Atomic Design in 1998

When you hear “atomic design,” you probably think of Brad Frost. Interestingly, he was not the first person to develop that method of delivering design as components, or even the terminology.


Brad published his atomic design article in 2013. While digging through the archives at frog, I’ve learned that Mark Rolston developed and applied an atomic framework as early as 1998.


The description found on the Index page, now 20 years old, embodies every bit the same spirit as the recent design systems movement:

The Dell Design Center helps Dell employees and creative vendors maintain a single, global online brand for By adhering to the design methodology and object guidelines in the Dell Design Center, anyone can create and implement new content without diluting the Dell global online brand.

Part reference manual, part cookbook, part toolbox, the Dell Design Center is an up-to-date, online repository of the imagery and methodology needed for construction.

When I asked Brad, he said that he wasn’t familiar with the earlier work done at frog. “For what it’s worth,” he remarked, “modular thinking in design is nothing new, and I acknowledge as much in my book.”