Archive: January, 2019

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Thursday, January 31st, 2019

Openness and Longevity

A really terrific piece from Garrett on the nature of the web:

Markup written almost 30 years ago runs exactly the same today as it did then without a single modification. At the same time, the platform has expanded to accommodate countless enhancements. And you don’t need a degree in computer science to understand or use the vast majority of it. Moreover, a well-constructed web page today would still be accessible on any browser ever made. Much of the newer functionality wouldn’t be supported, but the content would be accessible.

I share his concerns about the maintainability overhead introduced by new tools and frameworks:

I’d argue that for every hour these new technologies have saved me, they’ve cost me another in troubleshooting or upgrading the tool due to a web of invisible dependencies.

On Simplicity | Max Böck - Frontend Web Developer

We assume that complex problems always require complex solutions. We try to solve complexity by inventing tools and technologies to address a problem; but in the process we create another layer of complexity that, in turn, causes its own set of issues.

The Principle of Least Power looms large over this:

Some of the most important things in the world are intentionally designed “stupid”. In any system, the potential for error directly increases with its complexity - that’s why most elections still work by putting pieces of paper in a box.

The Many Ways to Change an SVG Fill on Hover (and When to Use Them) | CSS-Tricks

This article by Cassie is so, so good!

First off, there’s the actual practical content on how to change the hover styles of SVGs that aren’t embedded. Then there’s the really clear walkthrough she give, making some quite complex topics very understandable. Finally, there’s the fact that she made tool to illustrate the point!

Best of all, I get to work with the super-smart developer who did all this.

The First Women Trained To Conquer Space - Supercluster

The cosmonaut counterparts of the Mercury women astronauts: Zhanna Yorkina, Irina Solovyova, Tatyana Kuznetsova, Valentina Ponomareva, and Valentina Tereshkova.

Ponomareva recalled there being no envy between the women in the squad. According to her, it was a healthy spirit of competition. Everyone did their best to be number one, but also supported each other’s efforts.

One of those cosmonauts went to space: none of the women training for the Mercury missions did. There would be a shockingly gap of twenty years between the launch of Valentina Tereshkova and the launch of Sally Ride.

194028 – Add limits to the amount of JavaScript that can be loaded by a website

Now this is a feature request I can get behind!

A user must provide permission to enable geolocation, or notifications, or camera access, so why not also require permission for megabytes of JavaScript that will block the main thread?

Without limits, there is no incentive for a JavaScript developer to keep their codebase small and dependencies minimal. It’s easy to add another framework, and that framework adds another framework, and the next thing you know you’re loading tens of megabytes of data just to display a couple hundred kilobytes of content.

I’m serious about this. It’s is an excellent proposal for WebKit, similar to the never-slow mode proposed by Alex for Chromium.

HTML, CSS and our vanishing industry entry points

This!

When we talk about HTML and CSS these discussions impact the entry point into this profession. Whether front or backend, many of us without a computer science background are here because of the ease of starting to write HTML and CSS. The magic of seeing our code do stuff on a real live webpage! We have already lost many of the entry points that we had. We don’t have the forums of parents teaching each other HTML and CSS, in order to make a family album. Those people now use Facebook, or perhaps run a blog on wordpress.com or SquareSpace with a standard template. We don’t have people customising their MySpace profile, or learning HTML via Neopets. We don’t have the people, usually women, entering the industry because they needed to learn HTML during that period when an organisation’s website was deemed part of the duties of the administrator.

I agree with every single word Rachel has written.

I care not a whit what tools or frameworks, or languages you use to build something on the web. But I really care deeply when particular tools, frameworks, or languages become mandatory for even getting a foot in the door.

This is for everyone.

I might be the “old guard” but if you think I’m incapable of learning React, or another framework, and am defending my way of working because of this, please get over yourself. However, 22 year old me would have looked at those things and run away. If we make it so that you have to understand programming to even start, then we take something open and enabling, and place it back in the hands of those who are already privileged. I have plenty of fight left in me to stand up against that.

Why isn’t the internet more fun and weird?

During the internet of 2006, consumer products let anyone edit CSS. It was a beautiful mess. As the internet grew up, consumer products stopped trusting their users, and the internet lost its soul.

The internet of 2019 is vital societal infrastructure. We depend on it to keep in touch with family, to pay for things, and so much more.

Just because it got serious doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and weird.

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

Bodoni*

An open source version of Bodoni:

Bodoni* is the first ever no-compromises Bodoni family, built for the digital age. Years in the making, this font family includes a whopping 56 font files, ensuring you will have the perfect Bodoni for every situation.

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

Monday, January 28th, 2019

The 500-Year-Long Science Experiment - The Atlantic

Running an experiment for 500 years is hard enough. Then there’s the documentation…

The hard part is ensuring someone will continue doing this on schedule well into the future. The team left a USB stick with instructions, which Möller realizes is far from adequate, given how quickly digital technology becomes obsolete. They also left a hard copy, on paper. “But think about 500-year-old paper,” he says, how it would yellow and crumble. “Should we carve it in stone? Do we have to carve it in a metal plate?” But what if someone who cannot read the writing comes along and decides to take the metal plate as a cool, shiny relic, as tomb raiders once did when looting ancient tombs?

No strategy is likely to be completely foolproof 500 years later. So the team asks that researchers at each 25-year time point copy the instructions so that they remain linguistically and technologically up to date.

Sunday, January 27th, 2019

The Return of New Adventures

Westley came along to my workshop at New Adventures …and liked it! (phew!)

I have long been a proponent of progressive enhancement on the web, perhaps before I knew the true value of it to the people that use the things we build for the web, but Jeremy has always been able to expand my understanding of its importance in the wider scope of things, how it inherently builds resilience into your products, and how it makes it more widely available to people across the world, in vastly different scenarios. The workshop itself was fluid enough to cater to the topics that the attendees were interested in; from over-arching philosophy to technical detail around service workers and new APIs. It has helped me to understand that learning in this kind of environment doesn’t have to be rigorously structured, and can be shaped as the day progresses.

Read on to discover how I incorporated time travel into the day’s activities.

Designing for the web ought to mean making HTML and CSS - Signal v. Noise

The towering demands inherent in certain ways of working with JavaScript are rightfully scaring some designers off from implementing their ideas at all. That’s a travesty.

Hear, hear! And before you dismiss this viewpoint as some lawn-off-getting fist-waving from “the old guard”, bear this in mind:

Basecamp is famously – or infamously, depending on who you ask – not following the industry path down the complexity rabbit hole of heavy SPAs. We build using server-side rendering, Turbolinks, and Stimulus. All tools that are approachable and realistic for designers to adopt, since the major focus is just on HTML and CSS, with a few sprinkles of JavaScript for interactivity.

It’s very heartening to hear that not everyone is choosing to JavaScript All The Things.

The calamity of complexity that the current industry direction on JavaScript is unleashing upon designers is of human choice and design. It’s possible to make different choices and arrive at different designs.

Exclusive Design

Vasilis has published his magnificent thesis online. It’s quite lovely:

You can read this thesis in a logical order, which is the way that I wrote it. It starts with a few articles that explore the context of my research. It then continues with four chapters in which I describe the things I did. I end the thesis with four posts with findings, conclusions and recommendations.

  1. Everybody’s paradox
  2. The defaults suck
  3. Flipping things
  4. Fuckup’s mama
  5. More death to more bullshit
  6. Design like it’s 1999
  7. Invisible Animations
  8. Semantics schmemantics
  9. Stress cases
  10. Coders should learn how to design
  11. Add nonsense
  12. Conclusion

You Can’t Escape Yourself in VR - Escapist Magazine

In isolating your body but simultaneously trying to simulate your body’s natural state — natural head movements are echoed in the game world, but your actual head is still trapped inside what amounts to an ergonomically considerate box cutting you off from the world — VR puts you in a place where everything reminds you of your body’s limitations. Every time I see some disembodied ping pong paddle waving around in front of me mimicking my real hand movements, every time I see a mech pilot’s legs locked in place in a cockpit I can freely look around, the effect is the same. All I can think about is how, in this virtual world, the only thing that actually exists is me. My body is trapped, but my ego feels immortal, immoveable.

Saturday, January 26th, 2019

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

What would a world without pushbuttons look like? | Aeon Essays

A history of buttons …and the moral panic and outrage that accompanies them.

By looking at the subtexts behind complaints about buttons, whether historically or in the present moment, it becomes clear that manufacturers, designers and users alike must pay attention to why buttons persistently engender critiques. Such negativity tends to involve one of three primary themes: fears over deskilling; frustration about lack of user agency/control; or anger due to perceptions of unequal power relations.

I’m a Web Designer - Andy Bell

Something that I am increasingly uncomfortable with is our industry’s obsession with job titles. I understand that the landscape has gotten a lot more complex than when I started out in 2009, but I do think the sheer volume and variation in titles isn’t overly helpful in communicating what people actually do.

I share Andy’s concern. I kinda wish that the title for this open job role at Clearleft could’ve just said “Person”.

The Great Divide | CSS-Tricks

An excellent thorough analysis by Chris of the growing divide between front-end developers and …er, other front-end developers?

The divide is between people who self-identify as a (or have the job title of) front-end developer, yet have divergent skill sets.

On one side, an army of developers whose interests, responsibilities, and skill sets are heavily revolved around JavaScript.

On the other, an army of developers whose interests, responsibilities, and skill sets are focused on other areas of the front end, like HTML, CSS, design, interaction, patterns, accessibility, etc.

Saturday, January 19th, 2019

Friday, January 18th, 2019

Building a Progressively-Enhanced Site | Jim Nielsen’s Blog

This is an excellent case study!

The technical details are there if you want them, but far more important is consideration that went into every interaction. Every technical decision has a well thought out justification.

Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

Oh Hello Ana - Colours of 2018

I love this idea of comparing human colour choices to those of a computer:

I decided to do two things: the top three most used colours of the photo decided by “a computer” and my hand picked choices. This method ended up revealing a couple of things about me.

I also love that this was the biggest obstacle to finding representative imagery:

I wanted this to be an exciting task but instead I only found repeated photos of my cat.

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

JournalBook

A small but perfectly formed progressive web app. It’s a private, offline-first personal journal with no log-in and no server-stored data. You can read about the tech stack behind it:

Your notes are only stored on your device — they’re never sent to a server. You don’t even need to sign-in to use it! It works offline, so you can reflect upon your day on the slow train journey home.

Monday, January 14th, 2019

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

Dimensions.Guide | Database of Dimensioned Drawings

There’s something quite lovely about this site, both in its purpose and execution.

Dimensions.Guide is a comprehensive reference database of dimensioned drawings documenting the standard measurements and sizes of the everyday objects and spaces that make up our world. Created as a universal resource to better communicate the basic properties, systems, and logics of our built environment, Dimensions.Guide is a free platform for increasing public and professional knowledge of life and design.

Teaching a Correct CSS Mental Model

One facet of this whole CSS debate involves one side saying, “Just learn CSS” and the other side responding, “That’s what I’ve been trying to do!”

I think it’s high time we the teachers of CSS start discussing how exactly we can teach a correct mental model. How do we, in specific and practical ways, help developers get past this point of frustration. Because we have not figured out how to properly teach a mental model of CSS.

Friday, January 11th, 2019

It’s What You Make, Not How You Make It.

How did I miss this great post from 2016 by one of my favourite people‽ It’s even more more relevant today.

To me it doesn’t matter whether you write your HTML and CSS by hand or use JavaScript to generate it for you. What matters is the output, how it is structured, and how it is served to the client. When we allow our tools to take precedent over the quality of our output the entire web suffers. Sites are likely to be less accessible, less performant, and suffer from poor semantics.

Stepping away from Sass

I think Cathy might’ve buried the lede:

The knock on effect of this was removing media queries. As I moved towards some of the more modern features of CSS the need to target specific screen sizes with unique code was removed.

But on the topic of Sass, layout is now taken care of with CSS grid, variables are taken care of with CSS custom properties, and mixins for typography are taken care of with calc().

Personally, I’ve always found the most useful feature of Sass to simply be that you can have lots of separate Sass files that get combined into one CSS file—very handy for component libraries.

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

Monday, January 7th, 2019

CSS-only multiple choice quizzing - Matthew Somerville

In which Matthew disects a multiple choice quiz that uses CSS to do some clever logic, using the :checked pseudo-class and counter-increment.

Oh, and this is how he realised it wasn’t using JavaScript:

I have JavaScript disabled on my phone because a) it cuts out most of the ads, b) it cuts out lots of bandwidth and I have a limited data plan, and c) my battery lasts longer because it’s not processing tons of code to show me some text (cough, Medium).

Angular, Autoprefixer, IE11, and CSS Grid Walk into a Bar… - daverupert.com

Dave on the opaqueness of toolchains:

As toolchains grow and become more complex, unless you are expertly familiar with them, it’s very unclear what transformations are happening in our code. Tracking the differences between the input and output and the processes that code underwent can be overwhelming. When there’s a problem, it’s increasingly difficult to hop into the assembly line and diagnose the issue.

There’s a connection here to one of the biggest issues with what’s currently being labelled “AI”:

In the same way AI needs some design to show its work in how it came to its final answer, I feel that our automated build tools could use some help as well.

I really like this suggestion for making the invisble visible:

I sometimes wonder if Webpack or Gulp or [Insert Your Build Tool Here] could benefit from a Scratch-like interface for buildchains.

HTML+ Discussion Document: Images

Back in 1993, David Raggett wrote up all the proposed extensions to HTML that were being discussed on the www-talk mailing list. It was called HTML+, which would’ve been a great way of describing HTML5.

Twenty five years later, I wish that the proposed IMAGE element had come to pass. Unlike the IMG element, it would’ve had a closing tag, allowing for fallback content between the tags:

The IMAGE element behaves in the same way as IMG but allows you to include descriptive text, which can be shown on text-only displays.

Yeah, I know we have the alt attribute, but that’s always felt like an inelegant bolt-on to me.

Sunday, January 6th, 2019

Thursday, January 3rd, 2019

History of the Web, Volume I by Jay Hoffmann [PDF/iPad/Kindle]

The first two years of the excellent History Of The Web newsletter is now available as a digital book. It’s volume one of …we’ll see how many.

Buried inside you’ll find fascinating narrative threads from the web’s history, starting all the way from the beginning and straight on through to the very first browsers, the emergence of web design, to the evolving landscape of our online world.

“Evaluating Technology” by Jeremy Keith – An Event Apart video on Vimeo

This is a recording of my Evaluating Technology talk from An Event Apart in Denver just over a year ago. This was the last time I ever gave this talk, and I think you can tell that the delivery is well-practiced; I’m very happy with how this turned out.

In this 60-minute presentation recorded live at An Event Apart Denver 2017, Jeremy Keith helps you learn to evaluate tools and technologies in a way that best benefits the people who use the websites you design and develop.

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019

365 RFCs — Write.as

April 7th, 2019 is going to be the 50 year anniversary of the first ever Request for Comments, known as an RFC.

Darius Kazemi is going to spend the year writing commentary on the first 365 Request For Comments from the Internt Engineering Task Force:

In honor of this anniversary, I figured I would read one RFC each day of 2019, starting with RFC 1 and ending with RFC 365. I’ll offer brief commentary on each RFC.

Tuesday, January 1st, 2019

The Elements of UI Engineering - Overreacted

These are good challenges to think about. Almost all of them are user-focused, and there’s a refreshing focus away from reaching for a library:

It’s tempting to read about these problems with a particular view library or a data fetching library in mind as a solution. But I encourage you to pretend that these libraries don’t exist, and read again from that perspective. How would you approach solving these issues?