Phillip Smith

Just mark-up the damn content: Swimming in a sea of CSS "frameworks," no land in sight.

Whenever I start a new Web project, I ask myself the question “So, where do I start again?” It has been more than fifteen years, but I still don’t feel like I have a consistent workflow, a rhythm, for starting a project from scratch.

I usually think “So, what did I do last time? That must be a good place to start.” Most recently, I ended up using the Less Framework a couple of times, but noticed that the author, Joni Korpi, has subsequently developed two other systems, Frameless and Golden Grid System.

Sadly, my old friend Blueprint CSS feels downright long-in-the-tooth these days.

A quick look around reveals that we’re literally awash in a sea of CSS frameworks right now. From the newly-minted “responsive & responsible” kinds, like 320andup by Andy Clarke, to old faithfuls like the aforementioned Blueprint, 960, and tools like Compass, Bootstrap, and Foundation. It’s a beautiful thing and a challenge at the same time.

Why frameworks? I had a friendly debate with Andy Clarke about them back in 2009, while we were both working on the re-development of New Internationalist online.

Since having ditched Photoshop, Illustrator, and Omnigraffle for mock-ups and wireframes, choosing instead to just use HTML (thanks to Andy for the final push I needed), I feel more attached than ever to the idea of a CSS framework to help me get over the initial hump of experimenting with the position of elements on a page.

And now, with the majority of the Web community shouting from the hills responsive design! and mobile first!, it’s hard to just turn a blind eye to these ideas and experiments, especially when starting from ground zero on a new project.

Back to square one. So I’m starting a new Web project, it’s been a couple months, and I’d like to make sure that nothing tectonic has changed while I was away, busy and distracted working on non-Web things. Did screen sizes jump, or shrink? Are there whole new ways of thinking about delivering images to varying screen sizes, like Sencha’s or Filament Group’s Responsive Images? Are there whole new ways of thinking about Web development in general, like Scott Jehl’s mind-bending presentation title “Responsive & Responsible”?

Sometimes you step away for a couple of months and important things happen. It’s good to catch-up. But, as several friends and colleagues suggested on Twitter – a conclusion I also came to shortly thereafter – the basics are still the basics. It’s all just HTML(5!), CSS(3!), and JavaScript.

It’s fun to Yak Shave, but – at the end of the day – I always have to remind myself: Just mark-up the damn content! There’s really nowhere else to start, no matter how you slice it. :)


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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