RESPECT Brad

Image: Melissa Frost

Frost Bytes

Brad Frost is a web designer, speaker, writer, and consultant living in beautiful Pittsburgh, PA. He's the author of Atomic Design, and has helped create numerous tools and resources for web designers, including This Is Responsive, Pattern Lab, Styleguides.io, and WTF Mobile Web. We caught up with the busy web wizard to learn more about what makes him tick.

How'd you get your start in design?

I switched my major at James Madison University from Music to a program called Media Arts and Design. The program was half media studies and half hands-on design classes. I had a Dreamweaver class and Flash class, and those were my formal introduction to the magical world of web design.

About two weeks before graduating in 2007, a couple of alumni came in to talk to our class. One said, “If you're interested in this whole web design thing, you should read Designing With Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman.” Since we were in a computer lab, I ordered the book right there and then spent the first few weeks after graduation unemployed and sitting in my sister's apartment, devouring Jeffrey's book. The book blew my mind and I wanted more. So I ended up reading a few books about this thing called CSS by this person named Eric Meyer.

I eventually found a company—actually, a small internal marketing agency at a real estate company—that was willing to take a chance on a greenhorn web designer. I spent a year applying the concepts I learned in those web design books until the housing bubble burst and the work dried up. I then moved to New York City, where I worked at a small ecommerce agency for a bunch of fashion brands. I was the only web developer, so I had to learn a whole lot in a short period of time. I definitely burnt myself out, but I learned a ton in the process.

Your book Atomic Design is done and available to the world—congratulations! What was the hardest part of writing it, what about it are you proudest of, and where can people get their hands on a copy?

Thanks! The hardest part of writing the book and the part I'm proudest of are one and the same: I decided to self-publish the book and share the whole project as I was writing it. I took preorders for the eventual e-book and published the latest updates on my site.

I'm super happy with how I went about publishing the book, but it was really challenging managing people's expectations. I've talked to a lot of authors, who all said their book projects often take a year and a half or two years to complete. When the books are finally announced, they're typically available to order immediately. With my project, I announced the book (and started taking preorders) as soon as I wrote the first words. That means I had to address reader expectations and concerns as I was slogging through the authoring process. People would ask, “When's the book going to be done???” Even sending them a link to the in-progress manuscript wasn't enough to appease them. So I'm glad I finally got the book done!

If you want to check it out, it's available in three flavors: the paperback book, the e-book, and the combination paperback + e-book. And if you want to try before you buy, you can read the whole shebang over on my site.

You're giving a new talk this year at AEA titled “Let's Work Together!” What's it about, and what will people take away from it?

I've been fascinated with how teams work together (or don't work together!). No one works in a vacuum; successful work hinges on how well everyone communicates and collaborates with each other.

My talk is going to explore the methods, tools, and techniques used to help teams do effective work together. I'd like to tackle these things from both an intradisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspective. For instance, what are tools and techniques that front-end developer teams use to make sure they write clean and consistent code together? How do those same front-end developers work with UX and visual designers to ensure that the designs are successfully realized in the browser? And how is that work communicated to non-design/development stakeholders in a way that allows the work to move forward? There are obviously no “correct” answers to these questions, but I'm looking forward to talking about overarching trends and themes that can help teams work more effectively together.

What are some tools, tricks, and/or techniques you can't work without?

I'm a bit biased, but Pattern Lab is a tool I use on almost every project. I like it because I'm able to create reusable UI patterns, include them within each other, and quickly articulate UIs in a ton of different scenarios by swapping out the dynamic content.

Historically, I've received best-case-scenario designs that paint an extremely rosy picture of what a UI could look like. The avatar picture looked like it was clipped from a magazine, the user's name fit neatly onto one line (even on small screens!), and of course the user filled out every available field in their profile so the screen looks nice and full and balanced.

These best-case scenarios rarely, if ever, occur, so it's great to be able to quickly articulate what happens when the user fails to upload a profile image, or if their name is crazy long, or any number of other less-than-ideal situations. Pattern Lab makes it easy to show all those variations.

What has you most excited these days?

That's a good question! I've been working a lot and at a pretty strenuous pace for a while now, so I'm excited to try to chill out for a bit. I'm a musician and have been working on getting a recording studio off the ground, so I'm eager to start recording some music. We'll see how that goes!

But of course I'm still very much jazzed about all the amazing stuff happening in the web community. I'm thrilled to see design systems and style guides take root at more organizations, and I'm delighted to see pattern-based design and development become the norm. I've had the good fortune to do workshops and consulting work for a lot of different companies, and I'm eager to continue helping teams with design systems, pattern libraries, atomic design, process and workflow, and web design best practices.  

And of course I'm super excited to be a part of An Event Apart in 2017!


Brad Frost will be an integral part of An Event Apart Boston, May 15-17, 2017. Don't miss a chance to learn from Brad and eleven other top-notch speakers—register today!

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