Web design

Brad Frost on future-friendly thinking

Our existing practices are struggling to cope with the range of different devices, and it’s only going to get worse. Brad Frost and a cohort of web pioneers have devised a plan: future friendly thinking

This article first appeared in issue 230 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

.net: How did the future friendly movement come about?
Brad Frost: A few people who care deeply about the web, mobile and the future of technology got together in a cabin in the woods after the Breaking Development Conference in Nashville. Due to some glitch in the Matrix, I was allowed to tag along. Over the course of a few days, we talked at length about the future and the web’s role in it. By the time we left, we had crafted a manifesto that articulated our concerns, but also offered some advice on how to think in a future-friendly way.

.net: What are its guiding principles?
BF: Future friendly has three core principles:

  • Acknowledge and embrace unpredictability.
  • Think and act in a future-friendly way.
  • Encourage others to do the same.

In order to think and act in a future-friendly way, we have to focus on what really matters to our users and our businesses. We can’t be all things to all people, and in order to deal with constant change, we need to cut away the cruft to stay agile. We should make our content, products and services available to our users wherever they may be. We should also look for better ways of detecting what devices are, what they can do and how they can work together as systems.

.net: What do we need to do to ensure the future of the web?
BF: The web’s true power is its ubiquity. No native platform or proprietary solution can claim the web’s level of reach, and with more devices emerging all the time that intrinsic inclusiveness is becoming more important than ever. Ensuring your sites, apps and services are compatible with today’s landscape gives them a better chance of being compatible with the future web. Learning to deal with all of today’s connected devices is like boot camp for dealing with tomorrow’s diversity. That means rethinking what the web is. Too many people still think the web is this 960-pixel-wide box that sits on your desk or lap. Of course it’s much more than that now, but a lot of people think of the web on these mobile devices as The Web LiteTM. We need to change that mentality in order to ensure the web has a future.

.net: How would you like to see the process of standardisation improved?
BF: The standards process should be as flexible and agile as possible in order to encourage rapid innovation standardisation. I think that open communication between developers, standards bodies and browser makers is more important than ever. Things such as community groups help, and hopefully a more collaborative ongoing dialog can keep all hands on deck.

.net: What do you think of Joe Hewitt’s ideas about the web needing an owner?
BF: He makes some great points about how the web’s capabilities certainly lag behind other platforms, that things take ages to implement, and that something needs to be done to fix these problems. However, I don’t think giving the web an official owner is the answer. We can’t ensure that the owner would always act in everyone’s best interest and would stay benevolent forever. It opens the door for massive abuse of power.

.net: How does data need to be managed in order to be future friendly?
BF: Ensuring that data is portable is absolutely essential. It’s essential to build APIs and content management systems that are built for adaptation and flexibility. Focusing on content infrastructure is now more important than any one individual channel. Unfortunately, current web content management systems act as more web publishing tools, so a lot of work needs to be done to create more platform-agnostic CMSes.

.net: What do you think of NPR’s Create Once, Publish Everywhere system?
BF: It gets talked about because their system focuses on storing agnostic content, adaptation and reuse. Content creators author something once and can have it transformed into a whole host of contexts – from desktop templates, mobile templates, native apps, displays and more. We should follow their lead and create more future-friendly platforms.

Words: Tanya Combrinck

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