Back to Basics

Thanks to some magic post sell-out tickets I was able to attend and thoroughly enjoy the first Responsive Day Out conference last year. When the news broke that another one would be held this year, I naturally made sure I got my ticket the moment they went on sale.

Three of the speakers and Jeremy Keith sitting on stage during one of the panel discussions

Photo: Marc Thiele

It turned out to be another brilliant event. Jeremy Keith is a fantastic host and the three 20-minute talks followed by a short panel discussion are the perfect set-up. All the talks were of stellar quality and my mind was positively buzzing at the end.

One notion that kept resonating the most with me throughout the day was how the challenge of building websites for uncountable devices and screen sizes is bringing us back to the most important basics: focussing on clear accessible content and user needs.

The Core Model

Ida Aalen talked about the core model and showed how it was used for the build of the Norwegian Cancer Society's website.

An example work sheet for the core model

By establishing key user needs, objectives and clear paths, this model boils content down to its most important core. Not only does this help create a site that effectively fulfils user and business goals, it also helps to get away from the misguided idea that the home page is the most important part of a site. The majority of users don't visit a site to look at the home page (many will actually never see it). Instead, they are looking for (and hopefully find) that piece of core content that meets their needs.

I also love how this model adopts the 'mobile first' mindset and asks to structure the established core content with a small screen in mind. This focus and meticulous upfront planning also helps to prevent falling into the 'Tetris trap' when it comes to designing the layout of content for larger screens.

Death To Competing Content

Oliver Reichenstein's talk neatly picked up on that notion, too. He talked about the habit of filling screens with boxes of competing content, which results in a muddled message and confusing content flow.

There are so many sites that make that one thing that they are built for - consumption of content - so incredibly frustrating. News sites surround their articles with convoluted fluff (animated images, really?!) and punching yourself in the face is less painful than looking for an answer on WikiAnswers.

So, Oliver's call to stop putting unrelated content next to each other and instead adopt a container model that follows a logical vertical structure struck so many chords with me, my mind kept loudly shouting 'Yes! This! Please, everyone, listen to this man!'.

We were urged to move away from 'How do I fill in this box?' to 'How do I provide and present the best quality content?'.

Let’s Make This Happen

Next to my excited agreement, I kept having creeping doubts about how to keep pushing this positive change forward. I frequently observe a herd-like mentality when it comes to applying solutions. Trying to convince designers or clients that a slideshow isn't an effective content presentation model is often still very hard work. And don't get me started on that three-line menu icon or social media buttons! The 'but everyone else is doing it' notion is often hard to counter unless you have statistics and use cases that prove other ways are better.

Because of these challenges, I hugely admire the work of people like Ida and Oliver, who get their clients to jump on board and help to forge a better path (just look at the new Guardian site - it's a beauty!).

The Talks And Resources

I've only highlighted two speakers, but all ten of them were absolutely amazing and their talks were choc-a-bloc with great information. So I urge you to grab a mug of your favourite beverage, get comfy and listen to them all together with the slides and resources:

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