Joe Zeff Design

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In Response to Responsive Design

The magic bullet, the miracle cure, the answer to all the world's problems — it's called responsive design, and it is all the rage. Modular layouts that magically resize and reformat to fit your phone, computer and tablet have captured the fancy of publishers, suddenly questioning the viability of native apps to deliver content. Why design one page 1,000 times when you can format 1,000 pages all at once? Not so fast.

Responsive HTML is, at its essence, a set of limits. It promises fluidity yet delivers rigidity — rules that dictate proportions and positions based on parameters and priorities that have little to do with the content itself. It lacks spontaneity, the flexibility to create visual hierarchies based on serendipitous content rather than preset formulas. Designers make one picture larger than another because it’s a more compelling picture, not because of its place in a queue. Designers combine text and imagery in ways that resonate like a symphony, not Siri.

That’s not to say that responsive HTML isn’t valuable, because it is. Real-time content delivery demands HTML to minimize the lag between conception and consumption, and to reach as many customers as possible. At its best, responsive HTML achieves many of the ideals of a well-designed page: order and brand identity, reinforced through consistent typography and color. See Food Sense and MRY for examples of smartly implemented responsive designs. It's hard to resist the efficiencies, particularly in today's volatile publishing environment.

We believe there is a place for both.

Many magazines have embraced digital formats for tablets that present most pages as rasterized images, like Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. The results have been stunning — beautifully designed and conceived products that offer the potential to sustain publishing well into the 21st century. Yet challenges mount. New devices stir new consumers and new opportunities. Meanwhile, the effort required to produce editions for multiple devices overwhelms producers and publishers alike.

We believe that within 12 months the industry will embrace hybrid models in which designed pages and responsive HTML pages are deployed interchangeably — beautiful pages and dutiful pages, each treated accordingly. By handling special pages specially, and common pages systematically, publishers reduce the expense of parallel workflows riddled with redundancy. The ultimate goal: a unified workflow that fuels print, web and tablet.

At Joe Zeff Design we’re increasingly focused on leveraging responsive HTML to automate production of pages that, regardless of the design inspiration, are intended to look the same from one to the next. It makes a lot of sense. And we expect it will help our clients make lots of dollars. Apps offer monetization opportunities unmatched by the web, as well as offline access to content, device-enhanced functionality and an uncluttered environment free of distracting ads. We believe that as tablets gain share in schools and corporations, the appetite for robust content that can be produced efficiently will outweigh the benefits of websites and custom-developed applications.

Expect some publishers to bet on responsive HTML, like New York magazine and its new fashion site, The Cut, launched earlier this month. ESPN threw a brushback pitch just last week with its web feature on former Pittsburgh Pirate Dock Ellis, which combined great design and illustration with great programming. Meanwhile, we're busy exploring ways to infuse Adobe DPS apps with responsive HTML and other enhancements that provide the best of all worlds.

The future is here today. Not responsive design alone. But responsive + design. Together.

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