Where Is The Caffeine? I Need More Buzz!

(c) Scott Adams, Inc. from the always accurate Dilbert comics.
(c) Scott Adams, Inc. from the always accurate Dilbert comics.

I am finally making a switch to using HTML5. For the last half-year I have been transforming productions I have made before into the new platform. Not because I did not know about it, but because finally it is stable enough to be working with it in my opinion, and delivering a big enough level of improvement over ‘old’ HTML that it is worth spending time and money on. It is not so much the HTML that I like compared to the use of CSS and JavaScript + AJAX.

No clue what I am talking about? Not to worry… it is just showing that I was not jumping on the band-wagon right away with implementing HTML5 websites. The main reason was actually way more simple; there was always a group of users, usually within the clients’ circle, that held on to their old Windows XP computers, and not being able to work comfortably with a HTML5 compatible browser. And I hated every single bit of that, but hey, if that is where the money is coming from, I have to adept from time to time.

Yesterday, a colleague of mine at another company was wondering why we had an open, listening FTP port on our server, and he began preaching of the potential security breach that might be. And he is right, I do not deny that. But, if you have to work with people or a company, especially if they pay the bills, that do not want to, or do not understand anything of technology and only have FTP available to provide data, and you do not know when, and they can do it from anywhere, any time, there are only so many options left open. So, yes, we have an open FTP port, on a non-critical server. If something happens, it is sandboxed, and something happens. Too bad 😉

And here we are getting a little bit on the turf of my subject today. I do not know how it is in any area of expertise except technology, design and photography; but everyone is always trying to show how things need to be done, and what is the ‘right’ way to do things. I do agree, there is always the ‘has to’ version of things. Security, coding regulations, data management. But in the end, most of the work has to do with the environment you are working in.

Yesterday, on a tv-program about building a house in the Mojave Desert, it was shown that before a house can be built, tests need to be done on the structure of the ground, the presence of clay in the ground, to make sure you can build on it. Coming from the Netherlands myself, there is not a house being built without giant rods into the ground to support the foundation because the ground is so very unstable because of the clay and the fact that most of the country’s ground is below sea-level. Building houses have to adapt to the environment. It might not be the best scenario globally, but in a certain situation, you have to adapt.

I can preach whatever I want to a client of how things need to be done. But in the end, if the Mexican Standoff is that it is their way or the highway, having me missing out on a huge payment; I rather do the best I can in the environment that I need to work with, than just not doing it at all. Am I a sell out? I don’t think so. I think I am someone using my expertise and skill to do the best job that I can in the area I am in.

When I build my own productions, things are a complete different story. I love to experiment with new things, combine them with the old that are stable, and try out whatever I can do. There I have the free reign of how to handle things. I love it. Working partially with cloud services, but using the power of local client systems, and dedicated servers since I still prefer them over cloud servers (but who knows, next year)… it doesn’t matter, I can work how I want to do it.

And there, I can decide what technology to use. And even there, there are some current day buzz words in technology that I simply cannot support. I think one of the ones that is closest to what I am working with every day is ‘Responsive Design’. For people who know the word, but do not really know what it means; Responsive design is the way of building the site once, designing it once, and have the design automatically adept to the device and orientation of the device you are working with. Before it finally became something interesting this year, I have, as some other developers and designers as well, building technologies to do that before with simple javascript, different stylesheets and you were done with it.

Then why do I call it now very negatively a ‘buzz word’? Because it is. Everyone is mentioning that they want a Responsive site. Which is actually fine. My only issue is, as any designer+developer knows deep in their hearts; A responsive site is not always the right way to go about things.  Why?

A responsive design simply mentions that the site acts and behaves the same, it just visually might be different to accomodate the device you are working on. Perfect. Except… some small issues.

A phone is not a phablet, a phablet is not a tablet, a tablet is not a TV, and a TV is not a desktop. It has nothing to do with resolutions; it has to do with interfaces. On a keyboard I have 102 keys, over a billion of different combinations of interactions, and multiply that by factor 8 if I add my mouse to it. My phone has about 12 with multi-touch, maybe 25, or what do I know, but also on a much smaller screen. My phone has a higher resolution than my tablet, which can, or can not, have a keyboard attached to it. My console has a controller, 12 buttons, about 860 different possibilities. Also, when I am behind my console I am sitting in a wingback chair, relaxed. Behind the desktop, I am at my desk, surrounded by four screens at the time. My phone? Anywhere… waiting at the gas pump in the car, in the train or simply a last check of the day in bed. My tablet? usually during breakfast to read up on the news.

Every device is simply a complete different thing, connected to a different use pattern and a different environment. Even though there is a Photoshop Touch, which is pretty good, it will not even get close to the regular Photoshop at my desktop. Of course, this is an unfair comparison, since Photoshop touch is only meant for small time edits, and the regular Photoshop is a powerhouse. But, it does put a spotlight on the issue.

In my opinion, if you work on a site, and you design, you design the experience. Not so much the site. And every device has, as pointed out earlier, a different use pattern. Although I do agree that you do not want to develop your production twice, you should also not sell yourself short by ‘just implementing a responsive design’ that simply make the site appear different on different devices.

True, Responsive design might be the right way to go for your project, but it is not automatically so because ‘the world asks for a responsive design’. In a lot of scenarios, a Responsive Design might be actually locking you down to create a better adaptable version of your website.

It is the same thing with all the ‘buzz words’ going around. Some stick, some die out over time. I love it how Netflix responded in Europe to the request of having downloadable files; their answer is that it is not going to happen. The reason is not that the technology is not available, but that the time and money spent in it now, will be useless since the speed of networks in Europe is growing so fast, that by the time they are well finished, it is something that no one is asking for anymore. It is not worth it to always do exactly what people want right now.

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