. We must think beyond a fixed page.