Remember the terrible Armour Hot Dogs theme song? "Fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks..." Utterly poor choice for an advertisement, but conceptually useful when talking about the concept of Responsive Design for building websites. If you have been too busy debugging IE compatibility or perhaps are limited to using the Chinese version of Google, then maybe you haven't heard about this trending design approach that says your site must "respond" to your users environment, not trying to make it work the other way around. The fat, skinny or climbing "kids" in this case represent the many web consumption paths that vary in ways much more diverse than the relative obesity of our young ones. In the industry of web development, long gone are the days of simply worrying about which version of IE or Netscape someone is running and if their screen was one of two likely sizes. Now I have to wonder if they're on a 2" freebie Android phone or a 55" Google TV. I have to wonder if it's touch enabled, if it's a Kindle-like display or a bright LED type display, if the user likes to pinch zoom, if I'm dealing with "out in the boonies" crawling internet bandwidth or big-city 4G service, if the user is using native or third-party browsing apps, if they're in landscape or portrait mode, if they've bought one of those new iPads with a zillion pixels (I sure did!) and on and on and on. It means taking a Mobile First approach and Responsive Design is at the core. Check out Luke Wroblewski's keynote from DrupalCon Denver and you'll get the picture.
We at Ashday have taken the plunge into this world full-on and I have to say the experience is perplexing. Some days, I'd describe my active work with words like "awesome", "thrilling" and "sa-weeet". Other days it's words like "frantic", "frustrating" and "this stinks and I just want to go back to building 1024 resolution pages and I wish evolving technology would get beat up and thrown into an alley." In all seriousness though, once you wake up and accept the fact that the most significant web consumption path we must be targeting is mobile, you really can't go back. You must work through the pain. I MUST WORK THROUGH THE PAIN!!
To keep things on an encouraging note, I would recommend taking the plunge into the world of Responsive Design by also taking the plunge into the world of Drupal. Drupal is an amazing web application development platform that is any custom coders dream. Yes, you actually can use an out-of-the-box tool without throwing out 80% of what you really wanted to do and most of how you wanted it to look. Drupal lets we as developers quickly build highly functional sites and then tap into the huge support community to figure out how to extend it to do whatever else we might possibly want to do with it. Need a ____________ [ fill in this blank with your own personal thing that you happen to need ] ? Give me an hour and you'll have one up and running. It'll be built from a collection of contributed modules that other geeks kindly decided to share with the world. Freakin' cool! And that's nothing. Would you like to get out of the game of writing code to figure out user management, security, content administration, email notification, form validation, etc, etc, etc? It's comparable to being able to put a car together with the various components you prefer without having to first mine, refine, cast, weld and temper the steel that composes the frame. That might have been fun the first couple times, but our hands are callused and raw and we're all sick of it. We want to pick an engine and throw in some leather bucket seats and then do some custom racing stripes. I'll order the frame from a factory thank you very much! That's what Drupal allows. If you haven't looked into Drupal, please for the sake of all the good left in this world, check it out! The reason I bring it up is because not only is it a great platform for web development in general, but it's an open-source collaboration effort built by people on the front-lines of web technology, which means concepts like Responsive Design are at the forefront of what people are doing with Drupal. Go to a DrupalCon and meet some people and you'll get the picture. These people are geeks of the best sort and don't settle for doing things the way we did ages ago (that means 8 months ago in technology terms). Through the use of grid-based responsive themes, flexible image serving, clean and effective DOM management, effective use of media queries, etc, Drupal gives you a huge leg up over those still trying to build the car by starting with an ore deposit and two sticks of dynamite.
I think after introducing and then mashing at least two unrelated metaphors, I've clearly made my point. Check out Drupal now and start building your sites Responsively.