Active Design on the web

Why not let people work with design elements directly? The design elements of a web page could be “active” in that they represent code, not a static description. When we say code, we actually are saying “behavior.” So instead of seeing design as a static process, defining templates and stylesheets, design can become an active process. Designers can engage directly in this process by applying precoded and configurable design elements to a website. Coders can engage in this process by creating new pluggable (modular) design elements from code.

There are two approaches to Active Design as I see it, the static-generated approach and the dynamic-coded approach. The former envisions code generating stylesheets accoding to adjustments by the user to configuration and the agency of code, in order to create and manipulate design elements. The latter approach envisions intervening directly and dynamically in the process of design element generation through code manipulating styles directly (JavaScript, etc.) In summary, the former envisions code generating style code, and the later envisons code manipulating style properties directly (a sort of interpreted vs. compiled difference).

These “active design” elements could be seen as functioning in a similar way to Photoshop filters. As code applied to a media to change it in some predictable way controlled by the user.

Although it may seem that active design would put front end coders out of business, it promises to expand the coding of design element “plugins” and a marketplace could develop for these.

In thinking about how to apply this principle to content management systems, I asked the question:

What would an active design framework look like?

A CMS, would require some kind of framework for active design to take place within.

An admin area where logged in users could install or remove design elements, configure design elements.

A standardized UI for accessing design plugins and changing their settings.

A mechanism for loading all design plugins as needed.

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