Tags: process

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Friday, January 20th, 2023

Hand-thrown frontends - Robb Owen

I’ve personally never really seen frontend as an assembly job. Lego is admittedly awesome, but for me the mental model of assembling Lego bricks in the required order until a Jira ticket can be marked as “done” feels too linear and too rigid for how I like to work. And that’s not to mention the pain that comes when you have to partially dismantle your bricks to correct some earlier misstep.

I like the pottery analogy.

Tuesday, January 17th, 2023

Patrick / articles / Is the developer experience on the Web so terrible?

Over the past 10 years or so, we’ve slowly but very surely transitioned to a state where frameworks are the norm, and I think it’s a problem.

I concur.

Use the frameworks and libraries that make sense for you to deliver the best UX possible. But also learn the web platform from the ground up. Take time to understand how web browsers work and render webpages. Learn HTML, CSS, JavaScript. And keep an eye, if you can, on the new things.

Chain of tools

I shared this link in Slack with my co-workers today:

Cultivating depth and stillness in research by Andy Matuschak.

I wasn’t sure whether it belonged in the #research or the #design channel. While it’s ostensibly about research, I think it applies to design more broadly. Heck, it probably applies to most fields. I should have put it in the Slack channel I created called #iiiiinteresting.

The article is all about that feeling of frustration when things aren’t progressing quickly, even when you know intellectually that not everything should always progress quickly.

The article is filled with advice for battling this feeling, including this observation on curiosity:

Curiosity can also totally change my relationship to setbacks. Say I’ve run an experiment, collected the data, done the analysis, and now I’m writing an essay about what I’ve found. Except, halfway through, I notice that one column of the data really doesn’t support the conclusion I’d drawn. Oops. It’s tempting to treat this development as a frustrating impediment—something to be overcome expediently. Of course, that’s exactly the wrong approach, both emotionally and epistemically. Everything becomes much better when I react from curiosity instead: “Oh, wait, wow! Fascinating! What is happening here? What can this teach me? How might this change what I try next?”

But what really resonated with me was this footnote attached to that paragraph:

I notice that I really struggle to generate curiosity about problems in programming. Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing it so long, but I think it’s because my problems are usually with ephemeral ideas, incidental to what I actually care about. When I’m fighting some godforsaken Javascript build system, I don’t feel even slightly curious to “really” understand those parochial machinations. I know they’re just going to be replaced by some new tool next year.

I feel seen.

I know I’m not alone. I know people who were driven out of front-end development because they felt the unspoken ultimatum was to either become a “full stack” developer or see yourself out.

Remember Chris’s excellent post, The Great Divide? Zach referenced it recently. He wrote:

The question I keep asking though: is the divide borne from a healthy specialization of skills or a symptom of unnecessary tooling complexity?

Mostly I feel sad about the talented people we’ve lost because they felt their front-of-the-front-end work wasn’t valued.

But wait! Can I turn my frown upside down? Can I take Andy Matuschak’s advice and say, “Oh, wait, wow! Fascinating! What is happening here? What can this teach me?”

Here’s one way of squinting at the situation…

There’s an opportunity here. If many people—myself included—feel disheartened and ground down by the amount of time they need to spend dealing with toolchains and build systems, what kind of system would allow us to get on with making websites without having to deal with that stuff?

I’m not proposing that we get rid of these complex toolchains, but I am wondering if there’s a way to make it someone else’s job.

I guess this job is DevOps. In theory it’s a specialised field. In practice everyone adding anything to a codebase partakes in continual partial DevOps because they must understand the toolchains and build processes in order to change one line of HTML.

I’m not saying “Don’t Make Me Think” when it comes to the tooling. I totally get that some working knowledge is probably required. But the ratio has gotten out of whack. You need a lot of working knowledge of the toolchains and build processes.

In fact, that’s mostly what companies hire for these days. If you’re well versed in HTML, CSS, and vanilla JavaScript, but you’re not up to speed on pipelines and frameworks, you’re going to have a hard time.

That doesn’t seem right. We should change it.

Henry From Online | How To Make a Website

Write meaningful HTML that communicates the structure of your document before any style or additional interactivity has loaded. Write CSS carefully, reason your methodology and stick to it, and feel empowered to skip frameworks. When it comes time to write JavaScript, write not too much, make sure you know what it all does, and above all, make sure the website works without it.

The whole article is great, and really charmingly written, with some golden nuggets embedded within, like:

  • You’ll find that spending more time getting HTML right reveals or even anticipates and evades accessibility issues. It’s just easier to write accessible code if it’s got semantic foundations.
  • In my experience, you will almost always spend more time overriding frameworks or compromising your design to fit the opinions of a framework.
  • Always style from the absolute smallest screen your content will be rendered on first, and use @media (min-width) queries to break to layouts that allow for more real estate as it becomes available.
  • If your site doesn’t work without JavaScript, your site doesn’t work.
  • Always progressively enhance your apps, especially when you’re fucking with something as browser-critical as page routing.

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2023

Reentry | A Working Library

The first day back at work after some time away is a kind of reentry: you’ve been in orbit, untethered from the gravity that typically keeps you in your chair, and now the friction of the atmosphere is rapidly warming you up, and weight is coming back into your bones, and it’s a lot to feel all at once.

Thursday, November 17th, 2022

Tuesday, November 15th, 2022

Paul Rand: Modernist Master 1914-1996

A lovely fansite dedicated to the life and work of Paul Rand.

Craft — PaulStamatiou.com

I often use the word quality when referring to apps, products and services I hold in a high regard but another word that often comes up in this context is craft. Craft, as in something that is handcrafted where something someone spent a lot of time on and maybe even embedded their own personal touches and personality in it. Often something handcrafted feels more premium.

Monday, November 7th, 2022

Our web design tools are holding us back ⚒ Nerd

A good ol’ rant by Vasilis on our design tools for the web.

Thursday, October 13th, 2022

Wired.com: 20 years later | Stopdesign

Doug casts an eye back on the Wired redesign he worked on 20 years ago. It’s hard to overstate the impact this had on the adoption of web standards.

We’ve come a long way:

We’ve come so far since this redesign in 2002. We no longer trip ourselves up trying to fit everything above an imaginable fold. Designs respond to various screen sizes. Text is comfortably larger and screens display at a much higher resolution. We tend to give everything more breathing room.

Tuesday, September 20th, 2022

Accessibility is systemic

I keep thinking about this blog post I linked to last week by Jacob Kaplan-Moss. It’s called Quality Is Systemic:

Software quality is more the result of a system designed to produce quality, and not so much the result of individual performance. That is: a group of mediocre programmers working with a structure designed to produce quality will produce better software than a group of fantastic programmers working in a system designed with other goals.

I think he’s on to something. I also think this applies to design just as much as development. Maybe more so. In design, there’s maybe too much emphasis placed on the talent and skill of individual designers and not enough emphasis placed on creating and nurturing a healthy environment where anyone can contribute to the design process.

Jacob also ties this into hiring:

Instead of spending tons of time and effort on hiring because you believe that you can “only hire the best”, direct some of that effort towards building a system that produces great results out of a wider spectrum of individual performance.

I couldn’t agree more! It just one of the reasons why the smart long-term strategy can be to concentrate on nurturing junior designers and developers rather than head-hunting rockstars.

As an aside, if you think that the process of nurturing junior designers and developers is trickier now that we’re working remotely, I highly recommend reading Mandy’s post, Official myths:

Supporting junior staff is work. It’s work whether you’re in an office some or all of the time, and it’s work if Slack is the only office you know. Hauling staff back to the office doesn’t make supporting junior staff easier or even more likely.

Hiring highly experienced designers and developers makes total sense, at least in the short term. But I think the better long-term solution—as outlined by Jacob—is to create (and care for) a system where even inexperienced practitioners will be able to do good work by having the support and access to knowledge that they need.

I was thinking about this last week when Irina very kindly agreed to present a lunch’n’learn for Clearleft all about inclusive design.

She answered a question that had been at the front of my mind: what’s the difference between inclusive design and accessibility?

The way Irina put it, accessibility is focused on implementation. To make a website accessible, you need people with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience.

But inclusive design is about the process and the system that leads to that implementation.

To use that cliché of the double diamond, maybe inclusive design is about “building the right thing” and accessibility is about “building the thing right.”

Or to put it another way, maybe accessibility is about outputs, whereas inclusive design is about inputs. You need both, but maybe we put too much emphasis on the outputs and not enough emphasis on the inputs.

This is what made me think of Jacob’s assertion that quality is systemic.

Imagine someone who’s an expert at accessibility: they know all the details of WCAG and ARIA. Now put that person into an organisation that doesn’t prioritise accessibility. They’re going to have a hard time and they probably won’t be able to be very effective despite all their skills.

Now imagine an organisation that priorities inclusivity. Even if their staff don’t (yet) have the skills and knowledge of an accessibility expert, just having the processes and priorities in place from the start will make it easier for everyone to contribute to a more accessible experience.

It’s possible to make something accessible in the absence of a system that prioritises inclusive design but it will be hard work. Whereas making sure inclusive design is prioritised at an organisational level makes it much more likely that the outputs will be accessible.

Wednesday, September 14th, 2022

Quality Is Systemic - Jacob Kaplan-Moss

Software quality is more the result of a system designed to produce quality, and not so much the result of individual performance. That is: a group of mediocre programmers working with a structure designed to produce quality will produce better software than a group of fantastic programmers working in a system designed with other goals.

This talks about development, but I believe it applies equally—if not more—to design.

And this is very insightful:

Instead of spending tons of time and effort on hiring because you believe that you can “only hire the best”, direct some of that effort towards building a system that produces great results out of a wider spectrum of individual performance.

Tuesday, August 16th, 2022

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2022

Open sourcing the Product Planning Prompt Pack

This is very generous of Anna! She has a deck of cards with questions she asks in product planning meetings. You can download the pack for free.

Wednesday, July 27th, 2022

How Florence Nightingale Changed Data Visualization Forever - Scientific American

The design process in action in Victorian England:

Recognizing that few people actually read statistical tables, Nightingale and her team designed graphics to attract attention and engage readers in ways that other media could not. Their diagram designs evolved over two batches of publications, giving them opportunities to react to the efforts of other parties also jockeying for influence. These competitors buried stuffy graphic analysis inside thick books. In contrast, Nightingale packaged her charts in attractive slim folios, integrating diagrams with witty prose. Her charts were accessible and punchy. Instead of building complex arguments that required heavy work from the audience, she focused her narrative lens on specific claims. It was more than data visualization—it was data storytelling.

Thursday, July 14th, 2022

Procrastination and low motivation make productivity difficult. Body-doubling might help - ABC Everyday

I’ve done this and I can attest that it works, but I never knew it had a name.

Body-doubling is simply having another person in the room with you, working quietly alongside you. They can work on something similar, or something completely different.

Wednesday, July 13th, 2022

The Grug Brained Developer

If only all thinkpieces on complexity in software development were written in such an entertaining style! (Although, admittedly, that would get very old very fast.)

A layman’s guide to thinking like the self-aware smol brained

Thursday, June 23rd, 2022

The Demo → Demo Loop - daverupert.com

I’m 100% convinced that working demo-to-demo is the secret formula to making successful creative products.

Sunday, June 12th, 2022

The collapse of complex software | Read the Tea Leaves

Even when each new layer of complexity starts to bring zero or even negative returns on investment, people continue trying to do what worked in the past. At some point, the morass they’ve built becomes so dysfunctional and unwieldy that the only solution is collapse: i.e., a rapid decrease in complexity, usually by abolishing the old system and starting from scratch.

Monday, June 6th, 2022

Reflections on Design Systems and Boundaries - Jim Nielsen’s Blog

Jim shares his thoughts on my recent post about declarative design systems. He picks up on the way I described a declarative design systems as “a predefined set of boundary conditions that can be used to generate components”:

I like this definition of a design system: a set of boundaries. It’s about saying “don’t go there” rather than “you can only go here”. This embraces the idea of constraints as the mother of invention: it opens the door to creativity while keeping things bounded.