When I was designing Wired News last year, I was limited by what I knew I could implement. It was exciting to be experimenting and pioneering a large site redesign and conversion to web standards. But the design was, in part, dictated by my acquired knowledge of CSS at the time. It’s obvious to me whenever I look at Wired: there are things I would have designed differently had I known how — and been able — to pull them off.
There were a couple projects early this year where I intentionally started to design immediately with CSS. No Photoshop or Illustrator comps, just a few quick sketches on paper, then bam: straight into markup and style. I made it a tool I played with. I could move things around, and immediately see results. Once you know how to produce a layout reliably in all browsers, spinning and manipulating CSS to achieve a desired result becomes second nature. Like sketching an idea on paper and envisioning a concept become a rough draft of reality.
Over the last few months, I’ve backed away from that approach. I began to feel the limitations of putting CSS in front of design. I don’t want to limit design by the technology used to reproduce it. It’s great that the popularity of CSS and other web standards have forced many of us to re-examine how sites are coded, to simplify, and focus on accessibility and optimization. The business benefits have become obvious. But lest we end up with a Web which looks the same everywhere, we should not hinder design by confining expectations of the possibilities. Experimentation must continue. Ideas of design on the Web must evolve. We must not only be forward-thinking with our code, but also with our design.
I’ve been thinking about these things often over the last few months. I’ve also started pushing myself. I will not allow a design to be shaped by what I know can easily be implemented with a few style rules. Obviously, I remain aware of base capabilities and strengths, using them as a foundation. But I want to go beyond the boundaries I see, design without limit, expanding our awareness and skill sets, allowing us do things we didn’t know were possible.