Wow, it’s already March, 2016.

The design team is churning out design as fast as our development team can code it. The wheels are turning, the engine is running on all 8 (or 12 if you’re a car guy like me) cylinders. The well oiled machine didn’t happen over night, in fact it took us nearly a year to get it right. The LIFT process has been and will continue to be an ever changing organism that with every client, every project, every design and every coding environment, continues to adapt, change, and ultimately lead to success and profit dollars for our studio. I have compiled below a list of our top five biggest studio changes for 2016. These are things that have improved our workflows exponentially and lead to faster development times overall.

5. Sketch. Out With the Old (Photoshop), In With the New.

This first item is a design team change, not a development team change, but it directly affects our ability to extract assets and code chunks from design files without wanting to rip our hair out. Bohemian Sketch is taking the web design world by storm. It’s better to describe this change with all the reasons that Photoshop sucks for web design than it is to describe why sketch is awesome, but I’ll briefly do both. Adobe Photoshop started (and largely still remains) as a digital photo manipulation tool. That said, the interface is mostly built for editing images. It can be cumbersome to navigate and literally 90% of the tools are 100% irrelevant when it comes to web design.

Enter Bohemian Sketch. This app is amazingly designed to be a web designers best friend. It’s not for logo design, its not for image manipulation. Those things would in fact be difficult in Sketch. Rather Sketch is a 100% web design focused application. This means that the user interface is intelligently designed with web sites in mind. Some of its top features (which can be better explained by its creators here: https://www.sketchapp.com) are: copyable CSS attributes from design elements into your coding workflow, borders, drop shadows and round corners that are CSS based and scalable (try that in photoshop), gradients that output actual code and a “page layout” system that allows you to create layouts with various canvas types from HD desktop to mobile phones, tablets and more.

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4. Codekit Javascript and Sass Compilation.

Codekit (check out codekit) is an amazing app that allows you to compile pretty much any and all web based languages in a quick, easy to use software package that is lightweight and unobtrusive to your workflow. The first thing that all the experienced web developers reading this article are shouting is, “Have you never heard of Grunt and Gulp!”. Trust us, we have. But at LIFT we are focused on speed as much as we are on using the “latest greatest” technology for no other reason than the fact that “everyone else is doing it”. Grunt and Gulp are great but they require a command line setup that just isn’t as quick and easy as codekit. Codekit takes 20 seconds to set up start to finish and you’re off to the coding races. Another huge reason we love codekit is that it will compile all our javascript files to a single file with a simple “//prepend” statement in a single js file. Compilation is lightning fast and the whole app is a joy to use.

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3. The Switch from LESS to Sass.

Less is awesome! We loved LESS for many years, but once we took a deep look at our workflow we realized that Sass had some great reasons to make the switch. Darren (our frontend developer) and I decided to make the switch in late 2015 and we never looked back. After using Sass and getting into the ability to nest code, we realized that regular CSS syntax sucked. The ability to nest code is something that makes your workflow incredibly fast and awesome. If you haven’t made the switch from CSS to a pre-processor, or you are using LESS or some other pre-proccesor, give Sass a try. Check out SASS.

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2. The Mac Mini / Macbook Combo.

So this one is obviously a personal preference, but as a developer who is always working from multiple locations, going to meetings, working from home, working at the nearby Starbucks / Panera (totally hipster i know), I struggled to find a good computer solution. For a while I had two Apple thunderbolt displays in my office and one at my house. I carried a 13 inch Macbook Pro back and forth to work every day. This same machine went with me to meetings both on and offsite and was also my personal computer for chilling at the house and taking on vacations. This wear and tear ended up with a busted thunderbolt port from constant usage, a barely working keyboard and overall sporadic behavior. After much deliberation, in early 2016 I purchased a Mac Mini for the office. This deal could absolutely not be beaten. I purchased a cheaper mac mini for $499, then before even switching it on, immediately upgraded the HDD to a Samsung Pro SSD. For a total investment of under $650, I had a screaming fast work computer. We don’t play any games at work other than League of Legends (which it handles with ease on high settings), so this computer is perfect.

I also purchased a slightly used 2015 macbook pro retina from one of the other LIFT developers. This setup has been wonderful so far. We just have a dropbox setup so that files can be easily shared between work and home setups and the need for carrying a computer back and forth between work and home is completely eliminated. In summary, 2 macs for development work is the perfect setup for an on-the-go developer.

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1. The Codeigniter to Laravel Switch.

I started developing with PHP about 6 years ago. Back then, there were not alot of PHP framework solutions that were great. Symphony seemed new and Cake PHP was the go to (or so my inexperienced mind would have led me to believe). I did alot of development in the procedural style. Blocks of code littered at the tops of pages with database connection info right there in the code and all the logic done on a per page basis. In short, it was absolutely horrific and I knew it. This led to the search for a better way of doing things. I began looking around for a framework solution about 4 years ago. I stumbled upon Codeigniter by Ellis Lab. Codeigniter served me well until mid 2015. It is still a perfectly viable and useable solution for someone doing light to medium duty web based applications. And I would even venture to say it has a slight upperhand in ease of first time deployment on a live server because it is perfectly at home on an old (even shared) hosting solution with PHP configurations that are out of date.

In mid 2015 we were discussing the coding implementation of a site for a client that was going to be a massive undertaking. We realized that Codeigniter was way too lightweight to be effective and after being interested in making the switch to Laravel for about a year, we decided to literally just jump in and take the bull by the horns, trial by fire so to speak. We were pleasantly surprised at EVERY POINT in the dev process. Laravel is just amazing. From routing, to middleware groups, to the blade templating engine. Everything about it is far superior to Codeigniter. There are alot of “Codeigniter is dead” articles on the web and “Codeigniter Sucks” articles. Take it from a diehard Codeigniter guy that stuck around long past the expiration date, Codeigniter sucks. Laravel is THE ONLY way to create modern, scalable web applications with PHP. There are other frameworks out there such as Yii, Symphony, Cake PHP and more, but Laravel has become the industry go-to and your first project with it will have you convinced.

Since the switch we have created 3 complicated web applications with Laravel and we couldn’t be happier. It has saved us overall, hundreds of hours with its ease of use and overall intuitiveness. Highly recommended. Check out Laravel.

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