Be careful who you build for

This hilarious animated gif crafted by Tiago Franco (@Alarka) has probably been viewed by the entire web development community by now. It shows the responsive web designer’s instinctive grabbing of the browser handles whenever they open a new website. We all do it and there’s nothing wrong with that.

It illustrates a real problem in situations where web designers and developers try to design for this eventuality - to dazzle and amaze their industry colleagues while losing sight of the project’s audience. If you are building a website (responsive or otherwise) and your project personas become industry heroes rather than those you painstakingly identified at the beginning of a project then it’s time to worry. The project is in danger of losing sight of it’s original goals, the purpose it set out to serve and the value it was supposed to deliver. I would wager that this mostly happens around the concious incompetence and concious competence stages of the responsive dip.

Don’t get me wrong - I don’t have an issue with testing layouts in this manner for the right reasons, in fact I would strongly recommend stress testing your layout at random viewport widths. Try closing your eyes whilst dragging the browser handles to alter the window width, stop dragging at a random point and then open your eyes again. This removes any transitional1 hocus-pocus from the changing layout and gives you an idea of the state in which real users will load your product. Real users aren’t going to see changing layouts, the chances are they will see only one layout state2.

Don’t lose sight of who you are really building this for.

  1. And speaking of transitions, they are probably good indicators of the worst offenders. 

  2. Per browsing session, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume a user may load your page on different devices at different times, in fact - almost a cert. Will they see the layout dynamically change between these sessions? No. Design for one state per session.