Trent Walton on RWD, friends and passion

Paravel founder Trent Walton answers your queries about responsive design, working with friends and getting hired to do what you’re passionate about. Oh, and talks turbo-powered space yachts …

This article first appeared in the October 2011 issue (#220) of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

@kumbi: What have been the biggest drawbacks you’ve encountered when implementing responsive design projects? How do you mitigate them, if at all?
TW: I’ve noticed hubbub on the intertubes about how responsive web design can push projects over budget and limit scope. I’ve not found that to be true. We charge more for responsive layouts, but not much, and most of the extra time goes into planning rather than buildout. I’ve found the biggest liability with using media queries is the possibility that a site’s hierarchy can be wrecked as elements reflow to fit narrower widths. Content needs to be choreographed to ensure the intended message is preserved on any device and at any width.

Above all, responsive web design (much like web fonts) has renewed my sense of wonder when working for the web. We’re solving big problems, and aren’t we all glad that we don’t have to build 20 websites for 20 unique devices?

@camposgalan: How many different screen sizes (resolutions) do you consider when developing a responsive site?
TW: Thus far, we’ve been thinking of responsive layouts in terms of columns and content, instead of device breakpoints. But we do pay close attention to how pages look at a single-column mobile view, a tablet view and a full-width desktop view. I think keeping layouts device-agnostic is the way forward. If a site is built on a flexible foundation, we’ll be able to browse responsive sites via the panoramic displays on our turbo-powered space yachts!

@BenoRudolf: Should a frontend developer be in a UX/design department or a development/code department? Is it a personal preference?
TW: I’d say all people and their respective skillsets are unique. I’ve worked with our lead developer, Dave Rupert, for more than 10 years, and he’s been thinking in terms of user experience design since before I knew the term existed. On the flipside, he’d do just about anything to avoid opening Photoshop!

As designing in the browser becomes more viable, I think the roles of frontend developers and designers could merge significantly. We’ve always valued overlap at Paravel, and think getting in each other’s business makes for a better final product.

@PaulAdamDavis: Do you find you’re mostly known for your experiments rather than the client work you do? If so, how does that affect you?
TW: Great question. Years ago we did grunt-work gigs. We’d do them well, thus we’d get hired to do more of them, which wasn’t awesome. We set aside time to blog and experiment with things we were passionate about, and a fantastic thing happened. People began hiring us to do those things. We don’t use stuff such as Lettering.js or FitText on every client site, but people who come calling generally know that we’re up for more adventurous and experimental types of projects. I also noticed that we started to get paid not just for Photoshop, HTML or CSS, but also for our ideas. If I can get hired to think and build then I’m happy.

@joelhelin: What was your strategy for getting your company’s name out there?
TW: Beats me … have fun, collaborate, care too much, try too hard and do side projects. If you want to be hired to do a certain type of job, you should already be doing that work in some form. I kid you not, we got hired to build a library site because the project manager saw our The Many Faces Of… post on Alan Rickman and got a kick out of it.

@JasonDigital: Who’s the most valuable individual you’ve worked with (in your business or another company), and why?
TW: I’m spoiled by my Paravel team members, Dave Rupert and Reagan Ray. We’ve known each other since we were kids and are really comfortable working together. Through years of laughing at, arguing with and learning from one another, we’ve got a lot of trust and respect under our belts. It’s a privilege to be able to work with your friends, whom you truly believe in.

@teknotica: Which book would you recommend for those who want to learn more about CSS3 and its new features?
TW: I’d start with CSS3 For Web Designers, by Dan Cederholm, or Andy Clarke’s Hardboiled Web Design. Also, visit CSS-Tricks every day.