I’ve been having some really interesting chats with Brian about tabs, markup, progressive enhancement and accessibility. Here’s a braindump of his current thinking which is well worth perusing.
Tuesday, July 6th, 2021
Wednesday, June 9th, 2021
This is a tagline I can get behind:
Monday, May 17th, 2021
It’s good to hear stories like this—makes me feel like the slow-burn of the theoretical benefits of web components is starting to spark and flame up.
Sunday, May 16th, 2021
The point of this post is to show how nicely container queries can play with web components, but I want to also point out how nice the design of the web component is here: instead of just using an empty custom element, Max uses progressive enhancement to elevate the markup within the custom element.
Friday, May 7th, 2021
This is a great deep dive into a single component, a password toggle in this case. It shows how assumptions are challenged and different circumstances are considered in order to make it truly resilient.
Tuesday, April 20th, 2021
A curated list of awesome framework-agnostic standalone web components.
Monday, April 19th, 2021
I really like the idea of a shared convention for styling web components with custom properties—feels like BEM meets microformats.
Tuesday, April 6th, 2021
I remember discussing this with Tantek years ago:
There are a few elements who need to be placed inside of another specific element in order to function properly.
If I recall, he was considering writing “HTML: The Good Parts”.
Anyway, I can relate to what Eric is saying here about web components. My take is that web components give developers a power that previous only browser makers had. That’s very liberating, but it should come with a commensurate weight of responsibility. I fear that we will see this power wielded without sufficient responsibility.
Monday, March 22nd, 2021
Vitaly has rounded up a whole load of accessibility posts. I think I’ve linked to most of them at some point, but it’s great to have them all gathered together in one place.
Wednesday, March 17th, 2021
Robin makes a good point here about using dark mode thinking as a way to uncover any assumptions you might have unwittingly baked into your design:
Given its recent popularity, you might believe dark mode is a fad. But from a design perspective, dark mode is exceptionally useful. That’s because a big part of design is about building relationships between colors. And so implementing dark mode essentially forced everyone on the team to think long, hard, and consistently about our front-end design components. In short, dark mode helped our design system not only look good, but make sense.
So even if you don’t actually implement dark mode, acting as though it’s there will give you a solid base to build in.
I did something similar with the back end of Huffduffer and The Session—from day one, I built them as though the interface would be available in multiple languages. I never implemented multi-language support, but just the awareness of it saved me from baking in any shortcuts or assumptions, and enforced a good model/view/controller separation.
For most front-end codebases, the design of your color system shows you where your radioactive styles are. It shows you how things are tied together, and what depends on what.
I really like the approach that Carie takes here. Instead of pointing to specific patterns to use, she provides a framework for evaluating technology. Solutions come and go but this kind of critical thinking is a long-lasting skill.
Sunday, March 7th, 2021
I’m very taken with Github’s tab-container element—this is exactly how I think web components should be designed!
Tuesday, December 15th, 2020
I was very inspired by something Terence Eden wrote on his blog last year. A report from the AMP Advisory Committee Meeting:
I don’t like AMP. I think that Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages are a bad idea, poorly executed, and almost-certainly anti-competitive.
So, I decided to join the AC (Advisory Committee) for AMP.
Like Terence, I’m not a fan of Google AMP—my initially positive reaction to it soured over time as it became clear that Google were blackmailing publishers by privileging AMP pages in Google Search. But all I ever did was bitch and moan about it on my website. Terence actually did something.
So this year I put myself forward as a candidate for the AMP advisory committee. I have no idea how the election process works (or who does the voting) but thanks to whoever voted for me. I’m now a member of the AMP advisory committee. If you look at that blog post announcing the election results, you’ll see the brief blurb from everyone who was voted in. Most of them are positively bullish on AMP. Mine is not:
Jeremy Keith is a writer and web developer dedicated to an open web. He is concerned that AMP is being unfairly privileged by Google’s search engine instead of competing on its own merits.
The good news is that main beef with AMP is already being dealt with. I wanted exactly what Terence said:
My recommendation is that Google stop requiring that organisations use Google’s proprietary mark-up in order to benefit from Google’s promotion.
That’s happening as of May of this year. Just as well—the AMP advisory committee have absolutely zero influence on Google search. I’m not sure how much influence we have at all really.
This is an interesting time for AMP …whatever AMP is.
See, that’s been a problem with Google AMP from the start. There are multiple defintions of what AMP is. At the outset, it seemed pretty straightforward. AMP is a format. It has a doctype and rules that you have to meet in order to be “valid” AMP. Part of that ruleset involved eschewing HTML elements like
video in favour of web components like
That messaging changed over time. We were told that AMP is the collection of web components. If that’s the case, then I have no problem at all with AMP. People are free to use the components or not. And if the project produces performant accessible web components, then that’s great!
But right now it’s not at all clear which AMP people are talking about, even in the advisory committee. When we discuss improving AMP, do we mean the individual components or the set of rules that qualify an AMP page being “valid”?
The use-case for AMP-the-format (as opposed to AMP-the-library-of-components) was pretty clear. If you were a publisher and you wanted to appear in the top stories carousel in Google search, you had to publish using AMP. Just using the components wasn’t enough. Your pages had to be validated as AMP-the-format.
That’s no longer the case. From May, pages that are fast enough will qualify for the top stories carousel. What will publishers do then? Will they still maintain separate AMP-the-format pages? Time will tell.
I suspect publishers will ditch AMP-the-format, although it probably won’t happen overnight. I don’t think anyone likes being blackmailed by a search engine:
An engineer at a major news publication who asked not to be named because the publisher had not authorized an interview said Google’s size is what led publishers to use AMP.
The pre-rendering (along with the lightning bolt) that happens for AMP pages in Google search might be a reason for publishers to maintain their separate AMP-the-format pages. But I suspect publishers don’t actually think the benefits of pre-rendering outweigh the costs: pre-rendered AMP-the-format pages are served from Google’s servers with a Google URL. If anything, I think that publishers will look forward to having the best of both worlds—having their pages appear in the top stories carousel, but not having their pages hijacked by Google’s so-called-cache.
Does AMP-the-format even have a future without Google search propping it up? I hope not. I think it would make everything much clearer if AMP-the-format went away, leaving AMP-the-collection-of-components. We’d finally see these components being evaluated on their own merits—usefulness, performance, accessibility—without unfair interference.
So my role on the advisory committee so far has been to push for clarification on what we’re supposed to be advising on.
I think it’s good that I’m on the advisory committee, although I imagine my opinions could easily be be dismissed given my public record of dissent. I may well be fooling myself though, like those people who go to work at Facebook and try to justify it by saying they can accomplish more from inside than outside (or whatever else they tell themselves to sleep at night).
The topic I’ve volunteered to help with is somewhat existential in nature: what even is AMP? I’m happy to spend some time on that. I think it’ll be good for everyone to try to get that sorted, regardless about how you feel about the AMP project.
I have no intention of giving any of my unpaid labour towards the actual components themselves. I know AMP is theoretically open source now, but let’s face it, it’ll always be perceived as a Google-led project so Google can pay people to work on it.
That said, I’ve also recently joined a web components community group that Lea instigated. Remember she wrote that great blog post recently about the failed promise of web components? I’m not sure how much I can contribute to the group (maybe some meta-advice on the nature of good design principles?) but at the very least I can serve as a bridge between the community group and the AMP advisory committee.
After all, AMP is a collection of web components. Maybe.
Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
Accessibility on the web is easy. Accessibility on the web is also hard.
I think it’s one of those 80/20 situations. The most common accessibility problems turn out to be very low-hanging fruit. Take, for example, Holly Tuke’s list of the 5 most annoying website features she faces as a blind person every single day:
- Unlabelled links and buttons
- No image descriptions
- Poor use of headings
- Inaccessible web forms
- Auto-playing audio and video
None of those problems are hard to fix. That’s what I mean when I say that accessibility on the web is easy. As long as you’re providing a logical page structure with sensible headings, associating form fields with labels, and providing alt text for images, you’re at least 80% of the way there (you’re also doing way better than the majority of websites, sadly).
Ah, but that last 20% or so—that’s where things get tricky. Instead of easy-to-follow rules (“Always provide alt text”, “Always label form fields”, “Use sensible heading levels”), you enter an area of uncertainty and doubt where there are no clear answers. Different combinations of screen readers, browsers, and operating systems might yield very different results.
This is the domain of interaction design. Here be dragons. ARIA can help you …but if you overuse its power, it may cause more harm than good.
When I start to feel overwhelmed by this, I find it’s helpful to take a step back. Instead of trying to imagine all the possible permutations of screen readers and browsers, I start with a more straightforward use case: keyboard users. Keyboard users are (usually) a subset of screen reader users.
The pattern that comes up the most is to do with toggling content. I suppose you could categorise this as progressive disclosure, but I’m talking about quite a wide range of patterns:
- menus (including mega menu monstrosities),
- modal dialogs,
In each case, there’s some kind of “trigger” that toggles the appearance of a “target”—some chunk of content.
The first question I ask myself is whether the trigger should be a button or a link (at the very least you can narrow it down to that shortlist—you can discount
spans, and most other elements immediately; use a trigger that’s focusable and interactive by default).
As is so often the case, the answer is “it depends”, but generally you can’t go wrong with a button. It’s an element designed for general-purpose interactivity. It carries the expectation that when it’s activated, something somewhere happens. That’s certainly true in all the examples I’ve listed above.
That said, I think that links can also make sense in certain situations. It’s related to the second question I ask myself: should the target automatically receive focus?
Again, the answer is “it depends”, but here’s the litmus test I give myself: how far away from each other are the trigger and the target?
If the target content is right after the trigger in the DOM, then a button is almost certainly the right element to use for the trigger. And you probably don’t need to automatically focus the target when the trigger is activated: the content already flows nicely.
<button>Trigger Text</button> <div id="target"> <p>Target content.</p> </div>
But if the target is far away from the trigger in the DOM, I often find myself using a good old-fashioned hyperlink with a fragment identifier.
<a href="#target">Trigger Text</a> … <div id="target"> <p>Target content.</p> </div>
The expectation with links (as opposed to buttons) is that you will be taken somewhere. Let’s face it, modal dialogs are like fake web pages so following through on that expectation makes sense in this context.
So I can answer my first two questions:
- “Should the trigger be a link or button?” and
- “Should the target be automatically focused?”
…by answering a different question:
- “How far away from each other are the trigger and the target?”
It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it helps me out when I’m unsure.
tabindex action, and maybe a
Now I can start to think about making sure screen reader users aren’t getting left out. At the very least, I can toggle an
aria-expanded attribute on the trigger that corresponds to whether the target is being shown or not. I can also toggle an
aria-hidden attribute on the target.
When the target isn’t being shown:
- the trigger has
- the target has
When the target is shown:
- the trigger has
- the target has
There’s also an
aria-controls attribute that allows me to explicitly associate the trigger and the target:
<button aria-controls="target">Trigger Text</button> <div id="target"> <p>Target content.</p> </div>
But don’t assume that’s going to help you. As Heydon put it,
Here’s some example code I wrote a while back. And here are some old Codepens I made that use this pattern: one with a button and one with a link. See the difference? In the example with a link, the target automatically receives focus. But in this situation, I’d choose the example with a button because the trigger and target are close to each other in the DOM.
At this point, I’ve probably reached the limits of what can be abstracted into a single trigger/target pattern. Depending on the specific component, there might be much more work to do. If it’s a modal dialog, for example, you’ve got to figure out where to put the focus, how to trap the focus, and figure out where the focus should return to when the modal dialog is closed.
I’ve mostly been talking about websites that have some interactive components. If you’re building a single page app, then pretty much every single interaction needs to be made accessible. Good luck with that. (Pro tip: consider not building a single page app—let the browser do what it has been designed to do.)
Anyway, I hope this little stroll through my thought process is useful. If nothing else, it shows how I attempt to cope with an accessibility landscape that looks daunting and ever-changing. Remember though, the fact that you’re even considering this stuff means you care more than most web developers. And you are not alone. There are smart people out there sharing what they learn. The A11y Project is a great hub for finding resources.
And when it comes to interactive patterns like the trigger/target examples I’ve been talking about, there’s one more question I ask myself: what would Heydon do?
Van11y (for Vanilla-Accessibility) is a collection of accessible scripts for rich interfaces elements, built using progressive enhancement and customisable.
Monday, October 5th, 2020
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.
Saturday, October 3rd, 2020
A great talk by Ethan called The Design Systems Between Us.
Thursday, September 24th, 2020
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”.
Monday, July 13th, 2020
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.)
Saturday, June 13th, 2020
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.