Optimizing for Desktop and Mobile: A Build Responsively Workshop Recap

On July 9th and 10th, I attended the Build Responsively Workshop at the Quest Conference Center in Columbus. The purpose of this two-day workshop was to teach web geeks (designers, developers, programmers, project managers… you name it) all about responsive web design and its importance in the future of the web. It was presented by Sparkbox, a web development company out of Dayton, Ohio, and was sponsored by Github, Adobe, AIS, Rosenfeld, and A Book Apart.

For those in the dark on what responsive web design is, it’s basically a term coined by Ethan Marcotte (read his article that started it all here) that describes designing fluid websites — using CSS3 media queries — that display correctly and attractively on any device, from desktop to mobile. “Mobile First” was a phrase that was mentioned a lot to help get the point across that more and more people are having their web experiences on phones and tablets, as opposed to on a desktop or laptop. Responsive web sites are able to change their layouts dependent on the browser window size. For an example, check out the Boston Globe’s website and play with the size of the browser window. You’ll see that at smaller sizes, content shifts, scales down, or sometimes disappears altogether. In a very basic nutshell, that’s responsive web design.

The workshop itself was incredibly informative. Everything from “Responsive Planning” to emerging patterns and responsive JavaScript was covered. While education-rich, this is one of the few issues I had with the workshop—too much information, given too quickly. The seminar definitely seemed geared a little more toward those who already had experience in responsive design. The workshop mainly consisted of a series of sessions in which the presenters from Sparkbox would discuss specific topics related to responsive design, and sometimes they would have us (the attendees) play around or experiment with HTML and CSS they provided to see if we could achieve responsive results.

I really liked the presenters themselves: Ben Callahan, Drew Clemens, and Rob Tarr. They definitely seemed passionate about responsive design and development, and their enthusiasm really hooked me. My favorite part of the workshop was probably the Q&A session with Ethan Marcotte, where he fielded questions submitted by attendees. It was incredibly interesting to hear his thoughts and opinions not only on responsive web design, but also on web design in general. In fact, over the course of the two-day seminar, I personally felt the best parts were when they’d talk about or show things that were applicable to web design as a whole, and not limited to just responsive design. There was a big giveaway on the 2nd day for a copy of the Adobe CS6 Master Suite that I was in the final three contenders for. While I (extremely) sadly did not walk away with the top prize, I did win a design book and get a free t-shirt, so that was awesome.

While it may sound like I wasn’t sold on the responsive aspect of the workshop, that isn’t at all true. Responsive web sites are the future. I’m only at the beginning of my education on responsive design, and Build Responsively was an awesome first exposure to the topic. I took away some useful knowledge, and even more importantly, a responsive seed was planted in my mind.

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