notes on learning, design, tools, & life

Our web design tools are holding us back

Vasilis van Gemert:

This subset of css that these tools use is based on how websites look today. Or on how they looked in the last ten years — which is the same thing. Websites haven’t changed. This means that with these tools we can design websites that look like websites-as-we-know-them, but it is much harder, if not impossible, to come up with new ideas. If we accept that these are the tools we will use from now on, we accept that the web looks like it looks today. And behaves like it behaves today.

I’m not sure I agree with this. As a teacher, I find it empowering for students that they can use tools like Figma with a fuller sense of confidence about the implementability of their designs. I think it’s equally arguable that the convergence of our tools with how we design is a sign of the maturity of the field.

If anything, I find myself wanting design tools to adopt more of the layout technologies available in rendering engines, not less—especially for things like grid-based layouts and tabular data, which most interface tools handle like a minor nightmare.

Maybe I lack the vision or imagination to dream up web designs that expand far beyond what we’ve acheived so far. That said, it’s not hard to find cases where design tools work so much faster to try out ideas that would feel slow or impossible to realize quickly in code:

I want to see our design, production, and content tools improve, but I don’t think building in CSS-like features is inherently holding us back.