Tuesday, April 18th, 2017
Friday, March 24th, 2017
If we describe patterns also in terms of content, context, and contrast, we are able to define more precisely what a specific pattern is all about, what its role within a design system is, and how it is defined and shaped by its environment.
Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
Ellen goes through the principles behind the tone of voice on the new Clearleft site:
- Our clients are the heroes and heroines, we facilitate their journey.
- Speak as an individual doing whatever it is you love. Expose lovable details.
- Use the imperative, kill the “-ing”.
- Be evocative and paint the picture. Show don’t tell.
- Be a practical friend.
- Be inquisitive. Ask smart questions that need solving.
Monday, February 6th, 2017
Here’s a nice little service from Remy that works sorta like Readability. Pass it a URL in a query string and it will generate a version without all the cruft around the content.
Friday, December 16th, 2016
Everything that happens to the content prototype from now on is merely progressive enhancement. Because while the prototype is in a shared git repository, microcopy sneaks in, text gets corrected by a copywriter, photos change for the better and flows shape up, meta data is added, semantics are double checked, WAI-ARIA roles get in…
Sunday, October 23rd, 2016
Mandy is fighting the good fight for the open web from within Vox Media. Her publishing tools have been built with a secret weapon…
This practice — which I refer to unoriginally as progressively enhanced storytelling — also has the added benefit of helping us make our content more accessible to more kinds of users, especially those with disabilities.
Thursday, July 28th, 2016
Sunday, May 15th, 2016
I have a new role at Clearleft. It’s not a full-time role. It’s in addition to my existing role of …um …whatever it is I do at Clearleft.
Anyway, my new part-time role is that of being a content buddy. Sounds a little dismissive when I put it like that. Let me put in capitals…
My new part-time role is that of being a Content Buddy.
This is Ellen’s idea. She’s been recruiting Content Guardians and Content Buddies. The Guardians will be responsible for coaxing content out of people, encouraging to write that blog post, article, or case study. The role of the Content Buddy is to help shepherd those pieces into the world.
I have let it be known throughout the office that I am available—day or night, rain or shine—for proof-reading, editing, and general brain-storming and rubber-ducking.
On my first official day as a Content Buddy on Friday I helped Ben polish off a really good blog post (watch this space), listened to a first run-through of Charlotte’s upcoming talk at the Up Front conference in Manchester (which is shaping up to be most excellent), and got together with Paul for a mutual brainstorming session for future conference talks. The fact that Paul is no longer a full-time employee at Clearleft is a mere technicality—Content Buddies for life!
Paul is preparing a talk on design systems for Smashing Conference in Freiburg in September. I’m preparing a talk on the
A element for the HTML Special part of CSS Day in Amsterdam in just one month’s time (gulp!). We had both already done a bit of mind-mapping to get a jumble of ideas down on paper. We learned that from Ellen’s excellent workshop.
Then we started throwing ideas back and forth, offering suggestions, and spotting patterns. Once we had lots of discrete chunks of stuff outlined (but no idea how to piece them together), we did some short intense spurts of writing using the fiendish TheMostDangerousWritingApp.com. I looked at Paul’s mind map, chose a topic from it for him, and he had to write on that non-stop for three to five minutes. Meanwhile he picked a topic from my mind map and I had to do the same. It was exhausting but also exhilarating. Very quickly we had chunks of content that we could experiment with, putting them in together in different ways to find different narrative threads. I might experiment with publishing them as short standalone blog posts.
The point was not to have polished, finished content but rather to get to the “shitty first draft” stage quickly. We were following Hemingway’s advice:
Write drunk, edit sober.
…but not literally. Mind you, I could certainly imagine combining beer o’clock on Fridays with Content Buddiness. That wasn’t an option on this particular Friday though, as I had to run off to band practice with Salter Cane. A very different, and altogether darker form of content creation.
Thursday, February 11th, 2016
I’ve seen the exact problem that Rachel describes here—flexbox only applied to direct children, meaning the markup would have to be adjusted.
display: contents looks like a nifty solution.
Wednesday, January 6th, 2016
A really terrific article from Dan on building pattern libraries. In summary:
- Naming things is hard,
- Separation of content and presentation is A Good Thing.
There are some really good insights here into getting just the right level of abstraction for a component—not too tightly tied to a specific visual display, but also not too tightly tied to a specific kind of content type:
When thinking about patterns, content strategists are primarily thinking about Content patterns, designers are primarily thinking about Display patterns, and front-end developers are responsible for bringing the two together.
(And it’s great to see Charlotte’s excellent article get a shout-out in the “Related reading” section at the end,)
Wednesday, October 28th, 2015
It was only last week that myself and Ellen were brainstorming ideas for a combined workshop. Our enthusiasm got the better of us, and we said “Let’s just do it!” Before we could think better of it, the room was booked, and the calendar invitations were sent.
The topic was “story.”
No wait, maybe it was …”narrative.”
That’s not quite right either.
Basically, here’s the issue: at some point everyone at Clearleft needs to communicate something by telling a story. It might be a blog post. It might be a conference talk. It might be a proposal for a potential client. It might be a case study of our work. Whatever form it might take, it involves getting a message across …using words. Words are hard. We wanted to make them a little bit easier.
We did two workshops. Ellen’s was yesterday. Mine was today. They were both just about two hours in length.
Get out of my head!
Ellen’s workshop was all about getting thoughts out of your head and onto paper. But before we could even start to do that, we had to confront our first adversary: the inner critic.
You know the inner critic. It’s that voice inside you that says “You’ve got nothing new to say”, or “You’re rubbish at writing.” Ellen encouraged each of us to drag this inner critic out into the light—much like Paul Ford did with his AnxietyBox.
Each of us drew a cartoon of our inner critic, complete with speech bubbles of things our inner critic says to us.
In a bizarre coincidence, Chloe and I had exactly the same inner critic, complete with top hat and monocle.
With that foe vanquished, we proceeded with a mind map. The idea was to just dump everything out of our heads and onto paper, without worrying about what order to arrange things in.
I found it to be an immensely valuable exercise. Whenever I’ve tried to do this before, I’d open up a blank text file and start jotting stuff down. But because of the linear nature of a text file, there’s still going to be an order to what gets jotted down; without meaning to, I’ve imposed some kind of priority onto the still-unformed thoughts. Using a mind map allowed me get everything down first, and then form the connections later.
There were plenty of other exercises, but the other one that really struck me was a simple framework of five questions. Whatever it is that you’re trying to say, write down the answers to these questions about your audience:
- What are they sceptical about?
- What problems do they have?
- What’s different now that you’ve communicated your message?
- Paint a pretty picture of life for them now that you’ve done that.
- Finally, what do they need to do next?
They’re straightforward questions, but the answers can really help to make sure you’re covering everything you need to.
There were many more exercises, and by the end of the two hours, everyone had masses of raw material, albeit in an unstructured form. My workshop was supposed to help them take that content and give it some kind of shape.
The structure of stories
Ellen and I have been enjoying some great philosophical discussions about exactly what a story is, and how does it differ from a narrative structure, or a plot. I really love Ellen’s working definition: Narrative. In Space. Over Time.
This led me to think that there’s a lot that we can borrow from the world of storytelling—films, novels, fairy tales—not necessarily about the stories themselves, but the kind of narrative structures we could use to tell those stories. After all, the story itself is often the same one that’s been told time and time again—The Hero’s Journey, or some variation thereof.
So I was interested in separating the plot of a story from the narrative device used to tell the story.
To start with, I gave some examples of well-known stories with relatively straightforward plots:
- Star Wars,
- Little Red Riding Hood,
- Your CV,
- Jurassic Park, and
I asked everyone to take a story (either from that list, or think of another one) and write the plot down on post-it notes, one plot point per post-it. Before long, the walls were covered with post-its detailing the plot lines of:
- Toy Story,
- Back To The Future,
- The Three Little Pigs, and
- Pretty Woman.
Okay. That’s plot. Next we looked at narrative frameworks.
Begin at a crucial moment, then back up to explain how you ended up there.
e.g. Citizen Kane “Rosebud!”
Instead of describing the action directly, have characters tell it to one another.
In Media Res
Begin in the middle of the action. No exposition allowed, but you can drop hints.
e.g. Mad Max: Fury Road (or Star Wars, if it didn’t have the opening crawl).
Begin with a looooong zooooom into the past before taking up the story today.
e.g. 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Just the facts with no embellishment.
e.g. A police report.
You get the idea.
In a random draw, everyone received a card with a narrative device on it. Now they had to retell the story they chose using that framing. That led to some great results:
- Toy Story, retold as a conversation between Andy and his psychiatrist (dialogue),
- E.T., retold as a missing person’s report on an alien planet (distancing effect),
- Elf, retold with an introduction about the very first Christmas (backstory),
- Robocop, retold with Murphy already a cyborg, remembering his past (flashback),
- The Three Little Pigs, retold with the wolf already at the door and no explanation as to why there’s straw everywhere (in media res).
Once everyone had the hang of it, I asked them to revisit their mind maps and other materials from the previous day’s workshop. Next, they arranged the “chunks” of that story into a linear narrative …but without worrying about getting it right—it’s not going to stay linear for long. Then, everyone is once again given a narrative structure. Now try rearranging and restructuring your story to use that framework. If something valuable comes out of that, great! If not, well, it’s still a fun creative exercise.
And that was pretty much it. I had no idea what I was doing, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t really about me. It was about helping others take their existing material and play with it.
That said, I’m glad I finally got this process out into the world in some kind of semi-formalised way. I’ve been preparing talks and articles using these narrative exercises for a while, but this workshop was just the motivation I needed to put some structure on the process.
I think I might try to create a proper deck of cards—along the lines of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies or Stephen Andersons’s Mental Notes—so that everyone has the option of injecting a random narrative structural idea into the mix whenever they’re stuck.
At the very least, it would be a distraction from listening to that pesky inner critic.
Friday, December 12th, 2014
A really handy command-line tool that scans your site for mixed content — very useful if you’re making the switch from http to https.
Friday, July 18th, 2014
A look behind the scenes of gov.uk. I like their attitude to Photoshop comps:
We don’t want a culture of designs being “thrown over a wall” to a dev team. We don’t make “high fidelity mock ups” or “high fidelity wireframes”. We’re making a Thing, not pictures of a Thing.
We don’t have a UX Team. If the problem with your service is that the servers are slow and the UX Team can’t change that, then they aren’t in control of the user experience and they shouldn’t be called the user experience team.
Monday, December 2nd, 2013
The transcript of Mark’s talk from last week’s Handheld conference in Cardiff.
There are mountains.
Saturday, November 30th, 2013
I agree completely with the sentiment of this article (although the title is perhaps a bit overblown): you shouldn’t need a separate API—that’s what you’re existing URL structure should be.
I’m not entirely sure that content negotiation is the best way to go when it comes to serving up different representations: there’s a real value in being able to paste a URL into a browser window to get back a JSON or XML representation of a resource.
But this is spot-on about the ludicrous over-engineered complexity of most APIs. It’s ridiculous that I can enter a URL into a browser window to get an HTML representation of my latest tweets, but I have to sign up for an API key and jump through OAuth hoops, and agree to display the results in a specific way if I want to get a JSON representation of the same content. Ludicrous!
Saturday, November 23rd, 2013
The title is a bit sensationalist but I agree completely with what Karen is saying:
It’s time we acknowledged that every responsive web design project is also a content strategy project.
Thursday, September 12th, 2013
A cogent definition and spirited defence of progressive enhancement:
Progressive Enhancement is an extension of our shared values on the web and goes to the root of the web. I believe—and hope you agree—that the web is for everybody and should be accessible regardless of the device a user brings to the party.
Tuesday, August 13th, 2013
Trent proposes a way to avoid implementing dark patterns: take a leaf from the progressive enhancement playbook and assume the worst conditions for your user’s context.
Thursday, August 8th, 2013
Jason pulls together some of the themes that emerged at An Event Apart DC this week.
Saturday, April 13th, 2013
A couple of years ago, the benefits of separate sites were more clear to me. Today, I can’t think of a good reason to maintain a separate mobile site.