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Developers and Designers Work on a Single Source of Truth with UXPin

(This is a sponsored post.)

There is a conversation that has been percolating for as long as I’ve been in the web design and development industry. It’s centered around the conflict between design tools and development tools. The final product of web design is often a mockup. The old joke was that web developers make websites and web designers make paintings of websites. That disconnect is a source of immense friction. Which is the source of truth?

What if there really could be a single source of truth. What if the design tool works on the same exact code as the production website? The latest chapter in this epic conversation is UXPin.

Let’s set up the facts so you can see this all play out.

UXPin is an in-browser design tool.

UXPin is a powerful design tool with all the features you’d expect, particularly focused on digital screen-based design.

The fact that it is in-browser is extra great here. Designing websites… on a website is an obvious and natural fit. It means what you are looking at is how it’s going to look. This is particularly important with typography! The implementer of this card component can see exact colors (in the right formats) are being used, as well as the exact pixel dimensions, etc.

This is laid out nicely by Ania Kubów in a video about UXPin.

Over a decade ago, Jason Santa Maria thought a lot about what a next-gen design tool would look like. Could we just use the browser directly?

I don’t think the browser is enough. A web designer jumping into the browser before tackling the creative and messaging problems is akin to an architect hammering pieces of wood together and then measuring afterwards. The imaginative process is cut short by the tools at hand; and it’s that imagination—or spark—at the beginning of a design that lays the path for everything that follows.

Jason Santa Maria, “A Real Web Design Application”

Perhaps not the browser directly, but a design tool within a browser, that could be the best of both worlds:

An application like this could change the process of web design considerably. Most importantly, it wouldn’t be a proxy application that we use to simulate the way webpages look—it would already speak the language of the web. It would truly be designing in the browser.

It’s so cool to see this play out in a way that aligns with what great designers envisioned before it was possible, and with new aspects that melt with today’s technological possibilities.

You can work on your own React components within UXPin.

This is where the source of truth magic can happen. It’s one thing if a design tool can output a React (or any other framework) component. That’s a neat trick. But it’s likely to be a one-way trip. Components in real-world projects are full of other things that aren’t entirely the domain of design. Perhaps a component uses a hook to return the current user’s permissions and disable a button if they don’t have access. The disabled button has an element of design to it, but most of that code does not.

It’s impractical to have a design tool that can’t respect other code in that component and essentially just leave it alone. Essentially, it’s not really a design tool if it exports components but can’t import them.

This is where UXPin Merge comes in.

Now, fair is fair, this is going to take a little work to set up. Might just be a couple of hours, or it might take few days for a complete design system. UXPin only works with React and uses a webpack configuration to integrate it.

Once you’ve gotten in going, the components you use in UXPin are very literally the components you use to build your production website.

It’s pretty impressive really, to see a design tool digest pre-built components and allow them to be used on an entirely new canvas for prototyping.

They’ve got lots of help for you on getting this going on your project, including:

As it should, it’s likely to influence how you build components.

Components tend to have props, and props control things like design and content inside. UXPin gives you a UI for the props, meaning you have total control over the component.

  data={[ ... ]}

Knowing that, you might give yourself a prop interface for your components that provides you with lots of design control. For example, integrating theme switching.

This is all even faster with Storybook.

Another awfully popular tool in JavaScript-components-land to view your components is Storybook. It’s not a design tool like UXPin—it’s more like a zoo for your components. You might already have it set up, or you might find value in using Storybook as well.

The great news? UXPin Merge works together awesomely with Storybook. It makes integration super quick and easy. Plus then it supports any framework, like Angular, Svelte, Vue, etc—in addition to React.

Look how fast:

UXPin CEO Marcin Treder had a strong vision:

What if designers could use the very same components used by engineers and they’re all stored in a shared design system (with accurate documentation and tests)? Many of the frustrating and expensive misunderstandings between designers and engineers would stop happening.

And a plan:

  1. Connect to any Git repo.
  2. Learn about all the components in that repo.
  3. Make those components available to the UXPin visual editor.
  4. Watch for any changes to the repo and reflect those changes in the visual editor.
  5. Let designer’s design and deliver accurate specs to developers for using those components.

And that’s what they’ve pulled off here.

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