Game BreakWednesday, September 19th, 2012
It’s true. I pre-ordered Borderlands 2, but thanks to the wonders of shipping delays the game is somewhere between the warehouse and my home. It will be days yet before it makes it into my hands. Part of me wonders at the purpose of pre-ordering something if it’s not shipped in time to be received on launch day, but somehow I’ll survive. Like the Squirrel, I might choose distract myself through the powers of make-believe. Whatever it takes, right?
Don’t let my current game-related obsession fool you, however. I’m not suddenly competing with Penny Arcade for the title of “best gamer comic ever”. Today’s comic actually touches on the field of web design while discussing games for a very specific reason. Today’s guest star is Anna Debenham, a freelance front end developer from Brighton, UK. Anna is one of those brilliant web people that continues to add to that city’s reputation of being stuffed full of an unfair amount of awesome talent.
If somehow you haven’t heard of her yet, you will have a hard time continuing that trend going forward. Among other things she has contributed to 24 ways, shared her wisdom at conferences (she will be speaking at the upcoming Full Frontal 2012), and has just had a very interesting article about testing websites in game console browsers published over at A List Apart.
The article is a good read, and I recommend you check it out because it probably contains wisdom you need but currently lack.
I know I did.
Yes, I already knew that people were browsing websites via consoles. Yes, I knew that in some cases those consoles’ browsers aren’t nearly as capable as a typical desktop experience. But in my head that wasn’t something I needed to worry about. After all, how often are people browsing the web via their PS3?
A lot, it turns out. According to Anna’s article, a full one in eight people overall (in the UK, US and France) and one in four teens use their game console to browse the web on a regular basis. That, my friends, is a lot of people.
It’s an amount we probably can’t afford to ignore.
Among other things, this means that I now need to start thinking about how client sites might look in console browsers. I wonder if I can use this data to get Mindfly to set up an Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii in the studio.
You know, for work purposes.
This also reminds me of the need for community device labs that Jeremy Keith (another Brighton design wizard) has been thumping for. There’s so many bloody web-connected devices these days that it’s outside of the budget of most studios or teams to build a thorough collection themselves. Which is why he advocates the need for designer communities to support each other in putting together an open lab for one another to contribute towards and make use of. In his posts Jeremy spoke mainly about having mobile and tablet devices, but after reading Anna’s article I think there’s good reason to include consoles and even browser-capable toasters in such collections.
Let’s be honest, if a toaster can’t connect to the Internet yet, one soon will.
Should we be designing for every device, including consoles, with our websites? No. That way lies madness. There’s simply too many to account for, and by targeting all the ones you know you’ll be explicitly excluding the ones you don’t.
Nor should we get caught up in the mentality of targeting sites to specific devices. Every time you build a site to render specifically on an iPhone you’re failing to take into account how many other smartphones are out there with different capabilities and screen dimensions. Despite how abundantly clear this is, I see the same mistake made over and over again.
Don’t make your sites for specific devices. Please.
Anna rightly points that out herself in her ALA piece:
We can’t tailor experiences for every possible use case on every device, but we can use what we know about console web browsing to build a better overall experience. Like we’ve done by designing with mobile in mind, considering how a site could be used on a console can have a knock-on effect of making it easier to use overall.
Jeremy Keith speaks to that same point in the article of his that I linked above:
In fact I’ve found that one of the greatest benefits of testing on as many different platforms as possible is that it stops me from straying down the path of device-specific development. When I come across a problem in my testing, my reaction isn’t to think “how can I fix this problem on this particular device?”, which would probably involve throwing more code at it. Instead I think “how can I avoid this problem?” The particular device may have highlighted the issue, but there’s almost always a more fundamental problem to be tackled …and it’s very rarely tackled by throwing more code at it.
So do yourself a favor. Go check out Anna’s article about consoles. If you haven’t already done so, start thinking about what it means to be a web designer in a world where virtually every device we can think of can visit your website, and what it takes to make a design robust enough to survive on them all. And the next time you start thinking about tailoring for specific devices, stop and remember that’s a trap you can’t afford to fall for in our modern device-happy world.