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Making the Web Work Better

Apr 3, 2015
by Randy Taylor

For Web designer and developer Scott Jehl, ‘05, it was a family member’s medical issue that helped drive his desire to make modern Web sites more user-friendly for all users.

Jehl’s uncle had cerebral palsy and used a teletypewriter (TTY) — a device that sends messages by text in place of a phone — to communicate with the world.

“My interest in accessible technology started early on, watching my uncle who has cerebral palsy use a TTY and later email to keep in touch with his family,” said Jehl.

Jehl arrived at Flagler already a proficient Web designer, and continued to grow his capabilities. While still a student at Flagler, he redesigned the Web site for the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind — a significant project that would prove to inspire Jehl and shape his career to come.

“That interest never really connected to my career until I was fortunate enough to be hired to help redesign the Web site for the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind,” he said. “Immediately after working with them, it began to click for me that the Web is used in so many ways beyond the way I typically use it myself.”

Building on that early understanding, Jehl has become one of the foremost experts in a specialized area of Internet development called responsive design.

“Responsive design is a way of designing Web sites so that they can fluidly adapt to any size screen, from a phone to a tablet to a desktop computer, and all sizes in between,” he said. 

Last spring, Jehl’s first book was published on the topic.

Virtually all of us have experienced Web sites that run painfully slow or don’t work on the device we’re using.

Jehl’s goal has been improving accessibility for all Internet users. He works from his home office in the idyllic beachside village of Seagrove, Florida, for one of the leading Web development firms in Boston. Major clients he has worked for include the Boston Globe’s news site and now children’s toymaker LEGO.

Jehl’s services have become even more in demand with the explosion of mobile devices in all the shapes and sizes. “I realized the inflexible ways we had long been designing for the Web needed to change. So, responsive design is an extension of all that,” he said.

After joining the Filament Group in 2006, Jehl co-developed the online Boston Globe Web site in 2011. The site is widely considered the first large-scale responsive Web site, and is still referred to as a turning point in the practice of responsive Web design.

Just as Jehl’s stock was skyrocketing, his wife Stephanie had just completed a doctoral degree at Harvard. They both wanted to see more of the world, so Jehl convinced his colleagues at the Filament Group into an experiment to work remotely.

“We booked a one-way ticket to Bangkok and began following a loose agenda that led us all over that region for about 8 months, eventually ending up in India and then Nepal, where we trekked to the Mt. Everest Base Camp.”

It was their biggest adventure to date, and would serve to inspire Jehl both personally and professionally. Life would never be the same.

“Travel grounded me. Before I left, I felt we were doing a lot of things right when it comes to building sites that work for most people,” he said. “But traveling showed me how much more work we still have to do.”

And the work at the Filament Group continues, just not in Boston. From his home in Florida, he continues to influence the way modern Web sites are built.

These days Jehl is always busy. If he is not developing major sites like LEGO’s retail Web site, he’s off to a conference or industry event where he is often a featured speaker and considered an industry leader in responsive design.

Of course on any given day, you can also find Jehl down the street at the beach with his wife and new daughter, thinking about new and interesting ways to build sand castles, or which surfboard to take out.

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