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Responsive websites show an astonishing degree of uniformity. What’s the reason for this? In this article we try think outside the box and discover how responsive design and a literary technique, which has also inspired David Bowie, may actually be related.
Responsive design uniformity: The community about possible Causes
A Tweet started the discussion:
I feel like responsive design has sucked the soul out of website design. Everything is boxes and grids. Where has the creativity gone?
— Noah Stokes (@motherfuton) February 26, 2013
The answers ranged from “just hate the copycat syndrome”, to “I think it’s a combo of laziness + ease of creation”. Some time later, authors dedicated some more attention to this subject.
Steven Bradley writes that a couple of factors are responsible for this phenomenon, which is not unique or typical for Responsive Web Design, but rather shows that a learning process is underway. Responsive design still is new, and designers are copying successful designs under the pressure of having to work fast and productively.
DiFeterici and Crawford discuss in their podcast several possible reasons for the design monoculture in responsive websites. Amongst others, they quote the characteristics of the ‘mobile first’ approach and the use of popular frameworks as partial cause (“sites look and react the same”). They also think that being focussed on implementation techniques restricts the design language. Responsive design is a kind of a “misnomer” as it is not about design, but rather about implementation technique.
What UX Designers can learn from David Bowie
Cut-Up is an aleatory method from literature, introducing an element of chance in the writing process. Used by authors like William S. Burroughs, but also by musicians like David Bowie, it represents a kind of remix technique for text.
But what has this literary, aleatory technique in common with design?
As Steven Bradley put it, we are dealing with a learning process of a new technology. Designers and coders are literally using code “snippets” and paste them in their own designs to make fast progress — similar to a musician looking for inspiration when writing lyrics.
It does not matter that third-party code is being used, but it is rather important how these code pieces are combined to form a bigger whole. Used in the right fashion, re-using existing code can benefit progress in design.
Cut-Up is an essential component of design: using existing things in a new combination enables new inspirations on one hand, and on the other hand enables the designer to focus on the progress of the design, and to build on the knowledge of others.
Putting together existing elements creatively may, in the best case, result in a completely new design. But how can you be certain to build a consistent design concept, which can also be implemented as a responsive website?
User experience designers are the ones responsible, and they are facing new challenges: responsive design requires learning new design technique, and abandoning old design methods and tools.
UX and visual designers are required to find creative and innovative solutions, which are also implementable in responsive technologies by considering the requirements of responsive design from the beginning. And if you don’t just mindlessly copy stuff, but put together elements in an intelligent fashion, this technique has great potential for innovations in UX design.
- Responsive web design is new, a learning process is taking place
- Designers and coders are learning new technologies by copying
- Which is not a bad thing, because it enables new ideas
- Artists have also sought for inspirations in the work of others
- It does not matter that existing elements are used, but it matters that they are combined in an intelligent way, and how they play together in the big picture