Bootstrap, Frameworks and the “Average Website”
What effects do web frameworks have on creative web design?
Earlier this week, there was a provocative Medium post entitled “The Average Website”, an opinion piece intended to critique the “sameness” evident in many modern web pages. The targets will be familiar to most web developers and designers: drip widgets, welcome mats, and the like. A quick scan of popular design blogs will reveal a number of lists of “Worst UX/UI Trends”, which offer even more examples.
The Challenge of Chasing Trends
An example of web design's history. Courtesy of Hubspot.
The massive rise of Bootstrap. Chart from BuiltWith.
In 2015, Bootstrap is unquestionably a dominant force shaping the future of web design. In the last 3 months alone, the number of pages in the top 1 million websites using the web design framework has doubled to over 130,000 sites, or about 14%. Additionally, a full 10% of the top 10,000 webpages use Bootstrap as well, so this suggests that many smaller web sites are looking to the top for design inspiration.
The popularity of Bootstrap is certainly a good thing for the web. By incorporating and collating web technologies like JQuery plugins, support for CSS pre-processors like Less and Sass, and a “mobile-first” responsive philosophy, Bootstrap is pushing for a more compatible, beautiful Internet. For small startups that might not have a dedicated web developer, Bootstrap allows entrepreneurs to focus their energies on building their products without sacrificing having a great website.
Why Being Average Is Not Bad
While we do risk some level of “sameness” or “averageness” among websites because of the popularity of frameworks like Bootstrap, for certain aspects of web design, particularly UI, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Designers must constantly navigate between familiarity and novelty – design must delight with its uniqueness but not alienate or estrange. As web design has matured, both front-end users and front-end developers have established a set of norms and expectations about how web pages should look and work. This is a good thing for both parties: designers are not expected to “reinvent the wheel” for every site, and the average user will have some level of comfort navigating new pages.
An excellent example of a site using Bootstrap, GoranFactory.
These design best practices should not necessarily be abandoned in order to avoid being “average”, but rather expanded and built upon. “Sameness” as a concept is not reason enough to avoid using a framework, because while using Bootstrap for a simple site can create bloat if not implemented properly, a good framework allows for easy customization and progressive enhancement.
The role of a web designer, in my opinion, is enhanced, rather than inhibited by frameworks like Bootstrap. When simple UI/UX questions are already answered, this free up precious development time. Moreover, the “sameness” of the web creates a background where truly good web design can really stand out from the crowd. When everyone is starting from scratch, beautiful, functional design elements can get lost in the static.
Are we in a golden age of web design, or a dark? As Bootstrap continue to grow in prominence, what will its eventual challengers look like? Share you thoughts about the state of design, your opinions on frameworks, good or bad.