Designs That Respond

You might have heard the term responsive web design. It is generally associated with designing to give an optimal user experience on all devices.

Since more people may be viewing your website on tablets, smartphones (or just feature phones), and large TV screens than are looking at it on the more traditional computer and laptop screens, it has become incumbent on designers to learn responsive web design.

It is something that anyone who is involved in the process of creating websites should know something about. That means more than just developers and coders. Marketers, social media workers, UX (user experience) and UI (user interaction) designers all need to understand how a site works on other screens and with their users.

Of course, it is more than screen size, but also about improving the user experience based on how we use devices and maximizing their capabilities. If your website can be viewed in a vertical and horizontal format, how can you maximize that?  What does a touchscreen or a retina display allow you to do? Or, on the bad side, if you do not design with all of that in mind, how bad will your site look on other screens?

All this means that you start with content strategy before creating a visual design. (It turns out most designers start with the default design being for the narrowest screens.) A lot of this is still using HTML elements and CSS properties, plus media queries to display different CSS styles based on a device’s viewport width. And you need to rethink all the "old" design elements like images, typography, and navigation.

I also like to think of responsive design as meaning that the designer responds to the needs of the client and their users. That is an area that takes more than tech skills. It seems a bit insulting to call those "soft skills" but sometimes they are viewed as softer than than the hard coding types pf skills.

Designers use performance optimization techniques to make sites lighter and faster, especially on mobile browsers. The answer is not to design two websites – one for mobile and one for larger displays - but to have the site know what type of device is being used and adjust automatically.

I'm no pro at this and I am still learning responsive web design. and how to think outside the desktop box. As with many things in technology, we all need to be, like these new designs, flexible and wanting to deliver the best experience to our users no matter who they are and how they interact with us. That is why you will also hear about having a  responsive design "workflow."

My first experience was making a demo site in Blogger using a responsive web template and then studying the code. Those tools have responsive elements because it is getting easier and easier for people to build websites (including responsive ones) using WYSIWYG tools like Blogger or WordPress without knowing much about HTML, CSS, or responsive design. But it definitely helps to know some of that. 
There are plenty of templates for sites like a portfolio site to showcase your work that includes the ability to display an image carousel and that automatically adjusts according to the device. If you resize your browser window or switch devices, you can see how that template responds.

Want to learn some responsive design on your own?  Try these two titles: Learning Responsive Web Design: A Beginner's Guide and Responsive Web Design with HTML5 and CSS3

We Princes of Serendip

princesIt was on January 28, 1754 that the word "serendipity" was first coined. It was long before this blog and yet we feel a kind of connection. We like that it means "the phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for" and that it was listed by a U.K. translation company as one of the English language's 10 most difficult words to translate. Easy definitions are never any fun.

Back in 1754 the writer Horace Walpole wrote in a letter to a friend that he came up with the word after a fairy tale he once read, called "The Three Princes of Serendip."

"as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of."
Those three princes were from modern-day Sri Lanka and "serendip" is the Persian word for the island nation off the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka.

I was reminded on today's entry on the Writers Almanac with Garrison Keillor that many inventions can be attributed to some serendipity, including Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Charles Goodyear's vulcanization of rubber, inkjet printers, Silly Putty, the Slinky, chocolate chip cookies, Fleming discovering penicillin. Viagra had been developed to treat hypertension and angina pectoris, but turned out to be better at something else, just as the discoveries of radioactivity, X-rays, and infrared radiation all turned up when researchers were looking for something else.

Brother Tim and I had our reasons for choosing the name back in 2005 and, as we approach our 10 year anniversary, if you sometimes find valuable or agreeable things not sought for by reading these posts, that would please these two modern day princes of serendip very much.

Teaching Data Literacy

Data literacy is just one of the many literacies that have become part of the curriculum, especially in high schools.

MIT's Civic Data Design Lab is collaborating with New York City Public Schools on a data literacy project called City Digits. They have a on a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation "to think
about how to create a mapping tool that could teach youth about a civic
topic while supporting their mathematics education."

The City Digits project is part of the grant which aims to promote civic engagement while teaching data collection and analysis skills. The first module of the project is "Local Lotto" which started last fall and has students interviewing buyers and sellers of lottery tickets to collect "both quantitative and qualitative data. The students are studying sales volume, purchasing habits and community opinions about the lottery.

On the tech side, students use geo-spatial technologies on tablets to collect and analyze the data. They do data analysis and have to present an argument using multimedia based on the data collected.

Why Offer MOOCs and Free Online Courses? Alumni

why mooc

I was pleased to see a post on that focuses on one reason I have been promoting the idea that colleges should offer free online courses of any size: Alumni Engagement.

The article by Casey Fabris talks about a Colgate University course, "The Advent of the Atomic Bomb," taught by Karen Harpp. She plans to offer the course for a second time. It is technically not a MOOC because it is not "open" being that is available only to alumni.

They have found that although the atomic bomb doesn't have much resonance with today's traditionally-aged college students, it has a Baby Boomer appeal. 

Colgate's term for these offerings is that they are Fusion Courses. The courses are offered as in-person courses for Colgate students with an additional online component that brings in alumni.

This is Colgate's entry into free online courses of any type or size.

Professor Harpp must have seemed like a natural for this because she had already been alumni, including a few World War II veterans, involved in her course by including them in discussion boards. The Fusion Course pushes that further by involving them in a Twitter re-enactment, a timeline project, and videoconference calls.

I like that Colgate had set their enrollment goal at 238 students (the atomic mass of uranium) and ended up with 380 alumni. A second course on "Living Writers" had 800 participants that included about 678 alumni plus participants from the community and book clubs that were allowed to enroll.

Colgate is not the first to offer courses to alumni and many of the truly massive MOOCs with 100k+ participants probably had alumni enrolling in their alma mater's offerings.  Harvard University began offering such courses to graduates last year and the article notes that the University of Wisconsin at Madison plans to offer six courses.

These course offerings are a good way to have alumni and the local community connect to the campus and its current life. I have retired friends in North Carolina and Florida who regularly take courses and sit in on lectures face-to-face and online with their local colleges. The often mentioned and less often offered "lifelong learning" opportunities at colleges needs to increase.

More about the Colgate course at

Are These The Consumer Tech Trends for 2015?

According to Amber Macarthur, these will be the "5 Life Changing Tech Trends for 2015." These lists are always arguable and rarely accurate, but still interesting.

1. Connected Cars - Are you ready to get out of your car and then let it drive on and find a parking space, park and wait for you to call it so that it will come back to you?

2. Wearable Technology - Eager to wear technology? Forget about the time and your steps - check your bank account on your wrist.

3. Consumer Robots - Vacuuming the house? Hah, that's baby steps.

4. Smart Homes - Yes, your NEST thermostat controlled from your smartphone is cool. Now it is time for your washing machine to tell you at work that a load is finished.

5. Visual Social - Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and whatever pops up this year is all about visual. Instagram has 300 million monthly active users with approximately 70 million photos shared every day.

Do I sound a bit sarcastic and doubtful?  You bet.