I’ve read Oliver Reichenstein’s essay “The web is 95% typography” on the state of the web as it was back when he wrote it in 2006 several times and over the last year or two, I’ve been working on responsive sites for our clients at Offroadcode as well as spending a lot of time and effort following and keeping up to date as best I can with trends and techniques and I’m being drawn towards what feels an inevitable conclusion for web design.

It’s all going to be type based because anything else will ultimately end up being too complicated to remain device agnostic.

Looking at a string of recent releases from individuals, startups and agency clients it feels like there’s an emerging aesthetic that is very stripped back, focused on typography and blocks of simple content that can be easily moved around and my feeling is that we’re inevitably heading towards need for this level easy access to content because ultimately we won’t be able to have our responsive cake and eat it.

Our stated aim so often is to build once and create device agnostic websites that deliver content to visitors no matter where they are or what they’re using to consume that content.

Simplified design as a necessity

I’m sure like myself, many designers are already starting to get device fatigue. I felt for a while that testing on as many devices as I could get my hands was the right way forward. Now I see it’s a fools errand.

There is simply no way to keep up, financially or just the sheer amount of time it takes to actually test even a simple site. It leads me to a couple of (admittedly extreme – bear with me here, this is a rambling thought post) conclusions:

Abandon device testing?

We’re reaching the point already where there are more hacks, poly-fills and crimes against UI design than there have ever been in order to make a site work on even a small range of devices. 12 months down the line, us, the designers of these sites will be maintaining an increasingly flaky set of templates and nested media queries to deal with screen sizes  retina displays and whatever appears on the device market next year.

Is there a practical way to abandon device testing with this in mind? Probably not, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on that front and how you’re coping even now and if you have any long term strategy for testing.

So now we’ve considered that our device agnostic, responsive, single code base site can’t reliably be tested on every device, how do you design for that?! You can’t really.

Keep it simple

Seems there’s growing mileage in services like Reader which strip out visual “clutter” and leave only barely formatted content. Is it because it’s the best way to ensure a consistent experience in an unknown device realm?

I’m beginning to feel that while responsive design is a ground breaking and pragmatic solution, there’s a massive Catch 22 that’s lurking around the corner in the not too distant future where we can’t design something beyond applying the most simplistic layout style (ie. A single column) and some well considered typographic treatments because it’s the only thing that will remain reliably device agnostic.

Having spoken a lot with Pete and Bear at work and various great folks on Twitter like and Matt Berridge then also thinking about talks from Dan Donald at a couple of recent conferences about his abstract feeling on where the web will end up, it’s been interesting thinking about this longer term view of where design is headed in the face of an increasingly overwhelming need for simplicity everywhere and the sheer number of viewing mediums in our lives.

Just in case it needs stating again, I love well designed sites and I’m not saying this is how you have to make sites from now on, it’s just a few thoughts that have swum around our office recently put into a post for discussion.

Where do you think design is going right now?

James Young

Written by James Young

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