Adaptation

by Dan Woychick

Over 170 years ago on the Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin made an interesting observation. The animals he saw on this remote outpost were not quite like the ones he had seen throughout South America during the survey expedition of the HMS Beagle. In fact, and more importantly, he noticed a tortoise or finch on one island was not quite like a tortoise or a finch on another island. They had adapted to their environment.

We all have seminal moments in our lives – events that prove to be major influences and shift our perspective or open our minds to new ways of thinking. Some moments become shared touchstones. Where were you when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon? What were you doing when you heard about the airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center? Others – like the teenager who hears Nirvana playing on the radio and ditches his trombone in favor of an electric guitar – are more personal.

Everything is relative
Seemingly everyone I talk to these days is in transition, trying to reconcile past experiences and skills with current and future market needs. Few planned on careers where it seems the most important skill is the ability to acquire new skills.

In a networked, cloud-based world where nothing is fixed or permanent, how do communicators and marketers determine what will endure? How do our skills apply? Perhaps we should be asking: How will we adapt?

Everything is measured in terms of individual perception. To me, that little puppy is cute and cuddly; to you, it’s smelly and sheds all over the furniture; to another, it may look like dinner. If we accept that premise, then our real value is an ability to make ideas and information accessible to each individual in our audience. Fortunately, we have more and better tools to do this than ever before.

Theory meets possibility
The theory of evolution was not new when Darwin published The Origin of Species. He was recognized for synthesizing his experiences and insights with existing thought and making the principle of natural selection accessible to the public.

Similarly, the concept of creating adaptive or fluid websites is not new. With the explosion of mobile devices, web designers and developers debated the merits of various screen resolutions and wrestled with the lack of standards across multiple web browsers. The response has ranged from building a dizzying array of mobile apps to creating and maintaining separate mobile-friendly websites to doing nothing at all.

In the article Responsive Web Design, and subsequent book, Ethan Marcotte gives name to a better way forward. Responsive designs automatically deliver the best site for your users based on what you know about them – one site serving all audiences better.

Responsive web design
The prevalent model for displaying web content concedes that the user experience will suffer on some devices. Simply put, most websites are not user-friendly on mobile devices, and most non-profit organizations can’t afford to create and maintain multiple sites and apps. Responsive web design is a more flexible approach. As Marcotte writes:

Rather than quarantining our content into disparate, device-specific experiences, we can use [technology] to progressively enhance our work within different viewing contexts.

Responsive websites use new technologies and better browser support to rearrange, resize, add or subtract content to fit the device. Additionally, it forces the web team – designers, writers and developers – to rethink how that content is edited, organized and delivered.

Some early adopters of this approach include (drag your browser window larger and smaller to see how the page responds):

Serving the audience
Successful marketers have always aimed to serve an audience’s needs – to quickly respond with interest and enthusiasm. Responsive web designs not only meet your users’ need for relevant information any time, anywhere, on any device, but essentially eliminate the need to create and maintain separate apps and sites.

I believe this represents a seminal moment. If simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, as Leonardo da Vinci once wrote, then the tools we use are finally getting sophisticated enough to make our lives simpler – and that’s an adaptation we can all embrace.

Related content:
Responsive Web Design

Generation Flux

When Design Leaves the Box

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