The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton

Gridset and the Red Pill

– August 23rd, 2012 –

Last week was an exciting one. After nearly a year in the design and development, Gridset launched – our tool for making grids on the web. The beta is now closed, although if you signed up, don’t worry, you still have your account and all the grids you created. If you’re new to Gridset, head on over, create a free account and have a play.

Last year, at Mark Boulton Design, we were working on about five or six concurrent responsive website design projects. All of them were at various stages, but mostly they were in various stages of prototype – from the grey-box, to the high fidelity.

One of them included advertising. Two others were asymmetric: meaning one or more of the columns wasn’t the same width as the others. Some of the requirements came mid-way through a project which meant we had to go back and refactor CSS and HTML to accommodate it. All of them were sizeable projects. The maths got difficult quickly, and we sat down and had a chat about making something to make our lives a little bit easier. That Wednesday, the seeds of Gridset were sown.

Responsive by default

Responsive design is time-consuming. Not just writing the code, but all the way back to content requirements, typography, layout, managing client needs and expectations, Q.A and bug testing. Making websites this way adds time. In some cases, too much. Or rather, we’re spending time on the wrong things.

One of the things that is clear, is that if you build websites this way, you need to get out of Omnigraffle or Photoshop and into a browser sooner. You need to get content into a real browser environment soon to see how it responds to different screen sizes etc. We found that we were spending too much time either a. coding layouts over and over, b. bug fixing things we shouldn’t.

Luckily, grids – along with some other things like iconography and typography – can be abstracted from our design work. They can be worked on independently before coming together in the browser. This way, we spend more time focussed on answering some of the design problems than banging heads with layout code and the responsive headwind is a steady breeze instead of a gale.

Choosing the Red Pill

I can’t design just in a browser. Neither can other people. Which is fine, I think; architects don’t design using steel, glass and bricks. Personally, I design using a bunch of tools that I have a good knowledge of: pencils, paper, Photoshop and HTML. You may do something different. But over the course of the past couple of years, as responsive design has jolted us from our lie of control on the web, we’ve needed to do more in the browser because doing it in Photoshop doesn’t make sense anymore.

Sometimes I hate Responsive Design. Like Cypher in the Matrix, if I had to choose between the Matrix and the real world, I’d choose the Matrix. Why? Because designing for the web before responsive design was easier. And most people – including me – want an easy life. But once we’ve accepted the reality of designing for the web, I don’t think there’s any other way to work now. Even if you can’t design in a responsive way – because of advertising, or content problems, or your CMS makes it difficult – then you shouldn’t ignore it.

The tools we use

The next step on the web, now this disruption is settling down a little, is for us to invent new tools to help. Tools that are fit for purpose – specialist – and that do one thing well. I’m very much looking forward to the next few years where more people swallow the red pill and we start producing more and more web products using these tools. It can only get better, right?

Filed in: design.

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