I believe every material has a grain, including the web. But this assumption flies in the face of our expectations for technology. Too often, the internet is cast as a wide-open, infinitely malleable material. We expect technology to help us overcome limitations, not produce more of them. In spite of those promises, we typically yield consistent design results.
The web is forcing our hands. And this is fine! Many sites will share design solutions, because we’re using the same materials. The consistencies establish best practices; they are proof of design patterns that play off of the needs of a common medium, and not evidence of a visual monoculture.
So this is a good start, but it is only a start. Could those simple sites I showed earlier assist us beyond the page and provide a larger way to think? To put a finer point on it: What would happen if we stopped treating the web like a blank canvas to paint on, and instead like a material to build with?
Okay, terribly obvious, but let’s tease this apart.
Elements get stacked like a layer cake by default, and it make sense—vertical stacks are much easier to adapt across all kinds of screen sizes, because you don’t have layout issues to manage with more or less space across. You simply keep the elements the full width. This is especially handy for design methods like mobile first, since narrower screens can’t necessarily hold designs where elements are beside one another. By stacking, you get greater consistency in a design, what ever the screen size.
But not every site can be a big vertical stack of bricks, can it? What happens if you place things side-by-side?