Atomic Web Design: Tips for Improving Your Brand’s Website
Creating a website is hardly a simple task. It requires extensive planning, intricate design and development work, and the right team of skilled experts to make it all possible. Each and every website is different because all brands have varying objectives and unique needs that they need to fulfill. That being said there is no “one size fits all” website design for brands that really want to use their online presence to promote business growth.
Our approach to design is often unique to each project’s requirements and scale. In the case of larger website projects, we have found that scalability, flexibility, and maintaining a consistent brand style across a large number of pages – often 10,000+ present some of the biggest logistical challenges.
An elegant solution to this is to follow an atomic design process. This is a much more modular and granular approach to website design and build. Rather than designing pre-set page templates and layouts, atomic design is the design of building blocks or content modules that can be added, duplicated and moved within a set of defined rules to create unique pages that work for each type of content and page on a site, while keeping it on-brand.
The atomic design methodology is broken down into 5 distinct phases of website design:
In scientific terms, atoms are the basic building blocks that together make up matter. When you translate that over to a website design methodology, they serve a similar purpose. Atoms act as the basic building blocks for all of your website design efforts. While they aren’t design elements that can stand alone, together they create different elements that are used throughout your website’s layout.
In atomic website design, atoms serve as the starting point for all parts of your website design project. Without clearly creating and defining certain design elements, your project would lack consistency and cohesiveness. This holds true especially for projects that encompass an extensive amount of pages. Without defining basic design elements such as font on mobile or a paragraph style for section headers, it would be difficult to not only design but edit different pages as you continue through the design process. Atoms can include any of the following:
- color schemes
- form fields
When following this methodology, a lot of designers create their atoms and compile them in a unique style guide. This holds all of the essential atoms you need so that you can pull pieces of each as you start the bigger design elements. Aside from selecting color palettes, or determining what all paragraphs would look like on your pages, designers have to think about the mobile and desktop versions of each as well.
In chemistry, molecules represent the smallest part of any chemical element, and are made up from atoms combined together. Similarly, with the atomic design process, molecules are design features that are made up of the basic building blocks defined in the style guide—the atoms.
To better grasp how a molecule would be created in a website design, think about a simple search form. You may combine a button (atom) with the appropriate input (atom) and label (atom) to create a full-functioning search bar (molecule). Those items (the button, input, and label) together create something that is incredibly useful and essential to the functionality of the site, however if they were to act alone, they wouldn’t be as valuable.
Organisms are groups of molecules together. What makes these organisms different from a molecule is that there are several of them, allowing the complexity to reach a new level. In website design, organisms are several molecules combined together on a section of your page.
When you think about the masthead at the top of your homepage, you can compare that to molecules combined together to form an organism. On your masthead you likely have your navigation, your search bar, and your logo all together to help your users navigate your site easily. Each of those three features could be used alone if they had to be (molecules). However, if you were to break them down even more, they likely wouldn’t stand alone, they would simply be the basic building blocks necessary to help create the other functionalities of your site (atoms).
The next phase doesn’t align as closely with chemistry as the previous sections have. Templates are created by putting together all of the organisms to create a website page. This provides you with a much deeper understanding of what the design and page will look like once it’s completed and live.
For the most part, templates are created to show structure and layout—not the specifics of what content will actually be on the page. You can see things like sizing and dimensions, but not how the actual content would fit in. Templates are designed to give a general idea as to what to expect when your site is live, and show how all of the pieces will come together to create a functioning page.
Very similarly to templates, pages are created to give an even more realistic outlook onto what each page will look like. Often there will be placeholders (ex. “content goes here”) and some imagery to provide a vivid sense of how the page will function.
Since this phase offers the most realistic and accurate depiction of what is to be expected once the website is live, this section is essential for testing and review. You can fully see how content will appear, how the site will function, how images will look next to each other, how text and photos can come together, and how the overall flow of the website and each page will appear. From here, you can make any edits necessary if you’re finding that certain functionalities seem off and the design isn’t supporting your needs as originally intended.
Scalability and Consistency
The best part of this type of website design is that you’re able to lay out exactly what to expect as you move from each design element to the next. By using the building blocks initially created together to create more complex systems within your interface, you can effortlessly focus on scalability and consistency, ensuring your project is completed to serve your users in the most cohesive and user-friendly way possible.