What’s the Real Future of Web and Mobile Design?

Rails. No, really.

The future of web and mobile design is in Rails, Sinatra, Django, and other RESTful web frameworks that can be used to leverage design power across multiple platforms, making it easier and faster (translate: more economical) to design for web, mobile and desktop.

Our UI/UX team was stationed up in NYC for the Future of Web Design conference last week and we were able to chat with some really awesome folks who had innovative and inspiring ideas about web design.

The atmosphere of FOWD was energetic and there were a lot familiar buzzwords being tossed around; “Mobile”, “responsive”, and “HTML5”, were the most prominent. I did hear two presenters (Steve Fisher and Josh Clark) talk briefly about content manipulation and APIs, but I was surprised I didn’t hear more on this topic.

When I took time before FOWD to consider what my own vision of the future of web (and mobile) design was I immediately thought of Rails and other RESTful APIs. In fact, the future of design is tied closely with the future of web development. More and more companies are demanding robust, scalable web applications that have the functionality to manipulate and generate content. And they don’t need just one application, they need several: a desktop app, a web app, an Android app, an iOS app, etc. And yes, they want those applications to be aesthetic and intuitive, but gone are the days when a business needs just a static, well-designed page to reach and engage their audience.

Using a RESTful API for design makes perfect sense. Let’s manipulate data in one defined way, but allow that action to take place over any platform. Obviously an HTML view is not always going to be the perfect experience for every platform, but in using a RESTful API all you have to care about is a connection to transfer data. You can swap out the HTML views for a native iOS or Android interface, and then you just have to think about the data transfer.

And isn’t that what we need with any application that deals with time-sensitive content? New York Times is on board with this idea (developer.nytimes.com), as is Facebook (open graph). As web designers we need to think about how to build our own APIs for our applications so we can more easily and more fluidly design corresponding mobile (and desktop, etc) applications.

But how does Rails play into this? Most people think of Rails as just a means for developing web applications; but what about that RESTful architecture that it’s built on top of? It’s perfect for extending mobile apps as well. You can easily use Rails as an underlying method for serving up CSS and styles for multiple platforms. Why not let Rails be the foundation for web and mobile design? When it comes down to it, Rails is an API right out of the box. You just need to style it as one.