Buzzwords and the layman

Web development is a weird specialty. There are reams of excellent articles and references by writers often evangelical about how the web should be built, from the tools you use, through the way you code it to the servers it’s sits on.

There can be no profession more open than web development, literally everything you need to know is out in the open

But (and there is always a but) this work comes at a price. The bean-counters and bosses need to believe that what we’re doing has benefits outside of giving us a warm fuzzy glow. So we gave them terms that neatly packaged up bits of best practice with handy benefits. The problem is that these terms got adopted and resold as solutions, here are some examples;


Agile software development is a beautifully collaborative process, ruined by poor understanding of what it is.

To many people Agile is like Waterfall, but with things running in parallel and where changes can be made throughout. They also conveniently misses out all the iteration and packages of functionality that give us the flexibility.

Agile has stopped being useful as a term because there are too many people who use it incorrectly. What they mean is agile with a lower case ‘a’, they mean that you’re going to be jumping around avoiding bullets.

Responsive / Adaptive

Responsive design can save you money and make you irresistible to the opposite sex. We could have packaged this term with Viagra but given the boners that the industry now has for this it wouldn’t be necessary.

I have a huge about of faith in these three areas, but unfortunately the term responsive has gone rogue and has gained a duel meaning.

To us a responsive layout flexes with the size of the screen through which is it s presented. Adaptive is similar but is controlled more through breakpoints. By adapting to the viewport we can improve the user experience on smaller screens.

To the rest of the world responsive and adaptive are the same. Both mean that we can tailor the mobile and tablet experience of the website, saving money on creating specific sites for those device types.

At first glance that seems fine, but the key word is tailor. It implies a level of control that whilst possible can be labour intensive and sometimes not what the technology was designed for.

Responsive and adaptive layouts should not have icons positioned in space that require breakpoints to position them.

Mobile first

Doesn’t mean that you make your desktop site look like your mobile. Google it, there is some hilarity out there on this one.


The king of all recent terms, meaning completely different things to the business and to the developers. HTML5 is both the extra syntactic markup and a group of technologies promising to kill Flash and tell you when someone looking at a billboard.

At least it let us sneak in progressive enhancement. Somehow that never caught on.

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