If you’re under pressure to deliver an app and you’re constrained by your deadline, UI frameworks can save you both money and time.
Unsure what frameworks are? Worry no more: here’s our guide on everything you need to know.
We’ll try not to go too ‘developer’ here!
Frameworks are, as the name suggests, a frame that holds together code written by the user. In UI development and design, they create a base around which the rest of the project can be built.
Frameworks are found in a number of different development areas, and can take many forms:
- Programs that support the main design
- Code libraries
- Tool sets
- Application Programming Interfaces (API)
And a number of others.
What does all this mean? Simply that a framework can save designers and developers a lot of time!
How does this relate to UI?
In the world of UI design, frameworks usually come in the form of design programs. That is, software that assists you in building your own software projects.
(Some software, such as the Cocoa Touch, will aid you in designing specifically for one operating system – in their case iOS.)
As we’ve already mentioned, there are a number of reasons why a designer might want to make use of a UI framework.
Here are the main perks of taking this approach:
It’s more efficient
Even a fairly basic framework package can save a huge amount of time. It saves developers having to build completely from scratch, something which is – in a lot of cases – unnecessary.
If you’re wondering whether a framework will meaning having to sacrifice features or design ideas you particularly want to include in your end product, the answer is usually no: you’ll be able to choose a framework according to whether or not it’ll let you complete your project the way you want.
It’s often a more secure option
Any widely used framework will usually have an online community behind it, offering knowledge and experience to help make it as strong as it can be.
What does this mean? Simply that, if any vulnerabilities or security holes occur, there will always be skilled developers ready to jump in and fix it.
If you take the completely bespoke approach – no framework – you’ll be working entirely off your own back when it comes to security.
Of course, if you’ve got the budget and good developers on your team, this won’t necessarily be a problem. It’s just another thing to bear in mind.
It’s nearly always cheaper
We mentioned earlier on how much time you can save by using a framework, so you’ll almost certainly have worked out this point already!
However, it’s worth highlighting: frameworks are nearly always cheaper than the totally bespoke approach.
High quality development costs money, and every hour you can save – without affecting the quality of the end product – will make a big difference to your project costs.
(Effective planning, of course, is of key importance.)
By cutting a number of hours from the build, you – or your clients – will likely save thousands. If you’re building in-house, it’ll be easier to complete the task faster and re-deploy your developers to other projects sooner.
It makes managing bigger projects easier
Organizing any large software development project can be tough, especially if it’s being worked on across different teams.
By having the framework in place already, one major part of the project won’t be a concern. Why does this matter? Because in larger software projects, every detail will be picked over, so if you can remove a potential area of debate, you’ll be better off.
Essentially, you’ll save a lot of time in terms of man-hours – less meetings, less brainstorming and – in the end – less resource required.
You can go responsive as – and when – you like
Responsive design is a key part of any modern project: it’s essential to ensure your software works on every kind of device, from desktops to mobiles to tablets.
As long as you use a framework with responsiveness built in – and you definitely should – you’ll be able to allow for this from the start.
Why is this important? Because it means you won’t have to worry about converting your software to make it responsive later on: a huge, annoying massively time-consuming task.
Allow for responsive design straight away, and you’ll save yourself a huge headache down the line.
Your end project will be cross-browser compatible
The same principle applies to browsers. If your software is browser based, you’ll need to ensure it works for every one on the market: Chrome, Firefox, Safari and so on.
While this CAN be done bespoke by every programmer, it’s one of those tasks that’s hugely time-consuming and fiddly, and can become a massive problem if you let it.
Modern frameworks will assist you in ensuring that your software works well across the board. In most cases, a huge amount of the testing has already been carried out.
Cross-testing can be brutally expensive in terms of man hours: don’t go manual or bespoke here unless you absolutely have to.
As with any form of software, there are pluses and minuses to it. For the sake of fairness, we’ll go through some of the downsides here.
There are some limitations
We mentioned previously how skilled developers and designers will be able to pick out the right framework for the project, and that’s certainly the case.
However, every framework will invariably have some limitations, and those limitations will have to be respected.
You’ll almost certainly be able to find a framework where the limitations don’t affect your project, but it’s worth keeping any future needs you might have in mind. If you’re planning to change features down the line, remember they too will have to fit into the limits of the framework.
The code will be public
If you use a public framework, then anyone can access the code.
The flip-side of the security point we made earlier – that there are developers out there who can step in and help – is that theoretically, once a loophole is found, anyone can use it for nefarious purposes.
(WordPress – a CMS that is used on millions of websites worldwide – occasionally suffers from security loopholes which in turn affect thousands of domain owners.)
You’re relying on someone else
This is the main flaw in any form of template or framework: in the end, a certain amount of the project will remain out of your control.
Should the framework itself change, you’ll be required to go along with it, even if making the changes would affect your business in a negative way.
Of course, you can counteract this by hiring skilled developers and designers who truly understand the language used within the framework, and can find solutions to such a problem.
There are a number of factors that’ll help you pick out the right UI framework for your business. We recommend asking the following questions:
Which one will suit your team?
Different designers and developers will have different knowledge and skill sets. If your designers are all Java skill-based, for instance, you’ll need to ensure you pick a UI framework based around that language.
Frameworks can also be based around different concepts, so although your team might be familiar with the language used, they might struggle to adapt to the way the software is structured.
(Imagine, for instance, switching your office computers from Windows to Macs overnight – your staff will still be able to work, but will inevitably take time getting used to the changes!)
How do you solve this? Simple; make sure your employees who’re going to be using the framework have a major say in the decision! If your developers all recommend a particular UI framework, take their point of view seriously.
How good is their security?
As we noted earlier, security is vital. Whatever the project, you’ll want to pick out a framework that has a positive history when it comes to security.
How can you tell? A good rule of thumb is to look at how many security patches have been brought out already – and how severe they have been. If the company behind the framework has had to constantly introduce new patches, the chances are the framework at its heart isn’t up to scratch, security wise.
How good is the community behind the framework?
Again, something we’ve touched on previously. How active is the support community? If your developers get stuck, will they be able to head onto the framework’s forum and get a solution to their problem quickly?
The other reason to look at this is that, if there aren’t too many users of the software – compared with the competition at least, why is that? Good developers will stick with and support good UI frameworks.
What is the license policy?
A deceptively important thing to consider.
Some frameworks are oddly strict when it comes to allowing you to use their software commercially.
Will there be any limitations on how much you can change the code? Or how many projects you can build using the software? Or even how much money you can make from each project?
This often isn’t a problem at all – a lot of UI frameworks are completely open-source – but don’t get caught out.
You don’t want to spend six months on a project only to find you can’t launch it because of a licensing loophole!
Will there be any lock-ins?
In some cases, UI frameworks will be built in such a way that you’re also required to invest in additional technology to make it work.
For instance, to use a particular framework, will you also be required to purchase a tool library from the same company? Or would you be required to use a coding language that your team would prefer not to use?
Again, many frameworks will allow you total flexibility, but always double check!
There are a range of UI framework packages available on the market. Here are some of the ones we’d recommend taking a look at:
Bootstrap is definitely one of the most popular frameworks on the web. It’s used by thousands of developers around the world.
It’s fully responsive, offers a wealth of available third party plug-ins that you can use (but importantly don’t have to use) and the available documentation is good.
Unsurprisingly, given its popularity, the community behind Bootstrap is also excellent. There are thousands of resources available online to help you and your team get the best out of it.
Another major player, Foundation is used by some seriously big names: Facebook, Mozilla, eBay, Yahoo! And others.
It’s very advanced – possibly the most advanced on the market – and like Bootstrap it’s fully responsive. There are several unique components included, and it’s supported across every main browser.
Again, the documentation and available resources for Foundation are impressive, and will make things easier for your team.
The aim of Semantic is to make using code more understandable to the web as a whole. Does this affect your business? Not necessarily.
However, the framework itself is excellent. Whilst not as popular as the above two, Semantic UI is used by thousands of developers, offers a wealth of useful components other frameworks don’t have and boasts superb documentation.
Browser support is also very good, and – as with the others – Semantic UI is fully responsive.
Lightweight and modular, Pure is the work of Yahoo!
It’s written in pure CSS – hence the name – so your developers will obviously have to have knowledge of that, but we’re assuming they do!
The documentation for Pure isn’t quite as impressive as the previous three frameworks on the list, but it’s still more than sufficient.
If you just want basic, minimalist assistance on your project, we’d definitely recommend looking at Pure.
It’s bare-bones, but works excellently.
UIkit is smaller-scale than the other frameworks on the list, but that doesn’t make it any less excellent.
It’s particularly popular among WordPress theme developers, but can easily be used elsewhere. The powerful manual customisation mechanism makes it more versatile than many alternatives.
Documentation is again very good, and UIkit is, of course, fully responsive. Well worth a look if you’ve tried other frameworks out and are still looking for your perfect package.
If you’re interested in getting the most from your mobile app strategy, call Iconic Solutions today. We’re specialists in creating high quality apps and websites that get our clients real, tangible results, and we’d love to do the same for you.