Project WolverineBroadcasting LIVE from the orbiting command centre

There’s an interesting question being asked at Big Spaceship: what does responsive design really mean?

It makes the assumption that ‘mobile’ web use is just a trend, and it would be foolish to put all the effort into addressing ‘mobile’ design issues, since the Next Big Thing might render all that obsolete.

They suggest focusing on content and its use, rather than the context.  I had to think about that for a bit.  Accessing the web via a mobile device is ‘context’, but how else might it be done?  If I had to guess, I would suggest that future devices might offer more limited user interfaces – televisions, the dreaded fridge door (you’re out of milk), hell even my toothbrush.  But all of these will offer fewer options than the traditional desktop and laptop.

So the suggestion (as I understand it) is to think long and hard about the actual content and how it will be used, and build the design to accommodate those user needs in a responsive fashion – something that can be re-purposed for the next trend.

What this article forgets though, is to consider the ‘return on investement’ – ROI.  Projects don’t have an infinite lifespan, and the business will be looking to measure some benefits across a particular timespan.  I’ve found that websites and Internet initiatives don’t usually last longer than 4 or 5 years at most.
So, the content you’re including, and the design that comes with it only has to look at the current context and uses for the next 4 years.

For instance, right now, building something with a heavy mobile phone focus probably isn’t a bad idea.  The original iPhone came out in 2007, so if you had released your new strategy the day before the iPhone was announced, now would be the perfect time to move to a mobile-focussed approach.  You’re not too late, and you can still play catch-up.

In a 4-5 year window, you don’t see multiple technology shifts, so picking the current platform is a safe option and you don’t need to be an early adopter – if your 4 year web strategy was created at the start of 2011, and some new ‘thing’ was released in 2012, then you’ll have 2 years to assess the impact of this new development on your target market and to include it if necessary the next time.

So in my opinion, don’t bother trying to predict the future more than you absolutely have to – take the current trends and build on top of those.

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