A deep dive with good advice on using—and labelling—sectioning content in HTML:
Tuesday, June 18th, 2019
A deep dive with good advice on using—and labelling—sectioning content in HTML:
Monday, June 17th, 2019
This really is a most excellent introduction to React. Complete with cheat sheet!
Monday, June 10th, 2019
The schedule for Patterns Day
Patterns Day is less than three weeks away—exciting!
We’re going to start the day at a nice civilised time. Registration is from 9am. There will be tea, coffee, and pastries, so get there in plenty of time to register and have a nice chat with your fellow attendees. There’ll be breaks throughout the day too.
Those yummy pastries and hot drinks are supplied courtesy of our sponsors Buildit @ Wipro Digital—many thanks to them!
Each talk will be 30 minutes long. There’ll be two talks back-to-back and then a break. That gives you plenty of breathing space to absorb all those knowledge bombs that the speakers will be dropping.
Lunch will be a good hour and a half. Lunch isn’t provided so you can explore the neighbourhood where there are plenty of treats on offer. And your Patterns Day badge will even get you some discounts…
The lovely Café Rust is offering these deals to attendees:
- Cake and coffee for £5
- Cake and cup of tea for £4
- Sandwich and a drink for £7
The Joker (right across the street from the conference venue) is offering a 10% discount of food and drinks (but not cocktails) to Patterns Day attendees. I highly recommend their hot wings. Try the Rufio sauce—it’s awesome! Do not try the Shadow—it will kill you.
Here’s how the day is looking:
We should be out of the Duke of York’s by 4:45pm after a fantastic day of talks. At that point, we can head around the corner (literally) to Holler Brewery. They are very kindly offering each attendee a free drink! Over to them:
Holler is a community based brewery, always at the centre of the local community. Here to make great beer, but also to help support community run pubs, carnival societies, mental health charities, children’s amateur dramatic groups, local arts groups and loads more, because these are what keep our communities healthy and together… the people in them!
Holler loves great beer and its way of bringing people together. They are excited to be welcoming the Patterns Day attendees and the design community to the taproom.
Terms and conditions:
- One token entitles to you one Holler beer or one soft drink
- Redeemable only on Friday 28th June 2019 between 4:45 and 20:00
- You must hand your token over to the bar team
You’ll get your token when you register in the morning, along with your sticker. That’s right; sticker. Every expense has been spared so you won’t even have a name badge on a lanyard, just a nice discrete but recognisable sticker for the event.
Friday, June 7th, 2019
Three conference talks
Conference talks are like buses. They take a long time and you constantly ask yourself why you chose to get on board.
I’ll start again.
Conference talks are like buses. You wait for ages and then three come along at once. Or at least, three conference videos have come along at once:
- The video of the talk I gave at State Of The Browser called The Web Is Agreement.
- The video of the talk I gave at New Adventures called Building.
- The video of the talk I gave at Frontend United called Going Offline.
The other two are …less practical. They’re kind of pretentious really. That’s kinda my style.
The Web Is Agreement was a one-off talk for State Of The Browser. I like how it turned out, and I’d love to give it again if there were a suitable event.
I’ve added these latest three conference talk videos to my collection. I’m using Notist to document past talks. It’s a great service! I became a paying customer just over a year ago and it was money well spent. I really like how I’ve been able to set up a custom domain:
Here’s the opening keynote I gave at Frontend United in Utrecht a few weeks back.
Thursday, June 6th, 2019
Here’s the video of the talk I gave at State Of The Browser last year. The audio is a bit out of sync with the video.
The talk is called The Web Is Agreement. It’s ostensibly about web standards, but I used that as a jumping off point for talking about life, the universe, and everything.
I enjoyed giving this talk, but I’ve only ever given it this one time. If you know of any events where this talk would be a good fit, let me know.
Wednesday, May 29th, 2019
Sponsor Patterns Day
Patterns Day 2 is sold out! Yay!
I didn’t even get the chance to announce the full line-up before all the tickets were sold. That was meant to my marketing strategy, see? I’d announce some more speakers every few weeks, and that would encourage more people to buy tickets. Turns out that I didn’t need to do that.
Danielle is absolutely brilliant. I know this from personal experience because I worked alongside her at Clearleft for three years. Now she’s at Bulb and I can’t wait for everyone at Patterns Day to hear her galaxy brain thoughts on design systems.
And how could I not have Varya at Patterns Day? She lives and breathes design systems. Whether it’s coding, writing, speaking, or training, she’s got years of experience to share. Ever used BEM? Yeah, that was Varya.
Anyway, if you’ve got your ticket for Patterns Day, you’re in for a treat.
If you didn’t manage to get a ticket for Patterns Day …sorry.
But do not despair. There is still one possible way of securing an elusive Patterns Day ticket: get your company to sponsor the event.
We’ve already got one sponsor—buildit @ wipro digital—who are kindly covering the costs for teas, coffees, and pastries. Now I’m looking for another sponsor to cover the costs of making video recordings of the talks.
The cost of sponsorship is £2000. In exchange, I can’t offer you a sponsor stand or anything like that—there’s just no room at the venue. But you will earn my undying thanks, and you’ll get your logo on the website and on the screen in between talks on the day (and on the final videos).
I can also give you four tickets to Patterns Day.
This is a sponsorship strategy that I like to call “blackmail.”
If you were really hoping to bring your team to Patterns Day, but you left it too late to get your tickets, now’s your chance. Convince your company to sponsor the event (and let’s face it, £2000 is a rounding error on some company’s books). Then you and your colleagues need not live with eternal regret and FOMO.
Drop me a line. Let’s talk.
Monday, May 27th, 2019
Bullet comments, or 弹幕 (“danmu”), are text-based user reactions superimposed onto online videos: a visual commentary track to which anyone can contribute.
A fascinating article by Christina Xu on this overwhelming collaborative UI overlaid on Chinese video-sharing sites:
In the West, the Chinese internet is mostly depicted in negative terms: what websites and social platforms are blocked, what keywords are banned, what conversations and viral posts are scrubbed clean from the web overnight. This austere view is not inaccurate, but it leaves out what exactly the nearly 750 million internet users in China do get up to.
Take a look at bullet comments, and you’ll have a decent answer to that question. They represent the essence of Chinese internet culture: fast-paced and impish, playfully collaborative, thick with rapidly evolving inside jokes and memes. They are a social feature beloved by a generation known for being antisocial. And most importantly, they allow for a type of spontaneous, cumulative, and public conversation between strangers that is increasingly rare on the Chinese internet.
Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019
Here he is talking about custom properties in CSS as part of his Making Future Interfaces video series.
Tuesday, May 21st, 2019
Tantek’s barnstorming closing talk from Beyond Tellerrand. This is well worth 30 minutes of your time.
Own your domain. Own your content. Own your social connections. Own your reading experience. IndieWeb services, tools, and standards enable you to take back your web.
This is an utterly fascinating interactive description of network effects, complete with Nicky Case style games. Play around with the parameters and suddenly you can see things “going viral”:
We can see similar things taking place in the landscape for ideas and inventions. Often the world isn’t ready for an idea, in which case it may be invented again and again without catching on. At the other extreme, the world may be fully primed for an invention (lots of latent demand), and so as soon as it’s born, it’s adopted by everyone. In-between are ideas that are invented in multiple places and spread locally, but not enough so that any individual version of the idea takes over the whole network all at once. In this latter category we find e.g. agriculture and writing, which were independently invented ~10 and ~3 times respectively.
Play around somewhere and you start to see why cities are where ideas have sex:
What I learned from the simulation above is that there are ideas and cultural practices that can take root and spread in a city that simply can’t spread out in the countryside. (Mathematically can’t.) These are the very same ideas and the very same kinds of people. It’s not that rural folks are e.g. “small-minded”; when exposed to one of these ideas, they’re exactly as likely to adopt it as someone in the city. Rather, it’s that the idea itself can’t go viral in the countryside because there aren’t as many connections along which it can spread.
This really is a wonderful web page! (and it’s licensed under a Creative Commons Zero licence)
We tend to think that if something’s a good idea, it will eventually reach everyone, and if something’s a bad idea, it will fizzle out. And while that’s certainly true at the extremes, in between are a bunch of ideas and practices that can only go viral in certain networks. I find this fascinating.
Wednesday, May 15th, 2019
The slides from Carolyn’s talk at Beyond Tellerrand. The presentation is ostensibly about writing documentation, but I think it’s packed with good advice for writing in general.
Tuesday, May 7th, 2019
If this is a typical result, I think Khoi should do more last-minute talk prep.
Wednesday, April 24th, 2019
Slides from Harry’s deep dive into
A terrific six-part series of short articles looking at the people behind the history of Artificial Intelligence, from Babbage to Turing to JCR Licklider.
- When Charles Babbage Played Chess With the Original Mechanical Turk
- Invisible Women Programmed America’s First Electronic Computer
- Why Alan Turing Wanted AI Agents to Make Mistakes
- The DARPA Dreamer Who Aimed for Cyborg Intelligence
- Algorithmic Bias Was Born in the 1980s
- How Amazon’s Mechanical Turkers Got Squeezed Inside the Machine
The history of AI is often told as the story of machines getting smarter over time. What’s lost is the human element in the narrative, how intelligent machines are designed, trained, and powered by human minds and bodies.
I missed this when it was first posted three years ago, but now I think I’ll be revisiting this 12 minute interview every few months.
Everything that Kyle says here is spot on, nuanced, and thoughtful. He talks about abstraction, maintainability, learning, and complexity.
I want a transcript of the whole thing.
Wednesday, April 17th, 2019
Cassie’s terrific talk from Bytes Conf, featuring some wild CSS experiments.
(Conference organisers—you want Cassie on your stage!)
Tuesday, April 16th, 2019
Three more Patterns Day speakers
There are 73 days to go until Patterns Day. Do you have your ticket yet?
Perhaps you’ve been holding out for some more information on the line-up. Well, I’m more than happy to share the latest news with you—today there are three new speakers on the bill…
Emil Björklund, the technical director at the Malmö outpost of Swedish agency inUse, is a super-smart person I’ve known for many years. Last year, I saw him on stage in his home town at the Confront conference sharing some of his ideas on design systems. He blew my mind! I told him there and then that he had to come to Brighton and expand on those thoughts some more. This is going to be an unmissable big-picture talk in the style of Paul’s superb talk last year.
Speaking of superb talks from last year, Alla Kholmatova is back! Her closing talk from the first Patterns Day was so fantastic that it I just had to have her come back. Oh, and since then, her brilliant book on Design Systems came out. She’s going to have a lot to share!
The one thing that I felt was missing from the first Patterns Day was a focus on inclusive design. I’m remedying that this time. Heydon Pickering, creator of the Inclusive Components website—and the accompanying book—is speaking at Patterns Day. I’m very excited about this. Given that Heydon has a habit of casually dropping knowledge bombs like the lobotomised owl selector and the flexbox holy albatross, I can’t wait to see what he unleashes on stage in Brighton on June 28th.
Tickets for Patterns Day are still available, but you probably don’t want to leave it ‘till the last minute to get yours. Just sayin’.
The current—still incomplete—line-up comprises:
- Una Kravets,
- Amy Hupe,
- Inayaili de León Persson,
- Emil Björklund,
- Alla Kholmatova, and
- Heydon Pickering.
That isn’t even the full roster of speakers, and it’s already an unmissable event!
I very much hope you’ll join me in the beautiful Duke of York’s cinema on June 28th for a great day of design system nerdery.
Wednesday, April 10th, 2019
When I talk about evaluating technology for front-end development, I like to draw a distinction between two categories of technology.
Personally, I’m much more interested and excited by the materials than I am by the tools. But I think it’s right and proper that other developers are excited by the tools. A good balance of both is probably the healthiest mix.
I’m never sure what to call these two categories. Maybe the materials are the “external” technologies, because they’re what users will interact with. Whereas all the other technologies—that mosty live on a developer’s machine—are the “internal” technologies.
Another nice phrase is something I heard during Chris’s talk at An Event Apart in Seattle, when he quoted Brad, who talked about the front of the front end and the back of the front end.
I’m definitely more of a front-of-the-front-end kind of developer. I have opinions on the quality of the materials that get served up to users; the output should be accessible and performant. But I don’t particularly care about the tools that produced those materials on the back of the front end. Use whatever works for you (or whatever works for your team).
As a user-centred developer, my priority is doing what’s best for end users. That’s not to say I don’t value developer convenience. I do. But I prioritise user needs over developer needs. And in any case, those two needs don’t even come into conflict most of the time. Like I said, from a user’s point of view, it’s irrelevant what text editor or version control system you use.
Now, you could make the argument that anything that is good for developer convenience is automatically good for user experience because faster, more efficient development should result in better output. While that’s true in theory, I highly recommend Alex’s post, The “Developer Experience” Bait-and-Switch.
Where it gets interesting is when a technology that’s designed for developer convenience is made out of the very materials being delivered to users. For example, a CSS framework like Bootstrap is made of CSS. That’s different to a tool like Sass which outputs CSS. Whether or not a developer chooses to use Sass is irrelevant to the user—the final output will be CSS either way. But if a developer chooses to use a CSS framework, that decision has a direct impact on the user experience. The user must download the framework in order for the developer to get the benefit.
So whereas Sass sits at the back of the front end—where I don’t care what you use—Bootstrap sits at the front of the front end. For tools like that, I don’t think saying “use whatever works for you” is good enough. It’s got to be weighed against the cost to the user.
We’ve certainly seen that at Clearleft. We’ve worked on multiple React projects, but in every case, the output was server-rendered. Developers get the benefit of working with a tool that helps them. Users don’t pay the price.
For me, this question of whether a framework will be used on the client side or the server side is crucial.
That was a few years ago. I think that these days it has become a lot easier to make the decision to use a framework on the back of the front end. Like I said, that’s certainly been the case on recent Clearleft projects that involved React or Vue.
It surprises me, then, when I see the question of server rendering or client rendering treated almost like an implementation detail. It might be an implementation detail from a developer’s perspective, but it’s a key decision for the user experience. The performance cost of putting your entire tech stack into the browser can be enormous.
Alex Sanders from the development team at The Guardian published a post recently called Revisiting the rendering tier . In it, he describes how they’re moving to React. Now, if this were a move to client-rendered React, that would make a big impact on the user experience. The thing is, I couldn’t tell from the article whether React was going to be used in the browser or on the server. The article talks about “rendering”—which is something that browsers do—and “the DOM”—which is something that only exists in browsers.
So I asked. It turns out that this plan is very much about generating HTML and CSS on the server before sending it to the browser. Excellent!
I have misgivings. But just to be clear, these misgivings have nothing to do with users. My misgivings are entirely to do with another group of people: the people who make websites.
It wasn’t that long ago that devs coming from a Computer Science background were deriding CSS for its simplicity, complaining that “it’s broken” and turning their noses up at it. That rhetoric, thankfully, is waning. Nowadays they’re far more likely to acknowledge that CSS might be simple, but it isn’t easy. Concepts like the cascade and specificity are real head-scratchers, and any prior knowledge from imperative programming languages won’t help you in this declarative world—all your hard-won experience and know-how isn’t fungible. Instead, it seems as though all this cascading and specificity is butchering the modularity of your nicely isolated components.
It’s no surprise that programmers with this kind of background would treat CSS as damage and find ways to route around it. The many flavours of CSS-in-JS are testament to this. From a programmer’s point of view, this solution has made things easier. Best of all, as long as it’s being done on the server, there’s no penalty for end users. But now the price is paid in the diversity of your team. In order to participate, a Computer Science programming mindset is now pretty much a requirement. For someone coming from a more declarative background—with really good HTML and CSS skills—everything suddenly seems needlessly complex. And as Tantek observed:
Complexity reinforces privilege.
The result is a form of gatekeeping. I don’t think it’s intentional. I don’t think it’s malicious. It’s being done with the best of intentions, in pursuit of efficiency and productivity. But these code decisions are reflected in hiring practices that exclude people with different but equally valuable skills and perspectives.
Rachel describes HTML, CSS and our vanishing industry entry points:
If we make it so that you have to understand programming to even start, then we take something open and enabling, and place it back in the hands of those who are already privileged.
I think there’s a comparison here with toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is obviously terrible for women, but it’s also really shitty for men in the way it stigmatises any male behaviour that doesn’t fit its worldview. Likewise, if the only people your team is interested in hiring are traditional programmers, then those programmers are going to resent having to spend their time dealing with semantic markup, accessibility, styling, and other disciplines that they never trained in. Heydon correctly identifies this as reluctant gatekeeping:
By assuming the role of the Full Stack Developer (which is, in practice, a computer scientist who also writes HTML and CSS), one takes responsibility for all the code, in spite of its radical variance in syntax and purpose, and becomes the gatekeeper of at least some kinds of code one simply doesn’t care about writing well.
This hurts everyone. It’s bad for your team. It’s even worse for the wider development community.
Last year, I was asked “Is there a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night?” I responded:
My greatest fear for the web is that it becomes the domain of an elite priesthood of developers. I firmly believe that, as Tim Berners-Lee put it, “this is for everyone.” And I don’t just mean it’s for everyone to use—I believe it’s for everyone to make as well. That’s why I get very worried by anything that raises the barrier to entry to web design and web development.
I’ve described a number of dichotomies here:
- Materials vs. tools,
- Front of the front end vs. back of the front end,
- User experience vs. developer experience,
- Client-side rendering vs. server-side rendering,
- Declarative languages vs. imperative languages.
But the split that worries the most is this:
- The people who make the web vs. the people who are excluded from making the web.