The New Modular Web: An Introduction

Traditionally we have always been working with websites on the base of them being viewed in just one way. After all, web publishing is closely based on that of print publishing.

Over the past years, with the introduction of smartphones and tables we started to adapt to the possibilities of our sites being viewed on different screen sizes. Responsive design was born. With it came a bunch of new challenges.

Since then, there has been no shortage in development in the device-sphere. We have smartwatches entering and TV boxes with more and more apps. Apple is leading the way in the general consumer base with the Apple Watch and recently released new Apple TV.

Nobody knows what we are going to have in a few years time. But we all know that there will be something new. A new interface which needs a new clever UI (user interface) design.

The Limitations of Responsive Design

Since its inception, responsive design has been a pretty good argument. Back in 2012, your writer held a presentation at the D2WC conference in Kansas City on different methods adapting to the increasing amount of devices.

Responsive design, most of us argued, was a good balance because it allowed us to change the design to best fit any given screen size, without having to manage multiple sets of content and multiple websites itself. In theory (and when done right) this yields a superior user experience.

As the number of devices and potential displays increase, the limitations of responsive design as it was created becomes apparent. While still an absolutely viable and great option for most websites, we are approaching a time where we want to distribute more of our content outside of just our websites.

While responsive design can help us adapt our websites to make them great for our users on a large amount of screens and displays, it just can’t cope well with major UI differences.

Handling Content in a Multi-Device and App Rich World

Back when responsive design was introduced, one of its major advantages was not having to maintain content on multiple separate websites. There are more solutions to this than just responsive design though, which are gaining stronghold in the new modular web.

On a web where we are truly seeing more apps and more different devices, we need to be able to viably manage everything we publish. The best way to do this is to think modularly.

What does ‘thinking modularly’ mean? Essentially, it requires us to firmly decouple content with style and format.

A business on the new modular web will have a centralized content database. All text entered here will be clearly structured. This allows a designer and developer to use it in user interfaces in the best possible way.

By not letting the writer or editor get control over too much formatting and layout, we are able to create better user interfaces. Moreover, by for example having the writer insert three different introductory texts (one short, one medium and one long) for an article, we have a wide range of options available to us when using the content in different settings.

Comparing this to the CMS of today, it is an evolution in that we (thankfully) are moving away from the big free-format text fields, into structured data and content. It eases the work for writers, editors, designers and developers. But, it requires time and effort to get rid of the desire for everyone to want to have a say in the formatting of every post.

Connecting Multiple Systems

The idea of connecting multiple systems through APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to build on their respective strengths is exciting. So far, your writer has never come across a system that promised to do everything you have always wanted, that didn’t fall far too short of its promise.

Here your central content database will act as a master repository for all your web presences. Your website will pull content from here through your content database API. Your mobile and tablet app for iOS will do too and your other native Android app will do too. So will your brand new Apple TV app that’s in the works. And a year from now when having apps in our cars is commonplace, you have your system in place to handle the content that need to be delivered to it too.

Summary

It is appealing to think about the incredible opportunities the new modular web can bring us. Accelerated by the fantastic innovation in devices, the modular web gives us a flexibility and certain level of future proofing that have not existed on the web so far.

When working on your next major website update, this your be in your mind. As our content management systems evolve, they begin to take this approach.

All work we do here at Bernskiold Media for clients take this approach into consideration too. It is a wonderful feeling when you realize how easy it is to adapt and develop for an extra device once you have that flexible structure in place!