Archive: November, 2017

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Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Jeremy Keith - Building Blocks of the Indie Web - YouTube

Here’s the talk I gave at Mozilla’s View Source event. I really enjoyed talking about the indie web, both from the big-picture view and the nitty gritty.

In these times of centralised services like Facebook, Twitter, and Medium, having your own website is downright disruptive. If you care about the longevity of your online presence, independent publishing is the way to go. But how can you get all the benefits of those third-party services while still owning your own data? By using the building blocks of the Indie Web, that’s how!

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

Checked in at Pompoko. Post Ballet Boyz food — with Jessica map

Checked in at Pompoko. Post Ballet Boyz food — with Jessica

edent/SuperTinyIcons: Under 1KB each! Super Tiny Icons are miniscule SVG versions of your favourite website and app logos

These are lovely little SVGs of website logos that are yours for the taking. And if you want to contribute an icon to the collection, go for it …as long as it’s less than 1024 bytes (most of these are waaay less).

Answers for young people - Tim Berners-Lee

Many, many years ago, Tim Berners-Lee wrote this page of answers to (genuinely) frequently asked questions he got from school kids working on reports. I absolutely love the clear straightforward language he uses to describe concepts like hypertext, packet switching, and HTTP.

Over-engineering is under-engineering – Baldur Bjarnason

Following on from that link about the battle between control vs. using what the browser already gives you, Baldur sums up the situation:

To pick a specific example: the problem with an over-engineered form is that the amount of code required to replace no engineering (i.e. native form controls with basic styling) is enormous and almost always only partially successful (i.e. under-engineered).

They are under-engineered because they are over-engineered—tried to replace native controls.

And so we get two schools of engineering thought:

  1. Keep it simple.
  2. Control everything, even though that means reimplementing everything in JavaScript.

If, as it’s starting to look like from my perspective, these two communities are incapable of learning from each other, then maybe we should start consider some sort of community divorce?

We get HTML, CSS, and SVG. We love that shit and you just keep stuffing it into the JavaScript sack whenever you are left alone with it.

You get to keep WebGL, Shadow DOM, WASM, React, and Angular.

(I know which group I’d rather be in.)

Accessible custom styled form elements - Rian Rietveld

An excellent level-headed evaluation of styling and scripting form controls, weighing up the benefits and trade-offs. The more tightly you control the appearance, the less you get to benefit from the functionality (and accessibility) that the browser gives you for free …meaning you’ve now to got to work harder to replace it.

HTML elements like check buttons, radio buttons or select options can be hard to style with CSS in a custom design. There are many workarounds for this, but are they accessible?

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

Sandcastles

Take a break. Build a sandcastle. It’s relaxing.

Siiiip

Siiiip

V6: Typography and Proportions | Rob Weychert

Rob walks us through the typographic choices for his recent redesign:

Most of what I design that incorporates type has a typographic scale as its foundation, which informs the typeface choices and layout proportions. The process of creating that scale begins by asking what the type needs to do, and what role contrasting sizes will play in that.

Design Systems Handbook - DesignBetter.Co

A weirdly over-engineered online book with bizarre scrolljacking (I would advise disabling JavaScript but then all the links stop working so you won’t be able to go past the table of contents) but it’s free and the content—by Marco Suarez, Jina Anne, Katie Sylor-Miller, Diana Mounter, and Roy Stanfield— looks good:

A design system unites product teams around a common visual language. It reduces design debt, accelerates the design process, and builds bridges between teams working in concert to bring products to life. Learn how you can create your design system and help your team improve product quality while reducing design debt.

Nosediving

Nosedive is the first episode of season three of Black Mirror.

It’s fairly light-hearted by the standards of Black Mirror, but all the more chilling for that. It depicts a dysutopia where people rate one another for points that unlock preferential treatment. It’s like a twisted version of the whuffie from Cory Doctorow’s Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom. Cory himself points out that reputation economies are a terrible idea.

Nosedive has become a handy shortcut for pointing to the dangers of social media (in the same way that Minority Report was a handy shortcut for gestural interfaces and Her is a handy shortcut for voice interfaces).

“Social media is bad, m’kay?” is an understandable but, I think, fairly shallow reading of Nosedive. The problem isn’t with the apps, it’s with the system. A world in which we desperately need to keep our score up if we want to have any hope of advancing? That’s a nightmare scenario.

The thing is …that system exists today. Credit scores are literally a means of applying a numeric value to human beings.

Nosedive depicts a world where your score determines which seats you get in a restaurant, or which model of car you can rent. Meanwhile, in our world, your score determines whether or not you can get a mortgage.

Nosedive depicts a world in which you know your own score. Meanwhile, in our world, good luck with that:

It is very difficult for a consumer to know in advance whether they have a high enough credit score to be accepted for credit with a given lender. This situation is due to the complexity and structure of credit scoring, which differs from one lender to another.

Lenders need not reveal their credit score head, nor need they reveal the minimum credit score required for the applicant to be accepted. Owing only to this lack of information to the consumer, it is impossible for him or her to know in advance if they will pass a lender’s credit scoring requirements.

Black Mirror has a good track record of exposing what’s unsavoury about our current time and place. On the surface, Nosedive seems to be an exposé on the dangers of going to far with the presentation of self in everyday life. Scratch a little deeper though, and it reveals an even more uncomfortable truth: that we’re living in a world driven by systems even worse than what’s depicted in this dystopia.

How about this for a nightmare scenario:

Two years ago Douglas Rushkoff had an unpleasant encounter outside his Brooklyn home. Taking out the rubbish on Christmas Eve, he was mugged — held at knife-point by an assailant who took his money, his phone and his bank cards. Shaken, he went back indoors and sent an email to his local residents’ group to warn them about what had happened.

“I got two emails back within the hour,” he says. “Not from people asking if I was OK, but complaining that I’d posted the exact spot where the mugging had taken place — because it might adversely affect their property values.”

Infinitown | A WebGL Experiment by Little Workshop

I reckon this could be the canonical WebGL demo.

And if I’m reading dev tools right, this is all done in 86K.

Eric’s Archived Thoughts: Generating Wireframe Boxes with CSS and HTML5

Eric uses some super-clever CSS to “wireframe up” a web page.

I wonder if this could be turned into a little bookmarklet?

From Cats With Love: Welcome The New Smashing Membership — Smashing Magazine

Smashing Magazine has launched its lovely new design, but more importantly, it has launched its lovely new business model. Ads are gone. Patronage is in. This is a resource worth supporting.

i is=”the walrus”

In which Brian takes a long winding route through an explanation of why the is attribute for custom elements is dead before he demonstrates the correct way to use web components:

<!-- instead of writing this -->
<input type="radio" is="x-radio">

<!-- you write this -->
<x-radio>
<input type="radio">
</x-radio>

Sadly, none of the showcase examples I’ve seen for web components do this.

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Exploring the Linguistics Behind Regular Expressions

Before reading this article, I didn’t understand regular expressions. But now, having read this article, I don’t understand regular expressions and I don’t understand linguistics. Progress!

SSL Issuer Popularity - NetTrack.info

This graph warms the cockles of my heart. It’s so nice to see a genuinely good project like Let’s Encrypt come in and upset the applecart of a sluggish monopolistic industry.

Escape the News with the British Podcast “In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg” | The New Yorker

A lovely profile of the lovely In Our Time.

In part because “In Our Time” is unconnected to things that are coming out, things happening right this minute, things being promoted, it feels aligned with the eternal rather than the temporal, and is therefore escapist without being junk.

Anyone remember the site After Our Time?

Network based image loading using the Network Information API in Service Worker | justmarkup

This is clever—you can use the navigator.connection API from a service worker (because it’s asynchronous) which means you can have a service worker script that serves differently sized images based on bandwidth.

A collection of awesome design systems

A table of design systems, pattern libraries, style guides, or whatever we’re calling them.

The Fallacies of Distributed Computing (Applied to Front-End Performance) – CSS Wizardry – CSS Architecture, Web Performance Optimisation, and more, by Harry Roberts

Harry cautions against making assumptions about the network when it comes to front-end development:

Yet time and time again I see developers falling into the same old traps—making assumptions or overly-optimistic predictions about the conditions in which their apps will run.

Planning for the worst-case scenario is never a wasted effort:

If you build and structure applications such that they survive adverse conditions, then they will thrive in favourable ones.

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

Checked in at The Bugle Inn. Playing some tunes map

Checked in at The Bugle Inn. Playing some tunes

Friday, November 24th, 2017

Swimming in Complexity – James Box at UX Brighton 2017 - YouTube

Boxman’s talk about complexity, reasoning, philosophy, and design is soooo good!

It’s such a small thing, but these little changes make me so happy:

https://github.com/ampproject/amphtml/issues/12115

https://github.com/GoogleChrome/workbox/issues/572

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

Localisation and Translation on the Web

Practical advice from Ire on localising web pages.

A Content Slider

Brad always said that carousels were way to stop people beating each other up in meetings. I like the way Heydon puts it:

Carousels (or ‘content sliders’) are like men. They are not literally all bad — some are even helpful and considerate. But I don’t trust anyone unwilling to acknowledge a glaring pattern of awfulness. Also like men, I appreciate that many of you would rather just avoid dealing with carousels, but often don’t have the choice. Hence this article.

Salva de la Puente - What is a PWA

Here’s a nice one-sentence definition for the marketing folk:

A Progressive Web App is a regular website following a progressive enhancement strategy to deliver native-like user experiences by using modern Web standards.

But if you’re talking to developers, I implore you to concretely define a Progressive Web App as the combination of HTTPS, a service worker, and a Web App Manifest.

Sirloin steak with thyme. 🥩

Sirloin steak with thyme. 🥩

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

Shortly before sunset, I invited everyone in the @Clearleft office to down tools and join me in watching the murmuration of starlings over the West Pier.

Shortly before sunset, I invited everyone in the @Clearleft office to down tools and join me in watching the murmuration of starlings over the West Pier.

Getaway

It had been a while since we had a movie night at Clearleft so I organised one for last night. We usually manage to get through two movies, and there’s always a unifying theme decided ahead of time.

For last night, I decided that the broad theme would be …transport. But then, through voting on Slack, people could decide what the specific mode of transport would be. The choices were:

  • taxi,
  • getaway car,
  • truck, or
  • submarine.

Nobody voted for submarines. That’s a shame, but in retrospect it’s easy to understand—submarine films aren’t about transport at all. Quite the opposite. Submarine films are about being trapped in a metal womb/tomb (and many’s the spaceship film that qualifies as a submarine movie).

There were some votes for taxis and trucks, but the getaway car was the winner. I then revealed which films had been pre-selected for each mode of transport.

Taxi

Getaway car

Shorts: Getaway Driver, The Getaway

Truck

Submarine

I thought Baby Driver would be a shoe-in for the first film, but enough people had already seen it quite recently to put it out of the running. We watched Wheelman instead, which was like Locke meets Drive.

So what would the second film be?

Well, some of those films in the full list could potentially fall into more than one category. The taxi in Collateral is (kinda) being used as a getaway car. And if you expand the criterion to getaway vehicle, then Furiosa’s war rig surely counts, right?

Okay, we were just looking for an excuse to watch Fury Road again. I mean, c’mon, it was the black and chrome edition! I had the great fortune of seeing that on the big screen a while back and I’ve been raving about it ever since. Besides, you really don’t need an excuse to rewatch Fury Road. I loved it the first time I saw it, and it just keeps getting better and better each time. The editing! The sound! The world-building!

With every viewing, it feels more and more like the film for our time. It may have been a bit of stretch to watch it under the thematic umbrella of getaway vehicles, but it’s a getaway for our current political climate: instead of the typical plot involving a gang driving at full tilt from a bank heist, imagine one where the gang turns around, ousts the bankers, and replaces the whole banking system with a matriarchal community.

Hope is a mistake”, Max mansplains (maxplains?) to Furiosa at one point. He’s wrong. Judicious hope is what drives us forward (or, this case, back …to the citadel). Watching Fury Road again, I drew hope from the character of Nux. An alt-warboy in thrall to a demagogue and raised on a diet of fake news (Valhalla! V8!) can not only be turned by tenderness, he can become an ally to those working for a better world.

Witness!

Monday, November 20th, 2017

An associative trail

Every now and then, I like to revisit Vannevar Bush’s classic article from the July 1945 edition of the Atlantic Monthly called As We May Think in which he describes a theoretical machine called the memex.

A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk.

1945! Apart from its analogue rather than digital nature, it’s a remarkably prescient vision. In particular, there’s the idea of “associative trails”:

Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified. The lawyer has at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience, and of the experience of friends and authorities.

Many decades later, Anne Washington ponders what a legal memex might look like:

My legal Memex builds a network of the people and laws available in the public records of politicians and organizations. The infrastructure for this vision relies on open data, free access to law, and instantaneously availability.

As John Sheridan from the UK’s National Archives points out, hypertext is the perfect medium for laws:

Despite the drafter’s best efforts to create a narrative structure that tells a story through the flow of provisions, legislation is intrinsically non-linear content. It positively lends itself to a hypertext based approach. The need for legislation to escape the confines of the printed form predates the all major innovators and innovations in hypertext, from Vannevar Bush’s vision in ” As We May Think“, to Ted Nelson’s coining of the term “hypertext”, through to and Berners-Lee’s breakthrough world wide web. I like to think that Nelson’s concept of transclusion was foreshadowed several decades earlier by the textual amendment (where one Act explicitly alters – inserts, omits or amends – the text of another Act, an approach introduced to UK legislation at the beginning of the 20th century).

That’s from a piece called Deeply Intertwingled Laws. The verb “to intertwingle” was another one of Ted Nelson’s neologisms.

There’s an associative trail from Vannevar Bush to Ted Nelson that takes some other interesting turns…

Picture a new American naval recruit in 1945, getting ready to ship out to the pacific to fight against the Japanese. Just as the ship as leaving the harbour, word comes through that the war is over. And so instead of fighting across the islands of the pacific, this young man finds himself in a hut on the Philippines, reading whatever is to hand. There’s a copy of The Atlantic Monthly, the one with an article called As We May Think. The sailor was Douglas Engelbart, and a few years later when he was deciding how he wanted to spend the rest of his life, that article led him to pursue the goal of augmenting human intellect. He gave the mother of all demos, featuring NLS, a working hypermedia system.

Later, thanks to Bill Atkinson, we’d get another system called Hypercard. It was advertised with the motto Freedom to Associate, in an advertising campaign that directly referenced Vannevar Bush.

And now I’m using the World Wide Web, a hypermedia system that takes in the whole planet, to create an associative trail. In this post, I’m linking (without asking anyone for permission) to six different sources, and in doing so, I’m creating a unique associative trail. And because this post has a URL (that won’t change), you are free to take it and make it part of your own associative trail on your digital memex.

Happier HTML5 Form Validation - daverupert.com

Dave uses just a smidgen of JavaScript to whip HTML5’s native form validation into shape.

Instead of being prescriptive about error messaging, we use what the browser natively gives us.

Trolleys, veils and prisoners: the case for accessibility from philosophical ethics

The transcript of a presentation on the intersection of ethics and accessibility.

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

Reading Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee.

Empty States

A gallery of empty UIs. It reminds me of those galleries of clever 404 pages. Next step: a gallery of witty offline pages.

Teletype for Atom

A plug-in that lets multiple people collaborate on the same document in Atom. Could be useful for hackdays and workshops.

SpeechBoard | Home | The easiest way to edit podcasts

This is quite impressive—you edit the audio file by editing the transcript!

How the BBC News website has changed over the past 20 years - BBC News

Two decades redesigning/realigning the BBC News home page.

The Freedom to Associate » The Digital Antiquarian

A history of hypertext, from the memex to HyperCard.

Ten Years Old – CSS Wizardry

Congratulations on a decade of publishing on your own site—you’re a blogging wizard, Harry!

Having this website changed and shaped my career. If you don’t have a blog, I urge you, start working on one this weekend. Your own blog, with your own content, at your own domain. It might just change your life.

Saturday, November 18th, 2017

Orbital Reflector

Art. In. Spaaaaaace!

Orbital Reflector is a sculpture constructed of a lightweight material similar to Mylar. It is housed in a small box-like infrastructure known as a CubeSat and launched into space aboard a rocket. Once in low Earth orbit at a distance of about 350 miles (575 kilometers) from Earth, the CubeSat opens and releases the sculpture, which self-inflates like a balloon. Sunlight reflects onto the sculpture making it visible from Earth with the naked eye — like a slowly moving artificial star as bright as a star in the Big Dipper.

Hooked and booked

At Booking.com, they do a lot of A/B testing.

At Booking.com, they’ve got a lot of dark patterns.

I think there might be a connection.

A/B testing is a great way of finding out what happens when you introduce a change. But it can’t tell you why.

The problem is that, in a data-driven environment, decisions ultimately come down to whether something works or not. But just because something works, doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.

If I were trying to convince you to buy a product, or use a service, one way I could accomplish that would be to literally put a gun to your head. It would work. Except it’s not exactly a good solution, is it? But if we were to judge by the numbers (100% of people threatened with a gun did what we wanted), it would appear to be the right solution.

When speaking about A/B testing at Booking.com, Stuart Frisby emphasised why it’s so central to their way of working:

One of the core principles of our organisation is that we want to be very customer-focused. And A/B testing is really a way for us to institutionalise that customer focus.

I’m not so sure. I think A/B testing is a way to institutionalise a focus on business goals—increasing sales, growth, conversion, and all of that. Now, ideally, those goals would align completely with the customer’s goals; happy customers should mean more sales …but more sales doesn’t necessarily mean happy customers. Using business metrics (sales, growth, conversion) as a proxy for customer satisfaction might not always work …and is clearly not the case with many of these kinds of sites. Whatever the company values might say, a company’s true focus is on whatever they’re measuring as success criteria. If that’s customer satisfaction, then the company is indeed customer-focused. But if the measurements are entirely about what works for sales and conversions, then that’s the real focus of the company.

I’m not saying A/B testing is bad—far from it! (although it can sometimes be taken to the extreme). I feel it’s best wielded in combination with usability testing with real users—seeing their faces, feeling their frustration, sharing their joy.

In short, I think that A/B testing needs to be counterbalanced. There should be some kind of mechanism for getting the answer to “why?” whenever A/B testing provides to the answer to “what?” In-person testing could be one way of providing that balance. Or it could be somebody’s job to always ask “why?” and determine if a solution is qualitatively—and not just quantitatively—good. (And if you look around at your company and don’t see anyone doing that, maybe that’s a role for you.)

If there really is a connection between having a data-driven culture of A/B testing, and a product that’s filled with dark patterns, then the disturbing conclusion is that dark patterns work …at least in the short term.

Using SVG as placeholders — More Image Loading Techniques - JMPerez Blog

Here’s a clever to technique to improve the perceived performance of image loading with a polygonal SVG placeholder.

Checked in at The Open House. Welsh rarebit mac’n’cheese — with Jessica map

Checked in at The Open House. Welsh rarebit mac’n’cheese — with Jessica

Friday, November 17th, 2017

Animista

What a great way to play around with CSS animations!

This in JavaScript | Zell Liew

In the immortal words of Ultravox, this means nothing to me.

I’m filing this away for my future self for the next time I (inevitably) get confused about what this means in different JavaScript contexts.

Brighton conferences

I’ve been to four conferences in two weeks. I wasn’t speaking at any of them so I was able to relax and enjoy the talks.

There was UX Brighton on November 3rd, featuring a terrific opening keynote from Boxman.

James Box speaking at UX Brighton 2017

One week later, I was in the Duke of York’s cinema for FFConf along with all the other Clearleft frontend devs—it’s always a thought-provoking day out.

FFConf 2017 Day 2

Yesterday, I went to Meaning in the daytime, and Bytes in the evening.

It was amazing to get to see @ambrwlsn90 speak at #bytesconf tonight. She is a brilliant speaker! 🙌🏻

Every one of those events was in Brighton. That’s pretty good going for a town this size …and that’s not even counting the regular events like Async, Codebar, and Ladies That UX.

I’m very grateful for whatever clerical error has resulted in me being invited to speak at @Webstock in February.

That’s some speaker line up!

https://www.webstock.org.nz/18/

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Checked in at O'Shio. Chirashi don — with Amber map

Checked in at O’Shio. Chirashi don — with Amber

The Burden of Precision | Daniel T. Eden, Designer

I think Dan is on to something here—design tools that offer pixel perfection at an early stage are setting us up for disappointment and frustration. Broad brushstrokes early on, followed by more precise tinkering later, feels like a more sensible approach.

With the help of a robust and comprehensive design system, I am certain that we could design in much broader strokes, and concentrate on making the finished product, rather than our design outputs, highly precise and reflective of our ideal.

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Constellation

Language conjures the world into being.

Just type stuff.

What is a Progressive Web App?

It seems like any new field goes through an inevitable growth spurt that involves “defining the damn thing.” For the first few years of the IA Summit, every second presentation seemed to be about defining what Information Architecture actually is. See also: UX. See also: Content Strategy.

Now it seems to be happening with Progressive Web Apps …which is odd, considering the damn thing is defined damn well.

I’ve written before about the naming of Progressive Web Apps. On the whole, I think it’s a pretty good term, especially if you’re trying to convince the marketing team.

Regardless of the specifics of the name, what I like about Progressive Web Apps is that they have a clear definition. It reminds me of Responsive Web Design. Whatever you think of that name, it comes with a clear list of requirements:

  1. A fluid layout,
  2. Fluid images, and
  3. Media queries.

Likewise, Progressive Web Apps consist of:

  1. HTTPS,
  2. A service worker, and
  3. A Web App Manifest.

There’s more you can do in addition to that (just as there’s plenty more you can do on a responsive site), but the core definition is nice and clear.

Except, for some reason, that clarity is being lost.

Here’s a post by Ben Halpern called What the heck is a “Progressive Web App”? Seriously.

I have a really hard time describing what a progressive web app actually is.

He points to Google’s intro to Progressive Web Apps:

Progressive Web Apps are user experiences that have the reach of the web, and are:

  • Reliable - Load instantly and never show the downasaur, even in uncertain network conditions.
  • Fast - Respond quickly to user interactions with silky smooth animations and no janky scrolling.
  • Engaging - Feel like a natural app on the device, with an immersive user experience.

Those are great descriptions of the benefits of Progressive Web Apps. Perfect material for convincing your clients or your boss. But that appears on developers.google.com …surely it would be more beneficial for that audience to know the technologies that comprise Progressive Web Apps?

Ben Halpern again:

Google’s continued use of the term “quality” in describing things leaves me with a ton of confusion. It really seems like they want PWA to be a general term that doesn’t imply any particular implementation, and have it be focused around the user experience, but all I see over the web is confusion as to what they mean by these things. My website is already “engaging” and “immersive”, does that mean it’s a PWA?

I think it’s important to use the right language for the right audience.

If you’re talking to the business people, tell them about the return on investment you get from Progressive Web Apps.

If you’re talking to the marketing people, tell them about the experiential benefits of Progressive Web Apps.

But if you’re talking to developers, tell them that a Progressive Web App is a website served over HTTPS with a service worker and manifest file.

Relative Requirements – CSS Wizardry

I really like this exercise by Harry. I’ve done similar kinds of grading using dot-voting in the past. It feels like an early step to establishing design principles: “this over that.”

By deciding what we value up-front, we have an agreement that we can look back on in order to help us settle these conflicts and get us back on track again.

Relative Requirements remove the personal aspect of these disagreements and instead focuses on more objective agreements that we made as a team.

Eric’s Archived Thoughts: Declining Complexity in CSS

I think Eric is absolutely right. The barrier to entry for accomplishing what you want with CSS is much lower now. It only seems more complicated if you’re used to doing things the old way.

I envy “the kids”, the ones just starting to learn front end now. They’re likely never going to know the pain of float drop, or wrestling with inline blocks, or not being able to center along one axis. They’re going to roll their eyes when we old-timers start grumbling about the old days and say, “Floats?!? Who ever thought floats would be a good way to lay out a page? That’s totally not what they’re for, anyone can see that! Were you all high as a kite, or just utterly stupid?” You know, the way “the kids” talked ten years ago, except then it was about using tables for layout.

A note of appreciation.

A note of appreciation.

Eavesdropping on a sprint playback at @Clearleft.

Eavesdropping on a sprint playback at @Clearleft.

What makes a good design principle? || Matthew Ström: designer & developer

These are really good ideas for evaluating design principles. In fact, I would go so far as to say they are design principles for design principles.

  • Good design principles are memorable
  • Good design principles help you say no.
  • Good design principles aren’t truisms.
  • Good design principles are applicable.

Design Guidelines — The way products are built.

A collection of publicly available design systems, pattern libraries, and interface guidelines.

Secret Santa is going to be so easy this Christmas. https://abookapart.com/products/book-cover-mug

Secret Santa is going to be so easy this Christmas.

https://abookapart.com/products/book-cover-mug

Monday, November 13th, 2017

Post Pinging and Webmentions at Midlands Maidens Nottingham Escorts

Okay, this is somewhat odd …it looked like I was getting spam webmentions from an escort agency to an old post of mine. It turns out that technically it’s not spam—they’re genuinely linking to my post from this post on their blog which is actually about webmentions.

And that, your honour, is how this site ended up in my browser history.

Sunday, November 12th, 2017

Overheard in Ireland: “Leave that poor statue alone!”

Back in Cobh with @wordridden.

Back in Cobh with @wordridden.

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

Checked in at Sirius Arts Centre. Steve Cooney, Dermot Byrne, Trevor Hutchinson. map

Checked in at Sirius Arts Centre. Steve Cooney, Dermot Byrne, Trevor Hutchinson.

Checked in at O'Shio. Hot pot for two — with Jessica map

Checked in at O’Shio. Hot pot for two — with Jessica

Online technology communities: Making the most of the open source internet – Jeremy Keith

I spoke my brains on the Venturi’s Voice podcast. It’s a random walk through topics like sharing, writing, publishing, and bizzzzznis.

Reading Accessibility For Everyone by Laura Kalbag.

Learn Web Design Fundamentals and Shortcuts with Hello Web Design - Hello Web Books

Tracy’s new book is excellent (and I had the great honour of writing a foreword for it).

Programmers, developers, marketers, and non-designers — want to become a better designer? This short book has everything you need.

Foreword to Hello Web Design by Tracy Osborn

The foreword to the self-published short book about design for non-designers.

The Medium - daverupert.com

I have to keep reminding myself that I do have some control. I can build The Medium I want. I can cling to what’s good.

Friday, November 10th, 2017

Checked in at The Joker. Lunch break at FFConf. — with Graham map

Checked in at The Joker. Lunch break at FFConf. — with Graham

Travel Oregon: The Game

Oregon Trail, updated for our times. There should be appreciably less dysentery in this game.

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

It’s @beerleft o’clock.

It’s @beerleft o’clock.

Frappé Charts

A JavaScript library for displaying charts’n’graphs.

Jeremy Keith on Evaluating Technology at SmashingConf Barcelona 2017 on Vimeo

I think this is the best delivery of this talk I’ve ever given. It was something about being in that wonderful venue.

I got quite worked up around the the 32 minute mark.

The Contrast Swap Technique: Improved Image Performance with CSS Filters | CSS-Tricks

A clever performance trick for images:

  1. Reduce image contrast using a linear transform function (Photoshop can do this)
  2. Apply a contrast filter in CSS to the image to make up for the contrast removal

What Are You Reading? – Jorge Arango

A pace layer model for readers (and writers).

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

Sous-vide pork tenderloin stuffed with capers and herbs.

Sous-vide pork tenderloin stuffed with capers and herbs.

A Responsive Accessible Table | Adrian Roselli

Following on from Richard’s article, here’s a deep dive into making HTML tables that are accessible and responsive.

Inside Design: Clearleft

A profile of Clearleft from the nice people at InVision.

Although there is this:

Jupiter Perijove 09 | Flickr

Gorgeous images from Juno’s closest approach to Jupiter.

PJ09_90_91 Flyby001

I think I’ll use these extra characters from Twitter to attach a link back to the original canonical URL of each note on my own site.

Web Typography: Designing Tables to be Read, Not Looked At · An A List Apart Article

An extract from Richard’s excellent book, this is a deep dive into styling tables for the web (featuring some CSS I had never even heard of).

Tables can be beautiful but they are not works of art. Instead of painting and decorating them, design tables for your reader.

(It also contains a splendid use of the term “crawl bar.”)

The Art of Comments | CSS-Tricks

Great advice on writing sensible comments in your code.

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

Collapsible Sections

The latest edition of Heydon’s Inclusive Components is absolutely fantastic! The pattern itself—toggling sections of content—is quite straightforward, but then there’s a masterclass in how to create a web component that still allows the content to be accessible in older browsers. The key, as ever, is progressive enhancement:

Whether implemented through web components or not, progressive enhancement not only ensures the interface is well-structured and robust. As we’ve seen here, it can also simplify the editorial process. This makes developing the application and its content more inclusive.

The Juvet Agenda

Questions prompted by the Clearleft gathering in Norway to discuss AI.

Monday, November 6th, 2017

Checked in at The Fiddler's Elbow. Tunes — with Jessica map

Checked in at The Fiddler’s Elbow. Tunes — with Jessica

Surprised that there are humans I know who are giving their time and money to @WebSummit, a platform for Nigel Farrage and other vampires.

Installing Progressive Web Apps

When I was testing the dConstruct Audio Archive—which is now a Progressive Web App—I noticed some interesting changes in how Chrome on Android offers the “add to home screen” prompt.

It used to literally say “add to home screen.”

Getting the “add to home screen” prompt for https://huffduffer.com/ on Android Chrome. And there’s the “add to home screen” prompt for https://html5forwebdesigners.com/ HTTPS + manifest.json + Service Worker = “Add to Home Screen” prompt. Add to home screen.

Now it simply says “add.”

The dConstruct Audio Archive is now a Progressive Web App

I vaguely remember there being some talk of changing the labelling, but I could’ve sworn it was going to change to “install”. I’ve got to be honest, just having the word “add” doesn’t seem to provide much context. Based on the quick’n’dirty usability testing I did with some co-workers, it just made things confusing. “Add what?” “What am I adding?”

Additionally, the prompt appeared immediately on the first visit to the site. I thought there was supposed to be an added “engagement” metric in order for the prompt to appear; that the user needs to visit the site more than once.

You’d think I’d be happy that users will be presented with the home-screen prompt immediately, but based on the behaviour I saw, I’m not sure it’s a good thing. Here’s what I observed:

  1. The user types the URL archive.dconstruct.org into the address bar.
  2. The site loads.
  3. The home-screen prompt slides up from the bottom of the screen.
  4. The user immediately moves to dismiss the prompt (cue me interjecting “Don’t close that!”).

This behaviour is entirely unsurprising for three reasons:

  1. We web designers and web developers have trained users to dismiss overlays and pop-ups if they actually want to get to the content. Nobody’s going to bother to actually read the prompt if there’s a 99% chance it’s going to say “Sign up to our newsletter!” or “Take our survey!”.
  2. The prompt appears below the “line of death” so there’s no way to tell it’s a browser or OS-level dialogue rather than a JavaScript-driven pop-up from the site.
  3. Because the prompt now appears on the first visit, no trust has been established between the user and the site. If the prompt only appeared on later visits (or later navigations during the first visit) perhaps it would stand a greater chance of survival.

It’s still possible to add a Progressive Web App to the home screen, but the option to do that is hidden behind the mysterious three-dots-vertically-stacked icon (I propose we call this the shish kebab icon to distinguish it from the equally impenetrable hamburger icon).

I was chatting with Andreas from Mozilla at the View Source conference last week, and he was filling me in on how Firefox on Android does the add-to-homescreen flow. Instead of a one-time prompt, they’ve added a persistent icon above the “line of death” (the icon is a combination of a house and a plus symbol).

When a Firefox 58 user arrives on a website that is served over HTTPS and has a valid manifest, a subtle badge will appear in the address bar: when tapped, an “Add to Home screen” confirmation dialog will slide in, through which the web app can be added to the Android home screen.

This kind of badging also has issues (without the explicit text “add to home screen”, the user doesn’t know what the icon does), but I think a more persistently visible option like this works better than the a one-time prompt.

Firefox is following the lead of the badging approach pioneered by the Samsung Internet browser. It provides a plus symbol that, when pressed, reveals the options to add to home screen or simply bookmark.

What does it mean to be an App?

I don’t think Chrome for Android has any plans for this kind of badging, but they are working on letting the site authors provide their own prompts. I’m not sure this is such a good idea, given our history of abusing pop-ups and overlays.

Sadly, I feel that any solution that relies on an unrequested overlay is doomed. That’s on us. The way we’ve turned browsing the web—especially on mobile—into a frustrating chore of dismissing unwanted overlays is a classic tragedy of the commons. We blew it. Users don’t trust unrequested overlays, and I can’t blame them.

For what it’s worth, my opinion is that ambient badging is a better user experience than one-time prompts. That opinion is informed by a meagre amount of testing though. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s been doing more detailed usability testing of both approaches. I assume that Google, Mozilla, and Samsung are doing this kind of testing, and it would be really great to see the data from that (hint, hint).

But it might well be that ambient badging is just too subtle to even be noticed by the user.

On one end of the scale you’ve got the intrusiveness of an add-to-home-screen prompt, but on the other end of the scale you’ve got the discoverability problem of a subtle badge icon. I wonder if there might be a compromise solution—maybe a badge icon that pulses or glows on the first or second visit?

Of course that would also need to be thoroughly tested.

Sunday, November 5th, 2017

Against an Increasingly User-Hostile Web - Neustadt.fr

With echoes of Anil Dash’s The Web We Lost, this essay is a timely reminder—with practical advice—for we designers and developers who are making the web …and betraying its users.

You see, the web wasn’t meant to be a gated community. It’s actually pretty simple.

A web server, a public address and an HTML file are all that you need to share your thoughts (or indeed, art, sound or software) with anyone in the world. No authority from which to seek approval, no editorial board, no publisher. No content policy, no dependence on a third party startup that might fold in three years to begin a new adventure.

That’s what the web makes possible. It’s friendship over hyperlink, knowledge over the network, romance over HTTP.

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

The dConstruct Audio Archive works offline

The dConstruct conference is as old as Clearleft itself. We put on the first event back in 2005, the year of our founding. The last dConstruct was in 2015. It had a good run.

I’m really proud of the three years I ran the show—2012, 2013, and 2014—and I have great memories from each event. I’m inordinately pleased that the individual websites are still online after all these years. I’m equally pleased with the dConstruct audio archive that we put online in 2012. Now that the event itself is no longer running, it truly is an archive—a treasury of voices from the past.

I think that these kinds of online archives are eminently suitable for some offline design. So I’ve added a service worker script to the dConstruct archive.

Caching

To start with, there’s the no-brainer: as soon as someone hits the website, pre-cache static assets like CSS, JavaScript, the logo, and icon images. Now subsequent page loads will be quicker—those assets are taken straight from the cache.

But what about the individual pages? For something like Resilient Web Design—another site that won’t be updated—I pre-cache everything. I could do that with the dConstruct archive. All of the pages with all of the images add up to less than two megabytes; the entire site weighs less than a single page on Wired.com or The Verge.

In the end, I decided to go with a cache-as-you-go strategy. Every time a page or an image is fetched from the network, it is immediately put in a cache. The next time that page or image is requested, the file is served from that cache instead of the network.

Here’s the logic for fetch requests:

  1. First, look to see if the file is in a cache. If it is, great! Serve that.
  2. If the file isn’t in a cache, make a network request and serve the response …but put a copy of a file in the cache.
  3. The next time that file is requested, go to step one.

Save for offline

That caching strategy works great for pages, images, and other assets. But there’s one kind of file on the dConstruct archive that’s a bit different: the audio files. They can be fairly big, so I don’t want to cache those unless the user specifically requests it.

If you end up on the page for a particular talk, and your browser supports service workers, you’ll get an additional UI element in the list of options: a toggle to “save offline” (under the hood, it’s a checkbox). If you activate that option, then the audio file gets put into a cache.

Now if you lose your network connection while browsing the site, you’ll get a custom offline page with the option to listen to any audio files you saved for offline listening. You’ll also see this collection of talks on the homepage, regardless of whether you’ve got an internet connection or not.

So if you’ve got a long plane journey ahead of you, have a browse around the dConstruct archive and select some talks for your offline listening pleasure.

Or just enjoy the speediness of browsing the site.

Turning another website into a Progressive Web App.

The dConstruct Audio Archive is now a Progressive Web App: https://archive.dconstruct.org/ Now you can enjoy those great talks offline!

The dConstruct Audio Archive is now a Progressive Web App:

https://archive.dconstruct.org/

Now you can enjoy those great talks offline!

Checked in at Trollburger. The Hellfire! 🌶 map

Checked in at Trollburger. The Hellfire! 🌶

Really looking forward to another Bytes Conf in Brighton in two weeks from today:

https://www.bytesconf.co.uk/

Building Flexible Design Systems // Speaker Deck

The slides from Yesenia’s talk on scenario-driven design.

Web Design Museum

The museum exhibits over 800 carefully selected and sorted web sites that show web design trends between the years 1995 and 2005.

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

Checked in at The Eagle. Enjoying the jigs’n’reels. — with Jessica map

Checked in at The Eagle. Enjoying the jigs’n’reels. — with Jessica

Distilling How We Think About Design Systems

Advice on building design systems:

  • If you can avoid being ambiguous, please do.
  • Favor common understanding over dictionary correctness.
  • Make great operations a priority.
  • Don’t get trapped in defining things instead of explaining things.

Rebuilding slack.com – Several People Are Coding

A really great case study of a code refactor by Mina, with particular emphasis on the benefits of CSS Grid, fluid typography, and accessibility.

Coding with Clarity · An A List Apart Article

Good advice on writing code that is understandable to your fellow humans (and your future self).

Angry Optimism in a Drowned World: A Conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson | CCCB LAB

Nobody can afford to volunteer to be extra virtuous in a system where the only rule is quarterly profit and shareholder value. Where the market rules, all of us are fighting for the crumbs to get the best investment for the market. And so, this loose money can go anywhere in the planet without penalty. The market can say: “It doesn’t matter what else is going on, it doesn’t matter if the planet crashes in fifty years and everybody dies, what’s more important is that we have quarterly profit and shareholder value and immediate return on our investment, right now.” So, the market is like a blind giant driving us off a cliff into destruction.

Kim Stanley Robinson journeys to the heart of the Anthropocene.

Economics is the quantitative and systematic analysis of capitalism itself. Economics doesn’t do speculative or projective economics; perhaps it should, I mean, I would love it if it did, but it doesn’t. It’s a dangerous moment, as well as a sign of cultural insanity and incapacity. It’s like you’ve got macular degeneration and your vision of reality itself were just a big black spot precisely in the direction you are walking.

Web Form Conundrum: disabled or readonly? | Aaron Gustafson

Good question! And a good answer:

If you really need it, which you probably don’t, readonly is what you want.