Low-budget responsive design

Today I’m at Responsive Summit, a last-minute gathering of some folks who are interested in responsive web design and its effect on our industry. It’s obviously a topic close to my heart. Martin Beeby has been live-tweeting some snippets of what’s been said, including this one:

“If you have a client that won’t pay for responsive design, get a client that will.”

This quote has, unsurprisingly, not gone down well on Twitter. Responsive Summit has already been accused of being an elitist gathering. The website was tongue-in-cheek but the joke perhaps fell a bit flat, and the attendees are generally a high-profile bunch. So quotes like this, facile and arrogant, make for easy targets.

The quote originated from something I said. I can’t remember my exact words – I’m rushing this post out over lunch – but let me give some context, so you can judge for yourself whether it was as dumb as it sounds.

One of my fellow attendees was explaining to the group that her client budgets generally didn’t allow her to practice RWD, and she was having a tough time explaining the business benefits.

My response was that our is an industry with overwhelming competition at the low end. Everyone’s neighbour’s kid can bash out a site for £100. Companies like 1&1 will sell you a templated site for not much more. However, the companies that are typically practising RWD on large client sites operate at the top end of the market. They’ve carved out a niche as craftspeople creating bespoke solutions. The time and budgets they’re afforded allow deeper work, including some of the detailed intricacies of thorough RWD.

So my point was that, providing you have the skill, it can be easier to find market space and freedom to practice newer techniques by heading up the value chain, not down it. If you desperately want to practise responsive web design and your budgets don’t allow it, you have two options:

1) Do it anyway. This is an attitude close to my heart, and formed the bulk of Undercover User Experience Design’s ethos. There’s been lots of talk today of how RWD has already become a natural part of many people’s workflows.

2) Negotiate higher budgets. This may require working with different clients.

Some people have assumed from the quote that the Responsive Summit has decreed that RWD is the only way a site should be built, and that we should ditch any client who doesn’t drink the Kool-Aid. This is definitely not the case. We’ve already spent a fair bit of time agreeing that for some clients, RWD is a waste of time and money. But if you’re insistent you want to do RWD, you’ll have to either take the resultant budgetary hit yourself or find someone who will fund it.

So that’s the story behind that quote. The day so far has been smart, thoughtful, and useful – it would be a real shame for someone to judge it because of one out-of-context soundbite. Hopefully we’ll be able to share some more of the discussions so that people can build on them, and argue against them, in their own ways.