Responsive Web Design

FreeCodeCamp work -- thoughts on custom website frameworks.

Posted by Kyle R. Conway - January 18, 2019

Today I spent some time working through the Responsive Web Design Certification at FreeCodeCamp. It's something I've used as an educational resource in the past (for years), but never really something I'd hunkered down and gone through from start to finish. With some additional devotion of time I'll get through the remaining projects and complete the certification in earnest.

New Knowledge

While I've both created and edited sites and pages with nested <div>s in the past, the slow and steady focus on FreeCodeCamp of presenting a new element, showing you many of it's valid parameters, and allowing edits to reflect visually in real-time on the same page makes for an interesting lesson in elements you may never have used, understood, or considered before becoming something you now understand. I'd almost say that I came away with more learning about "how to teach" digitally than any individual thing I learned about html or css. That said, some things I'd not worked on stood out.

CSS Grid

CSS Grid is easier than I imagined. For some reason I'd avoided hand-coding anything to display, for instance, my artwork on any of my webpages. Call it lazyness, or my penchant (long ago) for finding a Wordpress theme that I wouldn't have to fuss with, but after a walkthrough of CSS Grid's on FreeCodeCamp I'm more confident than ever that if I spent a small amount of time I could quickly get a page of artwork up-and-running that was responsive, structured in a grid, and scriptable with something like python. If I get a little motivated on that (now old) personal project idea I'm confident it could be done with minimal effort.

Accessibility

FreeCodeCamp's section on accessibility was excellent mostly because it has not commonly been an area I'd thought about or focused on. Learning some of the more interesting elements like article that I'd never consciously known about (at least not its purpose) made me long for everyone to follow accessibility standards. Not only would this more easily enable things like "reader mode" apps for browsers to better access content directly, but also makes the web a better place for those with more pressing accessibility needs. I've noticed a press on the Mastodon social network to both work on tools and features to improve accessibility and the community itself heralds and promotes (gently) their increased use on the platform.

In writing the above it occurs to me that both of these long for a somewhat mythological web of olde, where, on the one hand, accessibility protocols make it easier to just get to the content without all the scripts, hijacking, etc... and on the other, nostalgia emanating at the friendly community feeling I get from Mastodon championing this in their own tools and in their community.

Non-tech Startup Websites

What's interesting to me from the design, marketing, and business side of the technology equation is just how little most people or organizations need custom or complicated web frameworks or designs to do business. Good designers can make effective use within the confines of static web pages or free Wordpress themes, good copy and quality content will do more for proving your mettle (depending on area) than more moving stuff and complex navigation, and if you're focused on your end-user, most businesses really just need their site to explain the product, show the product, and make it easy to buy, locate, and/or contact the business.

This doesn't mean the underlying code doesn't matter, it's just not something that you need when starting out―and depending on the business you run or the area you're in, it may never be something you could describe as a need. It's always about what you need and in part what you want. I've built half-a-dozen or more websites for startups and non-profits in the healthcare space over the past decade (among other marketing initiatives), and they went up fast, underwent A/B testing and constant improvement, and focused on getting phone calls. In some cases we quadrupled the conversion to call ratio from the sites with minor changes. These pages looked relatively attractive, were quick to load, and were typically themed Wordpress sites with specifically structured content, flows, and designs that fit the themes.

The benefit? They went up fast, changed fast to increase conversions, and were cheap to build and maintain. The downside? Sometimes modifications for things like visual flow were more work than they were work with non-built-to-purpose themes.

Onward

At any rate, after years of building sites and sometimes modifying them with piecemeal understanding of html and css (in particular), it's nice to be going through FreeCodeCamp's educational route and learning some things I'd missed or ignored along the way. Excited to see what happens next. I'll probably do more of them as they're extremely well done. Kudos to the team!