AEA Debrief: Faster Design Decisions with Style Tiles

At An Event Apart in Atlanta, Samantha Warren made a case for why style tiles should be added to your back of tricks. Here’s a collection of take aways that resonated with me.

A major point of Warren’s talk is that style tiles are a communication tool. It’s as simple as that, and as fundamentally crucial as that. We need to evaluate how we discuss web design and how we define success. Adopting style tiles doesn’t mandate any particular changes to your creative process. The big shift is what you present to clients and how conversations can evolve to be more productive and distraction free as a result.

Stop presenting multiple fixed width comps to clients

It is a good idea to separate style from layout when getting approval from clients (even internal ones). This is increasingly true as layouts get more complex with responsive layouts. The abstraction from layout brings clarity to conversations. Style tiles will help you to generate a definition of success that is separate from taste. There needs to be a better design artifact than what we, as an industry, currently produce and accept.

Design systems, not pages.

Design is about problem solving, not decorating. Style tiles help us to generate a definition of success that is separate from taste. They also tend to be device width agnostic so they tend to yield better conversation around responsive projects. Avoid the siren’s call for a big reveal. You are not Don Draper and shouldn’t aspire to be. Communicate early and often to get better results.

“A beautiful design system is about finding the same balance of consistency & variety.” —Yesenia Prez-Cruz

Why is that better than moodboards or mockups?

There are a few tools that offer similar benefits to style tiles (or, attempt to). These options tend to get a bit conflated. Warren brought up key differences between style tiles, moodboards and mockups.


Warren explains a moodboard as a tool for setting the “mood”. Best for when you are discovering and establishing a new identity for a client while designing a website. Concepts & emotions. Works great for web startups. Warren’s Goldilocks issue with moodboards is that they are too vague.


If moodboards are less than ideal because they’re high level and vague, let’s evaluate the alternative. We can skip all that touchy feely throat clearing and jump right to mocking up the project. This works for really low budgets or sites that are being refined rather than redesigned. In other words, mockups work if expectations can somehow be set. Warren’s Goldilocks issue with mockups is that they are too precise.

Tribal knowledge mileage may vary

Why do you follow the process that you do? Is it because it yields great results quickly? Is it simply the way you’ve always done it, because someone once told you it is “how it’s done”? Style tiles or not, that’s the path to madness. We need to evaluate our process from time to time. Do things for a reason and be watchful for truthiness that may shroud your process. We work in a young industry, it’s naive to think we know “the right way” of doing things.