Responsive Interview with Val Head

So everyone knows a bit of a background can you tell us a little bit about yourself, what you’re doing now and how you got into the industry?

I’m a designer, consultant and speaker who is quite possibly in a truck moving to Philadelphia at the exact moment you’re reading this. I run the Web Design Day conference where we gather up the best of web design in Pittsburgh for the day, or really more like two days this year. This October is our fifth year, so we know it’s going to be extra special and I can’t wait to see everyone!

Earlier this year I wrote the CSS Animations Pocket Guide from Five Simple Steps and recorded a video course all about CSS Animations on I’ll be talking UI animations and CSS at An Event Apart  Austin and Future of Web Design NYC later this fall too. Both of which I’m very excited about.

I originally got into web design because I was in a band and we needed to figure out this whole internet thing. From there I stumbled into my first job at a web studio and have been here ever since! Nearly two years ago, I left agency life and went out on my own. Now I work on projects ranging from designing websites to contributing to large-scale digital art projects. I do a lot of teaching too, which I really love. I run workshops on getting creative with CSS  (lots on animations, of course) and teaching JavaScript for designers. Outside of web things, I also teach Processing workshops like the Processing to Print workshop that I ran earlier this year. I can’t wait to run that one again!

What was the best implementation of responsive web design you saw in 2013 and why?

It’s so hard to pick, but is a recent favourite of mine. The photography and art direction of the site is really impressive and perfect for a site about architecture.  I think they did a great job keeping the hierarchy meaningful across different views. They even have a surprising loading animation as you scroll down the page, they took a chance on something out of the ordinary and that’s awesome.

The home page is a favourite of mine as well.  So much attention to detail in that one, even down to the transitions.  I know it’s something only geeky web folks like us will probably ever notice, but the the way the transitions come into play when you resize the window makes it feel like the navigation is almost dancing into place as it reflows. Little things like that make my day.

What are two responsive web design frameworks/plugins/shims/etc that you recommend/couldn’t live without?

That’s a tough one! Most of the developers I work with have their own framework/grid system that they’ve developed themselves in-house. That said, respond.js is pretty darn helpful for dealing with IE and looks like a very interesting grid framework. I’ve only tried it out a bit so far, but it seems quite different from most others I’ve looked at and I’m excited to give it a try.

Sass isn’t exactly a framework, but I think it still deserves a mention here. Modern web design would be a million times more difficult without it. Things like breakpoint and autoprefixer save me so much time and keep me sane when it comes to writing code, I want to give them hugs and buy them a beer.

What is the one thing with responsive web design you would like to see improved/developed in the near future?

Responsive images! The options we have currently just never quite feel right.Twitter was buzzing with the news that Webkit had started to support the srcset attribute on images recently, so I think that’s a good sign of changes to come!

I also hope the fact that something is responsive becomes less of a thing. We’ve gotten far on the technical side of how to make things responsive and that’s been a challenge. But we’re often playing it too safe when it comes to interaction and design. The fact that a site is responsive is really only one piece of the overall package of what makes a site good or interesting or usable. I want us all to be making web sites that are beautifully designed and inspiring, not just responsive.

If you could offer one piece of advice around responsive web design, what would it be?

Don’t stress out about it too much. RWD is full of new adventures and new problems to solve both on the technical and design side of things, but no one has all the right answer yet.  We’re all figuring this out as we go along.

Embrace the fact that we can’t control things to pixel perfect perfection. We never really could anyway. Aim to design systems, not pages and you’ll be much happier with the whole process.  Also, prototype the crap out of your ideas as early in the process as possible.

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2 Responses to “Responsive Interview with Val Head”

  1. Mathew Porter

    Great to get someone else’s view of responsive design. I also agree, responsive image solution is required more than anything!

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