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Responsive design trickles down

The implications of responsive design can go pretty deep. I found this out first hand when designing web sites that relied on ad revenue. Sales models are maybe just now catching up, but sales are not the only ones that need some help.

I’m finding a current project that should require me to solve some fun and interesting responsive design challenges may turn out to be the exact opposite due to limits in common marketing and content production practices.

A picture is worth 1,000Kbs

Many retail sites like Lands’ End and Williams-Sonoma are very image heavy, and I’m not just talking about product images. Everything is an image. Promotions, headers, buttons…just about anything that requires unique “style” or a non-standard font is an image.

This situation is left over from our old development models, when fonts weren’t available and doing something as simple as rounded corners required images and trickery. That’s changed for us designers and coders but it hasn’t changed for other departments.

Content producers and marketing are still in a mindset to pump out images. It’s easy for them but we all know that’s not an ideal solution in the real world, whether it be because of performance or even simple SEO. Responsive design is quite possibly the biggest game changer in this realm and now I get it. I’ve never been in an image-heavy world so all the talk about responsive image handling, while interesting, has been somewhat of an after thought to me, but now I see why. In a world where sites rely solely on images but still want a responsive web site, it’s quite the puzzle to solve.

Here I am trying to figure out how to make a great experience using as few images as possible and the “real world” is the exact opposite. Go figure. How do we change that?

I don’t know but the CMS is probably the biggest hurdle. Structured data is essential for responsive sites to work efficiently and many CMSes maybe don’t offer that flexibility…or at least not easily. Text blobs are RWD’s worst enemy and I’ve seen way to many CMSes that function that way, giving the producer full control. This worked a few years ago but that just isn’t sustainable now.

But CMSes are only part of the problem. The other part is simply accepting change. Just like it’s been rough for us to find a happy workflow in responsive coding, it’s going to be hard for content producers/marketers to adjust as well. We’re essentially telling them that they don’t need to use Photoshop anymore. We can still use their eye for design and strategy mind, which is their true skill anyway, but everything else is now a problem that lies in the middle, somewhere between us and them.

This is a situation I was well aware of already but a recent meeting just made it click even more. I’m not really in a position to change things, shy of constant preaching and debates, but things will have to change one way or another and soon…and I’ll be ready when that happens.