Decomputerization doesn’t mean no computers. It means that not all spheres of life should be rendered into data and computed upon. Ubiquitous “smartness” largely serves to enrich and empower the few at the expense of the many, while inflicting ecological harm that will threaten the survival and flourishing of billions of people.
Friday, September 27th, 2019
Tuesday, September 10th, 2019
Get an idea of how much your website is contributing to the climate crisis.
In total, the internet produces 2% of global carbon emissions, roughly the same as that bad boy of climate change, the aviation industry.
Sunday, September 1st, 2019
The ellipsis is the new hamburger.
It’s disappointing that Apple, supposedly a leader in interface design, has resorted to such uninspiring, and I’ll dare say, lazy design in its icons. I don’t claim to be a usability expert, but it seems to me that icons should represent a clear intention, followed by a consistent action.
Saturday, July 6th, 2019
The Hiding Place: Inside the World’s First Long-Term Storage Facility for Highly Radioactive Nuclear Waste - Pacific Standard
Robert McFarlane’s new book is an exploration of deep time. In this extract, he visits the Onkalo nuclear waste storage facility in Finland.
Sometimes we bury materials in order that they may be preserved for the future. Sometimes we bury materials in order to preserve the future from them.
Friday, May 24th, 2019
Here’s a clever shortcut to creating a dark mode by using
Sunday, February 24th, 2019
The Ballad Of Halo Jones is 35 years old this year.
Where did she go? Out.
What did she do? Everything.
Sunday, February 17th, 2019
When in doubt, label your icons.
When not in doubt, you probably should be.
Thursday, January 3rd, 2019
An ode for every element in the periodic table, in the form of a haiku.
Saturday, November 17th, 2018
I had to read through this twice, but I think I get it now (I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer). Very useful if you’re doing theming in CSS.
Friday, September 28th, 2018
The fascinating story of Charles K. Bliss and his symbolic language:
The writing system – originally named World Writing in 1942, then Semantography in 1947, and finally Blissymoblics in the 1960s – contains several hundred basic geometric symbols (“Bliss-characters”) that can be combined in different ways to represent more complex concepts (“Bliss-words”). For example, the Bliss-characters for “house” and “medical” are combined to form the Bliss-word for “hospital” or “clinic”. The modular structure invites comparison to the German language; the German word for “hospital ” – “krankenhaus” – translates directly to “sick house”.
Monday, July 2nd, 2018
Okay, I think I’m going to have to get this pack of three notebooks: Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.
Sunday, June 10th, 2018
¶, &, @, ‽, ☺, #, and ☛.
Tuesday, May 29th, 2018
On Ev’s blog, Marcin goes into great detail on theming an interface using CSS custom properties, SVG, HSL, and a smattering of CSS filters.
I was kind of amazed that all of this could happen via CSS and CSS alone: the colours, the transitions, the vectors, and even the images.
Friday, May 18th, 2018
The terrific talk from Beyond Tellerrand by Claire L. Evans, author of Broad Band.
As we face issues of privacy, identity, and society in a networked world, we have much to learn from these women, who anticipated the Internet’s greatest problems, faced them, and discovered solutions we can still use today.
Monday, April 23rd, 2018
A profile of Susan Kare, icon designer extraordinaire.
I loved the puzzle-like nature of working in sixteen-by-sixteen and thirty-two-by-thirty-two pixel icon grids, and the marriage of craft and metaphor.
Monday, April 2nd, 2018
Scenario-Driven Design Systems by Yesenia Perez-Cruz
In the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of change in web design as we have to adapt to so many viewports and platforms. We’ve gravitated towards design systems to manage this. Many people have written about the benefits of design systems, like AirBnB.
But how do you define a design system? You could say it’s a collection of reususable components.
Donella Meadows wrote Thinking in Systems. She said:
A system is an interconnected group of elements coherently organized in a way that achieves something.
A good design system inspires people to work with it. A bad system gets bloated and unusable. Yesenia has seen systems fail when there’s too much focus on the elements, and not enough focus on how they come together. Yesenia has learned that we should start our design systems, not with components, or modules, or legos, but with user scenarios.
Yesenia works at Vox Media. They have eight editorial networks. Two and a half years ago, they started a project to move all of their products to one codebase and one design system. Maintaining and iterating on their websites was getting too cumbersome. They wanted to shift away from maintaining discrete brands to creating a cohesive system. They also wanted to help their editorial teams tell stories faster and better.
It was hard. Each brand has its own visual identity, editorial missions, and content needs. So even though they wanted eight brands to use one design system, there needed to be enough flexibility to allow for unique needs.
There were some early assumptions that didn’t work. There was a hunch that they could take smaller modular components to address inconsistencies in design: layout, colour, and typography. They thought a theming system would work well. They started with layout modules, like three different homepage hero elements, or four different story blocks. They thought they could layer colour and typography over these modules. It didn’t work. They weren’t reflecting critical differences in content, tone, and audience. For example, Curbed and Recode are very different, but the initial design system didn’t reflect those difference.
That brings us back to Donella Meadows:
A system is an interconnected group of elements coherently organized in a way that achieves something.
They weren’t thinking about that last part.
They learned that they couldn’t start with just the individual components or patterns. That’s because they don’t exist in a vacuum. As Alla says:
Start with language, not systems.
They started again, this time thinking about people.
- What’s the audience goal?
- Is there a shared audience goal across all brands or are there differences?
- What’s the editorial workflow?
- What range of content should this support?
This led to a much better process for creating a design system.
Start with a fast, unified platform. It should load quickly and work across all devices. All patterns should solve a specific problem. But that doesn’t mean creating a one-size-fits-all solution. A design system doesn’t have to stifle creativity …as long as the variants solve a real problem. That means no hypothetical situations.
Identify scenarios. Brad uses a UI inventory for this. Alla talks about a “purpose-directed inventory”. Map core modules to user journeys to see how patterns fit together in the bigger picture. You start to see families of patterns joined together by a shared purpose. Scenarios can help at every level.
The Salesforce design system starts by saying “Know your use-case.” They have examples of different patterns and where to use them. Thinking in user-flows like this matches the way that designers are already thinking.
Shopify’s Polaris system also puts users and user-flows at the centre: the purpose of each pattern is spelled out.
The 18F Design System doesn’t just provide a type system; it provides an explanation of when and where to use which type system.
At Vox, “features” are in-depth pieces. Before having a unified system, each feature looked very custom and were hard to update. They need to unify 18 different systems into one. They started by identifying core workflows. Audience goals were consistent (consume content, find new content), but editorial goals were quite different.
They ended up with quite a few variations of patterns (like page headers, for example), but only if there was a proven content need—no hypothetical situations.
Brand expression for features is all about the details. They started with 18 very different feature templates and ended up with one robust template that works across device types but still allowed for expression.
The “reviews” pieces had a scorecard pattern. Initially there was one unified pattern that they thought would be flexible enough to cover different scenarios. But these scorecards were for very different things: games; restaurants, etc. So people’s needs were very different. In the end, instead of having one scorecard pattern, they created three. Each one highlighted different content according to the user needs.
Homepages were the most challenging to unify. Each one was very distinct. Identifying core workflows took a lot of work.
What’s the value of the homepage? Who is the audience? What are they looking for?
They talked to their users and distilled their findings down into three user goals for homepages:
- What’s new?
- What’s important?
- What’s helpful?
Those needs then translated into patterns. The story feed is there to answer the question “What’s new?”
When it came to variations on the home page, they needed to make sure their design system could stretch enough to allow for distinctly different needs. There’s a newspaper layout, an evergreen layout, a morning recap layout.
Again, Alla’s advice to focus on language was really helpful.
In the process of naming an element, you work out the function as a group and reach agreement.
The last piece was to have a scalable visual design system. Brands need to feel distinct and express an identity. They did this by having foundational elements (type scale, colour system, and white space) with theming applied to them. Thinking of type and colour as systems was key: they need to cascade.
But how do you tell good variation from bad variation? Variation is good if there’s a specific problem that you need a new pattern to solve—there’s a user scenario driving the variation. A bad variation is visual variation on components that do the same thing. Again, the initial design system provided room for “visual fluff and flair” but they were hypothetical. Those variations were removed.
The combination of a scenario-driven system combined with theming allowed for the right balance of consistency and customisation. Previously, the editorial team were hacking together the layouts they wanted, or developers were creating one-off templates. Both of those approaches were very time-consuming. Now, the reporters can focus on telling better stories faster. That was always the goal.
There’s still a lot of work to do. There’s always a pendulum swing between consistency and variation. Sometimes the design system goes too far in one direction or the other and needs to be recalibrated. They want to be able to add more detailed control over typography and spacing.
To wrap up:
- Successful design patterns don’t exist in a vacuum.
- Successful design systems solve specific problems.
- Successful design systems start with content and with people.
Wednesday, March 28th, 2018
The internet does not hate women. The internet doesn’t hate anyone, because the internet, being an inanimate network, lacks the capacity to hold any opinion whatsoever. People hate women, and the internet allows them to do it faster, harder, and with impunity. It’s developed into a form of relaxation after a hard day of being ground on the wheel of late-stage capitalism. Melvin Kranzberg’s statement that “technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral” holds true here: The internet lets us be whoever we were before, more efficiently, with fewer consequences.
Monday, July 3rd, 2017
Steven Johnson dives deep into the METI project, starting with the Arecibo message and covering Lincos, the Drake equation, and the Fermi paradox.
He also wrote about what he left out of the article and mentions that he’s writing a book on long-term decision making.
In a sense, the METI debate runs parallel to other existential decisions that we will be confronting in the coming decades, as our technological and scientific powers increase. Should we create superintelligent machines that exceed our own intellectual capabilities by such a wide margin that we cease to understand how their intelligence works? Should we ‘‘cure’’ death, as many technologists are proposing? Like METI, these are potentially among the most momentous decisions human beings will ever make, and yet the number of people actively participating in those decisions — or even aware such decisions are being made — is minuscule.
Tuesday, April 25th, 2017
Is the emergence of a technologically advanced civilisation necessarily contingent on the easy availability of ancient energy? Is it possible to build an industrialised civilisation without fossil fuels?
This thought experiment leads to some fascinating conclusions.
So, would a society starting over on a planet stripped of its fossil fuel deposits have the chance to progress through its own Industrial Revolution? Or to phrase it another way, what might have happened if, for whatever reason, the Earth had never acquired its extensive underground deposits of coal and oil in the first place? Would our progress necessarily have halted in the 18th century, in a pre-industrial state?
Thursday, November 24th, 2016
An illustrated history of digital iconography.