I happened to find the Foundation web-framework when I began to develop this blog I now have. The Foundation had come up with version 4, a mobile-first responsive framework dropping the IE8-support.
Mixed feelings about frameworks
Frames do the wireframing easy, but tend to lead to grid-way of design. Grid should be a tool for designed, not a restricting instrument. Or does someone claim that good old GS960-based sites didn’t all look the same somehow? Same width, same sort of boxes…
Frameworks also seem to bloat somehow, somewhere. They include some JS and other packages you don’t actually need. And when you want to use your own graphics on top of default looks, you need to write a ton of CSS to do that properly.
On the other hand frameworks do collect all nice and tidy features (like jQuery, Modernizr, some polyfills and CSS-resetting) to one clean package. They also create those responsive menu structures allowing designers to create all imaginative sorts of menus to work in all screens.
All major frameworks are also mobile-first and responsive with customizeble width (and some breakpoints too), so those equally wide 960px sites are history. Frameworks try to tackle the bloating effect in different ways. Foundation-way is the customizer tool to use when downloading the package. This of course narrows down the options during development: Oh you didn’t include that Orbit slideshow in your Foundation package? So you’re not going to use it at any stage of design – unless you do all custimization again and download a new package.
Frameworks vs. complexity
There’s no question about complexity of the web: It’s growing. There was a time when developer/designer could actually master pretty much all there is to know about web frontend. These times are about to end, as all sorts of options and technologies gain more maturity and options. A good example are the images. We have used the <img> tag since the early days of Mosaic-browser (that’s 20 years!), but times are changing. High pixel density displays, mobile devices, low bandwidth vs. broadband are all here to stay and adding an image to webpage isn’t simple at all anymore. Add here the legacy browsers (I’m looking at you, Internet Explorer 8) and you’re in the middle of mess. Frameworks are here to help.
Really cool feature in Foundation 5 is the Interchage for content. This basically gives the developer a tool to give different HTML-code to an element depending on the Media Query. To be honest I’m not that well aware of the exact technology there, but hey, who cares if it works. Complexity is growing, we need this new layer of abstraction.
Another thing is the hardware acceleration. It’s a well known fact some animations and interactions in web can be accelerated by hardware, but designers just don’t utilize them too well – because they don’t know them well enough. Guess what happens again: you don’t need to know if it’s this or that CSS Transformation or whatever – the menu, sliders and everything just are much more fluid and responsive.
It’s interesting to see where frameworks go and how they evolve in some years. It’s also interesting to see how clients take the idea of dropping IE8 off.
I’m afraid we’re entering an era of two levels of a web: first for “legacy”, the solutions for old pro-IE8, only for desktop browsers; and new, post-IE8 (or maybe even post IE9) where we can really use the new technologies.
It’s not a hard guess which one will eventually be better in the long run.