11th December 2012
Every so often in our industry a publication resonates with the concerns of the industry makers. It happened when Jeffery Zeldman released Designing with Web Standards in 2003 when the web standards movement was in full swing, it happened again in 2010 when Ethan Marcotte released Responsive Web Design which moved people to think differently about how we make things, and in my opinion - it has happened once again with Smashing Magazine’s The Mobile Book.
This isn’t the work of one individual author with an individual viewpoint or agenda, but rather the opinions and expertise from the people in our industry who work in the trenches with us. Brad Frost, Trent Walton, Peter-Paul Koch among others offer their real-world practical experience - all people who talk the talk and most importantly - walk the walk.
The book begins with an (admittedly frightening) overview of the state of the mobile web from Peter-Paul Koch. If you want to recapture the feeling that Neo felt after swallowing the red pill - read this. You will feel overwhelmed, but the rest of the chapter and the rest of the book offers the hope and drive you may need leaving the fixed-width landscape and entering the real web, the matrix of devices.
One of the common viewpoints is that we should be establishing our own device labs - that means testing our work on real hardware rather than relying on emulation. Physical hardware can reveal limitations of your design, for example the hard to reach areas, parts of the design that might be obscured by your hands - something that emulation and using a mouse pointer wouldn’t reveal as an issue.
I really enjoyed Trent and Brad’s chapters on Responsive Design Strategies and Design Patterns, they compliment each other rather nicely. Trent reveals his process in planning responsive projects and concepts in his chapter. I was relieved to read about his approach to sketching designs in “full view” and incrementally reviewing states with fellow team members before coding with a mobile first approach. I have to admit, before reading this I felt what I call “industry pressure” to be completely dogmatic in a mobile first methodology, I felt like everything right down to sketched concepts should be approached with mobile first in mind and when it didn’t work out, I immediately blamed myself over the approach. Thankfully Trent’s words allowed me to realise “it’s OK”. Perhaps the most valuable lesson this book taught me.
It goes without saying that I am a fan of Brad’s efforts and everything he has brought to the web community. His chapter echoes a lot of my feelings on approaching responsive web design from a coding perspective - embrace modularity and work smarter, not necessarily harder. He also touches on some important performance considerations - particularly conditional loading which is often a forgotten art, lost against the bright lights of layout switchery.
That leads us nicely into Dave Olsen’s chapter on Optimization for Mobile. Like the rest of the knowledge on offer in this book, this isn’t some idyllic conceptual piece that attempts to lead you to your own conclusions - this is real, practical advice that you can take directly from the book and use today.
Josh Clarke finishes the book by covering gesture-based interactions - his area of expertise. He touches on (no pun intended) some of the upcoming features of CSS media queries level 4 that will help us create finger-friendly solutions for touch-based devices. Josh details the mystical 44px touch target for buttons along with recommendations for gesture based interactions, the “keyboard shortcuts of touch”.
This book has something for all levels of expertise, if you are new to mobile and/or responsive web design - make it your New Year’s resolution to start with this book with a copy of Ethan Marcotte’s Responsive Web Design (if you haven’t already read it) as the perfect companion to this fine artefact. It isn’t purely for beginners either, it doesn’t patronise, it doesn’t talk over your head either, it teaches. It is an important book of it’s time, don’t hesitate in picking it up.