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Monday, June 20th, 2022
That event in Berlin last week was by far the largest gathering of humans I’ve been with in over two years. If I was going to finally succumb to the ’rona, this was likely to be the place and time.
Sure enough, on my last day in Berlin I had a bit of a scratchy throat. I remained masked for the rest of the day for the travel back to England. Once I was back home I immediately tested and …nothing.
I guess it was just a regular sore throat after all.
Over the weekend the sore throat was accompanied by some sniffles. Just your typical cold symptoms. But I decided to be prudent and test again yesterday.
This time a very clear result was revealed. It was Covid-19 after all.
Today I was supposed to be travelling to Lille on the Eurostar to speak at a private event. Instead I’m isolating at home. My symptoms are quite mild. I feel worse about letting down the event organisers.
Still, better to finally get the novel coronavirus now rather than later in the month. I would hate to miss UX London. But I’m confident I’ll be recovered and testing negative by then.
For now I’ll be taking it easy and letting those magnificent vaccines do their work.
Tuesday, May 24th, 2022
Pace layers and design principles
I think it was Jason who once told me that if you want to make someone’s life a misery, teach them about typography. After that they’ll be doomed to notice all the terrible type choices and kerning out there in the world. They won’t be able to unsee it. It’s like trying to unsee the arrow in the FedEx logo.
I think that Stewart Brand’s pace layers model is a similar kind of mind virus, albeit milder. Once you’ve been exposed to it, you start seeing in it in all kinds of systems.
Each layer is functionally different from the others and operates somewhat independently, but each layer influences and responds to the layers closest to it in a way that makes the whole system resilient.
Last month I sent out an edition of the Clearleft newsletter that was all about pace layers. I gathered together examples of people who have been infected with the pace-layer mindworm who were applying the same layered thinking to other areas:
- Rich applied pace layers to career paths,
- Mark applied pace layers to the design process, and
- Jorge Arango applied pace layers to reading.
My own little mash-up is applying pace layers to the World Wide Web. Tom even brought it to life as an animation.
See the Pen Web Layers Of Pace by Tom (@webrocker) on CodePen.
Recently I had another flare-up of the pace-layer pattern-matching infection.
I was talking to some visiting Austrian students on the weekend about design principles. I explained my mild obsession with design principles stemming from the fact that they sit between “purpose” (or values) and “patterns” (the actual outputs):
Purpose » Principles » Patterns
Your purpose is “why?”
That then influences your principles, “how?”
Those principles inform your patterns, “what?”
Hey, wait a minute! If you put that list in reverse order it looks an awful lot like the pace-layers model with the slowest moving layer at the bottom and the fastest moving layer at the top. Perhaps there’s even room for an additional layer when patterns go into production:
Your purpose should rarely—if ever—change. Your principles can change, but not too frequently. Your patterns need to change quite often. And what you’re actually putting out into production should be constantly updated.
As you travel from the most abstract layer—“purpose”—to the most concrete layer—“production”—the pace of change increases.
I can’t tell if I’m onto something here or if I’m just being apopheniac. Again.
Sunday, May 22nd, 2022
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Tuesday, August 17th, 2021
I was moaning about Safari recently. Specifically I was moaning about the ridiculous way that browser updates are tied to operating system updates.
But I felt bad bashing Safari. It felt like a pile-on. That’s because a lot of people have been venting their frustrations with Safari recently:
- Jorge Arango wrote Back to the Bad Old Days of the Web,
- Dave Rupert wrote One-offs and low-expectations with Safari,
- Perry Sun wrote For developers, Apple’s Safari is crap and outdated, and
- Tim Perry wrote Safari isn’t protecting the web, it’s killing it.
I think it’s good that people share their frustrations with browsers openly, although I agree with Baldur Bjarnason that’s good to avoid Kremlinology and the motivational fallacy when blogging about Apple.
It’s also not helpful to make claims like “Safari is the new Internet Explorer!” Unless, that is, you can back up the claim.
On a recent episode of the HTTP 203 podcast, Jake and Surma set out to test the claim that Safari is the new IE. They did it by examining Safari according to a number of different measurements and comparing it to the olden days of Internet Explorer. The result is a really fascinating trip down memory lane along with a very nuanced and even-handed critique of Safari.
And the verdict? Well, you’ll just to have to listen to the podcast episode.
If you’d rather read the transcript, tough luck. That’s a real shame because, like I said, it’s an excellent and measured assessment. I’d love to add it to the links section of my site, but I can’t do that in good conscience while it’s inaccessible to the Deaf community.
When I started the Clearleft podcast, it was a no-brainer to have transcripts of every episode. Not only does it make the content more widely available, but it also makes it easier for people to copy and paste choice quotes.
Still, I get it. A small plucky little operation like Google isn’t going to have the deep pockets of a massive corporation like Clearleft. But if Jake and Surma were to open up a tip jar, I’d throw some money in to get HTTP 203 transcribed (I recommend getting Tina Pham to do it—she’s great!).
I apologise for my note of sarcasm there. But I share because I care. It really is an excellent discussion; one that everyone should be able to access.
Update: the bug with that episode of the HTTP 203 podcast has been fixed. Here’s the transcript! And all future episodes will have transcripts too:
Some folks called us out for lacking transcripts for our podcasts. Fair point! So, here we go (and all future episodes will have transcripts)https://t.co/HmfwBvAicA— Jake Archibald (@jaffathecake) August 18, 2021
Friday, February 26th, 2021
Sunday, February 7th, 2021
I have mostly been inside one building for the best part of a year. I have avoided going inside of any other buildings during that time. I have made the occasional foray into shop buildings but rarely and briefly.
Last week I went into another building. But it was probably the safest building to enter. I was there to give blood. Masking and distancing were the order of the day.
I try to give blood whenever I can. Before The Situation, my travelling lifestyle made this difficult. It was tricky to book in advance when I didn’t know if I’d be in the country. And sometimes the destinations I went to prevented me from giving blood on my return.
Well, that’s all changed! For the past year I’ve been able to confidently make blood donation appointments knowing full well that I wasn’t going to be doing any travelling.
On video calls recently, a few people have remarked on how long my hair is now. I realised that in the past year I’ve gone to give blood more often than I’ve been to the hairdresser. Three nill, if you’re keeping score.
But why not do both? A combined haircut and blood donation.
Think about it. In both situations you have to sit in a chair doing nothing for a while.
I realise that the skillsets don’t overlap. Either barbers would need to be trained in the art of finding a vein or health workers would need to be trained in the art of cutting hair while discussing last night’s match and whether you’re going anywhere nice this year.
Anything that encourages more blood donations is good in my books. Perhaps there are other establishments that offer passive sitting activities that could be combined with the donation process.
Nail salons? You could get one hand manicured while donating blood from the other arm.
Libraries and book shops? Why not have a combined book-reading and blood donation? Give a pint and get a signed copy.
Airplanes? You’re stuck in a seat for a few hours anyway. Might as well make it count.
Dentists? Maybe that’s too much multitasking with different parts of the body.
But what about dentistry on airplanes? Specifically the kind of dentistry that requires sedation. The infrastructure is already in place: there are masks above every seat. Shortly after take off, pull the mask towards you and let the nitrous oxide flow. Even without any dentistry, that sounds like a reasonable way to make the hours stuck in an airplane just fly by.
None of us are going to be taking any flights any time soon, but when we do …build back better, I say.
In the meantime, give blood.
Thursday, January 21st, 2021
Letters of exclusion
I think my co-workers are getting annoyed with me. Any time they use an acronym or initialism—either in a video call or Slack—I ask them what it stands for. I’m sure they think I’m being contrarian.
The truth is that most of the time I genuinely don’t know what the letters stand for. And I’ve got to that age where I don’t feel any inhibition about asking “stupid” questions.
But it’s also true that I really, really dislike acronyms, initialisms, and other kinds of jargon. They’re manifestations of gatekeeping. They demarcate in-groups from outsiders.
Of course if you’re in a conversation with an in-group that has the same background and context as you, then sure, you can use acronyms and initialisms with the confidence that there’s a shared understanding. But how often can you be that sure? The more likely situation—and this scales exponentially with group size—is that people have differing levels of inside knowledge and experience.
I feel sorry for anyone trying to get into the field of web performance. Not only are there complex browser behaviours to understand, there’s also a veritable alphabet soup of initialisms to memorise. Here’s a really good post on web performance by Harry, but notice how the initialisms multiply like tribbles as the post progresses until we’re talking about using CWV metrics like LCP, FID, and CLS—alongside TTFB and SI—to look at PLPs, PDPs, and SRPs. And fair play to Harry; he expands each initialism the first time he introduces it.
But are we really saving any time by saying FID instead of first input delay? I suspect that the only reason why the word “cumulative” precedes “layout shift” is just to make it into the three-letter initialism CLS.
Still, I get why initialisms run rampant in technical discussions. You can be sure that most discussions of particle physics would be incomprehensible to outsiders, not necessarily because of the concepts, but because of the terminology.
Again, if you’re certain that you’re speaking to peers, that’s fine. But if you’re trying to communicate even a little more widely, then initialisms and abbreviations are obstacles to overcome. And once you’re in the habit of using the short forms, it gets harder and harder to apply context-shifting in your language. So the safest habit to form is to generally avoid using acronyms and initialisms.
Unnecessary initialisms are exclusionary.
Think about on-boarding someone new to your organisation. They’ve already got a lot to wrap their heads around without making them figure out what a TAM is. That’s a real example from Clearleft. We have a regular Thursday afternoon meeting. I call it the Thursday afternoon meeting. Other people …don’t.
I’m trying—as gently as possible—to ensure we’re not being exclusionary in our language. My co-workers indulge me, even it’s just to shut me up.
But here’s the thing. I remember many years back when a job ad went out on the Clearleft website that included the phrase “culture fit”. I winced and explained why I thought that was a really bad phrase to use—one that is used as code for “more people like us”. At the time my concerns were met with eye-rolls and chuckles. Now, as knowledge about diversity and inclusion has become more widespread, everyone understands that using a phrase like “culture fit” can be exclusionary.
But when I ask people to expand their acronyms and initialisms today, I get the same kind of chuckles. My aversion to abbreviations is an eccentric foible to be tolerated.
But this isn’t about me.