I’m heartened to see that Google’s moving to make the AMP format more open. But this new governance model doesn’t change the underlying, more fundamental issues: specifically, Google’s use of its market dominance to broaden AMP’s adoption, and to influence the direction of a more decentralized and open web.
The Gov.uk design system is looking very, very good indeed—nicely organised with plenty of usage guidelines for every component.
Guidance on using components and patterns now follow a simple, consistent format based on task-based research into what users need in order to follow and trust an approach.
Prompted by his recent talk at Smashing Conference, Mark explains why he’s all about the pace layers when it comes to design systems. It’s good stuff, and ties in nicely with my recent (pace layers obsessed) talk at An Event Apart.
Structure for pace. Move at the appropriate speed.
The word “leak” is right. Our sense of control over our own destinies is being challenged by these leaks. Giant internet platforms are poisoning the commons. They’ve automated it.
A nice run-down of incremental accessibility improvements made to Gov.uk (I particularly like the technique of updating the
title element to use the word “error” if the page is displaying a form that has issues).
Crucially, if any of the problems turned out to be with the browser or screen reader, they submitted bug reports—that’s the way to do it!
Ethan adds his thoughts to my post about corporations using their power to influence the direction of the web.
Heck, one could even argue the creation of AMP isn’t just Google’s failure, but our failure. More specifically, perhaps it’s pointing to a failure of governance of our little industry. Absent a shared, collective vision for what we want the web to be—and with decent regulatory mechanisms to defend that vision—it’s unsurprising that corporate actors would step into that vacuum, and address the issues they find. And once they do, the solutions they design will inevitably benefit themselves first—and then, after that, the rest of us.
If at all.
Whenever you plan or design a system, you need to build in your own ashtrays—a codified way of dealing with the inevitability of somebody doing the wrong thing. Think of what your ideal scenario is—how do you want people to use whatever you’re building—and then try to identify any aspects of it which may be overly opinionated, prescriptive, or restrictive. Then try to preempt how people might try to avoid or circumvent these rules, and work back from there until you can design a safe middle-ground into your framework that can accept these deviations in the safest, least destructive way possible.
18F: Digital service delivery | Building a large-scale design system: How we created a design system for the U.S. government
Maya Benari provides an in-depth walkthrough of 18F’s mission to create a consistent design system for many, many different government sites.
When building out a large-scale design system, it can be hard to know where to start. By focusing on the basics, from core styles to coding conventions to design principles, you can create a strong foundation that spreads to different parts of your team.
There’s an interface inventory, then mood boards, then the work starts on typography and colour, then white space, and finally the grid system.
The lessons learned make for good design principles:
- Talk to the people
- Look for duplication of efforts
- Know your values
- Empower your team
- Start small and iterate
- Don’t work in a vacuum
- Reuse and specialize
- Promote your system
- Be flexible
The largest complaint by far is that the URLs for AMP links differ from the canonical URLs for the same content, making sharing difficult. The current URLs are a mess.
This is something that the Google gang are aware of, and they say they’re working on a fix. But this post points out some other misgivings with AMP, like its governance policy:
This keeps the AMP HTML specification squarely in the hands of Google, who will be able to take it in any direction that they see fit without input from the community at large. This guise of openness is perhaps even worse than the Apple News Format, which at the very least does not pretend to be an open standard.
Software is politics, because software is power.
The transcript of a tremendous talk by Richard Pope.
I always loved the way that Gov.uk styled their radio buttns and checkboxes with nice big visible labels, but it turns out that users never used the label area. And because it’s still so frickin’ hard to style native form elements, custom controls with generated content is the only way to go if you want nice big hit areas.
The Government Digital Service have published the results of their assistive technology survey, which makes a nice companion piece to Heydon’s survey. It’s worth noting that the most common assistive technology isn’t screen readers; it’s screen magnifiers. See also this Guardian article on the prevalence of partial blindness:
Of all those registered blind or partially sighted, 93% retain some useful vision – often enough to read a book or watch a film. But this can lead to misunderstanding and confusion
The Digital Transition: How the Presidential Transition Works in the Social Media Age | whitehouse.gov
Kori Schulman describes the archiving of social media and other online artefacts of the outgoing US president. It’s a shame that a lot of URLs will break, but I’m glad there’s going to be a public backup available.
Best of all, you can get involved:
In the interim, we’re inviting the American public – from students and data engineers, to artists and researchers – to come up with creative ways to archive this content and make it both useful and available for years to come. From Twitter bots and art projects to printed books and query tools, we’re open to it all.
A gripping history lesson of the internet and the ARPANET before it, emphasising the role of government funding.
Silicon Valley often likes to pretend that innovation is the result of entrepreneurs tinkering in garages. But most of the innovation on which Silicon Valley depends comes from government research, for the simple reason that the public sector can afford to take risks that the private sector can’t.
It’s precisely the insulation from market forces that enables government to finance the long-term scientific labor that ends up producing many of the most profitable inventions.
Today we have an internet effectively controlled by a small number of private companies.
Instead of trying to escape the bigness of the Internet, we should embrace it — and bring it under democratic control. This means replacing private providers with public alternatives where it’s feasible, and regulating them where it’s not.
There is nothing in the pipes or protocols of the Internet that obliges it to produce immense concentrations of corporate power. This is a political choice, and we can choose differently.
This is a terrific read that gets to the heart of why progressive enhancement is such a solid methodology: progressive enhancement improves resilience.
Meeting our many users’ needs is number one on our list of design principles. We can’t know every different setup a person might use while building our systems, but we can build them in a way that gives all of our users the greatest chance of success. Progressive enhancement lets us do this.
The article is full of great insights from a very large-scale web project.
People who excel at software design become convinced that they have a unique ability to understand any kind of system at all, from first principles, without prior training, thanks to their superior powers of analysis. Success in the artificially constructed world of software design promotes a dangerous confidence.
Great stuff as usual from Maciej, ending with a rallying cry for us to pay attention to history:
This is not the first time an enthusiastic group of nerds has decided to treat the rest of the world as a science experiment. Earlier attempts to create a rationalist Utopia failed for interesting reasons, and since we bought those lessons at a great price, it would be a shame not to learn them.
There is also prior art in attempts at achieving immortality, limitless wealth, and Galactic domination. We even know what happens if you try to keep dossiers on an entire country.
If we’re going to try all these things again, let’s at least learn from our past, so we can fail in interesting new ways, instead of failing in the same exasperating ways as last time.