Designing in-medium is not as difficult as you fear

Originally written for and published by Third & Grove on May 5, 2017.

It seems the common response to "Why not design in-medium?" is always some variation of "That'd be great! But then our designers would need to know how to write HTML and CSS."

Well, I'm here to give away one of our not-so-secret weapons that has dramatically changed how we build better websites and client relationships. The tools are widely available and a vast number of people are already using them, albeit for a different reason. We’re not worried about losing a trade secret, because, after all, it's not the tools we use that make us special, but how we use them. No matter – I'm here to inform you that your designers (or you, as a designer) need not know Javascript or CSS or HTML to build responsive, interactive, in-medium user experience prototypes. If you can use Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, or Sketch, you can pick up and learn Webflow quite easily.

First, a disclaimer: We are not getting paid by Webflow. I wish we were, but we aren't. In fact, we've yet to see any other agency or individual using Webflow just for UX prototyping and as part of the design iteration process for larger, complex projects. It is a service vying for ground in the easy-to-produce website service arena, competing with the likes of SquareSpace, WordPress, and even Wix. However, unlike SquareSpace or Wix, you start with a blank sheet and design nearly exactly as you would in Adobe or Sketch. And unlike WordPress, you don’t have to build a website instance or have knowledge of the development process.

You could just force all your designers to start taking classes at Treehouse or Codecademy, but I’m willing to bet you’d be scaring your resources, as well as misappropriating an already well-functioning resource as-is. My point is not that designers are designing badly. Rather, it might be time for some of us to throw away our old tools and adopt new and improved ones.

If you are not convinced yet that this retooling is worth it, here are some of the biggest reasons why in-medium designing, and Webflow as that tool, are game changers for us, and why the usual static workspace serves us no longer:

A GUI interface that forces the designer to think in web variables and values

Harder Easier, Better, Faster, Stronger

Endurance 'til the end

If we were at a conference, I'd rhetorically ask those who've gotten an “endurance Charley horse” to raise their hands. I'd be so sure that this is a common concern for designers that I wouldn't need to look up. Just like muscle fatigue, designing comes with its cramps and endurance limits. Working on the same iterations over and over and over again can cause a good bit of frustration, especially when you've strived to base your ideation and iterations on hard and fast data and research, only to be rejected for reasons that are nonsensical or not within your range of understanding. I don’t profess that designing in-medium will solve this entirely, but it does ease workflow and workload by noticeable measurement.

And there was peace in the land of devOps

Last, but not least

Send your clients, both current and prospective, home with their UX prototypes. Designing in-medium means that the product is responsive, compatible with most (if not all) browsers (which is very easy to do in Webflow), and live. Pop a password on your prototype and share the URL with your proposals. When you’ve nabbed that project, send the stakeholders home to truly consume all aspects of the UX on their various devices exactly as the product is meant to be consumed. Perhaps that nonsensical request may make less sense when they’re using the product in context. Or maybe it is you, the designer, that will notice the reason for that “nonsensical” request when trying to impress your next Tinder date by showing off your latest project prototype.