Whenever I write about responsive design, I am often asked how people can apply design principles to a small screen or a single room (usually one of the two, since it’s so rare to see other configurations). It’s interesting to me that some of these questions arise when there is little evidence that they will help most people achieve maximum productivity and usability.
Yes, design principles are very effective at making pages appear efficient and responsive web design on small screens, but the key is to make it feel almost instantly intuitive. Here are five of the most important things about design principles that people who really care about this stuff should take to heart.
1. Avoid burying text deep in the page. No desktop editor has allowed users to ensure that the bookmarks area doesn’t get buried under text. This is also important for the small screen — I struggle a bit with SMRT (a responsive design tool that lets developers automate the process of pushing text down the page), because it shifts text far down on the page and tries to make it easy to navigate. With responsive design, it’s a bit easier to keep text nested and high up the page, but try it with any new editor and you’ll find it’s just not an option.
2. Design tools can be tweaked to best suit each use case. If you want, you can try SMRT for your initial build, and customize the layout by changing page titles, rearranging images, changing color schemes, increasing or decreasing the number of characters in a sentence, and adding new details. It can be tremendously powerful, but if you don’t think it’s practical, it’s worth trying. Same goes for other tools, such as DOMadgets or HTMLKey: all of these can help you keep things simple. No need to churn out general-purpose, page-navigation tools.
3. Create full-page, fully loaded pages from scratch. That might mean completely rewriting an old page for adaptive design, or using every page-navigation tool at your disposal. The most effective design-savvy people I know can pull off this — they know which pages they need, and they know which tools are worth working with.
4. If you want to embed the elements of your web page, you should also design the embeds so they auto-load. The best sites make it easy to add and remove content from an embed, but if you think you need to do more, that’s fine. I personally recommend something like Media Player that automatically loads as soon as you hit play on an embed.
5. Finally, while users who know how to manipulate HTML may wonder why I am telling them about adaptive design, it’s critical that people who don’t know how to structure HTML first learn how to do it. And, ideally, they should learn how to use adaptive design and CSS3 at the same time. What I teach is important — try out the tools, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, you might as well just deploy an earlier version of that page.