A report on Science Hack Day Berlin (published on the excellent eLife website).
Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018
Monday, June 5th, 2017
eLife goes live
The World Wide Web was forged in the crucible of science. Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research, a remarkable place where the pursuit of knowledge—rather than the pursuit of profit—is the driving force.
I often wonder whether the web as we know it—an open, decentralised system—could’ve been born anywhere else. These days it’s easy to focus on the success stories of the web in the worlds of commerce and social networking, but I still find there’s something that really “clicks” with the web and the science (Zooniverse being a classic example).
At Clearleft we’ve been lucky enough to work on science-driven projects like the Wellcome Library and the Wellcome Trust. It’s incredibly rewarding to work on projects where the bottom line is measured in knowledge-sharing rather than moolah. So when we were approached by eLife to help them with an upcoming redesign, we jumped at the chance.
We usually help organisations through our expertise in user-centred design, but in this case the design and UX were already in hand. The challenge was in the implementation. The team at eLife knew that they wanted a modular pattern library to keep their front-end components documented and easily reusable. Given Clearleft’s extensive experience with building pattern libraries, this was a match made in heaven (or whatever the scientific non-theistic equivalent of heaven is).
A group of us travelled up from Brighton to Cambridge to kick things off with a workshop. Before diving into code, it was important to set out the aims for the redesign, and figure out how a pattern library could best support those aims.
Right away, I was struck by the great working relationship between design and front-end development within eLife—there was a great collaborative spirit to the endeavour.
Some goals for the redesign soon emerged:
- Promote the HTML reading experience as a 1st choice for readers.
- Align the online experience with the eLife visual identity.
That led to some design principles:
- Focus on content not site furniture.
- Remove visual clutter and provide no more than the user needs at any stage of the experience.
- Aid discovery of value added content beyond the manuscript.
Those design principles then informed the front-end development process. Together we came up with a priority of concerns:
- Taking advantage of browser capabilities
- Visual appeal
It’s interesting that maintainability was such a high priority that it superseded even performance, but we also proposed a hypothesis at the same time:
Maintainability doesn’t negatively impact performance.
The combination of the design principles and priorities led us to formulate approaches that could be used throughout the project:
- Progressive enhancement.
- Small-screen first responsive images.
- Only add libraries as needed.
Then we dived into the tech stack: build tools, version control approaches, and naming methodologies. BEM was the winner there.
None of those decisions were set in stone, but they really helped to build a solid foundation for the work ahead. Graham camped out in Cambridge for a while, embedding himself in the team there as they began the process of identifying, naming, and building the components.
The work continued after Clearleft’s involvement wrapped up, and I’m happy to say that it all paid off. The new eLife site has just gone live. It’s looking—and performing—beautifully.
What a great combination: the best of the web and the best of science!
eLife is a non-profit organisation inspired by research funders and led by scientists. Our mission is to help scientists accelerate discovery by operating a platform for research communication that encourages and recognises the most responsible behaviours in science.
Tuesday, February 21st, 2017
Tim Bray lists the options available to a technically-minded person thinking about their career path …but doesn’t mention the option of working at an agency.
Some good long-zoom observations in here:
The bad news that it’s a lot of work. We’re a young profession and we’re still working out our best practices, so the ground keeps changing under you; it doesn’t get easier as the decades go by.
The good news is that it doesn’t get harder either. Once you learn to stop expecting your knowledge to stay fresh, the pace of innovation doesn’t feel to me like it’s much faster (or slower) now than it was in 1987 or 1997 or 2007. More good news: The technology gets better. Seriously, we are so much better at building software now than we used to be in any of those other years ending in 7.
Saturday, February 4th, 2017
Philip Ball certainly has a way with words.
Monday, January 23rd, 2017
This is beautifully intimate. Your role is that of an anthropologist in orbit around Earth observing the everyday moments on the planet below through uploaded videos that have never been viewed by another human.
Monday, November 21st, 2016
Here’s a fun cosmic hypothesis on the scale of an Olaf Stapeldon story. There are even implications for data storage:
By storing its essential data in photons, life could give itself a distributed backup system. And it could go further, manipulating new photons emitted by stars to dictate how they interact with matter. Fronts of electromagnetic radiation could be reaching across the cosmos to set in motion chains of interstellar or planetary chemistry with exquisite timing, exploiting wave interference and excitation energies in atoms and molecules.
Sunday, October 16th, 2016
Jake goes into the details of what exactly is happening when a service worker is installed or replaced.
This is easily the most complex part of working with service workers, and I think I’m beginning to wrap my head around it, but the good news is that, for the most part, you don’t really need to know the ins and outs of this to get started (and dev tools are now making it easier to nuke from orbit if this begins to bite).
Friday, July 22nd, 2016
The life cycle of a Service Worker—with all its events and states—is the one bit that I’ve never paid that much attention to. My eyes just glaze over when it comes to installation, registration, and activation. But this post explains the whole process really clearly. Now it’s starting to make sense to me.
Sunday, June 5th, 2016
The latest piece from Jonathan Harris explores online life in all its mundanity, presenting it in an engaging way, all the while trying to make you feel bad for doing exactly what the site is encouraging you to do.
Friday, March 11th, 2016
The thesis: any film is improved by playing Walk Of Life by Dire Straits over the ending.
The proof: this website.
(this is absorbing and brilliant)
Thursday, October 15th, 2015
Someone will read this
Over an artisanal, hand-crafted, free-range lunch one day, I took a moment to thank Andy B. I thanked him for a link. Links are very much his stock-in-trade, but there was one in particular that he had shared which stuck in my soul.
It started when he offered a bribe for a good link:
Nidhogg is one of the best local multiplayer games ever. Free Steam code to whoever can show me the best website I’ve never seen before.— Andy Baio (@waxpancake) July 30, 2015
Paul Thompson won the bounty:
The link was to a page on Tilde Town, one of the many old-school web rings set up in the spirit of Paul Ford’s Tilde Club. The owner of this page had taken it upon himself to perform a really interesting—and surprisingly moving—experiment:
- Find blog posts where people have written “no one will ever read this”, and
- Read them aloud.
I’ve written before about how powerful the sound of a human voice can be. There was something about hearing these posts—which were written with a resigned acceptance of indifference—being given the time and respect to be read aloud. I listened to every single one, sometimes bemused, sometimes horrified, always fascinated.
You should listen to all of them too. They deserve it.
One in particular haunted me. It was written in 2008. After listening to it, I had to know more. I felt creepy and voyeuristic, but I transcribed a sentence from the audio file and pasted it in to Google.
That was six years ago. I wonder how things turned out for her. I wonder if life got better for her when she left her teenage years behind. I wonder if she ever found peace.
I hope she’s okay.
Friday, January 9th, 2015
As someone entering their mid 40s, I find this research into “the U-curve” immensely reassuring.
Monday, November 10th, 2014
Focus on what you want to learn; not what you think you should learn.
There is a lot of pressure out there: to learn new things, to spend all your time coding, to be the super developer. I now believe that to be impossible and unhealthy. It means you aren’t living a balanced life and it also means that you’re living under constant stress and pressure.
Friday, January 3rd, 2014
Having experienced the death of a friend, I wonder how many have considered the ghosts in the machine.
Monday, December 16th, 2013
I was going to say that this is a really lovely post from Jim about Second Life, but it’s no actually about Second Life at all: it’s about a person.
Tuesday, October 29th, 2013
I’m going to miss having Paul around at Clearleft …and it sounds like he’s going to miss us too.
In many respects, Clearleft can be regarded as a family. Andy and Rich are the parents while perhaps Jeremy is the fun uncle sending postcards from his adventures around the world.
By the way, we’re hiring (two roles, because that’s what it’ll take to fill Paul’s unicorn shoes).
Saturday, September 28th, 2013
Maciej’s talk from this year’s XOXO—excellent stuff!
Wednesday, August 21st, 2013
The apparent difficulty of living in my head, freelancing, working for large organisations and then descending in to paranoia.
I have a lot of admiration for Reverend Dan Catt.
I don’t want to be in a position where I say “Hey, I’m working at Google, no no, don’t worry, the good bit of Google”, because goodness knows I did enough of that at Yahoo.
Tuesday, October 16th, 2012
Thoughtful points from Chris, delivered on the closing day of this year’s Brooklyn Beta.
So, the next time you feel like you’re missing out, stop it. Zoom out a little bit and give yourself some space and some perspective, so you can focus on what matters.
Friday, July 13th, 2012
Thoughts on artificial intelligence, computation and complexity.