Photo of Simon Dickey, Managing Director of Frontend Design Ltd.

Simon Dickey

Creative / Managing Director

+64 9 630 54 50

13 Coles Ave, Mt Eden, Auckland

Responsive web - a light post

by James Ing on Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Is responsive web the way to move forward?

Hi everyone, today's post is just going to be some thinking I've been doing around responsive web.

What is responsive web

To keep it simple, responsive web usually refers to a website that changes appearance and sometimes content when viewed on different devices such as a computer or a mobile phone

Smartphones are the most important device in changing our current design / UI / UX thinking. Before we simply had to decide on a layout (fixed versus liquid) and correct cross browser issues, we are now in a situation where we have multiple browsers and screen sizes.

What does this mean?

We now need to make decisions on how we present content across different devices. Before a mobile version of a website essentially just stripped out everything but a simple nav and the text. This ensured it worked across the majority of devices.

Now seeing a stripped down website on a mobile device leaves you feeling shortchanged. On the other hand, not tailoring your website to mobile devices can lead to awkward viewing window where the browser is trying to cram everything into that little space.

What's the answer?

I don't think there is a clear answer right now. Creating a responsive website isn't too difficult but it can mean adding to design and build times on already tight budgets. It can also mean having to rethink copy and whether or not you decided to edit content to suit different devices.

What approach should you take between the stripped down version and not doing anything at all? I would take the nothing at all approach. The reasons being, with this approach you still give put your websites best foot forward, and inbuilt phone browsers allow to you zoom to a point where viewing content is easy enough.

From all this it's still a very interesting time in the responsive web space, and a great time to be an innovator in this space and lead the competition by bring some responsiveness into your current websites

Great Scott Marty What Year Is It?

by James Ing on Friday, September 09, 2011


The online space has a weird way of repeating itself. Unlike print, the online space hasn't got hundreds of years of history to look back on.

Instead it has a few decades, each with its own little leaps of technology that push the boundaries of what's possible. With each new leap we often find ourselves repeating the past, mistakes and all.

Early websites were designed for a standard monitor size of 640px by 480px. This was the total screen space- we still had to subtract the size for the top toolbar and footer, leading to an even smaller viewable space. Over time monitors have become larger and with it we've seen an increase in usuable screen space.

Generally we design websites for the initial content to fit within a standardized view port of 960px x 600px (-ish). This vertical height represents the 'fold'. The 'fold' is an old term taken from newspapers, referring to the point where the paper was folded in half. Content above the fold is instantly viewable so would be used for the more important information.

Designers initially avoided putting content below the fold as the user often avoided scrolling. The alternative was to make separate pages, so an article may have been broken up into 4 short pages all appearing above the fold. Over time users learned to love scrolling (you probably don't even notice the sound your mouse wheel makes anymore). This change resulted in webpages becoming longer without the worry about content not being seen below the infamous fold.

Flashy animations and cool effects have always gone hand in hand in web. I myself have been guilty of indulging over the years (including my old Geocities website with twinkling, animated gifs). Flash then took over as the 'go to' program for creating animations and 'cool' effects. This lead to the abuse of effects and transitions. We ended up with full flash websites that were incredibly bulky and hard to update. Flash has largely been replaced with JavaScript libraries like JQuery which help smooth out the regular issues of JavaScript inconsistencies across browsers.

So what do all of this have in common with today's topic?

"With each new leap we often find ourselves repeating the past, mistakes and all."
- James, this very same article.

In the mobile space we've often been limited to much smaller screen sizes. We've had to design pages with tiny dimensions, within a tightly confined space. You end up with lots of little pages with very little content. With the rise of smartphones we now have the chance to design in spaces not too dissimilar to regular websites. Mobile websites are once again trimming down pages and spreading content too thinly. Often it is due to constraints in technology (cost of mobile data, etc), but in my opinion sites should give users the option between a mobile and a regular version. This way it gives the user the power to choose between the full or diluted experience based on their situation.

Smartphones have also given rise to the application marketplace. These apps can range from the light hearted 'band name generator' to more complex apps designed to help people maintain a healthy lifestyle. Apps allow developers to create more complex interactions and animations than mobile websites often can permit. This unfortunately has lead to some developers abusing this system once again.

A few online magazine apps appeared on the release of the Apple iPad that meant that users could subscribe to and download online magazines full of great interactive material, videos and images. This led to extremely large, clumsy apps that looked great. But it also meant these apps have inherited all the problems of old flash websites- large downloads before users can see content, flashy interfaces which make it difficult for users to navigate and have made it hard for developers to update and maintain.

New technologies allow us to push the boundaries of what is possible, often allowing us to refine past ideas. Just remember some old ideas are better left in the past.


Go the AB's

iPhone application design and the righteous retina display

by Kelly Milligan on Friday, August 19, 2011

iPhone application design and the righteous retina display

App design is pretty new ground for us at Frontend, but damn we're loving it! Here's a few tips and useful resources we've picked up so far.

Application design is huge right now. Whether you're designing for the relatively mature iPhone market, slightly greener Android market, or adolescent tablet market theres a lot of fun to be had!

Our experience at Frontend with apps has been an exciting and challenging one. Web is our bread and butter, but those web things we're so good at don't necessarily translate to a good user experience on-device. The first place to start is here: the iPhone Human Interface Guidelines. There is a lot of usability material in here that comes in so handy at all stages of app design. When you are squeezing so much into such a small area, usability and user interaction define the line between a frustrating user experience and a brilliant one. These User Experience guidelines are especially valuable.

The iPhone's retina display displays a whopping 640 x 960 pixels. Thats wider than this blog column, but on a 3.5" screen. This really opens up a new level of detail for designers. every pixel difference you make may seem small, but combined they form such a sharp and polished interface you just can't get on a computer screen (yet...). Consider a texture that is usually too fine to be seen on a phone screen, this is a perfect example of there you can really push these tiny details to your hearts desire.

Tip 1 - Use Adobe Photoshop! We are big fans of Adobe Creative Suite here at Frontend. Illustrator is an invaluable tool, but when you want to form a pixel perfect, easily dissectible group of graphics without vector output being required - photoshop comes out on top.
- Apply all your styling through the styles panels, you will change things over and over again to get it exactly how you want it. Even colour objects using the 'color overlay' style. It will save you tons of time!
- Keep your layer structure organized! If you don't already, make the effort.
- Set up a nice boiler plate which you can iterate to add new views to your application design
- Save a selection of 640x960 pixels at the perfect place for screenshots (read below)!

Download the Retina Display version of this iphone mockup template

Tip 2 - Use the excellent resources available to you - There are excellent resources available for designing on the iPhone. A prime example is the Teehan + Lax interface sheet. This contains a bunch of vector based standard iPhone elements for you to use during mock-up phases! This file provides you with actual size elements you can drop into your own file and rapidly prototype with. Just keep in mind that its only for Mock up purposes.

Tip 3 - Test your designs on the iPhone as plain images. It's so simple to see how your interface will look at its actual size and colour. Simply load up your 640x960 selection (mentioned earlier..) and copy a merged version of your design. Email this to yourself and opening it with your iphone. hit 'Save image' to save it. Go into your iPhone's photos section, open up the screenshot, tap on the screen to dismiss the top and bottom bars. Voila! perfect representation.

Be open to the challenge that app design brings. It brings with it bucket loads of strategy, thinking and innovation which can often be put on the backburner in web. We're looking forward to more!

That's all the tips we have time for this week folks, please tune in for a later post on app design. Any questions, comment below or flick us a message on the contact page