Today I have to look at something both great and unpleasant at the same time: frameworks. There are a million frameworks out there and I am totally over-simplifying with my little article but hopefully you will get the idea.
Frameworks are good
Frameworks in software development and design are probably one of the best things to happen since the invention of the wheel or sliced bread. They offer basic functionalities and ideas packaged and bundled into working tools and templates. That is a wonderful thing because that makes it easy for those who use these frameworks in order to achieve things faster: Prototypes can be build within a shorter timeframe, designs get cranked out quicker and the functionalities are consistent throughout.
So much time can be saved when you simply choose the width of a grid column instead of developing the entire grid system yourself. It leaves you with more time to do the things that matter most to you or your client.
That does not mean, that we have to limit ourselves when it comes to creativity and getting the ideas onto the screen or into the browser. depending on the framework there are many ways to do things the way you want to. Sounds great, but …
Frameworks are bad
Ooops, what? Didn’t he just say they are great? Well, yes. But the fact that so many things are defined already and it is dead simple to get stuff done carries a major caveat within: People using these frameworks stop thinking about the designs to some extent. Everything is there. Nothing needs to be done anymore.
But when frameworks get developed they are usually a big compromise. A very smart person or group (often, but not always) finds solutions to solve common problems and develop tools to get things done. But due to the demand to have a generic nature they have to find and define compromises. These compromises help to make a framework versatile and usable for many.
When a compromise-based tool-set or template-set is the basis for a development, it is obvious that there are very low chances that the outcome based on this will be the best solution to the problem at hand. So basically you are building on a foundation which is mediocre. It takes a lot of effort to make things great again. So that it will be tremendous, that everyone will love it. (Got a little carried away there, sorry.)
And that is the point why frameworks by themselves will never be really great. I have not seen many websites or apps where the framework was a major part of the solution and where the final product was outstanding. Do not get me wrong: They all work and many are nice. But the really awesome stuff is usually framework plus many additional tweaks and fixes. It is like building a great house or office tower and leaving the scaffolding there for everyone to see how it was build. The real work is covered by the scaffolding.
Themes and their shortcomings
Themes and templates are great examples: You can get an amazing theme for your Wordpress site these days for some 50-70 USD and it looks dynamite; on the demo server. But start testing the responsive capabilities. All of a sudden you realise that the spacing is kind of sloppy. On the mobile version the spacing is not as nice as on your iMac at full screen window width. The modules and blocks are not aligning as smart as you would love them to. Oh, and while you are able to read the blog posts on the smartphone quite well … on the iMac the lines of text with 320 chars are simply an impudent way of throwing text at you (remember my part 2 on typography?).
And here we are: As always in life you cannot have your toast with a thick layer of nutella on both sides and still expect it to be an easy eat. Things will get messy.
Spacing and details
Why this rant? Let me be clear: I love frameworks and well-made themes and templates. They offer great opportunities. Low budgets can still get people and companies decent looking websites, presentations and business cards. I myself use them for private projects in order to get started quickly. I can always create my own design later when the thing really takes off. But I urge every designer who takes the (apparently) easy way of choosing a ready-made thing to be responsible and decide (together with the client) what this means. Identify what needs to be done. Pay attention to decent spacing. Is the typography well done? Or do you need to work on it once you decide on a theme? Often times it is the little things that make a huge difference in style and quality. Be aware of that and plan according to it. Save time with frameworks, templates and themes and use it for the greater good or improve the template for the specific case.
Responsive web-design? Everyone does it. Piece of cake. What is so special about it? The boxes just move underneath each other. What's the fuzz about? Actually, I don’t think so: If you really want to design and develop things well on all devices you have to do a little bit more to create great work than just letting things collapse and move them underneath each other. The next article will take a closer look at this aspect.