Hi, I'm Dave Mulder. This is my website, where I write about user experience and product design.

Originally Published: September 28, 2011

Will future friendly take root in the web development community?

A handful of mobile thought leaders retreated to the woods earlier this month to discuss the unfolding of their field. The outcome: Future Friendly.

Shuttle launch

Future Friendly is positioned as a philosophy toward web design and development, motivated by these problems:

  • HTML is stagnant: The language of the web has fallen far behind apps, and the disparity is growing.
  • Innovation is stifled: Developers frequently retreat and develop for the lowest common denominator.
  • Feature sets are noisy: Users have a preference for focused, meaningful experiences and they’re finding ways to get them without our help.
  • Devices are unpredictable: Browsers are everywhere.

And the solution(s)? Future Friendly signatories enumerate these principles:

  1. Acknowledge and embrace unpredictability.
  2. Think and behave in a future-friendly way.
  3. Help others do the same.

Future Friendly is more the outcome of a Constitutional Convention than it is a practical set of laws. A “when you do stuff, do it with this in mind” mode of thinking.

My take

Future Friendly is fluffy abstraction and individually the ideas are hardly new, but this is the first time that all these thoughts are together in one place. Like a new-in-box Apple product, Future Friendly is a well-packaged gift worth taking the time to unwrap.

Data portability is the most important takeaway from Future Friendly. (Data is often conceptualized as the water of the web.) Because they allow third parties to build value-adding products that run on data, success on the web is tilted toward open platforms, APIs, and web services. But web-based services aren’t the only beneficiary of robust data exchange. We don’t usually think about our blog posts and websites as structured data. Make it easy to get content out, and make it easy to put content in.

Future Friendly is a reminder that the mobile web can be much more than responsive design. But it’s a necessary starting point. Too many developers are like stubborn rhinoceroses, refusing to budge from their own belief systems. Too often developers retreat to the corner and build for the lowest common denominator. Gravity may keep us grounded, but it also limits exploration. Future Friendly will help us reach escape velocity.

Future Friendly is about small actions today that will lead to a brighter tomorrow. However, we’re not talking about something as simple as flipping the light switch when we leave a room or turning the faucet off while brushing our teeth. Future Friendly approaches to design and development require education and patience, and some people in the field may take offense to the implication that they have to re-learn their job. Even when they’ve learned, they must still stay up some best practices have been around for only months and will soon be replaced by better best practices.

The optimistic side of me sees that sharing these ideas is better than refuting them. After all, just a few days ago I wrote about the need for a restart in the way we think about mobile web. Future Friendly plays a leading role in the reboot.

A critique

With the pace that the web is moving, the future modifier may soon be unnecessary. While Future Friendly is intended to benefit both today’s web and tomorrow’s web, many positive outcomes can be realized immediately. The language may imply a distant future that no one needs to rush toward. I think we need a greater sense of urgency. Perhaps we should be designing and developing for a Friendly web.

A criticism

Mobile, by definition, is disabling and Future Friendly whiffs on inclusive design. Not a word. That’s unfortunate, because time and time again we see innovation stem from design for edge use cases.

However, you could argue that Future Friendly is itself an approach to inclusive design. With 70% of humanity experiencing the web for the first time this decade through a mobile device, making our content and web applications Future Friendly is absolutely an inclusive strategy.

But it’s not enough. Inclusive design (accessibility) needs to be guiding principle of Future Friendly thinking.