This week I’ve been helping our latest Createful intern, Tom Wickham with his portfolio site – ironing out HTML/CSS bugs and generally hurling about unsolicited design advice. He’s done a great job so far, and is currently undergoing the trials and tribulations of numerous job interviews to secure his first tentative steps on the career ladder (oh boy, if I knew then what I know now!).

Yesterday we were working on integrating a full-width div and scaling background image into the Zurb Foundation framework, and Tom asked if, further down the line, a client would mind if we were to use such a framework in a real project.

My answer was instantaneous and fairly unconsidered – “no” I replied, “why would they?”. But it got me thinking, and made me look again at my view of HTML/CSS layout frameworks and their use in commercial projects.

As we discussed it further, an illustration came to mind, of a boat builder. “Tom,” I said, “if you asked me (a professional boat builder for the purpose of this discussion) to build you a boat, would you be more interested in what tools or materials I used, or whether the finished vessel was going to stay afloat?”. “Good point, I guess not” he replied.

Now I know all illustrations fall down somewhere, and I’m sure it is of vital importance what tools and materials you use if you’re going to set about constructing a decent seaworthy boat. But the point remains – if you’re happy and secure with the end product, does it matter how you got there? Well, within certain parameters, very much so. If we built our apps and websites using pirated software and stolen computers (we don’t!), the end result, no matter how nice it looks or functions is going to be tainted. The client may be oblivious of this, but we as the “music makers, [and] the dreamers of dreams” should care – we should care about our methodologies, our techniques and our toolsets.

Tom’s question also got me thinking about how I approach projects like this, and showed me how, over time, I’ve got in a bit of a rut – repeating the same actions without thinking. On the one hand, you could say I’ve streamlined my workflow and various processes that help me design, wireframe and build websites in an efficient manner. On the other hand, I can see how I’ve become a little blinkered, losing the ability to be flexible and adapt to emerging technologies/methodologies.

As an example, I’m working on a current project for which I’ve used a new web framework, Daniel Ryan’s excellent CSS Smart Grid, built on the 960 grid concept but with a ‘mobile first’ approach. I didn’t think twice about using it, and didn’t stop to ask the client for their thoughts on the matter.

I guess the bottom line is that a good framework should be one that doesn’t need addressing, and doesn’t draw attention to itself. Like the boat analogy again – a good sailboat doesn’t scream “LOOK AT ME, I’M A FRICKIN’ SAILBOAT!”, it simply lets you get on with sailing. So too, a good framework should do two things; allow you to build sites and apps quickly and efficiently, and allow your client to get on with running a successful business.

What frameworks do you use? Have your clients ever discussed their use? As a client, have you considered these frameworks when developing a new project?