Andy Clarke, or @malarkey, as he is known to most, came to Belfast last week to speak to the students of Interactive Multimedia Design. On the Tuesday night he gave an informal talk that meandered from his obsession with Planet of the Apes, to airing his own anxieties about the mounting pressure to stay relevant in an ever changing industry.
"Things don't just come because you are good at it. No one owes you anything. You have to go out there and get it for yourself."
As I am still a student of Interactive Multimedia Design, I was given the opportunity to go along to the day long workshop which Andy was giving the following day at the University of Ulster.
One of the topics which Andy spoke about was style guides, highlighting examples like Jeremy Keith's Pattern Primer, Bootstrap as well as briefly talking about his latest endeavour, Rock Hammer. Rock Hammer is a pattern primer built for use with Hammer, Riot's Mac based web development tool.
Andy talked about his recent leaning towards designing content outside of layout, away from the constraints of a browser window or viewport size. He calls design without layout, “atmosphere”. Designing with layout in mind can sometimes hinder creativity and can encourage you to think within the constraints of the medium. However, I think that it is essential to design with context in mind. Understanding constraints as well as understanding the medium in which our designs will be used, is an essential part of the design process.
Designing with layout in mind can stifle creativity but I think there is a larger problem. It is not whether or not we are designing with layout in mind but the rise in people using frameworks like Twitter's Bootstrap, Zurb's Foundation or indeed Andy Clarke's Rock Hammer.
The problem is not style guides themselves, they are actually a great starting point that allow for rapid development and they encourage the use of reusable, modular code; which is great. The problem is when people stop thinking creatively about their content or brand because of these frameworks and we start to see websites with very similar layout, typographic and colour styles.
The turnaround time, the UI requirements of the app and the budget of the project are all factors which, as a company, we must consider before we decide to use an existing style guide or to build our own from scratch.
If you haven't used a style guide before, why not give Andy's Rock Hammer a try. Also, if you are new to the world of CSS preprocessors this is a great opportunity to try out SASS; Hammer makes it super easy to get started.
Alternatively, why not consider making your own style guide? Build it to suit your needs and tailor the base styles to suit your taste. Your style guide does not have to replicate the functionality of Bootstrap from the beginning. Let it be an iterative process and start small.