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Adopting a Framework

December 2nd, 2014 by Erick Beck

As most of you know by now, we are currently working on the next version of the university website.  We will be using this site a cornerstone for much of the work we do moving forward.  One of the elements that will be affected is how we build sites.  Currently we develop all of our CSS and responsive page looks by hand-writing our styles and setting our own media queries and break points.  Starting with the new site we will be shifting over to developing with the Foundation framework.

This is a big change for us, and frankly one that I am not yet wholly comfortable with.  Perhaps it is a generational thing, but I have never liked frameworks, or at least the modern interpretation of the term.  Rather than being a basic scheme upon which to build your own creation, modern frameworks push you down a pre-determined path – and deviation from that path can be difficult.  The GoMobile team even had a term for this, calling such sites “Bootstrappy.”   Further, because these frameworks try to be all things for all sites, the HTML and CSS required to use them can get enormously bloated.  (See Michael’s previous post on how to combat this.)

So, if we have a framework that we have to go to pains to override, and which includes a CSS file that is bigger than the entire page (including images!) should be, why did we decide to use it?

First, we wanted to create a standard that would be consistent across all of our sites.  While we have always been diligent about trying to remain consistent in the way we wrote our code, we inevitably  failed.  Every site had its own production cycle which systematically led to each site being different.  Even when two sites called for the same effect it often turned out to be done differently on each site. Standardization will let us resolve this issues, and thereby let us more easily maintain multiple sites.

We, both as a division and as a university, are experiencing increased staff turnover.  As new people come in it is easier for them to learn and maintain our sites if they are built on a standard codebase.

Probably most important, the multitude of new devices makes keeping up with technology easier when using a framework.  With new phones and tablets being released each month, and the ever changing capabilities of these devices, the framework makes it easier to maintain cross-platform support.  We no longer have to worry about knowing the latest specs on every device and knowing how to update our code based on those changes. Any needed updates can by incorporated through keeping the framework up to date as needed.

One thing that we have seen in adopting this new methodology is that you can’t follow the framework’s code to the letter.  It is a framework after all, which by definition is something that is there to support your code…not to determine it. Don’t try to do everything within the framework’s code — don’t fight it and look for ways to circumvent it —  but don’t hesitate to write your own styles on top of it.

So what does that mean for me personally?  I recently started editing a site that had already been built on Bootstrap and I honestly started reverting to what I knew, making hacks and overrides to effect the changes I wanted.   It is going to be a hard transition — probably on the order of moving from tables to CSS for site layout — but it is a necessary transition in order to remain current and relevant in our field.

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 Future Projects, Ongoing Projects
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