I like the way this work-in-progress is organised—it’s both a book and a personal website that’ll grow over time.
This piece by Giles is a spot-on description of what I do in my role as content buddy at Clearleft. Especially this bit:
Your editor will explain why things need changing
As a writer, it’s really helpful to understand the why of each edit. It’s easier to re-write if you know precisely what the problem is. And often, it’s less bruising to the ego. It’s not that you’re a bad writer, but just that one particular thing could be expressed more simply, or more clearly, than your first effort.
Folk creations fill a gap. They solve problems for individuals and small communities in a way that that centralised, top-down, industrial creations never can. They are informal, distributed practices that emerge from real world contexts. Contexts where individuals have little or no control over the “official” means of production – of furniture, urban architecture, crockery, artwork, media stories, or taxonomies. In response people develop their own unpolished, unofficial, and deeply practical creations.
Now apply that to software:
Only professional programmers and designers get to decide what buttons go on the interface, what features get prioritised, and what affordances users have access to. Subverting that dynamic is the only way people can get their needs met with the computational tools they have at hand.
A stylesheet for when you’re nostalgic for the old Mac OS.
My talk, Building, was about the metaphors we use to talk about the work we do on the web. So I’m interested in this analysis of the metaphors used to talk about markup:
- Data is documents, processing data is clerking
- Data is trees, processing data is forestry
- Data is buildings, processing data is construction
- Data is a place, processing data is a journey
- Data is a fluid, processing data is plumbing
- Data is a textile, processing data is weaving
- Data is music, processing data is performing
Though I didn’t make the connection until much later, the philosophy of progressive enhancement in web design, which I’ve been advocating for nearly two decades now, is very much the embodiment of equity. It’s concerned with building interfaces that adapt to a wide range of circumstances, both tied to an individual user’s capabilities as well as those of the devices, networks, and environment in which they are accessing our creations.
Do you like the ideas behind Utopia? Do you use Figma?
If the answer to both those questions is “yes”, then James has made a very handy Figma community file for you:
This work-in-progress is intended as a starting point for designers to start exploring the Utopia approach, thinking about type and space in fluid scales rather than device-based breakpoints.
A century of sci-fi book covers.
How a writing system went from being a dream (literally) to a reality, codified in unicode.
This is kind of a Utopia lite: pop in your minimum and maximum font sizes along with a modular scale and it spits out some custom properties for
To complement her talk at Beyond Tellerrand, Stephanie goes through some of the powerful CSS features that enable intrinsic web design. These are all great tools for the declarative design approach I was talking about:
We noticed a trend: students who pick a UI framework like Bootstrap or Material UI get off the ground quickly and make rapid progress in the first few days. But as time goes on, they get bogged down. The daylight grows between what they need, and what the component library provides. And they wind up spending so much time trying to bend the components into the right shape.
I remember one student spent a whole afternoon trying to modify the masthead from a CSS framework to support their navigation. In the end, they decided to scrap the third-party component, and they built an alternative themselves in 10 minutes.
This tracks with my experience. These kinds of frameworks don’t save time; they defer it.
The one situation where that works well, as Josh also points out, is prototyping.
If the goal is to quickly get something up and running, and you don’t need the UI to be 100% professional, I do think it can be a bit of a time-saver to quickly drop in a bunch of third-party components.
Rather than thinking, “how do I combine a bunch of disparate content, templates, and tooling into a functioning website?”, you might think “how do I start at a functioning website with content and then use templates and build tooling to enhance it?”
I think Jim is onto something here. The more dependencies you have in your build process, the likelier it is that over time one of them will become a single point of failure. A progressive enhancement approach to build tools means you’d still be able to launch your site (even if it’s not in its ideal state).
I want to be able to view, edit, and if need be ship a website, even if the build process fails. In essence, if the build does fail I can still take all the source files, put them on a server, and the website remains functional (however crude).
A cautionary tale on why you should keep your dependencies to a minimum and simplify your build process (if you even need one):
If it’s not link rot that gets you then it’s this heat death of the universe problem with entropy setting in slowly over time. And the only way to really defend against it is to build things progressively, to make sure that you’re not tied to one dependency or another. That complex build process? That’s a dependency. Your third party link to some third party font service that depends on their servers running forever? Another dependency.
Give the browser some solid rules and hints, then let it make the right decisions for the people that visit it, based on their device, connection quality and capabilities. This is how they will get a genuinely great user experience, rather than a fragmented, broken one.
Some thoughts on CSS, media queries, and fluid type prompted by Utopia:
We say CSS is “declarative”, but the more and more I write breakpoints to accommodate all the different ways a design can change across the viewport spectrum, the more I feel like I’m writing imperative code. At what quantity does a set of declarative rules begin to look like imperative instructions?
In contrast, one of the principles of Utopia is to be declarative and “describe what is to be done rather than command how to do it”. This approach declares a set of rules such that you could pick any viewport width and, using a formula, derive what the type size and spacing would be at that size.
The only person who wants a carousel on your site is you. That’s it. It’s a self-serving vanity project so that you can showcase all of your babies at the same time without telling the world which one is your favorite.