It’s been several years since I’ve posted anything on this blog, so I wanted to give an update about what I’ve been up to lately. I recently launched the successor to Warm Forest, called Type & Grids. Type & Grids is a template/theming system built with HTML5 instead of Flash like Warm Forest was. It was a long overdue update. The Warm Forest site will stay up for the time being, but I don’t plan on making any new updates. All my attention will be devoted to Type & Grids going forward.
I actually registered the domain typeandgrids.com in 2009. The idea was to refine what I did with Warm Forest and make the focus on typography and grids. The original plan was to build everything in Flash. Despite the iPhone and iPad not supporting Flash, I still thought there were ways to make Flash sites viable. You could have your Flash version for desktop visitors and then a separate mobile-optimized HTML version for users on phones and tablets. It seemed like a good solution and I actually went pretty far down that path building things out.
Also a couple years ago I really thought that Apple was going to “give in” and eventually allow Flash on iOS. Other mobile devices were touting support for Flash so I figured Apple was just being stubborn and would have to follow suit to stay competitive – users would want access to the “full web”.
But obviously it didn’t play out like that. Apple has such a huge presence that their decision not to support Flash essentially sent that technology to the grave. On Windows 8, the metro version of IE10 only allows Flash from sites on a “whitelist”. Flash for Android devices is no longer available. For the quickly growing mobile and tablet market, Flash won’t exist.
So it became obvious to me that Type & Grids shouldn’t be built with Flash. I never thought that Flash was a great solution for all sites, but for a long time thought it was awesome for creative/portfolio sites. I definitely no longer think that though and it’s been at least two years since I’ve done any real Flash dev work. HTML5 is the way forward and I think everyone can agree on that now.
As I was realizing all of this, I started hearing about this new thing called responsive design…
My thoughts on responsive design
Responsive design is awesome. I love it. When I first read about it and saw examples, it just made complete sense. It’s an easy sell to clients. One site that adapts itself to any device. Everyone gets it. But I still think there are downsides to responsive design and that it’s not the best solution for every website.
The other day I was listening to a podcast and a product manager from 37signals (a company I greatly admire) was saying how he thought responsive design was terrible. And really I had to kind of agree with him on the points he was making. His main point was that having to take into consideration all the different breakpoints and possible layouts for every different device makes design exceedingly difficult. And if you want to update something in your design that makes it even more difficult. Good design is all about constantly tweaking and improving things so if it’s super hard to update and change things then that’s bad for the design. His ideal solution was to have a desktop design and a separate mobile design. Each customized to best suit its uses. And that was a much better solution than a responsive design that fits everything.
Another guy on the podcast responded by saying responsive design really isn’t that hard to implement as long as you plan from the very beginning to make the design responsive. However one point that no one brought up – and I think this is a really good point – is that setting out from the get go to make a design responsive really, really limits the design. It puts tons of constraints on the design and limits the possibilities. You have to constantly evaluate how everything will work at each different breakpoint. And some things won’t work very well at certain breakpoints so those types of things might just be left out of the design altogether to make things work better on all devices.
For example, recently I’ve been visiting websites and without resizing my browser window I can tell the design is responsive. It just looks responsive. And sure enough when I resize my window, it’s a responsive design. Something about the way the site layout is put together gives it away. I’m not saying all responsive designs are like that, just that there is a certain look and layout that lends itself to responsive design. So a lot of sites are starting to look the same due to that. My worry is that instead of having a version of your website that works awesome for the desktop and another version that is awesome for mobile, you end up with one watered down version that is mediocre on every device. It’s like trying to please everyone at once.
So all that being said I do still really like responsive design in a lot of cases. I think it’s a perfect solution for simple sites without tons of content and sites where the user isn’t setting out to accomplish a complex task. Great for marketing sites and less so for sites that are more like apps where users go to get stuff done. In that case it might be better to design a custom site for mobile users.
I did end up deciding to make Type & Grids responsive and I think it works well for what it is. I felt like responsive was the right choice for the type of site I was creating. I’m stoked to have finally launched it even though I feel like I am pretty late to the game. The original Flash version was planned to launch by the end of 2009, then I scrapped that and was hoping to get the HTML5 version launched beginning of 2012. So this is about a year later than I thought, but better late than never! The response to Type & Grids has been great so far so it was worth it. I’m always interested in hearing any feedback and suggestions so let me know what you think of the new project.