Creating the visual part of the web

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A modern website and its design isn’t a simple text node anymore. The modern website is the wholesome application that has its components, widgets, buttons and other managing elements. Now a designer not only considers the website as the wholesome one, but he or she also takes into account all of the components, since each of them is developed separately from the others; this particular element will have its own style, it’ll be placed at any website’s place or even switched off completely so that the design inevitably changes.

There are also changes in the way designers and developers interact now. They understand how deeply they are interconnected and trying to keep an eye on what’s going on in the scope of each other's responsibility. That led to collaboration tools emergence.

Summing all the above, we’re going to observe how component-based thinking changes frameworks, how the collaboration tools help designers and developers understand each other and what tools they can use to speed up the work.

Component-based thinking

Modern practices for creating the visual part of the web 1

React.js and Angular are two main tools at the front-end development market. It’s not obvious who’s taking this market over, though. Besides these two we have Ember.js, Vue.js, Polymer and many more.

What are these frameworks are good for?

React.js, for example, lets us write almost all code in JavaScript - templates are written in JSX (it’s a mix of JavaScript and HTML) - so as an output we have the interconnected components that have a wide variety of functions available. Components’ styles are written in a parallel with the components themselves.

But take into account that React only outputs HTML. So what the fuss about React.js? First of all, you know for sure how your component will render by looking at a source file. Secondly, that rather weird mix JSX makes your code cleaner. Though you cannot build an application with a React.js alone, this library helps us update View for a user.

With Angular you can create a component structure too. As it’s said in the documentation, “Angular's data binding and dependency injection eliminate much of the code you currently have to write. And it all happens within the browser, making it an ideal partner with any server technology”. Angular is perfect for Single Page applications that are getting more and more popular, so we strongly recommend using it.

Ember.js is another MVC framework. It’s a very structured and beautiful one, but a drawback is that Ember has a rather small community around itself. Ember has a lighter weight than other JS libraries, but it handles a creation of websites with a heavy client-side functionality. Again, the data binding is present. What differs Ember is that route is used as model, handlebar template as view and controller manipulate the data in the model.

Finally, we have Vue.js and Polymer: these are the libraries for components creation.

Let’s proceed to markup technologies we can use.

Markup technologies

There are few ways of structuring your CSS/Styles. We’d love to highlight: BEM, SMACSS, CSS Modules and Atomic Design. CSS Modules is pretty similar to BEM, but the implementation technology varies. Having this in mind, one would use CSS Modules with React.js library and Angular framework.

What is BEM?

BEM is a technology developed by a Russian IT-company Yandex. Now BEM’s fame is spreading worldwide. The BEM’s markup approach - is a component’s markup and repetitive usage of the component styles for the components with the same type. Modifications are available!

BEM includes blocks, elements, and modifiers.

  • Blocks can be used in the different website’s locations.
  • Elements are the parts of the block and don’t have any functionality out of it.
  • Modifiers are either the blocks or element’s features that change their outlook or behavior.
.block_element {...}

.block_element-modifier {...}

What’s good? Modules are separated from each other and there are no unexpected cascades of selectors.

What’s not that inspiring about BEM? Long namings are not that convenient to use (especially in big projects).

SMACSS stands for Scalable and Modular Architecture for CSS. This approach follows the goal of reducing an amount of code and simplifying code maintenance.

SMACSS divides styles into 5 parts.

  1. Base rules - basic styles. These are the styles of the main website’s elements: body, input, button, ul, ol, etc. In this section we mainly use tags’ selectors and attributes’ selectors, classes are used in few cases (for instance, there are selectors stylized by JavaScript).
  2. Layout rules - layout styles. Here the styles of the global elements, such as header size, footer size, and sidebar size. There was a suggestion to use the id in selectors since these elements appear on the web page only once. Somehow there’s a contradictory idea: not to use id selectors in styles but to use classes. It’s up to you.
  3. Modules rules - modules styles, i.g. blocks styles that can be used on the web page several times. It’s not recommended to use id and tags selectors for modules classes.
  4. State rules - states styles. In this part, different modules’ conditions and a site’s structure are defined. It’s the only subsection where a keyword «!important» is allowed to use.
  5. Theme rules - design. Design styles are described in this subsection. They could be changed if needed.

Atomic design wraps up this block.

Modern practices for creating the visual part of the web 2

Atomic Design follows a component thinking: it breaks the whole website into components to use them throughout the site, in different locations. The site that adopted that philosophy is easier to introduce to a new developer, at least a codebase will be clear.

All website design can be divided into 5 levels: atoms, molecules, organisms, templates, pages. Atoms are basic building bricks, like buttons. Together they form the molecules that make a difference to website’s performance: for example, a set of buttons becomes a contact form.

The molecules, in their turn, create a particular subsection of the site: header, footer, sidebar, etc. These molecules combinations are organisms. Several organisms together form a template and that’s what you can show to a client.

The final stage - pages - is the templates filled with a real content.

Atomic design process totally makes sense because system assembling is more time savvy than a typical design process: both the client and the designer see the system creation step by step and there’s no need to deconstruct the whole page if the client doesn’t like the design offered.

When it comes to development, the same approach can be applied here as well. It makes code more consistent and clear. This way, you don’t have to write the same elements again and again, you just go through the atoms library and copy the code.

Liked Atomic Design? Bear in mind that you’d better build the website applying this approach from the very beginning than adjust that website afterwards. More than that, Atomic Design suits big projects better than other approaches.

Great, we’ve done with slicing. The next step is moving a template from a design tool to the website.

Designer-developer collaboration tools

Ladies and gentlemen, let me present two important tools for such purposes: Zeplin and Avocode. Zeplin and Avocode are aimed at developers. Also if one has either Avocode or Zeplin, there’s no need for Photoshop and Sketch. When it comes to styles extracting, Avocode and Zeplin do it better than Adobe Extract (that is used by Adobe Brackets for this purpose). And since the Agile approach is catching up fastly we have to think how to optimize communication within the team.

Zeplin is an app that collects all aspects of design elements into a sheet of specs: it simplifies a handoff between design and development. In other words, it turns a design into a code: Zeplin even takes care of generating assets of all the sizes your project needs, colors, margins and CSS suggestions for certain elements. Also, Zeplin exports the assets into LESS, Sass, and Stylus. Zeplin keeps all the data in a cloud storage that makes it available for contribution for all team members.

And it works not only for Sketch designs, but there’s a plugin for Photoshop already. Get together and make your layout pixel-perfect!

By the way, if you work in Sketch and have to convert your design asset immediately, use a Marketch plugin: it generates an HTML-page automatically so a developer can see CSS styles.

Modern practices for creating the visual part of the web 3

Avocode is another collaboration tool. It allows handling .psd and .sketch designs to the developer. The process is pretty simple: Avocode plugin lets designer stay in Sketch or Photoshop and make the design accessible to all team members since Avocode runs in the cloud system.

Avocode detects all font styles, font sizes, and weights and transforms them into CSS. What else Avocode does is scaling up the vector shapes, converting colors to the code and measuring a distance.

With the help of Avocode a front-end developer may simply copy an HTML-code from the assets and generate CSS and Sass out of .psd and .sketch files.

Web manager and a desktop application are available.


The tangible drawbacks are:

  • Avocode doesn’t track minor design changes, only global ones, like revisions, and comments notifications.
  • No free packages.
  • Not aimed at iOS and Android. Look up Sympli or Zeplin for that purpose.

We cannot omit Figma - a dark horse of the communication tools market. Alike previous two, Figma runs in the cloud system. It is a browser-based Photoshop that let's make changes in no time. Figma has version control so developers and designers can rewind project to any stage back. Also, this tool allows one to see how the design will look at mobile devices, laptops and so on. We encourage you to discover Figma features on your own with the help of the elaborated (even keyboard shortcuts are included!) guide placed at the official website.

Last but not least - Adobe Extract. It’s not a collaboration tool, still, it does let you get the specs (colors, fonts, CSS) out of the .psd assets. This application work on the desktop and the mobile devices.

What else?

Now the design is approved, the asset is successfully turned into CSS and structured. What else could be done to optimize a workflow?

Webpack, gulp, npm scripts - these guys are to help you automate the majority of routine tasks and simplify the development process. You just set them once and here you go: compile CSS, minimize, check the JavaScript and the CSS code, concatenate all files into one, keep track of files changes, update data automatically...aren’t you tired yet? There are much more functions available!


We’ve observed what component-based thinking is, what markup technologies and collaboration tools are trending. Still, there is only one skill that ties all the above together.

It’s the willingness to work in the group.

A frontend-developer and a designer should know how their duties are interconnected and how they can collaborate efficiently.

Front-end developers should remember that all those fancy fonts, margins and small elements like buttons do deliver a particular function. Designers ought to know each website block depicted as a static one actually will have a dynamic content and will render differently on mobile and on desktop devices. There’s no that enormous amount of information to learn: it would be enough to know about basic things at least. We recommend you to start with the article “How to befriend design and front-end”.

Find out how your duties are interconnected with duties of your colleagues, use the trending tools and approaches we told you about - and get a development process to a new level.

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