The diamond frame bicycle… arguably the greatest human invention ever. Certainly my favourite. As far as I’m concerned mankind could’ve stopped right there. The joining of those three triangles was the finest moment (to that point) in efficient engineering solving a problem. The frame was designed with users in mind – in that they could reach the floor with their feet when sat on it. But also the polygonal structure gave rigidity that efficiently transferred energy to the back wheel whilst providing stability for fluid steering.
When my friend and colleague recently asked me why all responsive sites look the same, my mind fell on the modern bicycle… well, after an initial reactionary mini-rant (as is often my way).
My knee-jerk response, as I leapt to the defence of the tech, was that “Many designers simply don’t understand the medium well enough, and are clinging to the edge of the technical pool” – which might be a bit mean… but probably holds some truth. The medium I was referring to was not pixels, but HTML and CSS.
But the more I think into it, the more I believe these carbon-copy responsive sites to be a means to an end. Toward the end of my developer days, back at the BBC, I was into all sorts of experimentation with CSS3 and the BBC mobile templates (offline of course). The conclusion I came to was that; doing anything particularly clever with responsive re-formatting (purely in CSS) was like making a rubber band ball. And the more elaborate it was, the more complex, and the greater the investment for change later down the road.
There’s a line that good developers drop when asked if something is possible/feasible. They say; “Anything is possible, but how much do you want to pay for it?” (good developers in that they’re acutely aware of cost)
The beautiful diamond frame is not the only way to make a bicycle of course. Before that there were a variety of velocipede, and around that time, exploration into different frame shapes and types, such as the Dursley Dedersen or truss frames. But John Kemp Starley’s “Safety Bicycle” touched on a few sweet spots; it was functionally untouchable – safe and strong. But also, with it’s straight tubes, kept to a bare minimum, it was relatively cheaper and easier to make.
Something different in the world of responsive sites, that breaks the norm, would most likely come from a developer. A developer with a good sense of UX and design… and one that wields the ring of power over editorial staff… or at least has a good enough working relationship that can agree to and stick to strict rules and a rigid framework – Because its an ironic truth, that the more flexible you want your front end to be, the more rigid you have to be on the back… And that requires maturity from all disciples in interactive services.