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Winnipeg Comedy Festival gets a Facelift with Responsive Design

Design
Ross McDowall
Ross McDowall Senior Web Developer
Visual Lizard
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Ross McDowall Fearless Dwarven Warrior

Visual Lizard loves The Winnipeg Comedy Festival! We have been proud supporters for the past 6 years and 2012 was no exception. After the 2011 festival ended, we met with the fine folks that make it all happen and put together the wish list for next year. The list included an alumni area, a better mobile experience and faster speed. We loved the list and made it all happen.

The first step was to upgrade their aging Catalyst CMS to our latest version. The upgrade went smooth as silk and the data transfer completed without a hitch. There are several advantages to be gained from the upgrade.

First, many of the functionality changes between the old version and the new version allow the administrators more robust control over their content. Since some the folks at the Comedy Festival are also administrators of another website that uses Catalyst version 4, they would automatically be familiar with the new interface.

Second, the new version of the system also allowed us to implement some of the latest coding features for HTML and CSS. For people using standards compliant browsers some of the new CSS3 display features would become apparent, but for those who don't, the design gracefully degrades to the CSS2 standards.

Working with guppy design, we wanted to employ the use a Responsive Web Design to the 2012 site. Guppy's overall design was flexible enough for us to make some simplifications to the primary design in order to allow them to work with the smaller screens on most moble devices.

One of the things we learned with this Responsive Design functionality was the interesting difference between your standard computer interface and the touch-screen interface. For years we have been using the pseudo-class :hover to visually indicate that something in the display is a live link. This doesn't work with a touch-screen. The physical interaction of a finger or stylus with the touch-screen makes the hover functionality impractical as the screen needs the physical interaction to know where your finger is. Without some sort of proximity technology, the hover state never gets seen on the touch-screen devices.

That's not to say we do not use hovers in our design implementations, but we have to consider alternatives to that functionality when we are coding for touch-screen devices. For instance, sub-menus that drop-down or fly-out based on a hover will not work. We had to build a second piece of navigational functionality that was based on touching to open rather than a hover state.

The more we work with Responsive Design, we are finding we have to rethink interface functionality, and help our design partners recognize the interface issues that come with these limitations. For instance our initial version of the menu you see in the screen shot to the right did not have a close button as part of the menu. During development with the client it was brought to our attention that they didn't know how to close the menu to see what was underneath. We felt shame for not catching this but quickly corrected it by implementing a close menu option for the mobile version(s).

The solution is simple as you can see in the open menu screen shot, but when you are not in a touch interface headspace during development, you have to make sure to remember this.

Thanks to the introduction of Media Queries in CSS3, we no longer have to build a completely separate set of styles for these mobile devices. This makes our CSS coding more efficient without having to add programming to our HTML in order to sniff out devices, and browser dimensions. It just uses the internal browser specifications to recognize the browser dimensions and use the appropriate set of styles based on the queries.

We are enthusiastically looking forward to using more responsive design in our future work. Oh, and did we mention we love the Comedy Festival? This year was one of the best yet. We cannot wait for 2013 ... if the world doesn't end.