Here, then, is my speculation. Work is something we struggle to get and strive to keep. We love-hate it (usually not in equal measure). Sometimes it seems meaningless. I’m told this is the case even for surgeons, teachers and disaster-relief workers: those with jobs whose worth seems indisputable. For the mere facilitators, the obscure cogs in the machinery of the modern economy whose precise function and value it takes some effort to ascertain, the meaning in what we do often seems particularly elusive (I should know). I contend, however, that while our lives need to be meaningful, our work does not; it only has to be honest and useful. And if someone is voluntarily paying you to do something, it’s probably useful at least to them.
Monday, November 11th, 2019
Sunday, February 24th, 2019
Programming lessons from Umberto Eco and Emily Wilson.
Converting the analog into the digital requires discretization, leaving things out. What we filter out—or what we focus on—depends on our biases. How do conventional translators handle issues of bias? What can programmers learn from them?
Sunday, February 17th, 2019
When in doubt, label your icons.
When not in doubt, you probably should be.
Saturday, February 2nd, 2019
It turns out that “it turns out” is a handy linguistic shortcut for making an unsubstaniated assertion.
Monday, January 7th, 2019
A short text file, imbued with meaning and memory.
Wednesday, September 5th, 2018
I love this deep dive that Sara takes into the question of marking up content for progressive disclosure. It reminds me Dan’s SimpleQuiz from back in the day.
Then there’s this gem, which I think is a terrificly succinct explanation of the importance of meaningful markup:
It’s always necessary, in my opinion, to consider what content would render and look like in foreign environments, or in environments that are not controlled by our own styles and scripts. Writing semantic HTML is the first step in achieving truly resilient Web sites and applications.
Saturday, September 1st, 2018
I love, love, love all the little details of HTML that Aaron offers up here. And I really like how he positions non-visual user-agents like searchbots, screen readers, and voice assisants as headless UIs.
HTML is a truly robust and expressive language that is often overlooked and undervalued, but it has the incredible potential to nurture conversations with our users without requiring a lot of effort on our part. Simply taking the time to code web pages well will enable our sites to speak to our customers like they speak to each other. Thinking about how our sites are experienced as headless interfaces now will set the stage for more natural interactions between the real world and the digital one.
Thursday, August 2nd, 2018
I encourage you to think about and make sure you are using the right elements at the right time. Sometimes I overthink this, but that’s because it’s that important to me - I want to make sure that the markup I use helps people understand the content, and doesn’t hinder them.
Tuesday, July 10th, 2018
The ideas and images that come to mind when you think of technology as an instrument are more useful than if you think of it as a tool. Instruments — I’m specifically talking about musical instruments — are a way to create culture.
You approach instruments with a set of expectations and associations that are more humane. It’s built into their very purpose. Instruments are meant to make something for other people, not making things. When you use an instrument, you have an expectation that it is going to take effort to use it well. Using an instrument takes practice. You form a relationship with that object. It becomes part of your identity that you make something with it. You tune it. You understand that there’s no such thing as a “best” guitar in the same way that there’s not necessarily a “best” phone.
Sunday, June 10th, 2018
¶, &, @, ‽, ☺, #, and ☛.
Thursday, May 3rd, 2018
A useful design strategy exercise from Marty Neumeier.
Friday, November 17th, 2017
I’ve been to four conferences in two weeks. I wasn’t speaking at any of them so I was able to relax and enjoy the talks.
One week later, I was in the Duke of York’s cinema for FFConf along with all the other Clearleft frontend devs—it’s always a thought-provoking day out.
Monday, July 10th, 2017
I like words. I like the way they can be tethered together to produce a satisfying sentence.
Jessica likes words even more than I do (that’s why her website is called “wordridden”). She studied linguistics and she’s a translator by trade—German into English. Have a read of her post about translating Victor Klemperer to get an inkling of how much thought and care she puts into it.
Given the depth of enquiry required for a good translation, I was particularly pleased to read this remark by John Le Carré:
No wonder then that the most conscientious editors of my novels are not those for whom English is their first language, but the foreign translators who bring their relentless eye to the tautological phrase or factual inaccuracy – of which there are far too many. My German translator is particularly infuriating.
That’s from an article called Why we should learn German, but it’s really about why we should strive for clarity in our use of language:
Clear language — lucid, rational language — to a man at war with both truth and reason, is an existential threat. Clear language to such a man is a direct assault on his obfuscations, contradictions and lies. To him, it is the voice of the enemy. To him, it is fake news. Because he knows, if only intuitively, what we know to our cost: that without clear language, there is no standard of truth.
It reminds me of one of my favourite Orwell essays, Politics and the English Language:
Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
But however much I agree with Le Carré’s reprise of Orwell’s call for clarity, I was brought up short by this:
Every time I hear a British politician utter the fatal words, “Let me be very clear”, these days I reach for my revolver.
Le Carré’s text was part of a speech given in Berlin, where everyone would get the reference to the infamous Nazi quote—
Wenn ich Kultur höre … entsichere ich meinen Browning—and I’m sure it was meant with a sly wink. But words matter.
Words are powerful. Words can be love and comfort — and words can be weapons.
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016
There is one truism that has been constant throughout my career on the web, and it’s this: naming things is hard.
Trent talks about the strategies out there for naming things. He makes specific mention of Atomic Design, which as Brad is always at pains to point out, is just one way of naming things: atoms, molecules, organisms, etc.
In some situations, having that pre-made vocabulary is perfect. In other situations, I’ve seen it cause all sorts of problems. It all depends on the project and the people.
Personally, I like the vocabulary to emerge from the domain knowledge of the people on the project. Building a newspaper website? Use journalism-related terms. Making a website about bicycles? Use bike-related terms.
Wednesday, December 9th, 2015
The best ARIA role is the one you don’t need to use.
Monday, November 16th, 2015
Full Meaning Ampersand
In the space of one week, Brighton played host to three excellent conferences:
- FF Conf on Friday, November 6th,
- Meaning on Thursday, November 12th, and
- Ampersand on Friday, November 13th.
I made it to two of the three—alas, I couldn’t make it to Meaning this year because it clashed with Richard’s superb workshop on Responsive Web Typography.
FF Conf and Ampersand were both superb. Despite having very different subject matter, the two events have a lot in common. They’re both affordable, one-day, single-track, focused gatherings.
Both events really benefit from having a mastermind overseeing the line-up: Remy in the case of FF Conf, and Richard in the case of Ampersand. That really paid off. Both events were superbly curated, with a diverse mix of speakers and topics.
Videos will be available from FF Conf, and audio will be available from Ampersand. Be sure to check them out once they’re released.
Tuesday, June 30th, 2015
I really enjoyed last year’s Edge conference so I made sure not to miss this year’s event, which took place last weekend.
The format was a little different this time ‘round. Last year the whole day was taken up with panels. Now, panels are often rambling, cringeworthy affairs, but Edge Conf is one of the few events that does panels well: they’re run on a tight schedule and put together with lots of work in advance. At this year’s Edge, the morning was taken up with these tightly-run panels as usual, but the afternoon consisted of more Barcamp-like breakout sessions.
I’ve got to be honest: I don’t think the new format worked that well. The breakout sessions didn’t have the true flexibility that you get with an unconference schedule, so there was no opportunity to merge similarly-themed sessions. There was, for example, a session on components at the same time as a session on accessibility in web components.
That highlights the other issue: FOMO. I’m really not a fan of multi-track events; there were so many sessions that sounded really interesting, but I couldn’t clone myself and go to all of them at once.
But, like I said, the first half of the day was taken up with four sequential (rather than parallel) panels and they were all excellent. All of the moderators did a fantastic job, and I was fortunate enough to sit in on the progressive enhancement panel expertly moderated by Lyza.
The event is called Edge for a reason. There is a rarefied atmosphere—and not just because of the broken-down air conditioning. This is a room full of developers on the cutting edge of web development technologies. Being at Edge Conf means being in a bubble. And being in a bubble is absolutely fine as long as you’re aware you’re in a bubble. It would be problematic if anyone were to mistake the audience and the discussions at Edge as being in any way representative of typical working web devs.
One of the most insightful comments of the day came from Christian who said, “Yes, but this is Edge Conf.” You’re going to need some context for that quote, so here it is…
On the web components panel that Christian was moderating, Alex was making a point about the ubiquity of tools—”Tooling was save you”, he said—and he asked for a show of hands from the audience on who was not using some particular tooling technology; transpilers, package managers, build tools, I can’t remember the specific question. Nobody put their hand up. “See?” asked Alex. “Yes”, said Christian, “but this is Edge Conf.”
Now, while I wasn’t keen on the format of the afternoon with its multiple simultaneous breakout sessions, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the ones I plumped for. Quite the opposite. The last breakout session of the day, again expertly moderated by Lyza, was particularly great.
- It’s not about making all of your functionality available; it’s making your core functionality available: everything else can be considered an enhancement and it’s perfectly fine if not everyone gets that enhancement.
And yet the misunderstanding persists. For that reason, most of the people in the discussion at Edge Conf were in favour of simply dropping the term progressive enhancement and instead focusing on terms like availability and access. Tim writes:
I’m not sure what we call it now. Maybe we do need another term to get people to move away from the “progressive enhancement = working without JS” baggage that distracts from the real goal.
And Stuart writes:
So I’m not going to be talking about progressive enhancement any more. I’m going to be talking about availability. About reach. About my web apps being for everyone even when the universe tries to get in the way.
But Jason writes:
I completely disagree that we should change nomenclature because there exists some small segment of Web designers unwilling to expand their development toolbox. I think progressive enhancement—the term—remains useful, descriptive, and appropriate.
I’m torn. On the one hand, I agree with Jason. The term “progressive enhancement” is a great descriptor. But on the other hand, I don’t want to end up like that guy who’s made it his life’s work to change every instance of the phrase “comprises of” to “comprises” (or “consists of”) on Wikipedia. Technically, he’s correct. But it doesn’t sound like a fun way to spend your days.
I guess my worry is, if I write an article or give a presentation, and I title it something to do with progressive enhancement, am I going to alienate and put off the very audience I’m trying to reach? But if I title it something else, am I tricking people?
Words are hard.
Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
A fascinating look at how the humble password gets imbued with incredible levels of meaning.
It reminds me of something I heard Ze Frank say last year: “People fill up the cracks with intimacy.”
Thursday, November 7th, 2013
Alex starts with a bit of a rant about the phrase “semantic HTML”, which should really just be “well-written HTML, but there then follows some excellent thoughts on the emergence of meaning and the process of standardising on vocabularies.
Sunday, February 17th, 2013
What Dan said.