You Need Me To Do What?!
Let’s say that you’re a programmer with no real talent for or interest in web design. But the startup you work at really needs someone to redesign their product to be more mobile friendly and they don’t have time to hunt for and hire a real designer. What is a programmer to do?
For me the answer was “Buy a book”. Ideally something simple enough that you don’t need to be an expert designer, deep enough to give you a real understanding of the field and short enough that you can finish the material and get back to work fast.
Implementing Responsive Design by Tim Kadlec turned out to be just about perfect.
Implementing Responsive Design seems to have been directed more towards designers than developers but is overall easy to follow as long as you know the technical basics of HTML and CSS (and as a web programmer you probably do). There is no tricky vocabulary and you aren’t expected to be a graphical wizard who Photoshops in their sleep. There is nothing in the book that requires any existing experience with design or any special software and as a programmer in a hurry I really appreciated that.
Even better, the book has half a dozen practical examples complete with screen shots and sample code showing how different techniques lead to different looks on both desktop and mobile. The book also does a good job of covering the theory behind responsive mobile-first design which really helped me get into the head of how designers think. Learning how to properly think about mobile design is much more useful than just memorizing a few CSS rules.
Covers A Lot Of Territory Very Quickly
The book weighs in at a slim 250 pages making it the sort of thing you can read in one or two evenings. It starts with the absolute basics of “What is responsive design?” (creating web pages that change their layout depending on screen size) and then spends a few chapters tackling both the basic tools of reactive design and the thought process behind deciding how to design a reactive page in the first place.
After that is taken care of the book spends a little time exploring some more advanced techniques for optimizing loading times and enhancing the user experience for specific platforms. It then briefly covers some promising responsive technologies being developed, muses a bit about the future of web design and before you know it the book is done, having covered a lot of valuable information in a very short amount of time. Once again this is a very good thing for people like me who need to learn a lot of new things very quickly.
A Starting Point, Not A Reference Book
The one thing you should be aware of is that Implementing Responsive Design doesn’t have all the answers. And some of the answers it does have will probably be obsolete by the time you buy the book. Web technology is changing fast!
But you don’t really need all the answers. As long as you know what questions to ask you can find pretty much anything on the Internet. What this book is for is teaching you enough about responsive design to figure out what questions to ask in the first place. It helps you understand fundamental theories and techniques and any programmer worth his salt should be able to use that as a springboard to start researching specific solutions to their own specific problem.
Final Thoughts: A Good Buy For People Who Don’t Know Anything And Want To Fix That
Before this book all I knew about mobile design was that you could theoretically get a page to render differently based on whether it was on a phone or on a computer. 250 pages later I have a big grab-bag of common techniques for making this happen and, more importantly, I feel like I understand the motivation behind responsive web design. It changed how I look at putting content together and in an age of smartphones and tablets I think that developing an expanded and more flexible idea of what layout means is an invaluable skill.
On the other hand, if you’re already have some experience with designing pages that work well on both mobile and desktop you probably won’t find too much in this book you don’t already know.
But as a programmer I thought Implementing Responsive Design was a worthwhile read, even if I never have to program a mobile website by hand again. After all, the better we programmers understand how the user hopes to browse our websites and how the designers hope to style them the better job we can do of making sure our code and data supports a future full of diverse devices.