Stuck on your startup’s design?

For coders who are bootstrapping a business, design feels impossible. You wish you could afford a designer. The value an experienced designer could bring to the table is immense. But it’s just not an option. So maybe you use a template or try to hack a design together yourself and live with the results. You hope no one notices. You hope it doesn’t impede your business.

What if you could design it yourself?

Bootstrapping Design (an ebook) was my first answer to this struggle. The suggestion is simple: by learning design fundamentals and practicing, you can produce a design yourself that’s good enough for launch. This solution proved a success not just in terms of sales, but also in the satisfaction readers expressed through tweets, personal emails, and reviews.

At the end of the ebook, I ask readers to email me with comments and stories. I started to notice a pattern as more and more email hit my inbox. Readers were happy with the information in the ebook, but they wanted a way to keep learning and improving. Many requested follow-up materials such as screencasts, workbooks, and toolkits.

The most-appreciated part of Bootstrapping Design is the section where I recommend fonts. Many, many readers requested that I add similar suggestions for color schemes, layouts, and more. When I revised the ebook, I tried to do this but realized that fitting it all into an ebook is impossible. I’m happy to say that I’ve found a different way to provide those suggestions.

Curated design assets you can customize.

So today, I’m announcing the next step in addressing bootstrappers’ design need: Cascade. Using Cascade, you choose from a library of beautiful design styles and download a toolkit. That toolkit is already implemented into layouts for blogs, landing pages, and other web-based projects. So in effect, you create a design style in Cascade, then download assets to apply that style wherever you need.

This builds upon what Bootstrapping Design began: producing a quality design yourself so you can launch your startup. Cascade will bring the quality of your DIY design a large measure closer to what experienced designers create. You’ll get the quality design you always wanted for your business. Your new design will earn users’ trust and enhance usability.

Fewer choices produce a better design.

Cascade sounds big, ambitious, and complicated, but its value lies in its simplicity. No one wants to search through hundreds of color schemes or thousands of fonts—that’s actually one of the most difficult parts of learning design.

You will never face such an affront using Cascade. For each aspect of the design, you’ll have a limited set of options, each equally viable depending on the goals of your design. Even with a limited number of choices, the possible number of permutations is massive. For example: 10 color schemes, 10 font combinations, and 5 layouts can create 500 different combinations. And Cascade will provide many more customizable options than just those three.

While designing the styles that will become Cascade, my job is not just to think of lots of cool styles to add, but also which I should omit. Every time I omit one style, I also save you from having to make one decision. You won’t have to weed out the bad choices because that’s already done. So the result you get using Cascade is a completely custom design, but that design is built only from top-quality components.

Cascade is not another templates marketplace.

I hate using design templates and themes. For starters, just looking through all the sites that sell templates takes half of forever. Then I pay for one and download it. Of course it doesn’t really fit what I wanted to do with the project, so I have to make some changes. In doing so, I discover that the template is built so that making changes requires rewriting half the code. There are usually bugs I need to fix too. This makes me wonder: what did I even pay for?

Expensive premium templates are substantially better. However, they force me to build my project a prescribed way and they look generic. If I’m starting a business, I don’t want someone to load up my site and think “Oh, I’ve seen that theme before!” Getting people to pay attention to your new project is hard enough. Using a design that is, by definition, generic is not a great way to help my business succeed.

Cascade is different. You might look at what I’ve written so far and say: “Well in the end, it’s still just another template, right?” Nope.

The key point is that Cascade isn’t templated design. The result may be code and images, but the means of producing that result is completely different. With traditional templates, the designer takes some fun idea she couldn’t use elsewhere, or the leftovers from a design that a client rejected, and she bundles it up for sale. Or, he imagines a ‘use case’ and creates the template with that in mind, his goal being to appeal to as many customers as possible so he earns more sales. From the start, that design isn’t going to meet your needs because the designer didn’t create it with you in mind.

In Cascade, the process is different. You choose aspects of the design that are appropriate for your goals. Sure, the options are created in advance, but there are enough options so that the result can vary wildly. That variance ensures the design you get from Cascade fits the goals of your project. It’s not quite created-from-scratch-custom, but it’s very close.

My philosophy while coding Cascade’s components.

Because Cascade is for developers, I expect you’ll want to know more about what the code looks like. I don’t have any code samples to share yet. But for now, here’s some about my mentality going forward:

Quality comes first.

If the code I write isn’t awesome, I’ll hire a exceptionally competent developer to help me make it awesome. By quality, I mean: fast, easy to maintain, as bug-free as is humanly possible, and efficient.


I’m inspired by the incredible thinking in Object-Oriented CSS (OOCSS on GitHub). While I don’t plan to use that particular framework, the mantra of separating structure from appearance is essential in Cascade.

Intelligent vs automagical.

You shouldn’t have to pore through pages of documentation to make a small adjustment. On the other hand, making a small edit shouldn’t cause a flood of unforeseen consequences. I want Cascade to be automagical like Rails. Rails isn’t for everybody and it isn’t for every project. Neither is Cascade. I think that’s okay.

(Of course, Cascade will be tiny in comparison to a massive framework like Rails!)

What do you think?

If I’m still fortunate enough to have your attention, please take a moment and leave a comment, or send me a tweet or email.

Get a discount on Cascade when it’s ready.

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Written by Jarrod Drysdale. Follow me:

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