Put that framework down and walk away!

Well, well, what heated heads we have on the web. Jeff Croft is not one to keep his mouth shut and I for one was surprised to see that it took this long for him to fire up his engines. Blueprint is an interesting approach which should be handled with some care but it certainly didn’t deserve the vitriol some have spewed upon it.

In his last post Croft makes a good point, right before he’s off ranting again. Nothing wrong with that, I like a good old rant myself. The thing I don’t get is why is this such a big issue? Croft points to a well written article about the fact that this is nothing new and that programmers have been dealing with this issue since they could store stuff on magnetic tape.
Evident is that there is a divide. The good ol’ divide of design and production. Writing CSS is an art cries one. No sir, goes the other, it’s engineering. Yes, I’ve actually heard all this before in burgeoning days of DTP twenty plus years ago. Indeed this argument has grown up, finished collage, left the parental nest, sporting a beard, hit the bottle and is now encouraged to attend meetings.

Let’s pour ourselves a scotch before I go on.

I’m not going to wade in to the “what’s go great about web design?” discussion. Zeldman has already sent that little tiff up to it’s bedroom without any dinner. Except to say that it in some ways sounds similar.
Content requires some level of design and some level of production. Sometimes the design part is boring and repetitive and sometimes the production is. More often than one would like it will be both. I can understand Andy Budd seems to support the position that writing a sites CSS from scratch will create the closest match to the design and thus be more satisfying to produce because this requires a high level of skill that even today is not often seen on the web. The CSS framework does away with a lot of this because it’s purposely meant to be flexible and in a sense ‘Prêt-à-Porter’.  Although the provides for a lot bang for your buck I’m sure Andy and others are not in the slightest bit worried about finding work writing customised hand-made fitted CSS.

The whole snub towards framework is a bit silly and dare I say it a bit narrow minded. The simple fact is we need frameworks to build certain sites. Especially a large scale web site (often multiple sites) that will require a full-time web team to maintain, fill and adapt the front-end. If you build a custom CSS that’s not a framework of sorts you are most certainly screwing the client. The cost savings by simplifying the maintenance alone is staggering.
All of this actually only applies when the front-end part is actually managed in a half decent way. Many sites and most ‘enterprise’ sites have nobody dedicated to managing the front-end. It’s usually divvied up amongst marketing and development (back-end) teams as if it’s latrine duty. To framework or not to framework is basically an argument fought amongst ourselves. Nobody else really cares.

The other end of framework CSS work is useful for small business sites. In fact many CMS’ provide most of the HTML, CSS and JavaScript anyway and this in effect is a front-end framework. Designing and building small and cheap web sites can be boring and is usually repetitive. Without a framework you’re killing your bottom line for little to no advantage because the small business client doesn’t care as much about the quality as they do about their bottom line.

In the end most of us will walk the divide of needing a framework and writing large parts of the CSS ourselves. Blindly copying frameworks is ridiculous because by their nature they can never be fully semantic. You will always need to write your own classnames and ID’s along with making sure your CSS reset isn’t completely zeroed but matches the given design by default.

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