responsive design, context and the definition of the two of them
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If you’re out there looking for a new job or maybe trying to sell some fancy digital solution, you always make sure everyone knows how to develop and design responsive. You talk about responsive design like everyone out there actually knows what it is, it’s just like blabbing out fancy HCI-related letter combinations and technical lingo (you could probably say things like, BBC, CNN and everyone would still just nod and smile). When do you actually hear anyone defining the word or the concept of responsive design. Well we could talk about mobile first and such, but I guess everyone relates it to design which is flexible in a way that it works on multiple screen sizes, like desktop, tablet and mobile. That is what wikipedia has to say about it anyway.

In the field of HCI (human Center Interaction), we always talk about context, always design with different contexts in mind. But to be honest, we say all of these things to sound fancy and to sell things, ourselves or a job we want to do for a client. I was once told by a friend of mine who once sat in a meeting with a media agency, who constantly just threw fancy letter combinations out there, my friend bravely enough (with her pride at stake) asked what they meant by all of it, and guess what, she was not the one standing there feeling embarrassed by her lack of knowledge, because they had no idea what those fancy letter combination stood for or what they actually meant. And I guess that is not the first time that happens. This doesn’t mean I don’t do this from time to time, to boost my own big ego, and for once stand out like a person that knows a thing or two.

So where I’m a going with this?

First thing first, context is not a fancy word, most people know what you mean when you say “we are very experienced developers, because we always design for different contexts in mind“. Clients understand what you mean, is that the product will work indoors as well as outdoors. Well in my opinion context is much more complex than that. To be a little more convincing about this I will take a little help from scientific grounded articles. Paul Dourish, wrote the article “what we talk about when we talk about context“, where he explains context interpretation from three different perspectives. Positivism, Phenomenological and Critical Theories. These three perspectives define contexts in three different ways, you can read more explicitly about it in the article. But the biggest difference is that from one perspective context can be decided, it can be redefined and even created, meanwhile from another point of view context is something that is created in the present. Not so much “only indoors or outdoors”. I don’t really take any side of this discussion, but I really think it is important to be able to define every variable or parameter that will be relevant in your developing process, otherwise how can you quality check what you design? You can’t have a check-list of none defined variables, can you? So well, even if you don’t care for either of these definitions of context, you might just want to widen your take on context.

Context as not only being indoor or outdoor, not only a user being mobile geographically. One might actually benefit from cultural differences, maybe the end users different cognitive limitations or emotions. So well, maybe we could call that responsive design as well? or am I totally wrong?