Opinions & Insights

Modular web design architecture: what it is and why you need it

Opinions & Insights

Modular web design architecture: what it is and why you need it

In the 2000s, custom Content Management Systems (CMSs) were commonplace in many online businesses. In fact, my first development job included building and maintaining a custom CMS to power a content website! And this didn’t scale. As more and more businesses came online, and during the evolution of the Jamstack and “headless” and “decoupled” architectures in the 2010s, came the rise and standardization of the modern CMS as a service.

A great Software as a Service (SaaS) CMS provided content modeling, categorization, page building and publishing, allowing businesses to build content workflows that were decoupled from development pipelines and website code. This meant productive teams could launch new campaigns and optimize conversion funnels quickly, without needing to design, build, maintain and scale their own content management tools, and without impacting new feature releases.

As CMS adoption increased, content editors, developers and product teams found innovative ways to use their CMS for more than just managing content. But this also didn’t scale. Building new CMS-powered page layouts soon became clunky and too time-intensive — blurring the separation between content and design; managing e-commerce inventory alongside marketing copy meant developers had to spend time creating many custom flows between content pages and hosted e-commerce checkout pages; localization efforts clashed with personalization campaigns.

By the late 2010s, technical architects had started to break out each business function into separate cloud-based SaaS services. The headless CMS and decoupled front end was now complemented by an array of additional software tooling including search and authentication services, analytics tracking and orchestration, e-commerce catalogs, personalization tools and more. The shift was further accelerated by the growth of e-commerce and the Covid 19 pandemic of 2020 where businesses had to be online. And out of this evolved the new modular web design architecture of the 2020s.

What is modular web design architecture?

Modular web design architecture is more than just “going headless” or “building a decoupled architecture”. This new approach is about combining many API-based services with a modern JavaScript development environment to build high-performing websites. Modular web design is about rethinking the building blocks we use to make websites in order to optimize for growth, centered on building a composable architecture that is flexible, agile, and adaptable to your business needs as they evolve. A modular and composable architecture may comprise:

  • Development frameworks and modern JavaScript libraries that maximize website performance and developer experience;
  • Cloud-based CMSs that provide intuitive content modeling and authoring experiences;
  • SaaS e-commerce tooling that offers robust product inventory management;
  • Analytics tooling that gives maximum insight into customer behaviour and engagement;
  • SaaS services such as authentication, search providers, orchestration and Customer Relationship Management;
  • Hosting and CI/CD platform tooling;
  • And any other building block your business might need.

Why you need modular web design architecture

The modern web is moving fast and your business and online properties need to match the pace in order to grow, evolve and succeed. Recent trends including Google’s SEO reward for sites with fast mobile performance and web design trends pushing toward modern JavaScript are driving adoption of the modular web, which offers some of the following benefits.

Mix and match your building blocks

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to building an online business, and with modular web design you can pick and choose the different tools you need, when you need them. Start lean with a few service providers, launch fast, and add new tooling if and when the time is right. Outgrown a search service and need something more? Plug in a new one to your existing architecture, without rewriting the whole stack.

Ship and iterate faster

A modular web design architecture solves many of the problems of the monolith. Architected well, this approach separates all individual business concerns so that your content authors, marketers, developers, analysts and everyone else can work in parallel without blocking workflows and feature releases. Build new landing pages without writing new code. See real-time content previews. Get instant feedback on how customers are using your website. Experiment with A/B testing and learn what works and what doesn’t work. Release 100 times a day — not once a month. Build and grow your business faster.

Maximise performance and productivity

A modular web architecture wouldn’t be complete without a modern web platform like Netlify to bring all of your tools and services together. Centered around delivering your websites from our intelligent Content Delivery Network — so that your sites are fast for everyone around the world — we offer a rich suite of built-in tooling and integrations that enhance your offerings, accelerate your time-to-market and empower your teams to be productive.

To learn more about how Netlify can help you build your aspirational modular web architecture, get in touch with us today.

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