Van11y (for Vanilla-Accessibility) is a collection of accessible scripts for rich interfaces elements, built using progressive enhancement and customisable.
These survey results show that creating and maintaining an impactful design system comes with challenges such as planning a clear strategy, managing changes to the system, and fostering design system adoption across the organization. Yet the long-lasting value of a mature design system—like collaboration and better communication—awaits after the hard work of overcoming these challenges is done.
A great talk by Ethan called The Design Systems Between Us.
A spot-on summary of where we’ve ended up with web components.
Web Components had so much potential to empower HTML to do more, and make web development more accessible to non-programmers and easier for programmers.
Somewhere along the way, the space got flooded by JS frameworks aficionados, who revel in complex APIs, overengineered build processes and dependency graphs that look like the roots of a banyan tree.
Alas, that’s true. Lea wonders how this can be fixed:
I’m not sure if this is a design issue, or a documentation issue.
I worry that is a cultural issue.
Using a custom element from the directory often needs to be preceded by a ritual of npm flugelhorn, import clownshoes, build quux, all completely unapologetically because “here is my truckload of dependencies, yeah, what”.
It all started at Patterns Day…
(Note: you’ll probably need to use Reader mode to avoid taxing your eyes reading this—the colour contrast …doesn’t.)
I think this a solution worthy of Solomon. In this case, the Gordian knot is the
select element and its inevitable recreation in order to style it.
What if we instead deliver a native select by default and replace it with a more aesthetically pleasing one if possible? That’s where the “hybrid” select idea comes into action. It’s “hybrid” because it consists of two selects, showing the appropriate one at the right moment:
- A native select, visible and accessible by default
- A custom select, hidden until it’s safe to be interacted with a mouse
The implementation uses a genius combination of a
hover media query and an adjacent sibling selector in CSS. It has been tested on a number of device/platform/browser combinations but more tests are welcome!
What I love about this solution is that it satisfies the stakeholders insisting on a custom component but doesn’t abandon all the built-in accessibility that you get from native form controls.
Sara shares how she programmes with custom properties in CSS. It sounds like her sensible approach aligns quite nicely with Andy’s CUBE CSS methodology.
Oh, and she’s using Fractal to organise her components:
I’ve been using Fractal for a couple of years now. I chose it over other pattern library tools because it fit my needs perfectly — I wanted a tool that was unopinionated and flexible enough to allow me to set up and structure my project the way I wanted to. Fractal fit the description perfectly because it is agnostic as to the way I develop or the tools I use.
I really, really like Andy’s approach here:
The focus of the methodology is utilising the power of CSS and the web platform as a whole, with some added controls and structures that help to keep things a bit more maintainable and predictable. The end-goal is shipping as little CSS as possible—leaning heavily into progressive enhancement and modern techniques.
If you use the cascade for everything, you’re going to run into trouble. But equally, micro-managing styles on every element will also get you into trouble. I think Andy’s found a really great sweet spot here that gets the balance just right.
CUBE CSS in essence, is a progressive enhancement approach, vs a fight against the grain of CSS or a pixel-pushing your project to within an inch of its life approach.
Yes! It feels very “webby” to me.
Reef is an anti-framework.
It does a lot less than the big guys like React and Vue. It doesn’t have a Virtual DOM. It doesn’t require you to learn a custom templating syntax. It doesn’t provide a bunch of custom methods.
Reef does just one thing: render UI.
Here, Brian proposes a kind of minimum viable web component that handles logic like keyboard control and accessibility, but leaves the styling practically untouched. Check out his panel-set demo of a tabbed interface.
I really, really like the way that it wraps existing content. If the web component fails for any reason, the content is still available. So the web component is a progressive enhancement:
An experimental custom element that wraps plain-old HTML (view the source) and decorates function, keyboard handling, accessibility information.
Mike sees the church of JS-first ignoring the lessons to be learned from the years of experience accumulated by CSS practitioners.
As the responsibilities of front-end developers have become more broad, some might consider the conventions outlined here to be not worth following. I’ve seen teams spend weeks planning the right combination of framework, build tools, workflows and patterns only to give zero consideration to the way they architect UI components. It’s often considered the last step in the process and not worthy of the same level of consideration.
It’s important! I’ve seen well-planned project fail or go well over budget because the UI architecture was poorly planned and became un-maintainable as the project grew.
This is an interesting comparison: design systems as APIs. It makes sense. A design system—like an API—is a contract. Also, an API without documentation is of little use …much like a design system without documentation.
A very handy web component from Paul—this works exactly like a regular YouTube embed, but is much more performant.
An interesting project that will research and document the language used across different design systems to name similar components.
The video of a talk in which Mark discusses pace layers, dogs, and design systems. He concludes:
- Current design systems thinking limits free, playful expression.
- Design systems uncover organisational disfunction.
- Continual design improvement and delivery is a lie.
- Component-focussed design is siloed thinking.
It’s true many design systems are the blueprints for manufacturing and large scale application. But in almost every instance I can think of, once you move from design to manufacturing the horse has bolted. It’s very difficult to move back into design because the results of the system are in the wild. The more strict the system, the less able you are to change it. That’s why broad principles, just enough governance, and directional examples are far superior to locked-down cookie cutters.
This is a really interesting distinction:
An intentional design system. The flavour and framework may vary, but the approach generally consists of: design system first → design/build solutions.
An emergent design system. This approach is much closer to the user needs end of the scale by beginning with creative solutions before deriving patterns and systems (i.e the system emerges from real, coded scenarios).
It’s certainly true that intentional design systems will invariably bake in a number of (unproven?) assumptions.
Keep what you need, delete what you don’t and add whatever you like on top of whats already there.
The good folks at Sparkbox ran a survey on design systems. Here are the results, presented in a flagrantly anti-Tufte manner.
Dave enumerates the things about Vue that click for him. The component structure matches his mental model, and crucially, it’s relative straightforward to add Vue to an existing project instead of ripping everything out and doing things a certain way:
In my experience Angular, React, and a lot of other frameworks ultimately require you to go all in early and establish a large toolchain around these frameworks.
This post was originally written in 2015, but upon re-reading it today, it still (just about) holds up, so I finally hit publish.