These survey results show that creating and maintaining an impactful design system comes with challenges such as planning a clear strategy, managing changes to the system, and fostering design system adoption across the organization. Yet the long-lasting value of a mature design system—like collaboration and better communication—awaits after the hard work of overcoming these challenges is done.
Monday, October 5th, 2020
Sunday, January 19th, 2020
A Cataloged Archive of Information Relating to the Now Closed Mystery Flesh Pit National Park
Friday, August 9th, 2019
The good folks at Sparkbox ran a survey on design systems. Here are the results, presented in a flagrantly anti-Tufte manner.
Thursday, July 4th, 2019
I mentioned how much I enjoyed Mike Hill’s talk at Beyond Tellerrand in Düsseldorf:
Mike gave a talk called The Power of Metaphor and it’s absolutely brilliant. It covers the monomyth (the hero’s journey) and Jungian archetypes, illustrated with the examples Star Wars, The Dark Knight, and Jurassic Park.
Ellen and I have been enjoying some great philosophical discussions about exactly what a story is, and how does it differ from a narrative structure, or a plot. I really love Ellen’s working definition: Narrative. In Space. Over Time.
This led me to think that there’s a lot that we can borrow from the world of storytelling—films, novels, fairy tales—not necessarily about the stories themselves, but the kind of narrative structures we could use to tell those stories. After all, the story itself is often the same one that’s been told time and time again—The Hero’s Journey, or some variation thereof.
I realised that Mike’s monomyth talk aligns nicely with my workshop. So I decided to prep my fellow Clearlefties for the workshop with a movie night.
Popcorn was popped, pizza was ordered, and comfy chairs were suitably arranged. Then we watched Mike’s talk. Everyone loved it. Then it was decision time. Which of three films covered in the talk would we watch? We put it to a vote.
It came out as an equal tie between Jurassic Park and The Dark Knight. How would we resolve this? A coin toss!
The toss went to The Dark Knight. In retrospect, a coin toss was a supremely fitting way to decide to watch that film.
It was fun to watch it again, particularly through the lens of Mike’s analyis of its Jungian archetypes.
But I still think the film is about game theory.
Thursday, March 7th, 2019
Friday, February 2nd, 2018
Thursday, September 14th, 2017
I’ve seen some lovely examples of the Web Audio API recently.
At the Material conference, Halldór Eldjárn demoed his Poco Apollo project. It generates music on the fly in the browser to match a random image from NASA’s Apollo archive on Flickr. Brian Eno, eat your heart out!
The latest issue of the Clearleft newsletter has some links on sound design in interfaces:
- Why strong sound design is critical to successful products by Amber Case and Aaron Day,
- UI Sounds: From Zero To Hero by Roman Zimarev, and
- Form Validation with Web Audio by Ruth John.
I saw Ruth give a fantastic talk on the Web Audio API at CSS Day this year. It had just the right mixture of code and inspiration. I decided there and then that I’d have to find some opportunity to play around with web audio.
As ever, my own website is the perfect playground. I added an audio Easter egg to adactio.com a while back, and so far, no one has noticed. That’s good. It’s a very, very silly use of sound.
In her talk, Ruth emphasised that the Web Audio API is basically just about dealing with numbers. Lots of the examples of nice usage are the audio equivalent of data visualisation. Data sonification, if you will.
I’ve got little bits of dataviz on my website: sparklines. Each one is a self-contained SVG file. I added a
script element directly in the body). Clicking on the sparkline triggers the sound-playing function.
It sounds terrible. It’s like a theremin with hiccups.
Still, I kind of like it. I mean, I wish it sounded nicer (and I’m open to suggestions on how to achieve that—feel free to fork the code), but there’s something endearing about hearing a month’s worth of activity turned into a wobbling wave of sound. And it’s kind of fun to hear how a particular tag is used more frequently over time.
Anyway, it’s just a silly little thing, but anywhere you spot a sparkline on my site, you can tap it to hear it translated into sound.
Friday, April 21st, 2017
A write-up of the BrightSparks programme that Clearleft is taking part in.
Each company agreed to help support one local child from a low-income family, on free school meals or with a yearly household income of under £25k.
Sunday, May 8th, 2016
Friday, April 22nd, 2016
I was in Nuremberg last weekend for Indie Web Camp. It was great.
At some point I really should stop being surprised by just how much gets done in one weekend, but once again, I was blown away by the results.
On the first day we had very productive BarCamp-like discussion sessions, and on the second day it was heads-down hacking. But it was hacking with help. Being in the same room as other people who each have their own areas of expertise is so useful. It really turbo-charges the amount that you can get accomplished.
For example, I was helping Tom turn his website into a progressive web app with the addition of a service worker and a manifest file. Meanwhile Tom was helping somebody else get a Wordpress site up and running.
Actually, that was what really blew me away: two people began the second day of Indie Web Camp Nuremberg without websites and by the end of the day, they both had their own sites up and running. For me, that’s the real spirit of the indie web—I know we tend to go on about the technologies like h-card, h-entry, webmentions, micropub, and IndieAuth, but really it’s not about the technologies; it’s about having your own place on the web so that you have control over what you put out in the world.
For my part, I was mostly making some cosmetic changes to my site. There was a really good discussion on the first page about home pages. What’s the purpose of a home page? For some, it’s about conveying information about the person. For others, it’s a stream of activity.
My site used to have a splash-like homepage; just a brief bio and a link to the latest blog post. Then I changed it into a stream a few years ago. But that means that the home page of my site doesn’t feel that different from sections of the site like the journal or the link list.
During the discussion at Indie Web Camp, we started looking at how silos design their profile pages to see what we could learn from them. Looking at my Twitter profile, my Instagram profile, my Untappd profile, or just about any other profile, it’s a mixture of bio and stream, with the addition of stats showing activity on the site—signs of life.
I decided I’d add signs of life to my home page. Once again, I reached for my favourite little data visualisation helper: sparklines
A sparkline is a small intense, simple, word-sized graphic with typographic resolution.
I’ve been tweaking them ever since I got back from Germany. Now I’ve added in a little h-card bio as well.
Initially I was using the fantastic little scripted SVG that Stuart made , the same one that I’m using on Huffduffer and The Session. But Kevin pointed out that a straightforward polyline would be more succinct. And in the case of my own site, there’s only four sparklines so it wouldn’t be a huge overhead to hard-code the values straight into the SVGs.
Yesterday was the first day of Render Conference in Oxford (I’ll be speaking later today). Sara gave a blisteringly great talk on (what else?) SVGs and I got so inspired I started refactoring my code right there and then. I’m pretty happy with how the sparklines are working now, although I’m sure I’ll continue to play around with them some more.
There’s another activity visualisation that I’m eager to play around with. I really like the calendar heatmap on my Github profile. I could imagine using something like that for an archive view on my own site.
Luckily for me, I’ll have a chance to play around with my website a bit more very soon. There’s going to be another Indie Web Camp in Germany very soon.
Indie Web Camp Düsseldorf will take place on May 7th and 8th, right before Beyond Tellerrand. Last year’s event was really inspiring. If there’s any chance you can make it, you should come along. You won’t regret it.
Wednesday, May 20th, 2015
Thursday, April 9th, 2015
100 words 018
I started keeping a spark file. But I was keeping it the late lamented Editorially so my experiment was cut short. This is far as I got…
The transatlantic telegraph cable :: the space elevator.
The web :: the patent that never was.
The Mechanical Turk as design fiction, influencing Babbage.
These are the ramblings of a madman. But I might be able to use some of this—I need to prepare a new talk for later this year.
Thursday, January 10th, 2013
I really like Mark’s idea of standardised “sparkicons” …for a while there, reading this, I was worried he was going to propose something like Snap Preview. shudder
Sunday, January 6th, 2013
Remember when I made that canvas sparkline script? Remember when Stuart grant my wish for an SVG version? Well, now Tom has gone one further and created a hosted version on sparksvg.me
Not a fan of sparklines? Bars and circles are also available.
Sunday, December 30th, 2012
I like sparklines a lot. Tufte describes a sparkline as:
…a small intense, simple, word-sized graphic with typographic resolution.
The death warrant for Google image charts sets the execution date for 2015. Time to start looking for an alternative.
I couldn’t find a direct equivalent to the functionality that Google provides i.e. generating the images dynamically on the server. There are, however, plenty of client-side alternatives, many of them using
Most of the implementations I found were a little heavy-handed for my taste: they either required jQuery or Processing or both. I just wanted a quick little script for generating sparklines from a dataset of numbers. So I wrote my own.
I’ve put my code up on Github as Canvas Sparkline.
canvas element with the dimensions you want for the sparkline, then pass the ID of that element (along with your dataset) into the
sparkline ('canvasID', [12, 18, 13, 12, 11, 15, 17, 20, 15, 12, 8, 7, 9, 11], true);
(that final Boolean value at the end just indicates whether you want a red dot at the end of the sparkline).
The script takes care of normalising the values, so it doesn’t matter how many numbers are in the dataset or whether the range of the numbers is in the tens, hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands.
There’s plenty of room for improvement:
- The colour of the sparkline is hardcoded (50% transparent black) but it could be passed in as a value.
- All the values should probably be passed in as an array of options rather than individual parameters.
Feel free to fork, adapt, and improve.
The sparklines are working quite nicely, but I can’t help but feel that this isn’t the right tool for the job. Ideally, I’d like to keep using a server-side solution like Google’s image charts. But if I am going to use a client-side solution, I’m not sure that
canvas is the right element. This should really be SVG:
canvas is great for dynamic images and animations that need to update quite quickly, but sparklines are generally pretty static. If anyone fancies making a lightweight SVG solution for sparklines, that would be lovely.
Update: Ask and thou shalt receive. Check out this fantastic lightweight SVG solution from Stuart—bloody brilliant!
Sunday, January 23rd, 2011
Let’s make the Bletchley Park data machine-readable so we can start mining the stories they contain (like Old Weather).
Bletchley Park need help to catalogue and create a proper archive of these decrypts.
I want in!
Saturday, May 22nd, 2010
Being relatively new to this neighbourhood, I wanted to make sure we didn’t go astray. I don’t have an iPhone but I do have an iPod Touch so, before leaving the house, I loaded up the map app with walking directions.
Even though I didn’t have 3G, or even WiFi, to help me on my perambulation, the iPod Touch does have triangulation. So every time I checked the map, a blue dot marked my spot. I just had to make sure that the blue dot didn’t stray off the purple line.
On the way back, I opened up the map app again to retrace my steps. This time, the map tiles didn’t load. But my route home was still marked in purple, and the blue dot still showed my position.
That’s when I realised that all the other information on the map—the streets and landmarks—were irrelevant to the task of navigating my way from A to B. All I needed to do was keep the blue dot on the purple line. It’s the minimum information density for wayfinding: the mapping equivalent of a sparkline.
Thursday, November 19th, 2009
Microsoft are trying to patent sparklines. Twunts.
Friday, July 24th, 2009
Here's an interesting idea: generating a sparkline when you input a password ...familiarity with the generated sparkline acts as a visual aid to the user.
Friday, December 26th, 2008
I’m back in Ireland for a little while. ‘Tis the season for merrymaking, munching mince pies, imbibing wine and—if you’re a geek—fiddling with code. That’s what I’ve been doing, sitting by the fire with my Macbook on my lap, hacking on Huffduffer.
I’ve been messing around with Google’s Chart API. I thought it would be nice to have some discreet little sparklines on profile pages. I had a little help from the ghost of Christmas past in the form of Brian’s 24 Ways article from last year.
The data I’m graphing is activity over time (huffduffing in this case). The time stamp of the first action is the starting point. The current time stamp is the end point. This timeline is then divided into 50 equal parts; the final sparkline will be 150 pixels long, giving 3 pixels per time period. Each action is allocated to the appropriate time slot. Once that’s done, the results are normalised according to the largest amount. So if the maximum activity in the timeline is six, then six becomes 100%; if the maximum activity is just one, then one is 100% and the resultant chart will be quite spiky.
You can see an example sparkline on my huffduffer profile, showing my huffduffing history at a glance. While I was at it, I added sparklines to tag pages as well. Here’s the tag page for “music”. I’ve styled them so that they don’t stand out too much. They’re supposed to look like quick pencil sketches.
For more than you ever wanted to know about sparklines, here’s Sparklines: theory and practice from the Ask E.T. forum.