Walls Come Tumbling Down – Rethinking Workflow

Original Transcript

Worse still are the expectations that static visuals set in the minds of clients, particularly when designers use them as a method to get sign-off for a design. I often wonder, is the fact that so many web pages are fixed-width and centered, a direct result of clients signing off fixed-width design visuals?

I would even go so far and say that when you demonstrate a design as a static image, you are reinforcing a mistaken notion that a web page will be a facsimile of a frozen image. And when you demonstrate a design or ask for sign-off on a frozen image, you immediately leave yourself open to the problems that often come when you later implement that design.

We all know that it is impossible today for a design to render exactly the same in every browser or device.

You need only look at the different ways that Gecko and Webkit and Opera anti-alias text. The browser landscape is more diverse today than it ever has been before.

I know that many designers and developers understand that it’s neither practical, economical or desirable to attempt cross-browser pixel perfection, but what about the clients and managers that we work for? They still often subscribe to the outdated notion that you should strive for pixel perfection.

Get into the browser as soon as possible

I decided a little while ago that I would try and change my workflow. This has happened many times over the years. In 1998 when I was making Nintendo 64 websites, Notepad and a FTP client were major parts of my workflow. Since then, my tools and and process have changed a lot. I think one of the tenets of a good designer/developer is the ability to keep learning and recognizing when something in your process could be done better.

My new workflow is the result of a lot of reading and a lot of trial and error. I’ve come a long way from the days of Notepad and a FTP client.

Get in the browser!

This is something I would’ve been against in the past. I was still remembering the waterfall process where everything takes place in silos. The designer designs a layout, then passes it to a developer, who then pass it to the people who enter content. This method presents a lot of problems, mostly that the three phases happen in isolation. The graphic designer gets to make a lot of decisions without knowing if a) their design is even possible to implement and b) if the actual content would even fit into the design. If the developer and the content experts were involved in the design process, conversations could happen that would prevent issues like that.

Design, content, and development are all inherently intertwined. Design, content, and development need to happen somewhat simultaneously. As a developer, by getting right into the browser, I can work closely with designers to iterate on the design, get feedback, and enhance the interactive aspects of the site. I can also work with content experts who can provide me with some real world content to test in my prototypes.

Getting into the browser as soon as possible allows all three of these phases to happen simultaneously. Currently we’re trying something new. Instead of fully committing to a design in Illustrator or Photoshop, our designer roughs up some wireframe-y type stuff in Illustrator, and then I get that prototyped into something like Pattern Lab as soon as possible. Then lots of conversations happen. Content, design and development are all being considered at the same time now.

Tools like Slack make it easy to share links, screen shots, inspiration, and feedback with everyone on the team. Our Pattern Lab is at a public URL and is commonly referenced and discussed. So far this is leading to a lot of progress in a short period of time. Workflows within Pattern Lab could be a whole other post, but however you want to do it, get your styles broken down into atoms, molecules, organisms, etc. It makes prototyping so much more efficient.

Dave Olsen discusses this topic in detail in the video below and does a much better job than I discussing the problem and potential solutions.

Sharing what you know

While reading this wonderful article by Sibylle Weber about responsive design workflows, something rang really true for me.

We need to become experts. And I mean not just in writing great code or coming up with beautiful designs but at explaining why we’re doing what we’re doing. Why do you code this way or that? Why is this the best layout? Why does a website have to be accessible and responsive? Write about it. Putting your thoughts down on paper or screen is a really efficient way of getting your head around a topic and learning to make a case for something. You may even find that you come up with new ideas as you are writing, so you’ll become a better designer or developer along the way.
~Sibylle Weber

To write is to think. Writing is thinking. It helps us solidify our thoughts, focus our ideas, and become better at communicating with others.

This is something I’d like to work on with myself. The timing is perfect for me to be sharing what works and what doesn’t work in web development. At work, we’re currently undergoing a CMS transformation, as well as some other projects that are going to give me a first hand insight in what it means to progressively enhance and do some style guide driven development.

Share, share, share

In the world of web development there is a lot to keep track of. The only reason we’ve gotten so far with the web is because people keep sharing what they know. Then someone builds upon that and we have the next application framework. I’m going to make a solid effort to share what I know in the coming months.

lololol

Using only Bootstrap 3’s grid system using LESS

Import the following files into your main LESS file:

@import "../path/to/bootstrap/less/variables.less";
@import "variables.less"; // Put your custom variables in here
@import "../path/to/bootstrap/less/mixins.less";
@import "../path/to/bootstrap/less/grid.less";
@import "../path/to/bootstrap/less/utilities.less";

That’s all you really need to get up and running with the Bootstrap grid system. The benefits to doing this are that your compiled CSS file will be super light-weight because you’re only taking in the bootstrap grid system.

Thoughts on turning 30

Turning 30 is a weird thing for a lot of people. When I was young, I thought 30 was the point in my life where I’d finally be an adult. I’d have my act together and be doing a lot of “adult” things. The truth is, I just feel 18 with 12 years of experience.

The majority of my 20s were filled with self satisfaction, pleasure seeking, and not a lot of forward thinking. My late 20s were the beginning of me beginning to notice there is so much more to the world than that. I’m very grateful I’ve been able to have a kind of introspection that allowed me to notice these things about myself and realize I could do better.

From the time I graduated high school until around age 24, I participated in a lot of self destructive behaviors and unhealthy habits. At 25 I finally got my associate’s degree. At 26 I went back to school for my bachelor’s degree. At 28 I graduated and got a job. At 30 I’m continuing my educational journey by getting my master’s degree. It took a while to turn the ship around but for the first time in years I finally feel like I’m on the right path.

Whereas my 20s were dedicated to pleasure seeking, I’m setting a different intention for my 30s.

In my 30s I want to be healthier; both physically and mentally. Instead of being involved in self destructive behaviors, I want to engage in activities that will encourage growth, change, and positive outcomes.

I’m going to get better at relationships with friends and family. I took relationships for granted in the past, but I’m going to make a serious effort to maintain relationships.

I’m going to take my health more seriously. Starting at the beginning of August this year, I’ve made some changes that gave me some momentum to work with as I turned 30. I’m eating lots more fruits and vegetables and a lot less processed food. I’m drinking a lot less coffee and a lot more water.

I don’t think I’ll ever cut coffee out completely because I <3 it so much, but I was drinking a pot (sometimes more!) of coffee per day. If anything I think it made me more tired because my body was so stressed from all the caffeine. I’ve already noticed a positive difference in energy levels in focus since cutting my intake.

These are just some of the things I hope to bring to my life in the next decade. Health, relationships, forward thinking, and positive outcomes. Here’s to the next 10 years!