Design Systems: Then, Now, Next

There’s a reason that Twitter’s extremely popular Bootstrap framework has 157K stars on GitHub. For over 10 years, it’s been making it easier to create modern web applications quickly, alleviating the pain of having to design every UI component from scratch. It’s a design system. Material-UI (now MUI Core) has almost 80K stars. And so on, and so on.

Photo by Balázs Kétyi on Unsplash

Design Systems: Then

Back in 2012, Dan Cederholm published something he called Pears. It was an open source custom WordPress theme creator. It allowed developers & designers to begin to create reusable interface pattern libraries. Bootstrap v1.0.0 launched a year later in 2013, and it’s easy-to-use UI and responsive design framework was quickly adopted by many in the software-development vein.

Responsive web design (RWD) had come about around 2010 with Ethan Marcotte’s media query shot heard ’round the world. I was sitting in a conference in 2010 in Atlanta watching him go over how this would change everything in designing for the web. He wasn’t wrong. It was a paradigm shift to be sure. And built on the back of RWD, the UI frameworks like Bootstrap had some context for flexible screen adaptation.


Design Systems: Now

Design systems have matured since 2013 and people like Dan Mall have led the way in showing companies how to build and use them. Prior to solidifying the need for these systems, companies were noticing the amount of discrepancies and variations across their digital media platforms. There was a deep need for interface consistency.

IBM’s Carbon, MUI Core, and Salesforce’s Lightning are all examples of how front-and-center these libraries have become. Emmet Connolly (VP of Product Design, Intercom), comments:

“… most Design Systems are really just Pattern Libraries: a big box of UI Lego pieces that can be assembled in near-infinite ways. All the pieces may be consistent, but that doesn’t mean the assembled results will be. Your product is more than just a pile of reusable UI elements. It has structure and meaning. It’s not a generic web page, it’s the embodiment of a system of concepts.”


Diana Mounter, Head of Design at GitHub, walks through the process of realizing when you need a design system:


Design Systems: Next

We are now in the phase of measuring and refining the design systems we have created over the past 5 – 10 years. As design systems mature, paying attention to underperforming components should influence how we iterate on our design systems. There will always be new and better components and patterns to create and iterate on.

And lastly, it’s interesting to note that companies are beginning to build teams around design systems and titles like Head of Design Systems is becoming much more common.

Remote User Testing: More Important Than Ever

User testing through a worldwide health crisis? Can it be done?


I would argue that virtual UX & UI prototyping and interview/research tools have never been more important. Katryna Balboni of User Interviews spoke with 6 professionals this year about how they’ve been conducting user studies.

Along with the toolset User Interviews offers, I’d like to share some of my favorites:

      1. Maze
        Maze gives you quick rapid testing for your prototypes. It’s free for 1 seat but only $25/seat for teams.
      2. Userbrain
        For $35/test, Userbrain will test and record a 5 to 20 minute recording of your product, following the task assignment you give them.
      3. Crazy Egg
        Crazy Egg has audit tools, multi-variate and A/B testing, as well as customer analysis observation tools. It’s $24/mo and up to enterprise-level support.
      4. Hotjar
        Heat maps, surveys, user feedback. Starting at free or $39/mo for 100 sessions/day; Hotjar is a favorite and has business and agency plans.
      5. Other (more expensive) tools
        There’s UsabilityHub with free tests (2min) but quickly jumps to $79 (5min) and then to $199 (unlimited time) as well as bespoke pricing. UserZoom has unmoderate & moderated testing for unlimited collaborators & 2 researchers ($500/mo) and you can test native apps (plans get pricey pretty quickly). For ultra-native testers, there’s UXCam with heatmaps, session replay, crash recording, etc for Android & iOS (pricing is not listed).

We are still adapting to this new world where a good portion of the workforce has gone remote, but to thrive … we have to continue to innovate!

ConveyUX in Seattle

At the end of March this year I was invited to speak at an incredible UX conference in Seattle, WA: ConveyUX.

convey logo

It’s been running now for 6 years and is, let me just say, gaining steam. There were peeps from Facebook, Google, Amazon, Dell, and Microsoft giving talks (to name a few). I was speaking as part of the software design + developer UX track, sharing about rapid app building for fundraising software. And I had a blast.

As ConveyUX reported afterwards:

ConveyUX 2018 set a lot of records for the six-year old event produced by Blink UX. As Seattle’s annual user experience conference, we hit our highest attendance so far with 420 attendees from 27 US states, five provinces of Canada. Plus 17 countries, including Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Costa Rica, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Singapore, Sweden, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

I was 1 of 45 speakers there, and it was amazing to take it all in. My session was called 20 Million People, 12 Days, 8 Organizations, and 1 George Clooney. It detailed the build process our software team used to quickly stand up a custom application we were tasked with building: a donor platform for a group of nonprofits, GERC (the Global Emergency Response Coalition). The goal was to raise funds to combat the unfolding and severe issue of famine in the horn of Africa. I walked through how we used development, design, and UX to help raise over $5 million dollars in under two weeks for the campaign.

A few takeaways:

    1. Speaking at a conference is a very different thing that attending a conference.
      From the VIP lounges to the awesome conversations you have with other speakers, being a conference presenter has its perks! You get private tours & access, free food, and overall: special treatment.
    2. UX has definitely baked in to the industry now and is more understood and professionalized than ever.
      Digital agencies & departments get it. The user matters, and interactive products should reflect that. Leading-edge teachers and conferences are paving the way for a user-centered-design revolution. The mystique around UX is fading, and a universal language is being formed around the industry.
    3. The development concept of Agile programming is now being utilized in user research and testing.
      Rapid prototyping is now being done cross-departmentally. Lean UX and MVP are part of the common dialogue between teams now. Google and other teams are using design sprints as part of their rapid prototyping process.
    4. We, as programmers, testers & designers are creating the future of UX.

Seattle: You are a gem. A place of rain-cleansing-hippie-yet-cosmopolitan innovation. I applaud your laid-back tenacity. And also thank you for Pearl Jam, Starbucks, and Amazon.

I Came. I Saw.

I didn’t CONQUER. (If you were waiting for that one 😉 In my division of 47 guys, I was 42nd.

However, for me it was never about finishing at the top of the leaderboard at all. It was about pushing myself farther than I’ve ever been, endurance-wise.

It was about finishing strong every day, which I feel like I did – for 6 days and 120 miles!


It was hot, and I didn’t really want to run yesterday. About 8 miles in, I thought: What am I doing!!!? So it was just one race shoe in front of the other for awhile. We started at the Vail athletic fields for the race start; here’s my wife, getting me all set for the last stage of the event:


The course sent us up into the mountains around Vail, and after about 30 minutes I could see the city below…


Here’s the amazing birch-tree forest 🌳 we ran into midway through the day, it was a welcome sight after all the direct Sunday sun.

It was a gorgeous forest, and a member of the support staff dressed up in full He-Man garb appeared at one point, shouting “You have the power!!!!!”

Then I hit a painful-on-the-knee downhill that went in for about a mile near a creek; it was so steep and I did not like it. Near the end of the run, I was high up above the town of Avon grunting it out and cooking a bit in the sun. Thankfully it was windy. I can’t really complain about weather as it was beautiful every race day and in the 60’s or 70’s.

Avon below

22 miles and 6 hours and 10 minutes in, I came around a bend near the finish and was actually shocked it was OVER. Here I was, with my race crew, at Beaver Creek in Avon, CO.

I finished!!!

We had an awesome poolside afternoon at the Park Hyatt, followed by a nice awards banquet in the hotel. After a week of porta-johns and camping, I felt like I was living in a dream state: hanging out in 6 separate hot tubs, with waterfalls and waiters with mountains of towels, and an endless supply of food and drinks. (I’m not gonna lie; I felt a bit like Kanye.)

But for real …

Thank you to all my support peeps! This was such a challenge, but besides being able to say I ran 120 miles through Colorado mountain peaks and towns, I can also say that there’s a good bit of true grit deep inside me. Sometimes all it takes is something like the TransRockies run to pull it out of you …


Marching On

Yesterday was 24 miles. It doesn’t sound like a lot. You could drive it pretty quickly, but running it … over a mountain … after you’ve already run 75 miles in one week, is a bit different.

My body is fatigued and I have to muster up hidden strength every day at this point. Yesterday was a huge run; even the pros here were saying how tough it was. We ran a huge ascent around Resolution Mountain and then over a long ridge over the Vail ski resort.


This is me trying to put on a good face


Suffice to say, it was lovely:

After about 6 hours and 55 minutes, I came across the finish line and was greeted by my awesome support crew.

At the rugby field in Vail

One. More. Run. Today, Vail to Beaver Creek, 22 miles.

Let The Games Begin


Yesterday was a long day. I didn’t sleep well Monday night; I was up at 4am … pre-race jitters.

After some great coffee and and breakfast in Buena Vista, we made our way to the race start … I started getting nervous about 1/2 a mile out from the start line … Eeeeeeek!!! What have I gotten myself into?!

Race start was fun, rock-n-roll and a bunch of support from my team (wife & brother and sister in-laws). I was crazy excited, and READY TO GO.

The gun went off and all the runners filed out. It was a 20.8 mile trek today; it basically looked like this:

I feel like I ran pretty well today. I finished in 4 and 1/2 hours and took in some really beautiful views. Aside from some slight altitude sickness around 17 miles and my nagging knee patella, things were good. The toes are crying a bit and need some attention, though. I held back a tiny bit today. (Thankfully.)


Today was crazy … we made a 3200 ft ascent over Mt Hope from Vicksburg. It was quite a climb, but we were rewarded with views like this from the top:

It was only about a 15 mile day today but took me 4 hours because of the summiting and subsequent descent. The descent was nuts. I thought I was going to spill a few times on the way down because of the steepness. I will say the woodsy rocky trails reminded me of Tennessee trails, and that made me smile …

Today was not great on the ‘ol knee, but the toes are doing better today with some help from the medical team here!

We ended up in Leadville, CO today (the only place I’ve had a cellular connection thus far) and are camping here tonight before doing the longest run of the 6 days tomorrow: 26 miles.

Now, for some dinner and beloved sleep.

Rest Day

Ok, technically tomorrow is rest day as well  … but since tomorrow includes traveling, checking in, and psyching myself up … I’m just going to say this is rest day.

I’ve been in Colorado for about a week now allowing my lungs to get used to the mountain air. Breathe in, breathe out. Rinse and repeat.

It’s been a gorgeous weather week and I’ve had some amazing mini-training seshes here along with great family hang time. I’ve also become good buds with, Pollo, my brother’s family dog 🐶 and taking morning walks with him that look like this:

So now, on to Buena Vista where the race will begin:

TRR overview

Above is an overview of the race 🏁

Basically, it’s a 120 mile, 6 day, 20,000 ft gain run. And yes. I am a bit nervous about this, if you were wondering …

Ok, back to packing!

Gearing Up

It all started a year ago. My brother-in-law asked me to run a 120mi race with him through the mountains of Colorado. “Ummmm … ” was my reply.

In fact, I didn’t really answer his question for 4 months. Finally, after much soul searching, praying, and deep breathing, I said yes. And so 2017 began with me – running – a lot.

I ran the Nashville 1/2 Marathon in April, then immediately shifted my focus to training for the big one: the in CO. I can’t say the past 3 months have been easy. I’ve had terrible knee issues and neck soreness that still won’t go away. I also found out a few weeks ago that my race partner in crime – my brother-in-law – the one who got me into this madness … has pulled a hamstring and cannot run. So, now I’ll be running solo. It’s fine though, I only have to run alone for 120 miles. 😮

Seriously though, I’ve been going through some of my gear tonight and reflecting on all the training, all the time invested in prepping for this race, all the pain, and all the adrenaline that’s in my body.

Gear 1
Some of my gear

I am excited and nervous and I’m fighting the feeling of being completely overwhelmed tonight. I was doing some training today on a mountain with my brother, and as I kept jumping over the the rocks and logs on the trail, a Bible verse I read a long time ago came back to me:

“He makes my feet like the feet of a deer and sets me securely on the heights.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭18:33‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

I have no idea how grueling the upcoming 6 days of this race are going to be, but I really believe I’ll be ok.

Gear 2
My trail shoes

So, I have a few more days to shake off the jitters. Meanwhile, I’ll be eating pasta and lots of salty things!

(If you want to follow along on this adventure with me, I will try and post an update every race day on this blog. Of course, there might be times where I’m just too deep in the mountains to connect to the webz.)

Now, off to rest while I still can …

Defining Front-End Development

The Range

Front-end development. What is it? Not all code running in the browser is “front-end code” anymore. It’s become blurry and difficult to assess what a front-ender should be responsible for in 2016. Single-page apps have joined so many coding technologies together that we need something to help us understand the division of who-does-what.

On the one hand, there is still a lot of design and user flow to consider. And on the opposite side, we still need servers that retain our data. In between, Angular and other JavaScript frameworks have been doing more and more dynamic tasks: Like taking that data and using API’s to push it to the browser (a la JSON).

That’s when I came across this article early this year. It has a fantastic visual showing the range of modern web responsibilities, and as the author states:


almost all developers occupy some contiguous segment of this continuum


I love this explanation. Bravo, Matt. Bravo. Thanks for breaking it down for us.