Discussing the Pros and Cons of Using a CSS Framework

A CSS framework is a piece of software that has a lot of options for you to use in your HTML development, potentially making it faster and easier for you to develop your website or web app. A CSS framework does this by containing predefined libraries of code. One example is a grid-based framework which sets up a multi-column arrangement with predefined pixel widths so you can focus on creating content instead of lining up blocks of text.

But is it good to use a CSS framework? After all, sometimes something that saves you time ends up causing more problems down the line – rendering the saved time useless. Well, like with anything in life, there are both pros and cons of using a CSS framework.

There are plenty of CSS frameworks that do different things well, so you can find the specific one that helps you accomplish your web development goal faster. Speckyboy highlights 15 lightweight and minimal CSS frameworks, and there are also some CSS frameworks in the list of 20 new frameworks for web and mobile app developers.

But should you use these CSS frameworks for your web development? Here are the pros and cons of using a CSS framework:

1. Speeds up your development

A CSS framework lays out the groundwork for you so you can start developing quicker. It does that by giving you code for repetitive and common tasks—like resets—so you don’t need to write from scratch every time. And if you’re working with a team or collaborating with other developers, you all will have the same shared CSS code, so collaborative efforts are sped up as well.

2. Enables cross-browser functionality

Remember the hair-pulling frustration of having to constantly tweak your CSS code so that your website or web app looks similar on all browsers? Well, you can say goodbye to that annoyance by using a CSS framework, which takes care of that for you. It’s already coded to look similar across all browser, so you can focus on customizing and creating content rather than tweaking the base appearance. A CSS framework will also eliminate browser-specific bugs, which is a nice plus.

3. Gives you clean and symmetrical layouts

A grid-based CSS framework sets up a multi-column arrangement with predefined pixel widths so you can focus on creating content rather than lining up blocks of text. No more tweaking the pixel widths of columns to make sure they line up, or wondering if your sidebar width is standards-compliant for widgets or images, or any other annoyances that comes from guessing or figuring out what width you need to make your columns.

4. Enforces good web design habits

A CSS framework enforces good habits like including a print stylesheet. It also gives you a set of selectors that you’ll use for all websites and web apps that you develop with the framework, which creates consistency in your web design. You don’t have to guess or remember what you did for one site or another – it’s all consistent.

1. Restricts your freedom

Since a CSS framework has a standard set of grids, selectors, and other code, it limits what you can design: layout sizes, grid width, button types, styles, and anything else. You’re basically stuck with the same framework if you really want to save time and take advantage of using a CSS framework. Otherwise, you’ll spend time changing code or learning a new framework each time you want to do something different – like if you have a project which requires unique or unconventional parameters or design.

2. Adds extra code

A CSS framework will inevitably have code that you don’t need. Its highly unlikely that you’ll use every feature of a framework. You’re thus stuck with extra code, which could or could not be an issue depending on how light and lean you want to make your website or web app. If every byte is crucial, you’ll need to go in and strip away unused code in your CSS.

3. Forces you to use the framework’s semantics

By using a CSS framework, you’re forced into semantic changes, especially if the framework uses a non-standard naming scheme. This could be an annoyance if you have a preferred unique system for CSS elements and selectors and ID and class use and such, since the CSS framework will force you to use its system. Admittedly, it’s not a big deal for most—it’s like learning to drive a new car ie. you quickly adapt—but it is a reality of using a CSS framework. An issue where it can be a bigger problem is if you’re collaborating with other developers or designers or creating for a client that will later access code; they’ll have no idea what some of the names are, so they’ll need to become familiar with the framework’s semantics first.

4. You could potentially lose time

If you’re already familiar and effective with a certain way of designing and developing and you’re forced to use a CSS framework you’re not familiar with, you could potentially lose time. This could be a case of a client wanting to use a framework you’re not familiar with, or collaborating with designers who insist on a particular framework, or whatever else. Point is, CSS frameworks are a reality, they exist out there, people are aware of them, and some will want to use frameworks that you don’t care for and could accomplish the same task faster using your own way. Yeah, this is a bit of a stretch for a con, but like with the previous con, it’s a reality of CSS frameworks so it goes in the ‘cons’ list just in case.

Ultimately, are CSS frameworks good? Of course, for the same reason automatic transmission is good in cars. Meaning, most will use automatic transmission because it helps them drive how they need to simpler and faster. And when you get a new car, you get used to it pretty quickly. But there is a smaller subset of drivers who want to or need to drive using manual transmission – either for fuel efficiency, enjoyment, racing, or whatever other reason.

Most will benefit from the web development and design simplification that CSS frameworks give. But there will be a smaller subset who will stick to doing those tasks themselves to get precise control and results – just like manual drivers with gear shifting.

So should you use a CSS framework? For most designers, yes, you should consider using a CSS framework (hooray for no wishy-washy answer). However, it does ultimately depend on if you are the automatic or manual transmission of web designers.

Over to you: Do you have experience using CSS frameworks? What are some other pros and cons of using a CSS framework? Share your favorite reasons for or against CSS frameworks in the comments section below.

Author: (585 Posts)

Paul Andrew is the editor and founder of Speckyboy Design Magazine.

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