Petr van Blokland: The end of CSS

When Petr van Blokland started his talk with “designers should code” and “get rid of the old waterfall process” I didn’t expect to hear anything new. But the minute I learned, that by coding, he actually meant programming, he had my attention.

photo © Gerhard Kassner

Many of you might know Petr van Blokland as a lover of type. With his brother Erik and with Just van Rossum, he supported the creation of the python based font editor RoboFont by Frederik Berlaen, providing a user friendly tool to draw and modify typefaces. Being not only a designer but also a programmer enabled him to implement his projects from sketch to finished product. Having the full control over the execution of his drafts improved his work as designer tremendously. That might be the reason why he is so passionate about encouraging all web designers to take matters into their own hands and start to learn programming.

Straight talking: learning to program will definitively consume a lot of your time and brainpower in the beginning. But once you start to see patterns, it will just feel like learning any other language. The key: practice, practice and tenacity. The good thing about programming? You can use libraries like Middleman, Cactus, or Xierpa3 (an open source library created by Petr van Blokland himself) that can save you a lot of time by automizing your work.

Moreover, developing not only the front but also the backend of your projects, allows you to connect to real data from a very early stage in the project. This will put your design to the test and help you figure out flaws as soon as possible.

Why going through all this hustle? Van Blokland boils it down pretty good asking “where does design start and end anyways”? For him, the designer is not only responsible to make a digital publication look great, but also to design the process and make sure all the parts included come together just how they need to, in order to make the final result look and work great.

Petr van Blokland

Petr van Blokland

After VWO/Atheneum-school (pre-university education, grammarschool) Petr van Blokland (1956) studied at the Graphic and Typographic Design Department of the Royal Academy of Visual Arts in The Hague. In 1979 he graduated cum laude (with distiction) and worked as an intern at Total Design in Amsterdam and Studio Dumbar in The Hague. From 1980 until today he was designer and partner in Buro Petr van Blokland + Claudia Mens in Delft. To specialize himself he studied for serveral years at the TU-Delft department Industrial Design. From 1984 until 1989 he taught at the Academy for Visual Arts in Arnhem. Recently he continued his study at the Technical University in Delft on Industrial Design and Artificial Intelligence to apply for a Master Degree. Since 1988 he is a teacher at the Master Type & Media of the KABK in The Hague and AKV St. Joost Graphic Design Bachelor and Master in Breda. The studio Buro Petr van Blokland + Claudia Mens is specialized in the design of type, solving complex typographic problems and the design of interiors and environments. As part of these projects other aspects of the profession are attended: writing software as design tools and development for digital media belong to the basic toolkit of the studio. The buro is built upon the knowledge and experience of a network of designers, who are capable to exploit these skills in the design proces. Both the design process and the development of the required (digital) tools are highly integrated.

My personal take away: get out of your comfort zone and learn as many tools as you can in order to understand what’s happening in the whole process from draft to finished product.
If this doesn’t scare you but got you all excited, start learning Python or Ruby with codecademy today and check out Xierpa3 for your next web project.

Text — Marlene Schufferth