dialogs are here.
Sunday, January 14th, 2018
Wednesday, January 10th, 2018
Making low effort/high impact changes to interfaces.
This reminds me of something we talk about at Clearleft a lot called “tiny lessons”—it’s the idea that insights and learnings don’t always have to be big and groundbreaking; there’s a disproportionate value in sharing the small little things you learn along the way.
Tuesday, January 9th, 2018
The text of a fascinating talk given by Tim Berners-Lee back in 1995, at a gathering to mark the 50th anniversary of Vannevar Bush’s amazing article As We May Think. The event also drew together Ted Nelson, Alan Kay, Douglas Engelbart, and Bob Kahn!
Sunday, January 7th, 2018
Saturday, January 6th, 2018
Ana goes into exhaustive detail on all the differences in the shadow DOM and styling of
input type="range" across browsers.
I’m totally fine with browsers providing different styling for complex UI elements like this, but I wish they’d at least provide a consistent internal structure and therefore a consistent way of over-riding the default styles. Maybe then people wouldn’t be so quick to abandon native elements like this in favour building their own UI components from scratch—the kind of over-engineering that inevitably ends up being under-engineered.
Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018
And the whole thing is available here for free under a Creative Commons licence!
Monday, January 1st, 2018
A great round-up of Leading Design—one of the best events I attended in 2017.
Saturday, December 23rd, 2017
Ubiquity and consistency
I keep thinking about this post from Baldur Bjarnason, Over-engineering is under-engineering. It took me a while to get my head around what he was saying, but now that (I think) I understand it, I find it to be very astute.
Let’s take a single interface element, say, a dropdown menu. This is the example Laura uses in her article for 24 Ways called Accessibility Through Semantic HTML. You’ve got two choices, broadly speaking:
- Use the HTML
The advantage of the first choice is that it’s lightweight, it works everywhere, and the browser does all the hard work for you.
You don’t get complete control. Because the browser is doing the heavy lifting, you can’t craft the details of the dropdown to look identical on different browser/OS combinations.
This is the point that Baldur makes: no matter how much you over-engineer your own custom solution, there’ll always be something that falls between the cracks. So, ironically, the over-engineered solution—when compared to the simple under-engineered native browser solution—ends up being under-engineered.
Is it worth it? Rian Rietveld asks:
The answer, as ever, is it depends. It depends on your priorities. If your priority is having consistent control over the details, then foregoing native browser functionality in favour of scripting everything yourself aligns with your goals.
But I’m reminded of something that Eric often says:
The web does not value consistency. The web values ubiquity.
Ubiquity; universality; accessibility—however you want to label it, it’s what lies at the heart of the World Wide Web. It’s the idea that anyone should be able to access a resource, regardless of technical or personal constraints. It’s an admirable goal, and what’s even more admirable is that the web succeeds in this goal! But sometimes something’s gotta give, and that something is control. Rian again:
The days that a website must be pixel perfect and must look the same in every browser are over. There are so many devices these days, that an identical design for all is not doable. Or we must take a huge effort for custom form elements design.
I think Jake’s navigation transitions proposal is fascinating. What if there were a browser-native way to get more control over how page navigations happen? I reckon that would cover the justification of 90% of single page apps.
That’s a great way of examining these kinds of decisions and questioning how this tension could be resolved. If people are frustrated by the lack of control in browser-native navigations, let’s figure out a way to give them more control. If people are frustrated by the lack of styling for
select elements, maybe we should figure out a way of giving them more control over styling.
Hang on though. I feel like I’ve painted a divisive picture, like you have to make a choice between ubiquity or consistency. But the rather wonderful truth is that, on the web, you can have your cake and eat it. That’s what I was getting at with the three-step approach I describe in Resilient Web Design:
- Identify core functionality.
- Make that functionality available using the simplest possible technology.
- The user needs to select an item from a list of options.
- Use a
- The user needs to navigate to another page.
- Use an
aelement with an
The pushback I get from people in the control/consistency camp is that this sounds like more work. It kinda is. But honestly, in my experience, it’s not that much more work. Also, and I realise I’m contradicting the part where I said I’m lazy, but that’s why it’s called work. This is our job. It’s not about what we prefer; it’s about serving the needs of the people who use what we build.
Anyway, if I were to rephrase my three-step process in terms of under-engineering and over-engineering, it might look something like this:
- Start with user needs.
- Build an under-engineered solution—one that might not offer you much control, but that works for everyone.
- Layer on a more over-engineered solution—one that might not work for everyone, but that offers you more control.
Ubiquity, then consistency.
Thursday, December 21st, 2017
Jared’s spot-on takedown of Net Promoter Scores.
(Andy feels this is like criticising GDP, but GDP measures something that actually happened, whereas NPS, like horoscopes or tea-leaf readings, rely on clairvoyance.)
Friday, December 15th, 2017
I’m giving a workshop in Hong Kong on February 21st. If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you there. If you know anyone in Hong Kong, please spread the word.
This workshop will teach you how to think in a progressive way. Together we’ll peel back the layers of the web and build upwards, creating experiences that work for everyone. From URL design to Progressive Web Apps, this journey will cover each stage of technological advancement.
Friday, December 1st, 2017
24 Ways is back! Yay! This year’s edition kicks off with a great article by Hui Jing on using
Chances are, the latest features will not ship across all browsers at the same time. But you know what? That’s perfectly fine. If we accept this as a feature of the web, instead of a bug, we’ve just opened up a lot more web design possibilities.
Tuesday, November 28th, 2017
In which Brian takes a long winding route through an explanation of why the
is attribute for custom elements is dead before he demonstrates the correct way to use web components:
<!-- instead of writing this --> <input type="radio" is="x-radio"> <!-- you write this --> <x-radio> <input type="radio"> </x-radio>
Sadly, none of the showcase examples I’ve seen for web components do this.
Monday, November 20th, 2017
An associative trail
Every now and then, I like to revisit Vannevar Bush’s classic article from the July 1945 edition of the Atlantic Monthly called As We May Think in which he describes a theoretical machine called the memex.
A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.
It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk.
1945! Apart from its analogue rather than digital nature, it’s a remarkably prescient vision. In particular, there’s the idea of “associative trails”:
Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified. The lawyer has at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience, and of the experience of friends and authorities.
Many decades later, Anne Washington ponders what a legal memex might look like:
My legal Memex builds a network of the people and laws available in the public records of politicians and organizations. The infrastructure for this vision relies on open data, free access to law, and instantaneously availability.
As John Sheridan from the UK’s National Archives points out, hypertext is the perfect medium for laws:
Despite the drafter’s best efforts to create a narrative structure that tells a story through the flow of provisions, legislation is intrinsically non-linear content. It positively lends itself to a hypertext based approach. The need for legislation to escape the confines of the printed form predates the all major innovators and innovations in hypertext, from Vannevar Bush’s vision in ” As We May Think“, to Ted Nelson’s coining of the term “hypertext”, through to and Berners-Lee’s breakthrough world wide web. I like to think that Nelson’s concept of transclusion was foreshadowed several decades earlier by the textual amendment (where one Act explicitly alters – inserts, omits or amends – the text of another Act, an approach introduced to UK legislation at the beginning of the 20th century).
That’s from a piece called Deeply Intertwingled Laws. The verb “to intertwingle” was another one of Ted Nelson’s neologisms.
There’s an associative trail from Vannevar Bush to Ted Nelson that takes some other interesting turns…
Picture a new American naval recruit in 1945, getting ready to ship out to the pacific to fight against the Japanese. Just as the ship as leaving the harbour, word comes through that the war is over. And so instead of fighting across the islands of the pacific, this young man finds himself in a hut on the Philippines, reading whatever is to hand. There’s a copy of The Atlantic Monthly, the one with an article called As We May Think. The sailor was Douglas Engelbart, and a few years later when he was deciding how he wanted to spend the rest of his life, that article led him to pursue the goal of augmenting human intellect. He gave the mother of all demos, featuring NLS, a working hypermedia system.
Later, thanks to Bill Atkinson, we’d get another system called Hypercard. It was advertised with the motto Freedom to Associate, in an advertising campaign that directly referenced Vannevar Bush.
And now I’m using the World Wide Web, a hypermedia system that takes in the whole planet, to create an associative trail. In this post, I’m linking (without asking anyone for permission) to six different sources, and in doing so, I’m creating a unique associative trail. And because this post has a URL (that won’t change), you are free to take it and make it part of your own associative trail on your digital memex.
Sunday, November 19th, 2017
A history of hypertext, from the memex to HyperCard.
Wednesday, November 15th, 2017
I really like this exercise by Harry. I’ve done similar kinds of grading using dot-voting in the past. It feels like an early step to establishing design principles: “this over that.”
By deciding what we value up-front, we have an agreement that we can look back on in order to help us settle these conflicts and get us back on track again.
Relative Requirements remove the personal aspect of these disagreements and instead focuses on more objective agreements that we made as a team.
Tuesday, November 7th, 2017
The latest edition of Heydon’s Inclusive Components is absolutely fantastic! The pattern itself—toggling sections of content—is quite straightforward, but then there’s a masterclass in how to create a web component that still allows the content to be accessible in older browsers. The key, as ever, is progressive enhancement:
Whether implemented through web components or not, progressive enhancement not only ensures the interface is well-structured and robust. As we’ve seen here, it can also simplify the editorial process. This makes developing the application and its content more inclusive.
Tuesday, October 31st, 2017
A great bucketload of common sense from Jake:
Rather than copying bad examples from the history of native apps, where everything is delivered in one big lump, we should be doing a little with a little, then getting a little more and doing a little more, repeating until complete. Think about the things users are going to do when they first arrive, and deliver that. Especially consider those most-likely to arrive with empty caches.
And here’s a good way of thinking about that:
I’m a fan of progressive enhancement as it puts you in this mindset. Continually do as much as you can with what you’ve got.
All too often, saying “use the right tool for the job” is interpreted as “don’t use that tool!” but as Jake reminds us, the sign of a really good tool is its ability to adapt instead of demanding rigid usage:
Netflix uses React on the client and server, but they identified that the client-side portion wasn’t needed for the first interaction, so they leaned on what the browser can already do, and deferred client-side React. The story isn’t that they’re abandoning React, it’s that they’re able to defer it on the client until it’s was needed. React folks should be championing this as a feature.
Thursday, October 19th, 2017
The end result is really impressive but there’s still the drawback that the browser history will be updated every time you click on an image thumbnail (because the functionality relies on
ID attributes referenced via
:target). Depending on your use-case, that may or may not be desirable.
Thursday, October 5th, 2017
A web book with interactive code examples.
How can we capture the unpredictable evolutionary and emergent properties of nature in software? How can understanding the mathematical principles behind our physical world help us to create digital worlds? This book focuses on the programming strategies and techniques behind computer simulations of natural systems using Processing.
Monday, October 2nd, 2017
One of the things we’d hoped to enable via Web Components was a return to ctrl-r web development. At some level of complexity and scale we all need tools to help cope with code size, application structure, and more. But the tender, loving maintainance of babel and webpack and NPM configurations that represents a huge part of “front end development” today seems…punitive. None of this should be necessary when developing one (or a few) components and composing things shouldn’t be this hard. The sophistication of the tools needs to get back to being proportional with the complexity of the problem at hand.
I completely agree with Alex here. But that’s also why I was surprised and disheartened when I linked to Monica’s excellent introduction to web components that a package manager seemed to be a minimum requirement.