The web is getting more capable all the time, which is exciting—and probably frustrating for anyone who works in the medium. It is challenging to keep up with all of the pieces of it. But there are a few key things designers can do to be successful.
Break from Convention
I’ve heard the point made that there’s going to be a whole generation of people who have never dealt with designs that were fixed width, who have never dealt with designs that used tables as layouts and all of the different things that we’ve done over the years to hack them. They’ll have grown up only with the current set of tools for design and layout, which are amazingly powerful.
There’s a real opportunity for people to do more exploration from the design side than we realize. We now have a lot of history in the traditional box designs that we have become accustomed to. You don’t want to break from convention just for the purposes of breaking from convention. But I also feel that sometimes we don’t realize what’s available to us. That’s a piece of what’s possible in the future.
Study Up on Container Queries
On a more practical level, learn container queries. This is a particular bit of technology that makes design systems and components a lot more powerful. This is a shift. A lot of design has moved toward thinking about things as individual components, but we’re still making modifications of those components based on the size of the page as a whole. Container queries change that.
Basically, we can now have a piece of a page for which we’ve written all the rules, based on how much space you give it. And then you don’t even have to know the space for which it ultimately will be used, because your rules are based on the space given that particular component versus the size of the page. It seems like that’s what we’re doing right now, but we’re not. We’re actually using the size of the page as a proxy for the size of the item on the page.
On a recent Cloud Four project, we had design system components, web components, Java group framework components and components for the CMS. We had all of these components at different levels, but very rarely were the components from one level able to talk to the other level or be reused across levels. So the other piece of this is: if we are spending a lot of time, let’s make sure we’re building things that are very resilient and have taken into consideration accessibility and different types of input.
Learn the Fundamentals of the Business
Getting a seat at the table often comes down to being able to speak to the business case. Being able to understand the objectives, why the business is trying to do what it’s going to do, and being fluent in those things helps you become involved in the conversations where those decisions are being made. Then comes being able to talk about the pieces where design can help.
When you’ve got that broader business perspective in mind, it becomes easier to participate in those conversations rather than if you are just trying to come to them with: “Design really matters and you should be paying attention to it.”
Show that you’re somebody they want in the room because you understand what the business is trying to accomplish and you’re bringing good ideas to the table.
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This blog post was adapted from an episode of our podcast Design Chats featuring Jason Grigsby. To learn more on building the business fluency needed to contribute to strategic conversations as a designer, enroll in Business Strategy & Design from Pragmatic Institute.