I believe that 2012 brought quite remarkable changes in the way we work and also in the way we approach web design. It can be interesting to take a closer look at it, before it is too late.
The Responsive Web Design, a major motivator
The Responsive Web Design opened up some new ways of working for the web, and not merely by adding some new techniques and challenges, but also by leading us to rethink the way we work and the way our sites must be created.
RWD is not new. It hasn’t appeared in 2012.
I’ve created my first responsive site in the middle of 2011, but I’ve started playing with Andy Clarke’s media queries boilerplate almost one year before.
So, why RWD was that important in 2012? In fact, it would be more correct to say that RWD was less important in 2012 than the widening of vision it engendered.
As we were getting more and more confident with the new techniques and challenges that responsiveness imposed us, it became a "real world" thing when we finally began to embrace it as an intrinsic part of the web.
Subtle, but what a change it was!
One of the amazing “discoveries” brought up with the multi-device web was that content matters.
Of course, we knew that before. We always knew that, but the RWD turned all the lights upon it.
We cannot ignore content anymore and just put some color palette over it (I want to believe we never did that, but still…). We cannot frustrate ourselves anymore by “designing” a “content-less” site, because content is exactly what we’re sharing across devices. Hurrah! And that’s good news! And, yes, that’s exactly why we saw so many articles and books talking about content strategy in 2012.
Now, we web designers we can argue better and fight better for a content strategy before beginning our work, and we can take to a more conscious level what was before a little bit hidden in our designer’s guts.
Web designers love typography - I’m sure I do-, but we’ve been frustrated for so long by being stuck with Arial or Verdana, or yet with Times New Roman long before that, that we’ve simply forgot that typography plays a huge role in design. I’d rather say we thought it would be better to forget it, in fact. And we did…, when suddenly web browsers began to support @font-face and Font Squirrel appeared, and then Google Fonts, and then several pro sites proposing pro fonts.
Good news again! So there we go cherish that poor, forgotten side of design. And, yes, that’s exactly why we saw so many articles and books talking about typography in 2012.
But that’s not all. We were talking about RWD, weren’t we?
As we began to adapt our design to smaller screens, we had to accept that the first should be made lighter and, let’s say, more transparent. Our pages must be light, clean, with little noise. We’re designing for content, remember? But how do we keep the site identity while cleaning things up at the same time? What! Cheer up! We can rely on typography today to keep a smart and important part of our look-and-feel intact, even in a tiny screen.
Frameworks versus web front end crafting
2012 was getting better and better. Wait, there's more! And better yet!
I have to admit I have a problem with front-end frameworks. Maybe I just don't get them, and that's maybe because I'm finally getting too old to keep the pace, but CSS frameworks...? Really?
Ok, I'm loosing the track here. Back to 2012.
Last year, most of the existing front-end frameworks, hence CSS frameworks, got to work hard to present their answer to RWD. And, honestly, I believe they did a great job. Nonetheless, even if what they propose today is good, many web designers, while getting their hands dirty playing with RWD, realized how important was the need to carefully consider their content and therefore craft the markup in order to take the best advantage of it in all devices.
I think that many web designers found out how important became to have hands on code and an attentive consideration of the content structure. The better we know our code, the easier we can control it and design it.
Let's put frameworks apart for a while, and give more attention to code crafting.
It's a bit puzzling, but at the same time that many of us found out how important was to craft our code, we've begun to see several style guides and ui pattern libraries peep over the web. How come?
We have a lot of work, don't we? We have dead-lines and clients eager to see our work done. So, as much as we want to be code crafters, there's a limit to what our whish for perfection can deal with.
There, we're stuck... But what if, for the general, repetitive content, we could rely on nice, standard and structured code, already packed in a handy library? That would surely leave us more time to consider exceptional content, besides that it would allow us to get familiar with the regular code used for regular content, easing the process for CSS design.
Awesome professionnals like Jeremy Keith (The Pattern Primer) and Dan Cederholm (pea.rs) propose today markup pattern libraries, to reference some, and many important sites created their own, like Starbucks or BBC. I'm quite sure markup patterns libraries are a tendency. Ok, there goes a bit of auto-promotion.... We've started our own, some time ago, long before RWD was a dream.
2012 was a blast. As new web technologies like media queries and HTML5 became more mature, we’ve widened out our vision of what the web and the web design was. There's much more to come, cool!
What can I say… I simply love the web, and my work is getting more and more exciting and challenging and mature, thanks to what the web is and how it is evolving.