There’s a steady flow of new processes and workflows in the UI world. What’s grabbed your attention lately?
The concept of using atomic design to craft design systems. The idea is designing and building modular components while moving from abstract to concrete. It’s a departure from the traditional way of designing web pages, but definitely improved our team’s responsive design process. As an add-on to this new way of thinking we started using Pattern Lab, both as a way to develop the design systems, and as a way to demo designs to clients in a true responsive environment. Demoing to clients in this live manner has helped answer some of the unknowns that come with designing for “in-between” device states and confirm the appropriateness of any progressive enhancement techniques.
Any recent tools you’ve adopted you couldn’t live without?
To go along with our increased use of Pattern Lab, DEG UI Engineer Aaron Ladage spearheaded our teams’ development of Yeo+Lab. This tool speeds up the process of scaffolding out Pattern Lab projects customized for a specific CMS and allows for quick setup of other optional front-end bells and whistles (Compass, Grunt, Modernizr, etc). It reduces a typically manual and time consuming process into just answering a few questions. You can have a new project up and running in a minute or two, allowing you to get down to the actual work much faster. It has substantially cut down the initial setup time for our team. Recently, we’ve been working with Dave Olsen (one of the creators of Pattern Lab along with Brad Frost), to get Yeo+Lab ready for the launch of Pattern Lab 2.0. It’s awesome to work in a part of the industry where everyone is open to helping each other perfect and improve tools and workflow.
What’s the nerdiest thing you get excited about that non-UI folks wouldn’t understand?
Probably all of the CSS layout techniques that we’re finally starting to get the chance to use. For the entire history of the web, designers have been fairly constrained in what can be done with layout. Proposed items like flexbox, columns, and exclusions are finally making their way into browsers and give designers more control than ever. It will be exciting to watch where these items take the industry as they become standardized and people are fully able to use them.
What are non-coding designers missing out on?
I’ve always been a big believer that designers should know at least enough code to be dangerous. They should have at least a base level of knowledge even if they leave the nitty gritty to full-time developers. Without that, I see a lot of designers get constrained to a solely graphic design based mindset which is a very slim mental model to be working from in a digital world. Bringing the technology side into your arsenal helps with knowing the constraints you have to work within but also how to break outside of those constraints and do something truly amazing and groundbreaking.
What is your latest epiphany?
Tools and processes can be great, but it’s easy to overdo it. That may sound obvious, but I’ve found myself and my team getting wrapped up in the cool factor of a tool and subsequently blinded to it causing more harm than good. I was sitting on a panel recently discussing our email design workflow and someone commented that it was the most advanced they’d ever seen. That sounds great on the surface, but it made me question whether our process was limiting our flexibility. As a result, we’ve gone back and reworked our process to be a bit less rigid and made it easier to pivot quickly when needed. Which is what any quality process should be, a framework to keep you on track, but not tie you down.