Archive: February, 2016


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Monday, February 29th, 2016

Performance is a feature. Why performance is an opportunity for online businesses.

The problem is that performance is a feature that is not on anyone’s product roadmap.

For whatever reason, the fact that it correlates directly to bounce rate, time on site, pages-per-visit etc. has not struck home with many product owners.

Most websites, certainly in the publishing industry where I have worked for a good part of my career, see those metrics as core KPIs. So you would think that anything that improved them would get prioritised. But no.

The New Web Typography › Robin Rendle

A wonderfully thoughtful piece on typography, Jan Tschichold and the web. This really resonated with me:

It’s only been over the past year or so in which I’ve recognised myself as a ‘Web designer’ with a capital W, as I now believe that something happens to information and technology, and even typography itself, when people pass through these interconnected networks and interact with hypertext.

It’s for these reasons that I don’t believe in “digital design” or “designing for screens” and it’s why I’m often attracted to one particular side of this spectrum.

Robin proposes three “principles, suggestions, outlines, or rather things-that-I-ought-to-be nervous-about when setting text on the web”:

  1. We must prioritise the text over the font, or semantics over style.
  2. We ought to use and/or make tools that reveal the consequences of typographic decisions.
  3. We should acknowledge that web typography is only as strong as its weakest point.

There’s an in-depth look at applying progressive enhancement to web type, and every single link in the resources section at the end is worth investigating.

Oh, and of course it’s beautifully typeset.

A 5 day sprint with Clear Left exploring library self-service machine software – Leon Paternoster

Myself and Batesy spent last week in Ipswich doing an intense design sprint with Suffolk Libraries. Leon has written up process from his perspective as the client—I’ll try to get a case study up on the Clearleft website soon.

This is really great write-up; it captures the sense of organised chaos:

I can’t recommend this kind of research sprint enough. We got a report, detailed technical validation of an idea, mock ups and a plan for how to proceed, while getting staff and stakeholders involved in the project — all in the space of 5 days.

Sunday, February 28th, 2016

Terraforming on Vimeo

There’s that Acheulean hand ax again.

The first ever object to be designed by man 1.7 million years ago was a flint hand axe. Flint has the same molecular structure as a crystal and they both consist of silica. The project juxtaposes the flint hand axe with the latest crystal technology; Xero chaton the world’s smallest precision cut crystal measuring 0.6mm in diameter, smaller than a grain of sand.


Hand Ax Technology - A Legend In Sustainability

Even more intriguing than their vast distribution across three continents is their time depth. Acheulean hand axes have been found at sites spanning 1.5 million years of human existence, dating from roughly 1.6 million years ago to about 100,000 years ago. That makes the Acheulean ax the most sustainable technology that members of our genus (Homo) ever developed. Consider, in contrast, the amount of technological change that has occurred in just the last 150 years (since the first telephone call), one ten-thousandth the amount of time the Acheulean hand ax was made and used. Or consider the amount of technological change in just the last 10 years (since the first iPhone was introduced), one one-hundred-fifty-thousandth the amount of time that Acheulean hand axes were made and used. In the memorable words of my former professor Arthur J. Jelinek, hand axes represent “mind-numbing technological stability.”

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

Connected Copies, Part Two | Hapgood

A really good explanation of how a peer-to-peer model for the web would differ from the current location-centric approach.

What really interests me is the idea of having both models co-exist.

You just have to think about the ways in which our location-centrism is contributing to the problems we are hitting, from the rise of Facebook, to the lack of findability of OER, to the Wikipedia Edit Wars.

All our imagined futures | A Working Library

Science fiction as a means of energising climatic and economic change:

Fiction, and science fiction in particular, can help us imagine many futures, and in particular can help us to direct our imaginations towards the futures we want. Imagining a particular kind of future isn’t just day dreaming: it’s an important and active framing that makes it possible for us to construct a future that approaches that imagined vision. In other words, imagining the future is one way of making that future happen.

But it’s important that these visions are preserved:

It’s very likely that our next Octavia Butler is today writing on WattPad or Tumblr or Facebook. When those servers cease to respond, what will we lose? More than the past is at stake—all our imagined futures are at risk, too.

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

Frontend Design | Brad Frost

Well, this pretty much sums up the front-end team at Clearleft:

Frontend design involves creating the HTML, CSS, and presentational JavaScript code that makes up a user interface.

I’ve often said that at Clearleft, development is always in the service of design. And like Brad, I often find myself defining that work by what it isn’t:

They understand UX principles and best practices, but may not spend their time conducting research, creating flows, and planning scenarios

They have a keen eye for aesthetics, but may not spend their time pouring over font pairings, comparing color palettes, or creating illustrations and icons.

They can write JavaScript, but may not spend their time writing application-level code, wiring up middleware, or debugging.

They understand the importance of backend development, but may not spend their time writing backend logic, spinning up servers, load testing, etc.

Eternal 5D data storage could record the history of humankind

360 terabytes of data stored for over 13 billion years:

Coined as the ‘Superman memory crystal’, as the glass memory has been compared to the “memory crystals” used in the Superman films, the data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz. The information encoding is realised in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures.

Keeping a smart home guest-friendly — Sensors and sensibility

In web development, we have this concept of progressive enhancement, which means that you start by building websites with the very most basic blocks - HTML elements. Then you enhance those basic elements with CSS to make them look better, then you add JavaScript to make them whizzy - the benefit being that if the JS or the CSS fail to load, you’ve still go the basic usable blocks underneath. I’m following this same principle in the house.

Related: this great chat between Jen Simmons and Stephanie Rieger.

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

Monday, February 15th, 2016

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

Friday, February 12th, 2016

Teaching the order of margins in CSS | Charlotte Jackson, Front-end developer

Y’know, all too often we’re caught up in the latest techniques and technologies. It’s easy to forget that there are people out there trying to learn this whole web thing from scratch. That’s why I think blog posts like this are so, so important!

Based on her experience teaching CSS at Codebar, Charlotte describes how she explains margins. Sounds simple, right? But is that because we’ve internalised this kind of thing? When was the last time we really thought about the basic building blocks of making websites?

Anyway, this is by far the best explanation of margin shorthand properties that I’ve seen.

More of this kind of thing, please!

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

#nodigitaldarkage? — Blog of the Long Now

A note of optimism for digital preservation:

Where a lack of action may have been more of the case in the 01990s, it is certainly less so today. In the early days, there were just a handful of pioneers talking about and working on digital preservation, but today there are hundreds of tremendously intelligent and skilled people focused on preserving access to the yottabytes of digital cultural heritage and science data we have and will create.

Banjos and Discrete Technologies | stevebenford

An examination of how sites like The Session are meshing with older ideas of traditional Irish music:

There is a very interesting tension at play here – one that speaks directly to the design of new technologies. On the one hand, Irish musicians appear to be enthusiastically adopting digital media to establish a common repertoire of tunes, while on the other the actual performance of these tunes in a live session is governed by a strong etiquette that emphasizes the importance of playing by ear.

There’s an accompanying paper called Supporting Traditional Music-Making: Designing for Situated Discretion (PDF).

Monday, February 8th, 2016

» The Power of Responsive Design Sprints

Really interesting to see how Jason, Lyza, and co. are handling the process side of responsive design by using Agile sprints. This is how we’re doing it at Clearleft too.

There’s a really good point in here about starting with small-screen sketching:

For most of the sprint, we focus on small screens. We’re often asked how things will work on wider screens early in a sprint, but we try to resist thinking about that yet.

If you’ve managed to organize your life to fit inside a New York City apartment, you’re not going to have any trouble adjusting to a big house in the suburbs. The same is true of responsive designs.

If you nail the small screen design, the larger sizes will be easy by comparison.

Sunday, February 7th, 2016

Design without touching the surface – Leapfroglog

My concern is that by encouraging the practice of doing UX design without touching the surface of a product, we get shitty designs. In a process where UX and UI are seen as separate things the risk is one comes before the other. The UX designer draws the wireframes, the UI designer gets to turn them into pretty pictures, with no back-and-forth between the two. An iterative process can mitigate some of the damage such an artificial division of labour produces, but I think we still start out on the wrong foot. I think a better practice might entail including visual considerations from the very beginning of the design process (as we are sketching). – New ways to make your web app jank with Houdini – An introduction

This is a really good primer on all the pieces that make up the Houdini approach to CSS—giving authors access to low-level APIs for rendering.

As is often repeated here, it’s still early days and caution is advised, but it’s still a good idea to wrap your head around what’s coming down the standards pipe.

There’s even more specs in Houdini’s list of drafts, but the future of those is rather uncertain and they are not much more than a placeholder for an idea at this point. Examples include custom overflow behaviors, CSS syntax extension API, extension of native scroll behavior and similar ambitious things that allow you to screw up your web app even worse than ever before. Rejoice!

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

Together • Ludwig Wendzich

Bootstrap is a product of Twitter. If you want your team to work like Twitter’s team, then by all means use Bootstrap. Pick up their design language. Their tool chain. Their decisions. Don’t be surprised when it feels off every time you use it. It will.

The same goes for Material Design. Foundation. These are all products built by other teams to work for their process. Their structure.

Finding the right tool is not what I am advocating for. Making it is.

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

Monday, February 1st, 2016

Making A Service Worker: A Case Study – Smashing Magazine

Lyza has written an excellent deep dive into Service Workers, complete with code.

I’m really chuffed that she gave me a shout-out to my exhortation:

So if you decide to play around with Service Workers, please, please share your experience.

By the way, I like her point about this being a good opportunity to use ES6/ES2015/HipsterScript features like arrow functions in the browser: any browser that supports Service Workers also supports the latest JavaScript.