Top 3 Don’ts on Running a Successful Responsive Web Design Project

by Caitlin Roberts

As a kid, I used to hold out my hand and shout ‘TIP?’ to my Mom when I did something she asked me to. She always replied: ‘Of course!’

She would then proceed to reach into her pocket, as if she was grabbing me wads of cash, and say, ‘Don’t bet on the race horses!’ with a high five against my eager hand. There was never any cash exchanged, just a tough life lesson I had to learn. This was until one day, I finally realized that sometimes a bit of advice on what not to do, can actually go pretty far. The more I’ve thought about this article and how to approach it, the more I’m brought back to this exchange.

Successful implementations don’t always have to result in a client up-sell, added revenue, or in the case of an 8-year-old, two extra dollars in your pocket. Successful project management in the responsive web design (RWD) world can teach us a lot about what not to do, the “Dont’s” if you will.

1) Don’t assume that everyone in the room knows what responsive web design is.

At my first kick off for a project, I walked into a room of 20 client stakeholders. They ranged from departments including IT, design and marketing. Only three in the room were involved in the sales process and knew how our technology worked or what RWD was.

As more project kick offs came my way, I learned how important it was as a PM to provide a background and context on our technology, and what the client had signed up for. This sets expectations and ensures that everyone is on the same page from day one. A little education can go a long way!

2) Don’t use Photoshop.

Traditional web design prioritized Photoshop comps, which were presented to clients during the design review process. We quickly learned that Photoshop did not fit the RWD bill. Fixed design layouts became no more, and flexibility was required.

We asked our clients to think about the design process from a prioritization perspective. Asking questions like: “What content on this page is most important for users to interact with?” and, “What can we hide on this page?”

Instead of comping pages out, we used interactive tools like Axure, which enabled clients to open wireframes on devices. This enabled them to interact with the usability of the design before development began. I’ve learned to ask clients to prioritize content and imagery by imagining what components will work best as screen sizes change, not by reviewing a Photoshop file designed for a fixed mobile or tablet layout.

3) Don’t assume that every site is coded the same way.

We’ve quickly learned that every site is different and that being flexible from a development perspective is critical to running a successful RWD project. Always be prepared to work with a brand new set of code, which will have its own set of unique challenges on every project.

Conclusion: Don’t forget that all three of these “Don’ts” are the result of a lot of hard work and DOING. While this list sets some basic standards for working on RWD projects, sometimes the only way to learn a lesson is to get your hands dirty and try several solutions before finding a positive outcome.

In the case of my Mom’s advice above, I had to lose a few hundred dollars at the horse track before I finally acknowledged she was right all along.

Caitlin Roberts is an Account Manager at Merkle | 5th Finger, a responsive design and mobile solutions provider for brands and retailers.