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If you’ve ever stood on a chair holding a cell phone up to get a better signal or refreshed a page that’s been hanging for 30 seconds, you already know that today’s user experiences have a gaping hole. We’re spending thousands of hours crafting interfaces that are the product of countless conversations, user tests, and analytics data piled up to our (virtual) eyeballs—only to have the experience crippled by a weird signal coming from a cell tower.

Maybe your user has switched from 3G to WiFi. Maybe her battery is low. Or maybe it’s simply dark out. Whatever the scenario, real-life factors can easily thwart your best intentions—and leave your users frustrated and angry.

The concept of considering real-world factors while designing isn’t new. Environmental design can be traced back to at least 500 BCE, when the ancient Greeks started creating houses that were heated with solar energy, and it’s based on two simple truths: The real world exists, and you can’t control it.

You can’t control all the factors when a user interacts with your design, but you can certainly plan for them simply by acknowledging that they exist. I call these design conditions. Some design conditions, like the device a person is using, stay the same through a single visit or interaction with your product. But other design conditions—like energy consumption, lighting, and signal strength—have the potential (and tendency) to change during the course of a single visit, or even from page load to page load.

Just a year ago, I wouldn’t have had much of an answer for these user experience problems because the device-level APIs needed weren’t ready for primetime yet. But today, we can start to do something to improve our users’ experiences, even under these dynamic conditions, thanks to the recent buildup of the Device API."""

Responsive design goes further than the width of the user's screen.

#futurefriendly
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Tom Rolfson's profile photoAde Oshineye's profile photoBud Gibson's profile photo
6 comments
 
+Ade Oshineye great observations, but don't forget the UI/UX changing on the same visit by them changing devices as I often find myself doing when using the brilliant Chrome-to-Phone extension.  https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/google-chrome-to-phone-ex/oadboiipflhobonjjffjbfekfjcgkhco  

This is a great tool when showing someone how/why they must update their site. "Your site looks good here, but what if..."  (click Chrome to Phone.. display phone to prospective client)  "...I'm walking out the door and want to share it with someone else and they see this?"  
 
+Ade Oshineye I notice you using triple quotes a la python doc strings. Is there a reason?

And, this reminds of reading about how to code network apps in the late 90s. We've just added a new layer.
 
+Bud Gibson  I use it for a couple of reasons:
- I like to make it quite clear when I'm speaking and when I'm quoting others. The triple-quotes does that. This is especially important if the article is making contentious statements.
- I have a nebuous idea in my head that one day I'll build something like a Memex or Remembrance Agent for all my data. If and when I do that then #futureme will really appreciate my usage of regular (and easy to parse structures) structures for things like quoting.

+Tom Rolfson you're right. I suspect that in a few years time we'll have such a menagerie of devices on the web that responsive design will look a little short-sighted. I don't know what will replace it but it's becoming clearer that the idea of designing for explicit breakpoints and calling it responsive isn't sufficient. Devices like the Pixel (hi-dpi, proper keyboard with a touch screen and bandwidth that's more like a traditional desktop) cut across a lot of the models people have been using to segment web usage.
 
Just to be clear: Isn't responsive design what Google now recommends as the best mobile web strategy?
 
+Bud Gibson Google does indeed recommend it: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/recommendations-for-building-smartphone.html

I, personally, just don't think it goes far enough. There are some really interesting experiments being performed on the web:
- perceptive media: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/researchanddevelopment/2012/07/what-is-perceptive-media.shtml
- the aforementioned device-centric responsiveness
- multi-platform publishing: http://notes.xoxco.com/post/41213044413/publishers-should-publish-not-chase-technological and http://notes.xoxco.com/post/40790140616/stop-making-websites and http://trenchant.org/daily/2013/1/18/
- the need to be future-friendly in a world where new kinds of devices are popping up all the time: http://futurefriend.ly/
- the transition for some publishers/developers to a mobile-only world where the web is only used as a transport layer and a mechanism for maximising reach through search and social network traffic

The distinction is that Google's focus is on practical recommendations that everybody can and should implement today. My focus in this area is about what we should be doing tomorrow.
 
+Ade Oshineye Another point is that Google's recommendations are really meant for advertisers and those wishing to appear in Google search results. The use case there is that someone clicks on an ad or search result, and they're sent to a web browser.

There are really two questions in this case:
1. What's a way for a company to be ready for any scenario?
2. What's a way for a company to make the whole of its content scannable by the googlebot so that it will be appropriately indexed?

Note that neither of those two questions address UX at the level you're discussing here. 
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