We Don't Build Websites Like We Used To

Web design has come a long way over the past couple decades. As we have pushed the whole web experience further and further along, the job of the web designer has changed drastically. What began as a single job title that meant a single thing, has now become a blanket statement for an entire industry, wherein you will find dozens of job descriptions, each for a very specific skillset.

For us web professionals, this increased diversification and complexity in our field is forcing us to specialize. For instance, I’m not a web developer, I’m a front-end web developer. If you want server-side coding, you’ll want a web programmer. Your designer friend isn’t a web designer, she’s a UX designer—not to be confused with a UI designer.

That might feel overwhelming, but it’s really all a sign of something very good: our field is maturing. And with that maturity come common design and development patterns, tools, help resources, and long awaited best practices. Each of these developments occur for a single reason—to eliminate waste.

Frameworks are industries’ waste disposal systems

Frameworks are built in an effort to:

  1. reduce inefficiency
  2. create consistency
  3. maintain quality

—between projects. There are different types of frameworks, each built around a specific objective. Of web frameworks, I can think of three types right off the bat:

CSS Frameworks

Contains two components:

  • HTML layout schemas, complete with standardized IDs, classes, and other markup
  • CSS written specifically for the framework’s layout schema and JS needs


  • Skeleton
  • 960 Grid System
  • HTML5 Boilerplate

Front-end Frameworks

Contains all the components of a css framework, plus:

  • Client-side code (JS) for enhancing user experience


  • Foundation
  • Bootstrap

Site Framework

Contains all the components of a front-end framework, plus:

  • Server-side code for creating and controlling sites


  • Adobe Business Catalyst
  • WordPress

Templates are not frameworks

Templates are anything from a paint job to a finished site. They are not frameworks, but they are built on frameworks (hopefully). Web frameworks provide the tools and structural rules necessary to produce quality websites faster. The better the framework, the higher the potential quality and usability of a template. Can you imagine how the quality of a template is directly impacted by the quality of the underlying framework?

Templates are an integral part of Business Catalyst

Now I get to speak to the other side of the aisle. Out of those who so staunchly supported my affirmations about template addiction, there will now be a few who think I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth. My issue, however, is not with templates, but template addiction, which I define as dependency on 3rd party templates for survival.

Templates themselves are an important part of niche marketing. If you build an awesome site for an attorney, and then another attorney comes along, why shouldn’t you replicate that site? It would be crazy not to do so. It’s often needlessly expensive to start over. Templates should be stellar examples of something done well. And when we do something well, we should seek to replicate that result. That said, if you replicate the site and reskin it, but skip or ignore the discovery stage with your prospect, or try to shoehorn your client into your template, I really believe you’ve failed your client and hurt the image of the platform.

A template is only as good as the framework it is built on

If the power of a template is in repeating success, the backbone of that success is the framework it is built on. Reason? How often do you have to change parts of your templates to meet your clients’ needs? It should be often. In fact, unless you are offering a service where your client goes to your site, picks a template, and does everything themselves, it should be almost every time. It should be like winning the lottery (or at least bingo night) when you get to reskin without any other changes.

So what happens when the time to make changes arrives, and you don’t already understand how the site was built? Or what happens if the framework is lousy? You lose precious productivity...and quality.

Now, imagine the opposite scenario, where your site is built on a framework that you know and love; where changes are almost plug-and-play...

Frameworks are systems for building sites. Hopefully there are built on best practices...guidelines for success. They help us avoid pitfalls, while pointing us to more sure paths. When we choose a framework, built on principles we agree with, and we stick with that framework, we not only ensure higher quality site builds, but we gain the ability to modify our templates with stellar speed.

Adam Cook

Post Date:
Tuesday, March 18, 2014

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Blog posts, discounts and updates. Oh my!

Note: If you are not a Business Catalyst partner who wants to build better websites faster, you should reconsider subscribing. Because that's all I do and write about. Otherwise, this is going to rock!

Blog posts, discounts and updates. Oh my!

Note: If you are not a Business Catalyst partner who wants to build better websites faster, you should reconsider subscribing. Because that's all I do and write about. Otherwise, this is going to rock!