Friday, June 7th, 2019
Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019
Chris put together a terrific round-up of posts recently called Simple & Boring. It links off to a number of great articles on the topic of complexity (and simplicity) in web development.
You don’t hear about TextMate because TextMate is old. What would I tweet? Still using TextMate. Still good.
I think that’s a very good point.
It’s relatively easy to write and speak about new technologies. You’re excited about them, and there’s probably an eager audience who can learn from what you have to say.
It’s trickier to write something insightful about a tried and trusted (perhaps even boring) technology that’s been around for a while. You could maybe write little tips and tricks, but I bet your inner critic would tell you that nobody’s interested in hearing about that old tech. It’s boring.
The result is that what’s being written about is not a reflection of what’s being widely used. And that’s okay …as long as you know that’s the case. But I worry that theres’s a perception problem. Because of the outsize weighting of new and exciting technologies, a typical developer could feel that their skills are out of date and the technologies they’re using are passé …even if those technologies are actually in wide use.
I don’t know about you, but I constantly feel like I’m behind the curve because I’m not currently using TypeScript or GraphQL or React. Those are all interesting technologies, to be sure, but the time to pick any of them up is when they solve a specific problem I’m having. Learning a new technology just to mitigate a fear of missing out isn’t a scalable strategy. It’s reasonable to investigate a technology because you genuinely think it’s exciting; it’s quite another matter to feel like you must investigate a technology in order to survive. That way lies burn-out.
I find it very grounding to talk to Drew and Rachel about the people using their Perch CMS product. These are working developers, but they are far removed from the world of tools and frameworks forged in the startup world.
In a recent (excellent) article comparing the performance of Formula One websites, Jake made this observation at the end:
However, none of the teams used any of the big modern frameworks. They’re mostly Wordpress & Drupal, with a lot of jQuery. It makes me feel like I’ve been in a bubble in terms of the technologies that make up the bulk of the web.
I think this is very astute. I also think it’s completely understandable to form ideas about what matters to developers by looking at what’s being discussed on Twitter, what’s being starred on Github, what’s being spoken about at conferences, and what’s being written about on Ev’s blog. But it worries me when I see browser devrel teams focusing their efforts on what appears to be the needs of typical developers based on the amount of ink spilled and breath expelled.
I have a suspicion that there’s a silent majority of developers who are working with “boring” technologies on “boring” products in “boring” industries …you know, healthcare, government, education, and other facets of everyday life that any other industry would value more highly than Uber for dogs.
Trys wrote a great blog post called City life, where he compares his experience of doing CMS-driven agency work with his experience working at a startup in Shoreditch:
I was chatting to one of the team about my previous role. “I built two websites a month in WordPress”.
They laughed… “WordPress! Who uses that anymore?!”
Nearly a third of the web as it turns out - but maybe not on the Silicon Roundabout.
I’m not necessarily suggesting that there should be more articles and talks about older, more established technologies. Conferences in particular are supposed to give audiences a taste of what’s coming—they can be a great way of quickly finding out what’s exciting in the world of development. But we shouldn’t feel bad if those topics don’t match our day-to-day reality.
Ultimately what matters is building something—a website, a web app, whatever—that best serves end users. If that requires a new and exciting technology, that’s great. But if it requires an old and boring technology, that’s also great. What matters here is appropriateness.
When we’re evaluating technologies for appropriateness, I hope that we will do so through the lens of what’s best for users, not what we feel compelled to use based on a gnawing sense of irrelevancy driven by the perceived popularity of newer technologies.
Friday, March 22nd, 2019
An interesting way of navigating through a massive amount of archival imagery from NASA.
Wednesday, March 20th, 2019
Ah, what a wonderful treasure trove this is! PDF scans of Apollo era press kits from a range of American companies.
- Official NASA
- Lunar Module
There’s something so fascinating about the mundane details of Isolation/Quarantine Foods for Apollo 11 Astronauts from Stouffer’s.
Saturday, March 9th, 2019
Monday, March 4th, 2019
Slow Design for an Anxious World by Jeffrey Zeldman
I’m at An Event Apart in Seattle, ready for three days of excellence. Setting the scene with the first talk of the event is the one and only Jeffrey Zeldman. His talk is called Slow Design for an Anxious World:
Most web pages are too fast or too slow. Last year, Zeldman showed us how to create design that works faster for customers in a hurry to get things done. This year he’ll show how to create designs that deliberately slow your visitors down, helping them understand more and make better decisions.
Learn to make layouts that coax the visitor to sit back, relax, and actually absorb the content your team works so hard to create. Improve UX significantly without spending a lot or chasing the tail lights of the latest whiz-bang tech. Whether you build interactive experiences or craft editorial pages, you’ll learn how to ease your customers into the experience and build the kind of engagement you thought the web had lost forever.
I’m going to attempt to jot down the gist of it as it happens…
Jeffrey begins by saying that he’s going to slooooowly ease us into the day. Slow isn’t something that our industry prizes. Things change fast on the internet. “You’re using last year’s framework!?” Ours is a newly-emerging set of practices.
Slow is negative in our culture too. We don’t like slow movies, or slow books. But somethings are better slow. Wine that takes time to make is better than wine that you produce in a prison toilet in five days. Slow-brewed coffee is well-brewed coffee. Slow dancing is nice. A slow courtship is nice. And reading slowly is something enjoyable. Sometimes you need to scan information quickly, but when we really immerse ourselves in a favourite book, we really comprehend better. Hold that thought. We’re going to come to books.
Fast is generally what we’re designing for. It’s the best kind of design for customer service designs—for people who want to accomplish something and then get on with their lives. Fast is good for customer service designs. Last year Jeffrey gave a talk last year called Beyond Engagement where he said that service-oriented content must be designed for speed of relevancy. Speed of loading is important, and so is speed of relevancy—how quickly can you give people the right content.
But slow is best for comprehension. Like Mr. Rogers. When things are a little bit slower, it’s kind of easier to understand. When you’re designing for readers, s l o w i t d o w n.
How do we slow down readers? That’s what this talk is about (he told us it would be slow—he only just got to what the point of this talk is).
Let’s start with a form factor. The book. A book is a hack where the author’s brain is transmitting a signal to the reader’s brain, and the designer of the book is making that possible. Readability is more than legibility. Readability transcends legibility, enticing people to slow down and read.
This is about absorption, not conversion. We have the luxury of doing something different here. It’s a challenge.
Remember Readability? It was designed by Arc90. They mostly made software applications for arcane enterprise systems, and that stuff tends not to be public. It’s hard for an agency to get new clients when it can’t show what it does. So they decided to make some stuff that’s just for the public. Arc90 Labs was spun up to make free software for everyone.
Readability was like Instapaper. Instapaper was made by Marco Arment so that he could articles when he was commuting on the subway. Readability aimed to do that, but to also make the content like beautiful. It’s kind of like how reader mode in Safari strips away superfluous content and formats what’s left into something more readable. Safari’s reader mode was not invented by Apple. It was based on the code from Readability. The mercury reader plug-in for Chrome also uses Readability’s code. Jeffrey went around pointing out to companies that the very existence of things like Readability was a warning—we’re making experiences so bad that people are using software to work around them. What we can do so that people don’t have to use these tools?
Craig Mod wrote an article for A List Apart called A Simpler Page back in 2011. With tablets and phones, there isn’t one canonical presentation of content online any more. Our content is sort of amorphous. Craig talked about books and newspapers on tablets. He talked about bed, knee, and breakfast distances from the body to the content.
- Bed (close to face): reading a novel on your stomach, lying in bed with the iPad propped up on a pillow.
- Knee (medium distance from face): sitting on the couch, iPad on your knee, catching up on Instapaper.
- Breakfast (far from face): propped up at a comfortable angle, behind your breakfast coffee and bagel, allowing hands-free news reading.
There’s some correlation between distance and relaxation. That knee position is crucial. That’s when the reader contemplates with pleasure and concentration. They’re giving themselves the luxury of contemplation. It’s a very different feeling to getting up and going over to a computer.
So Jeffrey redesigned his own site with big, big type, and just one central column of text. He stripped away the kind of stuff that Readability and Instapaper would strip away. He gave people a reader layout. You would have to sit back to read the content. He knew he succeeded because people started complaining: “Your type is huge!” “I have to lean back just to read it!” Then he redesigned A List Apart with Mike Pick. This was subtler.
Medium came along with the same focus: big type in a single column. Then the New York Times did it, when they changed their business model to a subscription paywall. They could remove quite a bit of the superfluous content. Then the Washington Post did it, more on their tablet design than their website. The New Yorker—a very old-school magazine—also went down this route, and they’re slow to change. Big type. White space. Bold art direction. Pro Publica is a wonderful non-profit newspaper that also went this route. They stepped it up by adding one more element: art direction on big pieces.
How do these sites achieve their effect of slowing you down and calming you?
Big type. We spend a lot of our time hunched forward. Big type forces you to sit back. It’s like that first moment in a yoga workshop where you’ve got to just relax before doing anything. With big type, you can sit back, take a breathe, and relax.
Hierarchy. This is classic graphic design. Clear relationships.
Minimalism. Not like Talking Heads minimalism, but the kind of minimalism where you remove every extraneous detail. Like what Mies van der Rohe did for architecture, where just the proportions—the minimalism—is the beauty. Or like what Hemingway did with writing—scratch out everything but the nouns and verbs. Kill your darlings.
Art direction. When you have a fancy story, give it some fancy art direction. Pro Publica understand that people won’t get confused about what site they’re on—they’ll understand that this particular story is special.
Whitespace. Mark Boulton wrote an article about whitespace in A List Apart. He talked about two kinds of whitespace: macro and micro. Macro is what we usually think about when we talk about whitespace. Whitespace conveys feelings of extreme luxury, and luxury brands know this. Whitespace makes us feels special. Macro whitespace can be snotty. But there’s also micro whitespace. That’s the space between lines of type, and the space inside letterforms. There’s more openness and air, even if the macro whitespace hasn’t changed.
Jeffrey has put a bunch of these things together into an example.
To recap, there are five points:
- Big type
- Art direction
There are two more things that Jeffrey wants to mention before his done. If you want people to pay attention to your design, it must be branded and it must be authoritative.
Branded. When all sites look the same, all content appears equal. Jeffrey calls this the Facebook effect. Whether it’s a noble-prize-winning author, or your uncle ranting, everthing gets the same treatment on Facebook. If you’re taking the time to post content to the web, take the time to let people know who’s talking.
Authoritative. When something looks authoritative, it cues the reader to your authenticity and integrity. Notice how every Oscar-worthy movie uses Trajan on its poster. That’s a typeface based on a Roman column. Strong, indelible letter forms carved in stone. We have absorbed those letterforms into our collective unconcious. Hollywood tap into this by using Trajan for movie titles.
Jeffrey wrote an article called To Save Real News about some of these ideas.
And with that, Jeffrey thanks us and finishes up.
Sunday, February 10th, 2019
This orrery is really quite wonderful! Not only is it a great demonstration of what CSS can do, it’s a really accurate visualisation of the solar system.
Sunday, February 3rd, 2019
This documentary, made entirely with archive footage, looks like it will be amazing! I really hope I get to see it in a cinema.
Crafted from a newly discovered trove of 65mm footage, and more than 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio recordings, Apollo 11 takes us straight to the heart of NASA’s most celebrated mission—the one that first put men on the moon, and forever made Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin into household names.
Aw! What about Michael Collins‽ He’s always the Ringo of the mission, even though he was the coolest dude.
Thursday, January 31st, 2019
The cosmonaut counterparts of the Mercury women astronauts: Zhanna Yorkina, Irina Solovyova, Tatyana Kuznetsova, Valentina Ponomareva, and Valentina Tereshkova.
Ponomareva recalled there being no envy between the women in the squad. According to her, it was a healthy spirit of competition. Everyone did their best to be number one, but also supported each other’s efforts.
One of those cosmonauts went to space: none of the women training for the Mercury missions did. There would be a shockingly gap of twenty years between the launch of Valentina Tereshkova and the launch of Sally Ride.
During the internet of 2006, consumer products let anyone edit CSS. It was a beautiful mess. As the internet grew up, consumer products stopped trusting their users, and the internet lost its soul.
The internet of 2019 is vital societal infrastructure. We depend on it to keep in touch with family, to pay for things, and so much more.
Just because it got serious doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and weird.
Wednesday, January 30th, 2019
Sunday, January 27th, 2019
Side by side screenshots of websites, taken ten years apart. The whitespace situation has definitely improved. It would be interesting to compare what the overall page weights were/are though.
Wednesday, November 21st, 2018
When is a space not a space?
Tom talks about ogham stones and unicode.
Monday, November 19th, 2018
Tuesday, October 9th, 2018
A new impressionistic documentary about Space City.
Saturday, September 22nd, 2018
Sunday, September 16th, 2018
Fuck yeah, libraries!
Even more radically, your time at the library comes with absolutely no expectation that you buy anything. Or even that you transact at all. And there’s certainly no implication that your data or your rights are being surrendered in return for the services you partake in.
This rare openness and neutrality imbues libraries with a distinct sense of community, of us, of everyone having come together to fund and build and participate in this collective sharing of knowledge and space. All of that seems exceedingly rare in this increasingly commercial, exposed world of ours. In a way it’s quite amazing that the concept continues to persist at all.
And when we look at it this way, as a startlingly, almost defiantly civilized institution, it seems even more urgent that we make sure it not only continues to survive, but that it should also thrive, too.
Tuesday, August 7th, 2018
A great long-term perspective from Rachel on the pace of change in standards getting shipped in browsers:
The pace that things are shipping, and at which bugs are fixed is like nothing we have seen before. I know from sitting around a table with representatives from each browser vendor at the CSS Working Group how important interop is. No-one wants features to be implemented differently in browsers. This is what we were asking for with WaSP, and despite the new complexity of the platform, browsers rendering standard features in different ways is becoming increasingly rare. Bugs happen, sometimes in the browser and sometimes in the spec, but there is a commitment to avoid these and to create a stable platform we can all rely on. It is exciting to be part of it.
Monday, July 23rd, 2018
Typography meets astronomy in 16th century books like the Astronomicum Caesareum.
It is arguably the most typographically impressive scientific manual of the sixteenth century. Owen Gingerich claimed it, “the most spectacular contribution of the book-maker’s art to sixteenth-century science.”
Friday, July 20th, 2018
There are of course things worth your time and deep consideration, and there are distractions. Profound new thinking and movements within our industry - the kind that fundamentally shifts the way we work in a positive new direction are worth your time and attention. Other things are distractions. I put new industry gossip, frameworks, software and tools firmly in the distractions category. This is the sort of content that exists in the padding between big movements. It’s the kind of stuff that doesn’t break new ground and it doesn’t make or break your ability to do your job.