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1 Why Bother with Accessibility? Web accessibility (known in other fields as inclusive design or universal design) is the degree to which a website is available to as many people as possible. Accessibility is most often used to describe how people with disabilities can access the web. How we approach accessibility In the web community, there’s a surprisingly inconsistent approach to accessibility. There are some who are endlessly dedicated to accessible web design, and there are some who believe it so intrinsic to the web that it shouldn’t be considered a separate topic. Still, of those who are familiar with accessibility, there’s an overwhelming number of designers, developers, clients and bosses who just aren’t that bothered. Over the last few months I’ve spoken to a lot of people about accessibility, and I’ve heard the same reasons to ignore it over and over again. Let’s take a look at the most common excuses. Excuse 1: “People with disabilities don’t really use the web” Accessibility will make your site available to more people — the inclusion case In the same way that the accessibility of a building isn’t just about access for wheelchair users, web accessibility isn’t just about blind users and screen readers. We can affect positively the lives of many people by making their access to the web easier. There are four main types of disability that affect use of the web: Visual Blindness, low vision and colour-blindness Auditory Profoundly deaf and hard of hearing Motor The inability to use a mouse, slow response time, limited fine motor control Cognitive Learning difficulties, distractibility, the inability to focus on large amounts of information None of these disabilities are completely black and white Examining deafness, it’s clear from the medical scale that there are many grey areas between full hearing and total deafness: mild moderate moderately severe severe profound totally deaf For eyesight, and brain conditions that affect what users see, there is a huge range of conditions and challenges: astigmatism colour blindness akinetopsia (motion blindness) scotopic visual sensitivity (visual stress related to light) visual agnosia (impaired recognition or identification of objects) While we might have medical and government-recognised definitions that tell us what makes a disability, day-to-day life is not so straightforward. People experience varying degrees of different conditions, and often one or more conditions at a time, creating a false divide when you view disability in terms of us and them. Impairments aren’t always permanent As we age, we’re more likely to experience different levels of visual, auditory, motor and cognitive impairments. We might have an accident or illness that affects us temporarily. We might struggle more earlier or later in the day. There are so many little physiological factors that affect the way people interact with the web that we can’t afford to make any assumptions based on our own limited experiences. Impairments might be somewhere between the user and the website There are also impairments that aren’t directly related to the user. Environmental factors have a huge effect on the way people interact with the web. These could be: Low bandwidth, or intermittent internet connection Bright light, rain, or other weather-based conditions Noisy environments, or a location where the user doesn’t want to disturb their neighbours with sound Browsing with mobile devices, games consoles and other non-desktop devices Browsing with legacy browsers or operating systems Such environmental factors show that it’s not just those with physical impairments who benefit from more accessible websites. We started designing responsive websites so we could be more future-friendly, and with a shared goal of better optimised experiences, accessibility should be at the core of responsive web design. Excuse 2: “We don’t want to affect the experience for the majority of our users” Accessibility will improve your site for all your users — the usability case On a basic level, the different disability groups, as shown in the inclusion case, equate to simple usability goals: Visual – make it easy to read Auditory – make it easy to hear Motor – make it easy to interact Cognitive – make it easy to understand and focus Taking care to ensure good usability in these areas will also have an impact on accessibility. Unless your site is catering specifically to a particular disability, where extreme optimisation is most beneficial, taking care to design with accessibility in mind will rarely negatively affect the experience of your wider audience. Excuse 3: “We don’t have the budget for accessibility” Accessibility will make you money — the business case By reducing your audience through ignoring accessibility, you’re potentially excluding the income from those users. Designing with accessibility in mind from the beginning of a project makes it easier to make small inexpensive optimisations as part of the design and development process, rather than bolting on costly updates to increase your potential audience later on. The following are excerpts from a white paper about companies that increased the accessibility of their websites to comply with government regulation. Improvements in accessibility doubled Legal and General’s life insurance sales online. Improvements in accessibility increased Tesco’s grocery home delivery sales by £13 million in 2005… To their surprise they found that many normal visitors preferred the ease of navigation and improved simplicity of the [parallel] accessible site and switched to use it. Tesco have replaced their ‘normal’ site with their accessible version and expect a further increase in revenues. Improvements in accessibility increased Virgin.net sales by 68%. Statistics all from WSI white paper: Improve your website’s usability and accessibility to increase sales (PDF). Excuse 4: “Accessible websites are ugly” Accessibility won’t stop your site from being beautiful — the beauty case Many people use ugly accessible websites as proof that all accessible websites are ugly. This just isn’t the case. I’ve compiled some examples of beautiful and accessible websites with screenshots of how they look through the Color Oracle simulator and how they perform when run through Webaim’s Wave accessibility checker tool. While automated tools are no substitute for real users, they can help you learn more about good practices, and give you guidance on where your site needs improvements to make it more accessible. Amazon.co.uk It may not be a decorated beauty, but Amazon is often first in functional design. It’s a huge website with a lot of interactive content, but it generates just five errors on the Wave test, and is easy to read under a Color Oracle filter. Screenshot of Amazon website Screenshot of Amazon’s Wave results – five errors Screenshot of Amazon through a Color Oracle filter 24 ways When Tim Van Damme redesigned 24 ways back in 2007, it was a striking and unusual design that showed what could be achieved with CSS and some imagination. Despite the complexity of the design, it gets an outstanding zero errors on the Wave test, and is still readable under a Color Oracle filter. Screenshot of pre-2013 24 ways website design Screenshot of 24 ways Wave results – zero errors Screenshot of 24ways through a Color Oracle filter Opera’s Shiny Demos Demos and prototypes are notorious for ignoring accessibility, but Opera’s Shiny Demos site shows how exploring new technologies doesn’t have to exclude anyone. It only gets one error on the Wave test, and looks fine under a Color Oracle filter. Screenshot of Opera’s Shiny Demos website Screenshot of Opera’s Shiny Demos Wave results – 1 error Screenshot of Opera’s Shiny Demos through a Color Oracle filter SoundCloud When a site is more app-like, relying on more interaction from the user, accessibility can be more challenging. However, SoundCloud only gets one error on the Wave test, and the colour contrast holds up well under a Color Oracle filter. Screenshot of SoundCloud website Screenshot of SoundCloud’s Wave results – one error Screenshot of SoundCloud through a Color Oracle filter Education and balance As with most web design, doing accessibility well is about combining your knowledge of accessibility with your project’s context to create a balance that serves your users’ needs. Your types of content and interactions will dictate one set of constraints. Your users’ needs and goals will dictate another. In broad terms, web design as a practice is finding the equilibrium between these constraints. And then there’s just caring. The web as a platform is open, affordable and available to many. Accessibility is our way to ensure that nobody gets shut out. 2013 Laura Kalbag laurakalbag 2013-12-10T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/why-bother-with-accessibility/ design
2 Levelling Up Hello, 24 ways. I’m Ashley and I sell property insurance. I’m interrupting your Christmas countdown with an article about rental property software and a guy, Pete, who selflessly encouraged me to build my first web app. It doesn’t sound at all festive, or — considering I’ve used both “insurance” and “rental property” — interesting, but do stick with me. There’s eggnog at the end. I run a property insurance business, Brokers Direct. It’s a small operation, but well established. We’ve been selling landlord insurance on the web for over thirteen years, for twelve of which we have provided our clients with third-party software for managing their rental property portfolios. Free. Of. Charge. It sounds like a sweet deal for our customers, but it isn’t. At least, not any more. The third-party software is victim to years of neglect by its vendor. Its questionable interface, garish visuals and, ahem, clip art icons have suffered from a lack of updates. While it was never a contender for software of the year, I’ve steadily grown too embarrassed to associate my business with it. The third-party rental property software we distributed I wanted to offer my customers a simple, clean and lightweight alternative. In an industry that’s dominated by dated and bloated software, it seemed only logical that I should build my own rental property tool. The long learning-to-code slog Learning a programming language is daunting, the source of my frustration stemming from a non-programming background. Generally, tutorials assume a degree of familiarity with programming, whether it be tools, conventions or basic skills. I had none and, at the time, there was nothing on the web really geared towards a novice. I reached the point where I genuinely thought I was just not cut out for coding. Surrendering to my feelings of self-doubt and frustration, I sourced a local Rails developer, Pete, to build it for me. Pete brought a pack of index cards to our meeting. Index cards that would represent each feature the rental property software would launch with. “OK,” he began. “We’ll need a user model, tenant model, authentication, tenant and property relationships…” A dozen index cards with a dozen features lined the coffee table in a grid-like format. Logical, comprehensible, achievable. Seeing the app laid out in a digestible manner made it seem surmountable. Maybe I could do this. “I’ve been trying to learn Rails…”, I piped up. I don’t know why I said it. I was fully prepared to hire Pete to do the hard work for me. But Pete, unprompted, gathered the index cards and neatly stacked them together, coasting them across the table towards me. “You should build this”. Pete, a full-time freelance developer at the time, was turning down a paying job in favour of encouraging me to learn to code. Looking back, I didn’t realise how significant this moment was. That evening, I took Pete’s index cards home to make a start on my app, slowly evolving each of the cards into a working feature. Building the app solo, I turned to Stack Overflow to solve the inevitable coding hurdles I encountered, as well as calling on a supportive Rails community. Whether they provided direct solutions to my programming woes, or simply planted a seed on how to solve a problem, I kept coding. Many months later, and after several more doubtful moments, Lodger was born. Property overview of my app, Lodger. If I can do it, so can you I misspent a lot of time building Twitter and blogging applications (apparently, all Rails tutorials centre around Twitter and blogging). If I could rewind and impart some advice to myself, this is what I’d say. There’s no magic formula “I haven’t quite grasped Rails routing. I should tackle another tutorial.” Making excuses — or procrastination — is something we are all guilty of. I was waiting for a programming book that would magically deposit a grasp of the entire Ruby syntax in my head. I kept buying books thinking each one would be the one where it all clicked. I now have a bookshelf full of Ruby material, all of which I’ve barely read, and none of which got me any closer to launching my web app. Put simply, there’s no magic formula. Break it down Whatever it is you want to build, break it down into digestible chunks. Taking Pete’s method as an example, having an index card represent an individual feature helped me tremendously. Tackle one at a time. Even if each feature takes you a month to build, and you have eight features to launch with, after eight months you’ll have your MVP. Remember, if you do nothing each day, it adds up to nothing. Have a tangible product to build I have a wonderful habit of writing down personal notes, usually to express my feelings at the time or to log an idea, only to uncover them months or years down the line, long after I forgot I had written them. I made a timely discovery while writing this article, discovering this gem while flicking through a battered Moleskine: “I don’t seem to be making good progress with learning Rails, but development still excites me. I should maybe stop doing tutorials and work towards building a specific app.” Having a real product to work on, like I did with Lodger, means you have something tangible to apply the techniques you are learning. I found this prevented me from flitting aimlessly between tutorials and books, which is an easy area to accidentally remain in. Team up If possible, team up with a designer and create something together. Designers are great at presenting features in a way you’d never have considered. You will learn a lot from making their designs come to life. Your homework for the holiday Despite having a web app under my belt, I am not a programmer. I tinker with code, piecing enough bits of it together to make something functional. And that’s OK! I’m not excusing sloppiness, but if we aimed for perfection every time, we’d never execute any of our ideas. As the holidays approach and you’ve exhausted yet another viewing of The Muppet Christmas Carol (or is that just my guilty pleasure at Christmas?), you may have time on your hands. Time to explore an idea you’ve been sitting on, but — plagued with procrastination and doubt — have yet to bring to life. This holiday, I am here to say to you what Pete said to me. You should build this. You don’t need to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page. You just have to learn enough to get it done. PS: I lied about the eggnogg, but try capturing somebody’s attention when you tell them you sell property insurance! 2013 Ashley Baxter ashleybaxter 2013-12-06T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/levelling-up/ business
3 Project Hubs: A Home Base for Design Projects SCENE: A design review meeting. Laptop screens. Coffee cups. Project manager: Hey, did you get my email with the assets we’ll be discussing? Client: I got an email from you, but it looks like there’s no attachment. PM: Whoops! OK. I’m resending the files with the attachments. Check again? Client: OK, I see them. It’s homepage_v3_brian-edits_FINAL_for-review.pdf, right? PM: Yeah, that’s the one. Client: OK, hang on, Bill’s going to print them out. (3-minute pause. Small talk ensues.) Client: Alright, Bill’s back. We’re good to start. Brian: Oh, actually those homepage edits we talked about last time are in the homepage_v4_brian_FINAL_v2.pdf document that I posted to Basecamp earlier today. Client: Oh, OK. What message thread was that in? Brian: Uh, I’m pretty sure it’s in “Homepage Edits and Holiday Schedule.” Client: Alright, I see them. Bill’s going back to the printer. Hang on a sec… This is only a slightly exaggerated version of my experience in design review meetings. The design project dance is a sloppy one. It involves a slew of email attachments, PDFs, PSDs, revisions, GitHub repos, staging environments, and more. And while tools like Basecamp can help manage all these moving parts, it can still be incredibly challenging to extract only the important bits, juggle deliverables, and see how your project is progressing. Enter project hubs. Project hubs A project hub consolidates all the key design and development materials onto a single webpage presented in reverse chronological order. The timeline lives online (either publicly available or password protected), so that everyone involved in the team has easy access to it. A project hub. I was introduced to project hubs after seeing Dan Mall’s open redesign of Reading Is Fundamental. Thankfully, I had a chance to work with Dan on two projects where I got to see firsthand how beneficial a project hub can be. Here’s what makes a project hub great: Serves as a centralized home base for the project Trains clients and teams to decide in the browser Easily and visually view project’s progress Provides an archive for project artifacts A home base Your clients and colleagues can expect to get the latest and greatest updates to your project when visiting the project hub, the same way you’d expect to get the latest information on a requested topic when you visit a Wikipedia page. That’s the beauty of URIs that don’t change. Creating a project hub reduces a ton of email volley nonsense, and eliminates the need to produce files and directories with staggeringly ridiculous names like design/12.13.13/team/brian/for_review/_FINAL/styletile_121313_brian-edits-final_v2_FINAL.pdf. The team can simply visit the project hub’s URL and click the link to whatever artifact they need. Need to make an update? Simply update the link on the project hub. No more email tango and silly file names. Deciding in the browser Let’s change the phrase “designing in the browser” to “deciding in the browser.” Dan Mall We make websites, but all too often we find ourselves looking at web design artifacts in abstractions. We email PDFs to each other, glance at mockup JPGs on our desktops, and of course kill trees in order to print out designs so that we can scribble in the margins. All of these practices subtly take everyone further and further away from the design’s eventual final resting place: the browser. Because a project hub is just a simple webpage, reviewing designs is as easy as clicking some links, which keep your clients and teams in the browser. You can keep people in the browser with yet another clever trick from the wily Dan Mall: instead of sending clients PDFs or JPGs, he created a simple webpage and tossed his static visuals into the template (you can view an example here). This forces clients to review web design work in the browser rather than launching a PDF viewer or Preview. Now this all might sound trivial to you (“Of course my client knows that we’re designing a website!”), but keeping the design artifacts in the browser subconsciously helps remind everyone of the medium for which you’re designing, which helps everyone focus on the right aspects of the design and have the right conversations. Progress over time When you’re in the trenches, it’s often hard to visualize how a project is progressing. Tools like Basecamp include discussions, files, to-dos, and more, which are all great tools but also make things a bit noisy. Project hubs provide you and your clients a quick and easy way to see at a glance how things are coming along. Teams can rest assured they’re viewing the most current versions of designs, and managers can share progress with stakeholders simply by providing a link to the project hub. Over time, a project hub becomes an easily accessible archive of all the design decisions, which makes it easy to compare and contrast different versions of designs and prototypes. Setting up a project hub Setting up your own project hub is pretty simple. Simply create a webpage with some basic styles and branding. I’ve created a project hub template that’s available on GitHub if you want a jump-start. Publish the webpage to a URL somewhere that makes sense (we’ve found that a subdomain of your site works quite well) and share it with everyone involved in the project. Bookmark it. Let everyone know that this is where design updates will be shared, and that they can always come back to the project hub to track the project’s progress. When it comes time to share new updates, simply add a new node to the timeline and republish the webpage. Simple FTPing works just fine, but it might make sense to keep track of changes using version control. Our project hub for our open redesign of the Pittsburgh Food Bank is managed on GitHub, which means that I can make edits to the hub right from GitHub. Thanks to the magical wizardry of webhooks, I can automatically deploy the project hub so that everything stays in sync. That’s the fancy-pants way to do it, and is certainly not a requirement. As long as you’re able to easily make edits and keep your project hub up to date, you’re good to go. So that’s the hubbub Project hubs can help tame the chaos of the design process by providing a home base for all key design and development materials. Keep the design artifacts in the browser and give clients and colleagues quick insight into your project’s progress. Happy hubbing! 2013 Brad Frost bradfrost 2013-12-17T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/project-hubs/ process
4 Credits and Recognition A few weeks ago, I saw a friendly little tweet from a business congratulating a web agency on being nominated for an award. The business was quite happy for them and proud to boot — they commented on how the same agency designed their website, too. What seemed like a nice little shout-out actually made me feel a little disappointed. Why? In reality, I knew that the web agency didn’t actually design the site — I did, when I worked at a different agency responsible for the overall branding and identity. I certainly wasn’t disappointed at the business — after all, saying that someone designed your site when they were responsible for development is an easy mistake to make. Chances are, the person behind the tweets and status updates might not even know the difference between words like design and development. What really disappointed me was the reminder of how many web workers out there never explain their roles in a project when displaying work in a portfolio. If you’re strictly a developer and market yourself as such, there might be less room for confusion, but things can feel a little deceptive if you offer a wide range of services yet never credit the other players when collaboration is part of the game. Unfortunately, this was the case in this situation. Whatever happened to credit where credit’s due? Advertising attribution Have you ever thumbed through an advertising annual or browsed through the winners of an advertising awards website, like the campaign below from Kopenhagen Chocolate on Advertising Age? If so, it’s likely that you’ve noticed some big differences in how the work is credited. Everyone involved in a creative advertising project is mentioned. Art directors, writers, creative directors, photographers, illustrators and, of course, the agency all get a fair shot at fifteen minutes of fame. Why can’t we take this same idea and introduce it to our own showcases? Crediting on client sites Ah, the good old days of web rings, guestbooks, and under construction GIFs, when slipping in a cheeky “designed by” link in the footer of your masterpiece was just another common practice. These days most clients, especially larger companies and corporations, aren’t willing to have any names on their site except their own. If you’d still like to leave a little proof of authorship on a website, consider adding a humans.txt file to the root of the site and, if possible, add an author tag in the <head> of the site: <link type="text/plain" rel="author" href="http://domain/humans.txt"> It’s a great way to add more detailed information than just a meta name without being intrusive. The example on the humanstxt.org website serves to act as a guideline, but how much detail you add is completely up to you and your team. Part of the humans.txt file on humanstxt.org Alternatively, you can use the HTML5 rel="author" attribute to link to information about the author of the page in the form of a mailto: address, a link to a contact form, or a separate authors page. Crediting in portfolios While humans.txt is a great approach when you’re authoring a site, it’s even more important to clearly define your role in your own portfolio. While I believe it’s proper etiquette to include the names of folks you collaborated with, sometimes it might not be necessary (or even possible) to list every single person, especially if you’ve worked with a large agency. “Fake it till you make it” is not a term that should apply to your portfolio. Clearly stating your own responsibilities means that nobody else browsing your work samples will assume that you did more than your actual share, and being ambiguous about your role isn’t fair to yourself, or others. Before adding any work to your portfolio, ensure that you have permission from your client. Even if you included a clause in your contract about being allowed to post your work online, it’s always best to double-check. Sometimes you might not know if your work has been officially launched, and leaking something before it’s ready is bound to make a client frown. Examples There are plenty of portfolios out there that we can use for inspiration. Here are some examples that I like from other folks in the web industry: Anna Debenham In her portfolio, Anna outlines her responsibilities and those of others. In the description, Anna clearly explains her duties of doing the HTML and CSS, along with performing research and testing the prototype in schools. She also credits Laura Kalbag for the design work. Naomi Atkinson Design The work portfolio of Naomi Atkinson Design is short and to the point — they were responsible for the iPhone app design and IA for Artspotter. The portfolio of Naomi Atkinson Design states clearly what they did. Amber Weinberg Amber Weinberg is strictly a developer, but a potential client could see her portfolio and assume she might be a designer as well. To avoid any misunderstandings, she states her roles up front in a section called “What I Did,” supported by examples of her code. Amber Weinberg sets out all her roles in each of her portfolio’s case studies. What if someone doesn’t want to be credited? Let’s face it — we’ve all been there. A project, for whatever reason, turns out to be an absolute disaster and we don’t feel like it’s an accurate representation of the quality of our work. If you’re crediting someone else but suspect they might rather pretend it never happened, be sure to drop them a line and ask if they’d like to be included. And, if someone contacts you and asks to remove their name, don’t feel offended — just politely remove it. Get updating! Now that the holiday season is almost here, many of you might be planning to set aside some time for personal projects. Grab yourself a gingerbread latte and get those portfolios up to date. Remember, It doesn’t have to be long-winded, just honest. Happy holidays! 2013 Geri Coady gericoady 2013-12-16T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/credits-and-recognition/ process
5 Managing a Mind On 21 May 2013, I woke in a hospital bed feeling exhausted, disorientated and ashamed. The day before, I had tried to kill myself. It’s very hard to write about this and share it. It feels like I’m opening up the deepest recesses of my soul and laying everything bare, but I think it’s important we share this as a community. Since starting tentatively to write about my experience, I’ve had many conversations about this: sharing with others; others sharing with me. I’ve been surprised to discover how many people are suffering similarly, thinking that they’re alone. They’re not. Due to an insane schedule of teaching, writing, speaking, designing and just generally trying to keep up, I reached a point where my buffers completely overflowed. I was working so hard on so many things that I was struggling to maintain control. I was living life on fast-forward and my grasp on everything was slowly slipping. On that day, I reached a low point – the lowest point of my life – and in that moment I could see only one way out. I surrendered. I can’t really describe that moment. I’m still grappling with it. All I know is that I couldn’t take it any more and I gave up. I very nearly died. I’m very fortunate to have survived. I was admitted to hospital, taken there unconscious in an ambulance. On waking, I felt overwhelmed with shame and overcome with remorse, but I was resolved to grasp the situation and address it. The experience has forced me to confront a great deal of issues in my life; it has also encouraged me to seek a deeper understanding of my situation and, in particular, the mechanics of the mind. The relentless pace of change We work in a fast-paced industry: few others, if any, confront the daily challenges we face. The landscape we work within is characterised by constant flux. It’s changing and evolving at a rate we have never experienced before. Few industries reinvent themselves yearly, monthly, weekly… Ours is one of these industries. Technology accelerates at an alarming rate and keeping abreast of this change is challenging, to say the least. As designers it can be difficult to maintain a knowledge bank that is relevant and fit for purpose. We’re on a constant rollercoaster of endless learning, trying to maintain the pace as, daily, new ideas and innovations emerge — in some cases fundamentally changing our medium. Under the pressure of client work or product design and development, it can be difficult to find the time to focus on learning the new skills we need to remain relevant and functionally competent. The result, all too often, is that the edges of our days have eroded. We no longer work nine to five; instead we work eight to six, and after the working day is over we regroup to spend our evenings learning. It’s an unsustainable situation. From the workshop to the web Added to this pressure to keep up, our work is now undertaken under a global gaze, conducted under an ever-present spotlight. Tools like Dribbble, Twitter and others, while incredibly powerful, have an unfortunate side effect, that of unfolding your ideas in public. This shift, from workshop to web, brings with it additional pressure. In the past, the early stages of creativity took place within the relative safety of the workshop, an environment where one could take risks and gather feedback from a trusted few. We had space to make and space to break. No more. Our industry’s focus (and society’s focus) on sharing, leads us now to play out our decisions in public. This shift has changed us culturally, slowly but surely easing every aspect of our process – and lives – from private to public. This is at once liberating and debilitating. If you’re not careful, an addiction to followers, likes, retweets, page views and other forms of measurement can overwhelm you. When you release your work into the wild and all it’s greeted with is silence, it can cripple you. Reflecting on this, in an insightful article titled Derailed, Rogie King asks, “Can social popularity take us off the course of growth and where we were intended to go?” He makes a powerful point, that perhaps we might focus on what really matters, setting aside statistics. He concludes that to grow as practitioners we might be best served by seeking out critique through other avenues, away from the social spotlight. On status anxiety and impostor syndrome Following my experience I embarked on a period of self-reflection. I wanted to discover what had driven me to take the course of action I had. I wanted to ensure it never happened again. I wanted to understand how the mind works and, in so doing, learn a little more about myself. I’ve only begun this journey, but two things I discovered resonated with me: the twin pressures of status anxiety and impostor syndrome. In his excellent book Status Anxiety, the philosopher Alain de Botton explores a growing concern with status anxiety, a worry about how others perceive us and how this shapes our relationship with the world. He states: We all worry about what others think of us. We all long to succeed and fear failure. We all suffer – to a greater or lesser degree, usually privately and with embarrassment – from status anxiety. […] This is an almost universal anxiety that rarely gets mentioned directly: an anxiety about what others think of us; about whether we’re judged a success or a failure, a winner or a loser. We see these pressures played out and amplified in the social sphere we all inhabit. We are social animals and we cannot help but react to the landscape we live and work within. Even if your work receives the public praise you so secretly desire, you find yourself questioning this praise. A psychological phenomenon in which sufferers are unable to internalise their accomplishments, impostor syndrome is far more widespread than you’d imagine. The author Leigh Buchanan describes it as “A fear that one is not as smart or capable as others think.” As she puts it, “People who feel like frauds chalk up their accomplishments to external factors such as luck and timing, or worry they are coasting on charm and personality rather than on talent.” At the bottom, this was all I could see. I felt overwhelmed by others’ perception of me. Was I a success or a failure? Would I be discovered as the fraud I’d convinced myself that I was? These twin pressures – that I was unconscious of at the time – had lead me to a place of crippling self-doubt, questioning my very existence. The act of discovery, of investigating how the mind functions, led me to a deeper understanding of myself. Developing an awareness of psychology and learning about conditions like status anxiety and impostor syndrome helped me to understand and recognise how my mind worked, enabling me to manage it more effectively. Make it count Reflecting upon my experience, I began to regroup, to focus on what really mattered. I’d taken on too much — as I believe many of us do. I was guilty of wanting to do all the things. I started to introduce pauses. Before blindly saying yes to everything, I forced myself to pause and ask: “Is this important?” Our community offers us huge benefits, but an always-on culture in which we’re bombarded daily by opportunity places temptation in our paths. It’s easy to get sucked in to a vortex of wanting to be a part of everything. It’s important, however, to focus. As Simon Collison puts it: I cull and surrender topics. Then I focus on my strengths, mastering my core skills. We only have so much time and we can only do so much. It’s impossible, indeed futile, to try to do everything. Sometimes we need to step back a little and just enjoy life, enjoy others’ achievements, without feeling the need to be actively involved ourselves. As Mahatma Ghandi put it: A ‘no’ uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble. Young India, volume 9, 1927 We need to learn to say no a little more often. We need to focus on the work that matters. This, coupled with an understanding of the mind and how it works, can help us achieve a happier balance between work and life. Don’t waste your time. You only have one life. Make it count. 2013 Christopher Murphy christophermurphy 2013-12-21T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/managing-a-mind/ process
6 Run Ragged You care about typography, right? Do you care about words and how they look, read, and are understood? If you pick up a book or magazine, you notice the moment something is out of place: an orphan, rivers within paragraphs of justified prose, or caps masquerading as small caps. So why, I ask you, is your stance any different on the web? We’re told time and time again that as a person who makes websites we have to get comfortable with our lack of control. On the web, this is a feature, not a bug. But that doesn’t mean we have to lower our standards, or not strive for the same amount of typographic craft of our print-based cousins. We shouldn’t leave good typesetting at the door because we can’t control the line length. When I typeset books, I’d spend hours manipulating the text to create a pleasurable flow from line to line. A key aspect of this is manicuring the right rag — the vertical line of words on ranged-left text. Maximising the space available, but ensuring there are no line breaks or orphaned words that disrupt the flow of reading. Setting a right rag relies on a bunch of guidelines — or as I was first taught to call them, violations! Violation 1. Never break a line immediately following a preposition Prepositions are important, frequently used words in English. They link nouns, pronouns and other words together in a sentence. And links should not be broken if you can help it. Ending a line on a preposition breaks the join from one word to another and forces the reader to work harder joining two words over two lines. For example: The container is for the butter The preposition here is for and shows the relationship between the butter and the container. If this were typeset on a line and the line break was after the word for, then the reader would have to carry that through to the next line. The sentence would not flow. There are lots of prepositions in English – about 150 – but only 70 or so in use. Violation 2. Never break a line immediately following a dash A dash — either an em-dash or en-dash — can be used as a pause in the reading, or as used here, a point at which you introduce something that is not within the flow of the sentence. Like an aside. Ending with a pause on the end of the line would have the same effect as ending on a preposition. It disrupts the flow of reading. Violation 3. No small words at the end of a line Don’t end a line with small words. Most of these will actually be covered by violation №1. But there will be exceptions. My general rule of thumb here is not to leave words of two or three letters at the end of a line. Violation 4. Hyphenation In print, hyphens are used at the end of lines to join words broken over a line break. Mostly, this is used in justified body text, and no doubt you will be used to seeing it in newspapers or novels. A good rule of thumb is to not allow more than two consecutive lines to end with a hyphen. On the web, of course, we can use the CSS hyphens property. It’s reasonably supported with the exception of Chrome. Of course, it works best when combined with justified text to retain the neat right margin. Violation 5. Don’t break emphasised phrases of three or fewer words If you have a few words emphasised, for example: He calls this problem definition escalation …then try not to break the line among them. It’s important the reader reads through all the words as a group. How do we do all of that on the web? All of those guidelines are relatively easy to implement in print. But what about the web? Where content is poured into a template from a CMS? Well, there are things we can do. Meet your new friend, the non-breaking space, or as you may know them:  . The guidelines above are all based on one decision for the typesetter: when should the line break? We can simply run through a body of text and add the   based on these sets of questions: Are there any prepositions in the text? If so, add a   after them. Are there any dashes? If so, add a   after them. Are there any words of fewer than three characters that you haven’t already added spaces to? If so, add a   after them. Are there any emphasised groups of words either two or three words long? If so, add a   in between them. For a short piece of text, this isn’t a big problem. But for longer bodies of text, this is a bit arduous. Also, as I said, lots of websites use a CMS and just dump the text into a template. What then? We can’t expect our content creators to manually manicure a right rag based on these guidelines. In this instance, we really need things to be automatic. There isn’t any reason why we can’t just pass the question of when to break the line straight to the browser by way of a script which compares the text against a set of rules. In plain English, this script could be to scan the text for: Prepositions. If found, add   after them. Dashes. If found, add   after them. Words fewer than three characters long that aren’t prepositions. If found, add   after them. Emphasised phrases of up to three words in length. If found, add   between all of the words. And there we have it. A note on fluidity An important consideration of this script is that it doesn’t scan the text to see what is at the end of a line. It just looks for prepositions, dashes, words fewer than three characters long, and emphasised words within paragraphs and applies the   accordingly regardless of where the thing lives. This is because in a fluid layout a word might appear in the beginning, middle or the end of a line depending on the width of the browser. And we want it to behave in the right way when it does find itself at the end. See it in action! My friend and colleague, Nathan Ford, has written a small JavaScript called Ragadjust that does all of this automatically. The script loops through a webpage, compares the text against the conditions, and then inserts   in the places that violate the conditions above. You can get the script from GitHub and see it in action on my own website. Some caveats As my friend Jon Tan says, “There are no rules in typography, just good or bad decisions”, and typesetting the right rag is no different. The guidelines for the violations above are useful for justified text, too. But we need to be careful here. Too stringent adherence to these violations could lead to ugly gaps in our words — called rivers — as the browser forces justification. The violation regarding short words at the end of sentences is useful for longer line lengths, or measures, of text. When the measure gets shorter, maybe five or six words, then we need to be more forgiving as to what wraps to the next line and what doesn’t. In fact, you can see this happening on my site where I’ve not included a check on the size of the browser window (purposefully, for this demo, of course. Ahem). This article is about applying these guidelines to English. Some of them will, no doubt, cross over to other languages quite well. But for those languages, like German for instance, where longer words tend to be in more frequent use, then some of the rules may result in a poor right rag. Marginal gains In 2007, I spoke with Richard Rutter at SXSW on web typography. In that talk, Richard and I made a point that good typographic design — on the web, in print; anywhere, in fact — relies on small, measurable improvements across an entire body of work. From heading hierarchy to your grid system, every little bit helps. In and of themselves, these little things don’t really mean that much. You may well have read this article, shrugged your shoulders and thought, “Huh. So what?” But these little things, when added up, make a difference. A difference between good typographic design and great typographic design. Appendix Preposition whitelist aboard about above across after against along amid among anti around as at before behind below beneath beside besides between beyond but by concerning considering despite down during except excepting excluding following for from in inside into like minus near of off on onto opposite outside over past per plus regarding round save since than through to toward towards under underneath unlike until up upon versus via with within without 2013 Mark Boulton markboulton 2013-12-24T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/run-ragged/ design
7 Get Started With GitHub Pages (Plus Bonus Jekyll) After several failed attempts at getting set up with GitHub Pages, I vowed that if I ever figured out how to do it, I’d write it up. Fortunately, I did eventually figure it out, so here is my write-up. Why I think GitHub Pages is cool Normally when you host stuff on GitHub, you’re just storing your files there. If you push site files, what you’re storing is the code, and when you view a file, you’re viewing the code rather than the output. What GitHub Pages lets you do is store those files, and if they’re HTML files, you can view them like any other website, so there’s no need to host them separately yourself. GitHub Pages accepts static HTML but can’t execute languages like PHP, or use a database in the way you’re probably used to, so you’ll need to output static HTML files. This is where templating tools such as Jekyll come in, which I’ll talk about later. The main benefit of GitHub Pages is ease of collaboration. Changes you make in the repository are automatically synced, so if your site’s hosted on GitHub, it’s as up-to-date as your GitHub repository. This really appeals to me because when I just want to quickly get something set up, I don’t want to mess around with hosting; and when people submit a pull request, I want that change to be visible as soon as I merge it without having to set up web hooks. Before you get started If you’ve used GitHub before, already have an account and know the basics like how to set up a repository and clone it to your computer, you’re good to go. If not, I recommend getting familiar with that first. The GitHub site has extensive documentation on getting started, and if you’re not a fan of using the command line, the official GitHub apps for Mac and Windows are great. I also found this tutorial about GitHub Pages by Thinkful really useful, and it contains details on how to turn an existing repository into a GitHub Pages site. Although this involves a bit of using the command line, it’s minimal, and I’ll guide you through the basics. Setting up GitHub Pages For this demo we’re going to build a Christmas recipe site — nothing complex, just a place to store recipes so we can share them with people, and they can fork or suggest changes to ones they like. My GitHub username is maban, and the project I’ve set up is called christmas-recipes, so once I’ve set up GitHub Pages, the site can be found here: http://maban.github.io/christmas-recipes/ You can set up a custom domain, but by default, the URL for your GitHub Pages site is your-username.github.io/your-project-name. Set up the repository The first thing we’re going to do is create a new GitHub repository, in exactly the same way as normal, and clone it to the computer. Let’s give it the name christmas-recipes. There’s nothing in it at the moment, but that’s OK. After setting up the repository on the GitHub website, I cloned it to my computer in my Sites folder using the GitHub app (you can clone it somewhere else, if you want), and now I have a local repository synced with the remote one on GitHub. Navigate to the repository Now let’s open up the command line and navigate to the local repository. The easiest way to do this in Terminal is by typing cd and dragging and dropping the folder into the terminal window and pressing Return. You can refer to Chris Coyier’s GIF illustrating this very same thing, from last week’s 24 ways article “Grunt for People Who Think Things Like Grunt are Weird and Hard” (which is excellent). So, for me, that’s… cd /Users/Anna/Sites/christmas-recipes Create a special GitHub Pages branch So far we haven’t done anything different from setting up a regular repository, but here’s where things change. Now we’re in the right place, let’s create a gh-pages branch. This tells GitHub that this is a special branch, and to treat the contents of it differently. Make sure you’re still in the christmas-recipes directory, and type this command to create the gh-pages branch: git checkout --orphan gh-pages That --orphan option might be new to you. An orphaned branch is an empty branch that’s disconnected from the branch it was created off, and it starts with no commits, making it a special standalone branch. checkout switches us from the branch we were on to that branch. If all’s gone well, we’ll get a message saying Switched to a new branch ‘gh-pages’. You may get an error message saying you don’t have admin privileges, in which case you’ll need to type sudo at the start of that command. Make gh-pages your default branch (optional) The gh-pages branch is separate to the master branch, but by default, the master branch is what will show up if we go to our repository’s URL on GitHub. To change this, go to the repository settings and select gh-pages as the default branch. If, like me, you only want the one branch, you can delete the master branch by following Oli Studholme’s tutorial. It’s actually really easy to do, and means you only have to worry about keeping one branch up to date. If you prefer to work from master but push updates to the gh-pages branch, Lea Verou has written up a quick tutorial on how to do this, and it basically involves working from the master branch, and using git rebase to bring one branch up to date with another. At the moment, we’ve only got that branch on the local machine, and it’s empty, so to be able to see something at our special GitHub Pages URL, we’ll need to create a page and push it to the remote repository. Make a page Open up your favourite text editor, create a file called index.html in your christmas-recipes folder, and put some exciting text in it. Don’t worry about the markup: all we need is text because right now we’re just checking it works. Now, let’s commit and push our changes. You can do that in the command line if you’re comfortable with that, or you can do it via the GitHub app. Don’t forget to add a useful commit message. Now we’re ready to see our gorgeous new site! Go to your-username.github.io/your-project-name and, hopefully, you’ll see your first GitHub Pages site. If not, don’t panic, it can take up to ten minutes to publish, so you could make a quick cake in a cup while you wait. After a short wait, our page should be live! Hopefully that wasn’t too traumatic. Now we know it works, we can add some proper markup and CSS and even some more pages. If you’re feeling brave, how about we take it to the next level… Setting up Jekyll Since GitHub Pages can’t execute languages like PHP, we need to give it static HTML files. This is fine if there are only a few pages, but soon we’ll start to miss things like PHP includes for content that’s the same on every page, like headers and footers. Jekyll helps set up templates and turn them into static HTML. It separates markup from content, and makes it a lot easier for people to edit pages collaboratively. With our recipe site, we want to make it really easy for people to fix typos or add notes, without having to understand PHP. Also, there’s the added benefit that static HTML pages load really fast. Jekyll isn’t officially supported on Windows, but it is still possible to run it if you’re prepared to get your hands dirty. Install Jekyll Back in Terminal, we’re going to install Jekyll… gem install jekyll …and wait for the script to run. This might take a few moments. It might take so long that you get worried its broken, but resist the urge to start mashing your keyboard like I did. Get Jekyll to run on the repository Fingers crossed nothing has gone wrong so far. If something did go wrong, don’t give up! Check this helpful post by Andy Taylor – you probably just need to install something else first. Now we’re going to tell Jekyll to set up a new project in the repository, which is in my Sites folder (yours may be in a different place). Remember, we can drag the directory into the terminal window after the command. jekyll new /Users/Anna/Sites/christmas-recipes If everything went as expected, we should get this error message: Conflict: /Users/Anna/Sites/christmas-recipes exists and is not empty. But that’s OK. It’s just upset because we’ve got that index.html file and possibly also a README.md in there that we made earlier. So move those onto your desktop for the moment and run the command again. jekyll new /Users/Anna/Sites/christmas-recipes It should say that the site has installed. Check you’re in the repository, and if you’re not, navigate to it by typing cd , drag the christmas-recipes directory into terminal… jekyll cd /Users/Anna/Sites/christmas-recipes …and type this command to tell Jekyll to run: jekyll serve --watch By adding --watch at the end, we’re forcing Jekyll to rebuild the site every time we hit Save, so we don’t have to keep telling it to update every time we want to view the changes. We’ll need to run this every time we start work on the project, otherwise changes won’t be applied. For now, wait while it does its thing. Update the config file When it’s finished, we’ll see the text press ctrl-c to stop. Don’t do that, though. Instead, open up the directory. You’ll notice some new files and folders in there. There’s one called _site, and that’s where all the site files are saved when they’re turned into static HTML. Don’t touch the files in here — they’re the generated files and will get overwritten every time we make changes to pages and layouts. There’s a file in our directory called _config.yml. This has some settings we can change, one of them being what our base URL is. GitHub Pages will assume the base URL is above the project repository, so changing the settings here will help further down the line when setting up navigation links. Replace the contents of the _config.yml file with this: name: Christmas Recipes markdown: redcarpet pygments: true baseurl: /christmas-recipes Set up your files Overwrite the index.html file in the root with the one we made earlier (you might want to pop the README.md back in there, too). Delete the files in the css folder — we’ll add our own later. View the Jekyll site Open up your favourite browser and type http://localhost:4000/christmas-recipes in the address bar. Check it out, that’s your site! But it could do with a bit more love. Set up the _includes files It’s always useful to be able to pull in snippets of content onto pages, such as the header and footer, so they only need to be updated in one place. That’s what an _includes folder is for in Jekyll. Create a folder in the root called _includes, and within it add two files: head.html and foot.html. In head.html, paste the following: <!DOCTYPE html> <html> <head> <meta charset="utf-8"> <title>{{ page.title }}</title> <link rel="stylesheet" href="{{ site.baseurl }}/css/main.css" > </head> <body> and in foot.html: </body> </html> Whenever we want to pull in something from the _includes folder, we can use {% include filename.html %} in the layout file — I’ll show you how to set that up in next step. Making layouts In our directory, there’s a folder called _layouts and this lets us create a reusable template for pages. Inside that is a default.html file. Delete everything in default.html and paste in this instead: {% include head.html %} <h1>{{ page.title }}</h1> {{ content }} {% include foot.html %} That’s a very basic page with a header, footer, page title and some content. To apply this template to a page, go back into the index.html page and add this snippet to the very top of the file: --- layout: default title: Home --- Now save the index.html file and hit Refresh in the browser. We should see a heading where {{ page.title }} was in the layout, which matches what comes after title: on the page itself (in this case, Home). So, if we wanted a subheading to appear on every page, we could add {{ page.subheading }} to where we want it to appear in our layout file, and a line that says subheading: This is a subheading in between the dashes at the top of the page itself. Using Markdown for templates Anything on a page that sits under the closing dashes is output where {{ content }} appears in the template file. At the moment, this is being output as HTML, but we can use Markdown instead, and Jekyll will convert that into HTML. For this recipe site, we want to make it as easy as possible for people to be able to collaborate, and also have the markup separate from the content, so let’s use Markdown instead of HTML for the recipes. Telling a page to use Markdown instead of HTML is incredibly simple. All we need to do is change the filename from .html to .md, so let’s rename the index.html to index.md. Now we can use Markdown, and Jekyll will output that as HTML. Create a new layout We’re going to create a new layout called recipe which is going to be the template for any recipe page we create. Let’s keep it super simple. In the _layouts folder, create a file called recipe.html and paste in this: {% include head.html %} <main> <h1>{{ page.title }}</h1> {{ content }} <p>Recipe by <a href="{{ page.recipe-attribution-link }}">{{ page.recipe-attribution }}</a>.</p> </main> {% include nav.html %} {% include foot.html %} That’s our template. The content that goes on the recipe layout includes a page title, the recipe content, a recipe attribution and a recipe attribution link. Adding some recipe pages Create a new file in the root of the christmas-recipes folder and call it gingerbread.md. Paste the following into it: --- layout: recipe title: Gingerbread recipe-attribution: HungryJenny recipe-attribution-link: http://www.opensourcefood.com/people/HungryJenny/recipes/soft-christmas-gingerbread-cookies --- Makes about 15 small cookies. ## Ingredients * 175g plain flour * 90g brown sugar * 50g unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature * 2 tbsp golden syrup * 1 egg, beaten * 1 tsp ground ginger * 1 tsp cinnamon * 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda * Icing sugar to dust ## Method 1. Sift the flour, ginger, cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl. 2. Use your fingers to rub in the diced butter. Mix in the sugar. 3. Mix the egg with the syrup then pour into the flour mixture. Fold in well to form a dough. 4. Tip some flour onto the work surface and knead the dough until smooth. 5. Preheat the oven to 180°C. 6. Roll the dough out flat and use a shaped cutter to make as many cookies as you like. 7. Transfer the cookies to a tray and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Lightly dust the cookies with icing sugar. The content is in Markdown, and when we hit Save, it’ll be converted into HTML in the _site folder. Save the file, and go to http://localhost:4000/christmas-recipes/gingerbread.html in your favourite browser. As you can see, the Markdown content has been converted into HTML, and the attribution text and link has been inserted in the right place. Add some navigation In your _includes folder, create a new file called nav.html. Here is some code that will generate your navigation: <nav class="nav-primary" role="navigation" > <ul> {% for p in site.pages %} <li> <a {% if p.url == page.url %}class="active"{% endif %} href="{{ site.baseurl }}{{ p.url }}">{{ p.title }}</a> </li> {% endfor %} </ul> </nav> This is going to look for all pages and generate a list of them, and give the navigation item that is currently active a class of active so we can style it differently. Now we need to include that navigation snippet in our layout. Paste {% include nav.html %} in default.html file, under {{ content }}. Push the changes to GitHub Pages Now we’ve got a couple of pages, it’s time to push our changes to GitHub. We can do this in exactly the same way as before. Check your special GitHub URL (your-username.github.io/your-project-name) and you should see your site up and running. If you quit Terminal, don’t forget to run jekyll serve --watch from within the directory the next time you want to work on the files. Next steps Now we know the basics of creating Jekyll templates and publishing them as GitHub Pages, we can have some fun adding more pages and styling them up. Here’s one I made earlier I’ve only been using Jekyll for a matter of weeks, mainly for prototyping. It’s really good as a content management system for blogs, and a lot of people host their Jekyll blogs on GitHub, such as Harry Roberts By hosting the code so openly it will make me take more pride in it and allow me to work on it much more easily; no excuses now! Overall, the documentation for Jekyll feels a little sparse and geared more towards blogs than other sites, but as more people discover the benefits of it, I’m sure this will improve over time. If you’re interested in poking about with some code, all the files from this tutorial are available on GitHub. 2013 Anna Debenham annadebenham 2013-12-18T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/get-started-with-github-pages/  
8 Coding Towards Accessibility “Can we make it AAA-compliant?” – does this question strike fear into your heart? Maybe for no other reason than because you will soon have to wade through the impenetrable WCAG documentation once again, to find out exactly what AAA-compliant means? I’m not here to talk about that. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are a comprehensive and peer-reviewed resource which we’re lucky to have at our fingertips. But they are also a pig to read, and they may have contributed to the sense of mystery and dread with which some developers associate the word accessibility. This Christmas, I want to share with you some thoughts and some practical tips for building accessible interfaces which you can start using today, without having to do a ton of reading or changing your tools and workflow. But first, let’s clear up a couple of misconceptions. Dreary, flat experiences I recently built a front-end framework for the Post Office. This was a great gig for a developer, but when I found out about my client’s stringent accessibility requirements I was concerned that I’d have to scale back what was quite a complex set of visual designs. Sites like Jakob Neilsen’s old workhorse useit.com and even the pioneering GOV.UK may have to shoulder some of the blame for this. They put a premium on usability and accessibility over visual flourish. (Although, in fairness to Mr Neilsen, his new site nngroup.com is really quite a snazzy affair, comparatively.) Of course, there are other reasons for these sites’ aesthetics — and it’s not because of the limitations of the form. You can make an accessible site look as glossy or as plain as you want it to look. It’s always our own ingenuity and attention to detail that are going to be the limiting factors. Synecdoche We must always guard against the tendency to assume that catering to screen readers means we have the whole accessibility ballgame covered. There’s so much more to accessibility than assistive technology, as you know. And within the field of assistive technology there are plenty of other devices for us to consider. Planning to accommodate all these users and devices can be daunting. When I first started working in this field I thought that the breadth of technology was prohibitive. I didn’t even know what a screen reader looked like. (I assumed they were big and heavy, perhaps like an old typewriter, and certainly they would be expensive and difficult to fathom.) This is nonsense, of course. Screen reader emulators are readily available as browser extensions and can be activated in seconds. Chromevox and Fangs are both excellent and you should download one or the other right now. But the really good news is that you can emulate many other types of assistive technology without downloading a byte. And this is where we move from misconceptions into some (hopefully) useful advice. The mouse trap The simplest and most effective way to improve your abilities as a developer of accessible interfaces is to unplug your mouse. Keyboard operation has its own WCAG chapter, because most users of assistive technology are navigating the web using only their keyboards. You can go some way towards putting yourself into their shoes so easily — just by ditching a peripheral. Learning this was a lightbulb moment for me. When I build interfaces I am constantly flicking between code and the browser, testing or viewing the changes I have made. Now, instead of checking a new element once, I check it twice: once with my mouse and then again without. Don’t just :hover The reality is that when you first start doing this you can find your site becomes unusable straightaway. It’s easy to lose track of which element is in focus as you hit the tab key repeatedly. One of the easiest changes you can make to your coding practice is to add :focus and :active pseudo-classes to every hover state that you write. I’m still amazed at how many sites fail to provide a decent focus state for links (and despite previous 24 ways authors in 2007 and 2009 writing on this same issue!). You may find that in some cases it makes sense to have something other than, or in addition to, the hover state on focus, but start with the hover state that your designer has taken the time to provide you with. It’s a tiny change and there is no downside. So instead of this: .my-cool-link:hover { background-color: MistyRose ; } …try writing this: .my-cool-link:hover, .my-cool-link:focus, .my-cool-link:active { background-color: MistyRose ; } I’ve toyed with the idea of making a Sass mixin to take care of this for me, but I haven’t yet. I worry that people reading my code won’t see that I’m explicitly defining my focus and active states so I take the hit and write my hover rules out longhand. JavaScript can play, too This was another revelation for me. Keyboard-only navigation doesn’t necessitate a JavaScript-free experience, and up-to-date screen readers can execute JavaScript. So we’re able to create complex JavaScript-driven interfaces which all users can interact with. Some of the hard work has already been done for us. First, there are already conventions around keyboard-driven interfaces. Think about the last time you viewed a photo album on Facebook. You can use the arrow keys to switch between photos, and the escape key closes whichever lightbox-y UI thing Facebook is showing its photos in this week. Arrow keys (up/down as well as left/right) for progression through content; Escape to back out of something; Enter or space bar to indicate a positive intention — these are established keyboard conventions which we can apply to our interfaces to improve their accessiblity. Of course, by doing so we are improving our interfaces in general, giving all users the option to switch between keyboard and mouse actions as and when it suits them. Second, this guy wants to help you out. Hans Hillen is a developer who has done a great deal of work around accessibility and JavaScript-powered interfaces. Along with The Paciello Group he has created a version of the jQuery UI library which has been fully optimised for keyboard navigation and screen reader use. It’s a fantastic reference which I revisit all the time I’m not a huge fan of the jQuery UI library. It’s a pain to style and the code is a bit bloated. So I’ve not used this demo as a code resource to copy wholesale. I use it by playing with the various components and seeing how they react to keyboard controls. Each component is also fully marked up with the relevant ARIA roles to improve screen reader announcement where possible (more on this below). Coding for accessibility promotes good habits This is a another observation around accessibility and JavaScript. I noticed an improvement in the structure and abstraction of my code when I started adding keyboard controls to my interface elements. Your code has to become more modular and event-driven, because any number of events could trigger the same interaction. A mouse-click, the Enter key and the space bar could all conceivably trigger the same open function on a collapsed accordion element. (And you want to keep things DRY, don’t you?) If you aren’t already in the habit of separating out your interface functionality into discrete functions, you will be soon. var doSomethingCool = function(){ // Do something cool here. } // Bind function to a button click - pretty vanilla $('.myCoolButton').on('click', function(){ doSomethingCool(); return false; }); // Bind the same function to a range of keypresses $(document).keyup(function(e){ switch(e.keyCode) { case 13: // enter case 32: // spacebar doSomethingCool(); break; case 27: // escape doSomethingElse(); break; } }); To be honest, if you’re doing complex UI stuff with JavaScript these days, or if you’ve been building any responsive interfaces which rely on JavaScript, then you are most likely working with an application framework such as Backbone, Angular or Ember, so an abstraced and event-driven application structure will be familar to you. It should be super easy for you to start helping out your keyboard-only users if you aren’t already — just add a few more event bindings into your UI layer! Manipulating the tab order So, you’ve adjusted your mindset and now you test every change to your codebase using a keyboard as well as a mouse. You’ve applied all your hover states to :focus and :active so you can see where you’re tabbing on the page, and your interactive components react seamlessly to a mixture of mouse and keyboard commands. Feels good, right? There’s another level of optimisation to consider: manipulating the tab order. Certain DOM elements are naturally part of the tab order, and others are excluded. Links and input elements are the main elements included in the tab order, and static elements like paragraphs and headings are excluded. What if you want to make a static element ‘tabbable’? A good example would be in an expandable accordion component. Each section of the accordion should be separated by a heading, and there’s no reason to make that heading into a link simply because it’s interactive. <div class="accordion-widget"> <h3>Tyrannosaurus</h3> <p>Tyrannosaurus; meaning "tyrant lizard"...<p> <h3>Utahraptor</h3> <p>Utahraptor is a genus of theropod dinosaurs...<p> <h3>Dromiceiomimus</h3> <p>Ornithomimus is a genus of ornithomimid dinosaurs...<p> </div> Adding the heading elements to the tab order is trivial. We just set their tabindex attribute to zero. You could do this on the server or the client. I prefer to do it with JavaScript as part of the accordion setup and initialisation process. $('.accordion-widget h3').attr('tabindex', '0'); You can apply this trick in reverse and take elements out of the tab order by setting their tabindex attribute to −1, or change the tab order completely by using other integers. This should be done with great care, if at all. You have to be sure that the markup you remove from the tab order comes out because it genuinely improves the keyboard interaction experience. This is hard to validate without user testing. The danger is that developers will try to sweep complicated parts of the UI under the carpet by taking them out of the tab order. This would be considered a dark pattern — at least on my team! A farewell ARIA This is where things can get complex, and I’m no expert on the ARIA specification: I feel like I’ve only dipped my toe into this aspect of coding for accessibility. But, as with WCAG, I’d like to demystify things a little bit to encourage you to look into this area further yourself. ARIA roles are of most benefit to screen reader users, because they modify and augment screen reader announcements. Let’s take our dinosaur accordion from the previous section. The markup is semantic, so a screen reader that can’t handle JavaScript will announce all the content within the accordion, no problem. But modern screen readers can deal with JavaScript, and this means that all the lovely dino information beneath each heading has probably been hidden on document.ready, when the accordion initialised. It might have been hidden using display:none, which prevents a screen reader from announcing content. If that’s as far as you have gone, then you’ve committed an accessibility sin by hiding content from screen readers. Your user will hear a set of headings being announced, with no content in between. It would sound something like this if you were using Chromevox: > Tyrannosaurus. Heading Three. > Utahraptor. Heading Three. > Dromiceiomimus. Heading Three. We can add some ARIA magic to the markup to improve this, using the tablist role. Start by adding a role of tablist to the widget, and roles of tab and tabpanel to the headings and paragraphs respectively. Set boolean values for aria-selected, aria-hidden and aria-expanded. The markup could end up looking something like this. <div class="accordion-widget" role="tablist"> <!-- T-rex --> <h3 role="tab" tabindex="0" id="tab-2" aria-controls="panel-2" aria-selected="false">Utahraptor</h3> <p role="tabpanel" id="panel-2" aria-labelledby="tab-2" aria-expanded="false" aria-hidden="true">Utahraptor is a genus of theropod dinosaurs...</p> <!-- Dromiceiomimus --> </div> Now, if a screen reader user encounters this markup they will hear the following: > Tyrannosaurus. Tab not selected; one of three. > Utahraptor. Tab not selected; two of three. > Dromiceiomimus. Tab not selected; three of three. You could add arrow key events to help the user browse up and down the tab list items until they find one they like. Your accordion open() function should update the ARIA boolean values as well as adding whatever classes and animations you have built in as standard. Your users know that unselected tabs are meant to be interacted with, so if a user triggers the open function (say, by hitting Enter or the space bar on the second item) they will hear this: > Utahraptor. Selected; two of three. The paragraph element for the expanded item will not be hidden by your CSS, which means it will be announced as normal by the screen reader. This kind of thing makes so much more sense when you have a working example to play with. Again, I refer you to the fantastic resource that Hans Hillen has put together: this is his take on an accessible accordion, on which much of my example is based. Conclusion Getting complex interfaces right for all of your users can be difficult — there’s no point pretending otherwise. And there’s no substitute for user testing with real users who navigate the web using assistive technology every day. This kind of testing can be time-consuming to recruit for and to conduct. On top of this, we now have accessibility on mobile devices to contend with. That’s a huge area in itself, and it’s one which I have not yet had a chance to research properly. So, there’s lots to learn, and there’s lots to do to get it right. But don’t be disheartened. If you have read this far then I’ll leave you with one final piece of advice: don’t wait. Don’t wait until you’re building a site which mandates AAA-compliance to try this stuff out. Don’t wait for a client with the will or the budget to conduct the full spectrum of user testing to come along. Unplug your mouse, and start playing with your interfaces in a new way. You’ll be surprised at the things that you learn and the issues you uncover. And the next time an true accessibility project comes along, you will be way ahead of the game. 2013 Charlie Perrins charlieperrins 2013-12-03T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/coding-towards-accessibility/ code
9 How to Write a Book Were you recently inspired to write a book after reading Owen Gregory’s compendium of author insights? Maybe so inspired to strike out on your own and self-publish? Based on personal experience, writing a book is hard. It requires a great deal of research, experience, and patience. To be able to consolidate your thoughts and what you’ve learned into a sensible and readable tome is an admirable feat. To decide to self-publish and take on yourself all of the design, printing, distribution, and so much more is tantamount to insanity. Again, based on personal experience. So, why might you want to self-publish? If you’ve spent many a late night doing cross-browser testing just to know that your site works flawlessly in twenty-four different browsers — including Mosaic, of course — then maybe you’ll understand the fun that comes from doing it all. Working with a publisher, you’re left to focus on one core thing: writing. That’s a good thing. A good publisher has the right resources to help you get your idea polished and the distribution network to get your book on store shelves around the world. It’s a very proud moment to be able to walk into a book store and see your book sitting there on the shelf. Self-publishing can also be a wonderful process as you get to own it from beginning to end. Every decision is yours and if you’re a control freak like me, this can be a very rewarding experience. While there are many aspects to self-publishing, I’m going to speak to just one of them: creating an ebook. Formats In creating an ebook, you first need to decide what formats you wish to support. There are three main formats, each with their own pros and cons: PDF EPUB MOBI PDFs are supported on almost every device (Windows, Mac, Kindle, iPad, Android, etc.) and can even be a stepping stone to creating a print version of your book. PDFs allow for full typographic and design control, but at the cost of needing to fit things into a predefined page layout. Is it US Letter or A4? Or is it a format that isn’t easily printed by readers on their home printers? EPUB is a more fluid format that is supported by the Apple iPad, iPhone, and now on the desktop with OS X Mavericks. It’s also supported by Google Play for Android devices. While EPUB is supported on other devices, you’re likely to choose EPUB because you’re targeting your book at the Apple audience. The EPUB format is HTML-based with support for some CSS and even video and interactive elements. You can create very rich and exciting experiences using the EPUB format that just aren’t possible with PDF or MOBI. However, if you decide to support multiple file formats, you’ll likely find — as I did — that a consistent experience between all formats is easier to build and maintain, and therefore the extra benefits of interactivity go out the window. MOBI is a format originally developed for the Mobipocket Reader but more popularly supported by the Amazon Kindle. If you’re looking to attract the Kindle audience or publish to Amazon via the Kindle Direct Publishing platform then the HTML-based MOBI format is the format you’ll want to go with. Distribution will probably factor in heavily with what format you decide to go with. Many people I know who self-publish go with PDF only due to its ubiquity. If you want to garner a wider audience by distributing via Amazon or the iBookstore then you’ll need to think about supporting all three formats (as I did). What tools should I use? I spent a lot of time figuring out the right toolset and finally got something that suits me just right. In the past, when working with a publisher, I was given a Microsoft Word template that was passed back and forth between myself, the editor, and tech reviewer. This template has been the bane of any book writer that I’ve spoken to. Not every publisher is like that, though. Some publishers, like O’Reilly, use DocBook, an XML-based format that can be converted into PDF, EPUB, and MOBI. Publishers already have a style guide and whether it’s DocBook or a Word template, they have the tools already in place to easily convert your work into multiple formats. Self-publishing means that you’ll likely have to do a lot of tweaking to get things looking and working the way you want them to. I tried DocBook and the open source export tools didn’t create HTML to my liking. Fixing even the most mundane things required fiddling with XSL transformations for hours on end. Not the way I like to spend my time. I can only imagine the hoops I would’ve had to go through to get a PDF to look half-decent. Tools like Pages or Scrivener offer up the ability to publish to multiple formats, too, but none offered me the control over the output that I truly desired. Have a mentioned that I’m a control freak? I ended up writing my book using a technology that I already knew quite well: HTML. By writing in HTML, I already had something that I could post on my website, use for the EPUB and use for the MOBI format. All without having to change a thing. (That’s right: the same HTML that is used on SMACSS.com is used in the EPUB and is used in the MOBI.) What about PDF? I could open up the HTML in a web browser, choose Save as PDF and be done with it but let’s face it: the filename and date attached to every single page doesn’t exactly scream professional. Web browsers actually do a surprisingly poor job with supporting the CSS paged media spec. I had resorted to copying and pasting the content into Pages and saving as PDF from there. It wasn’t elegant but it worked. However, any changes to my HTML source required redoing those changes in Pages, as well. Then I met my Prince Charming: Prince XML. It’s pricey but it works incredibly well. It takes HTML and CSS (that very format I’ve been using for all of my other file formats) and will generate a PDF via a command line interface. Prince supports CSS paged media including headers, footers, page counts, and alternating page styles. From one format, HTML, I can now easily publish to PDF, MOBI, and EPUB, and even my website. I use the PDF version to send to the printer along with cover art to be bound and ready to ship around the world. It’s amazing how versatile HTML (and CSS) is. To learn more about writing books with HTML and CSS, I recommend reading Building Books with CSS3 over at A List Apart. Creating an EPUB Let’s take a step back. Prince gets us from HTML to PDF but how do we make an EPUB out of the HTML? An EPUB file is essentially a ZIP file with a renamed extension. There are some core files that you need to start with: Root META-INF container.xml mimetype content.opf toc.ncx After that, you can start adding your content to the project. Be sure to update the toc.ncx (Table of Contents) and content.opf (the ebook manifest) with any changes you make to your project. You can learn more about the file formats with the EPUB Format Construction Guide. Once all your files are in place, you’ll need to create the EPUB file by running two commands (on OS X, at least): zip -X0 your-ebook.epub mimetype zip -Xur9D your-ebook.epub * The mimetype needs to be the first file inside the ZIP file and therefore gets added first. Then, the rest of the files are added. I’ve added a function to my .bash_profile to make this even easier: function epub() { zip -q0X $@ mimetype; zip -qXr9D $@ * } Then, within the folder from which I want to create an ebook, I just run epub your-ebook.epub from the Terminal command line and the EPUB file should be ready to go. Creating the MOBI We have our EPUB and we have our PDF. The last step is the MOBI file. For this, I call upon Calibre. Calibre can be used as a reader and as a library but I use it exclusively to export my EPUB files to MOBI. Calibre includes a command line utility to convert from EPUB to MOBI. (To install the command line tools, go to Preferences > Advanced > Miscellaneous and click Install Command Line Tools.) ebook-convert your-ebook.epub your-ebook.mobi Spread the joy Now that you have all of your different file formats, you need to get them into the hands of people who want to (ho-ho-hopefully) buy your book! There are a number of marketplaces such as Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, iBookstore, Google Play, and NOOK Press. Some publishers, like PragProg and O’Reilly will also add self-published books to their roster if they feel it’s a good fit for their audience. With any distribution, you’ll have to give up a percentage of your sales—from 30% to 70% of each sale, so consider your options wisely. Of course, you can always open your own online store and reap as much of the revenue as possible, assuming you can get the traffic to your site. Handling your own distribution allows you to create a deeper one-on-one connection with your customers, something that is impossible with other distribution channels since you don’t get customer information through other services—even though you are giving them a huge chunk of your sales! Go forth and prosper There’s a lot of thought and time that goes into writing a book and just as much thought and time can go into creating, publishing, and marketing your book once you’re done. In the end, self-publishing can be a very rewarding process and well worth the time that goes into it. 2013 Jonathan Snook jonathansnook 2013-12-19T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/how-to-write-a-book/ content
10 Home Kanban for Domestic Bliss My wife is an architect. I’m a leader of big technical teams these days, but for many years after I was a dev I was a project/program manager. Our friends and family used to watch Grand Designs and think that we would make the ideal team — she could design, I could manage the project of building or converting whatever dream home we wanted. Then we bought a house. A Victorian terrace in the north-east of England that needed, well, a fair bit of work. The big decisions were actually pretty easy: yes, we should knock through a double doorway from the dining room to the lounge; yes, we should strip out everything from the utility room and redo it; yes, we should roll back the hideous carpet in the bedrooms upstairs and see if we could restore the original wood flooring. Those could be managed like a project. What couldn’t be was all the other stuff. Incremental improvements are harder to schedule, and in a house that’s over a hundred years old you never know what you’re going to find when you clear away some tiles, or pull up the carpets, or even just spring-clean the kitchen (“Erm, hon? The paint seems to be coming off. Actually, so does the plaster…”). A bit like going in to fix bugs in code or upgrade a machine — sometimes you end up quite far down the rabbit hole. And so, as we tried to fit in those improvements in our evenings and weekends, we found ourselves disagreeing. Arguing, even. We were both trying to do the right thing (make the house better) but since we were fitting it in where we could, we often didn’t get to talk and agree in detail what was needed (exactly how to make the house better). And it’s really frustrating when you stay up late doing something, just to find that your other half didn’t mean that they meant this instead, and so your effort was wasted. Then I saw this tweet from my friend and colleague Jamie Arnold, who was using the same kanban board approach at home as we had instituted at the UK Government Digital Service to manage our portfolio. Mrs Arnold embraces Kanban wall at home. Disagreements about work in progress and priority significantly reduced.. ;) pic.twitter.com/407brMCH— Jamie Arnold (@itsallgonewrong) October 27, 2012 And despite Jamie’s questionable taste in fancy dress outfits (look closely at that board), he is a proper genius when it comes to processes and particularly agile ones. So I followed his example and instituted a home kanban board. What is this kanban of which you speak? Kanban boards are an artefact from lean manufacturing — basically a visualisation of a production process. They are used to show you where your bottlenecks are, or where one part of the process is producing components faster than another part of the process can cope. Identifying the bottlenecks leads you to set work in progress (WIP) limits, so that you get an overall more efficient system. Increasingly kanban is used as an agile software development approach, too, especially where support work (like fixing bugs) needs to be balanced with incremental enhancement (like adding new features). I’m a big advocate of kanban when you have a system that needs to be maintained and improved by the same team at the same time. Rather than the sprint-based approach of scrum (where the next sprint’s stories or features to be delivered are agreed up front), kanban lets individuals deal with incidents or problems that need investigation and bug fixing when urgent and important. Then, when someone has capacity, they can just go to the board and pull down the next feature to develop or test. So, how did we use it? One of the key tenets of kanban is that you visualise your workflow, so we put together a whiteboard with columns: Icebox; To Do Next; In Process; Done; and also a section called Blocked. Then, for each thing that needed to happen in the house, we put it on a Post-it note and initially chucked them all in the Icebox — a collection with no priority assigned yet. Each week we looked at the Icebox and pulled out a set of things that we felt should be done next. This was pulled into the To Do Next column, and then each time either of us had some time, we could just pull a new thing over into the In Process column. We agreed to review at the end of each week and move things to Done together, and to talk about whether this kanban approach was working for us or not. We quickly learned for ourselves why kanban has WIP limits as a key tenet — it’s tempting to pull everything into the To Do Next column, but that’s unrealistic. And trying to do more than one or two things each at a given time isn’t terribly productive owing to the cost of task switching. So we tend to limit our To Do Next to about seven items, and our In Process to about four (a max of two each, basically). We use the Blocked column when something can’t be completed — perhaps we can’t fix something because we discovered we don’t have the required tools or supplies, or if we’re waiting for a call back from a plumber. But it’s nice to put it to one side, knowing that it won’t be forgotten. What helped the most? It wasn’t so much the visualisation that helped us to see what we needed to do, but the conversation that happened when we were agreeing priorities, moving them to In Process and then on to Done made the biggest difference. Getting clear on the order of importance really is invaluable — as is getting clear on what Done really means! The Blocked column is also great, as it helps us keep track of things we need to do outside the house to make sure we can make progress. We also found it really helpful to examine the process itself and figure out whether it was working for us. For instance, one thing we realised is it’s worth tracking some regular tasks that need time invested in them (like taking recycling that isn’t picked up to the recycling centre) and these used to cycle around and around. So they were moved to Done as part of our weekly review, but then immediately put back in the Icebox to float back to the top again at a relevant time. But the best thing of all? That moment where we get to mark something as done! It’s immensely satisfying to review at the end of the week and have a physical marker of the progress you’ve made. All in all, a home kanban board turned out to be a very effective way to pull tasks through stages rather than always trying to plan them out in advance, and definitely made collaboration on our home tasks significantly smoother. Give it a try! 2013 Meri Williams meriwilliams 2013-12-14T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/home-kanban-for-domestic-bliss/ process
11 JavaScript: Taking Off the Training Wheels JavaScript is the third pillar of front-end web development. Of those pillars, it is both the most powerful and the most complex, so it’s understandable that when 24 ways asked, “What one thing do you wish you had more time to learn about?”, a number of you answered “JavaScript!” This article aims to help you feel happy writing JavaScript, and maybe even without libraries like jQuery. I can’t comprehensively explain JavaScript itself without writing a book, but I hope this serves as a springboard from which you can jump to other great resources. Why learn JavaScript? So what’s in it for you? Why take the next step and learn the fundamentals? Confidence with jQuery If nothing else, learning JavaScript will improve your jQuery code; you’ll be comfortable writing jQuery from scratch and feel happy bending others’ code to your own purposes. Writing efficient, fast and bug-free jQuery is also made much easier when you have a good appreciation of JavaScript, because you can look at what jQuery is really doing. Understanding how JavaScript works lets you write better jQuery because you know what it’s doing behind the scenes. When you need to leave the beaten track, you can do so with confidence. In fact, you could say that jQuery’s ultimate goal is not to exist: it was invented at a time when web APIs were very inconsistent and hard to work with. That’s slowly changing as new APIs are introduced, and hopefully there will come a time when jQuery isn’t needed. An example of one such change is the introduction of the very useful document.querySelectorAll. Like jQuery, it converts a CSS selector into a list of matching elements. Here’s a comparison of some jQuery code and the equivalent without. $('.counter').each(function (index) { $(this).text(index + 1); }); var counters = document.querySelectorAll('.counter'); [].slice.call(counters).forEach(function (elem, index) { elem.textContent = index + 1; }); Solving problems no one else has! When you have to go to the internet to solve a problem, you’re forever stuck reusing code other people wrote to solve a slightly different problem to your own. Learning JavaScript will allow you to solve problems in your own way, and begin to do things nobody else ever has. Node.js Node.js is a non-browser environment for running JavaScript, and it can do just about anything! But if that sounds daunting, don’t worry: the Node community is thriving, very friendly and willing to help. I think Node is incredibly exciting. It enables you, with one language, to build complete websites with complex and feature-filled front- and back-ends. Projects that let users log in or need a database are within your grasp, and Node has a great ecosystem of library authors to help you build incredible things. Exciting! Here’s an example web server written with Node. http is a module that allows you to create servers and, like jQuery’s $.ajax, make requests. It’s a small amount of code to do something complex and, while working with Node is different from writing front-end code, it’s certainly not out of your reach. var http = require('http'); http.createServer(function (req, res) { res.writeHead(200, {'Content-Type': 'text/plain'}); res.end('Hello World'); }).listen(1337); console.log('Server running at http://localhost:1337/'); Grunt and other website tools Node has brought in something of a renaissance in tools that run in the command line, like Yeoman and Grunt. Both of these rely heavily on Node, and I’ll talk a little bit about Grunt here. Grunt is a task runner, and many people use it for compiling Sass or compressing their site’s JavaScript and images. It’s pretty cool. You configure Grunt via the gruntfile.js, so JavaScript skills will come in handy, and since Grunt supports plug-ins built with JavaScript, knowing it unlocks the bucketloads of power Grunt has to offer. Ways to improve your skills So you know you want to learn JavaScript, but what are some good ways to learn and improve? I think the answer to that is different for different people, but here are some ideas. Rebuild a jQuery app Converting a jQuery project to non-jQuery code is a great way to explore how you modify elements on the page and make requests to the server for data. My advice is to focus on making it work in one modern browser initially, and then go cross-browser if you’re feeling adventurous. There are many resources for directly comparing jQuery and non-jQuery code, like Jeffrey Way’s jQuery to JavaScript article. Find a mentor If you think you’d work better on a one-to-one basis then finding yourself a mentor could be a brilliant way to learn. The JavaScript community is very friendly and many people will be more than happy to give you their time. I’d look out for someone who’s active and friendly on Twitter, and does the kind of work you’d like to do. Introduce yourself over Twitter or send them an email. I wouldn’t expect a full tutoring course (although that is another option!) but they’ll be very glad to answer a question and any follow-ups every now and then. Go to a workshop Many conferences and local meet-ups run workshops, hosted by experts in a particular field. See if there’s one in your area. Workshops are great because you can ask direct questions, and you’re in an environment where others are learning just like you are — no need to learn alone! Set yourself challenges This is one way I like to learn new things. I have a new thing that I’m not very good at, so I pick something that I think is just out of my reach and I try to build it. It’s learning by doing and, even if you fail, it can be enormously valuable. Where to start? If you’ve decided learning JavaScript is an important step for you, your next question may well be where to go from here. I’ve collected some links to resources I know of or use, with some discussion about why you might want to check a particular site out. I hope this serves as a springboard for you to go out and learn as much as you want. Beginner If you’re just getting started with JavaScript, I’d recommend heading to one of these places. They cover the basics and, in some cases, a little more advanced stuff. They’re all reputable sources (although, I’ve included something I wrote — you can decide about that one!) and will not lead you astray. jQuery’s JavaScript 101 is a great first resource for JavaScript that will give you everything you need to work with jQuery like a pro. Codecademy’s JavaScript Track is a small but useful JavaScript course. If you like learning interactively, this could be one for you. HTMLDog’s JavaScript Tutorials take you right through from the basics of code to a brief introduction to newer technology like Node and Angular. [Disclaimer: I wrote this stuff, so it comes with a hazard warning!] The tuts+ jQuery to JavaScript mentioned earlier is great for seeing how jQuery code looks when converted to pure JavaScript. Getting in-depth For more comprehensive documentation and help I’d recommend adding these places to your list of go-tos. MDN: the Mozilla Developer Network is the first place I go for many JavaScript questions. I mostly find myself there via a search, but it’s a great place to just go and browse. Axel Rauschmayer’s 2ality is a stunning collection of articles that will take you deep into JavaScript. It’s certainly worth looking at. Addy Osmani’s JavaScript Design Patterns is a comprehensive collection of patterns for writing high quality JavaScript, particularly as you (I hope) start to write bigger and more complex applications. And finally… I think the key to learning anything is curiosity and perseverance. If you have a question, go out and search for the answer, even if you have no idea where to start. Keep going and going and eventually you’ll get there. I bet you’ll learn a whole lot along the way. Good luck! Many thanks to the people who gave me their time when I was working on this article: Tom Oakley, Jack Franklin, Ben Howdle and Laura Kalbag. 2013 Tom Ashworth tomashworth 2013-12-05T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/javascript-taking-off-the-training-wheels/ code
12 Untangling Web Typography When I was a carpenter, I noticed how homeowners often had this deer-in-the-headlights look when the contractor I worked for would ask them to make tons of decisions, seemingly all at once. Square or subway tile? Glass or ceramic? Traditional or modern trim details? Flat face or picture frame cabinets? Real wood or laminate flooring? Every day the decisions piled up and were usually made in the context of that room, or that part of that room. Rarely did the homeowner have the benefit of taking that particular decision in full view of the larger context of the project. And architectural plans? Sure, they lay out the broad strokes, but there is still so much to decide. Typography is similar. Designers try to make sites that are easy to use and understand visually. They labour over the details of line height, font size, line length, and font weights. They consider the relative merits of different typographical scales for applications versus content-driven sites. Frequently, designers consider all of this in the context of one page, feature, or view of an application. They are asked to make a million tiny decisions. Sometimes designers just bump up the font size until it looks right. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Instincts are important. Designing in context is easier. It’s OK to leave the big picture until later. Design a bunch of things, and then look for the patterns. You can’t always know everything up front. How does the current feature relate to all the other features on the site? For a large site, just like for a substantial remodel, the number of decisions you would need to internalize to make that knowable would be prohibitively large. When typography goes awry I should be honest. I know very little about typography. I struggle to understand vertical rhythm and the math in Tim Ahrens’s talks about the interaction between type design and rendering technology kind of melted my brain. I have an unusual perspective because I’m not the one making the design decisions, but I am the one implementing them and often cleaning up when a project goes off the rails. I’ve seen projects with thousands of font-size declarations and headings. One project even had over ten thousand margin declarations. So while I appreciate creative exploration, I’m also eager to establish patterns in typography and make sure we aren’t choosing not to choose. Or, choosing all the things. Analyzing a site’s typography Most of my projects start out with an evaluation of the client’s existing CSS. I look for duplication in the CSS by using Grep, though functionality is landing soon in CSS Lint to do the same thing automatically. The goal is to find the underlying missing abstractions that, once in place, would allow developers to create new functionality without needing to write additional CSS. In addition to that, my team and I would comb through each site (generally, around ten pages is enough to get the big picture), and take screenshots of each of the components we found. In this way, we could look for subtle visual differences that were unlikely to add value to the user. By correcting these differences, we could help make the design more consistent, and at the same time the code leaner and more performant. Typography is much like a homeowner who chooses to incorporate too many disparate design elements, pairing a mid-century modern sofa with flowered country cottage curtains. Often the typography of a site ends up collecting an endless array of new typefaces as the site’s overall styles evolve. Designers come and go on a project, and eventually no one can remember how the 16px Verdana got into the codebase. Automation We used to do this work by hand. It was incredibly tedious. We’d go through the site, taking screenshots and meticulously documenting the style information we found. We didn’t have to do that many times before it became incredibly clear that the task needed to be automated. So we built a little tool called the Type-o-matic that could do it for us. To try it on your site: Download and install the Firebug extension to Firefox Download and install the Type-o-matic extension to Firebug (I know, I fully intend to port it to Chrome) Now, visit the site you’d like to test Right click and choose Inspect element with Firebug Now click on the Typography tab Click Persist Click Generate Report Choose which pages to analyze (we’ve found that ten is a good number to get the big picture, but you can analyze as many as you’d like — it will even work on just one page!) Now navigate to other pages, and on each subsequent page, click Generate Report The table of results can be a bit difficult to interact with, so you can always click Copy to clipboard, and copy the results (JSON). A screenshot of Type-o-matic in action What does this data mean? When you’ve analyzed as many pages or different views as you’d like, you’ll start to see some interesting patterns emerge in the data. In the right-hand column, you’ll see examples of how each kind of typography we found has been used in a real context on your site. It is organized by color and then by size so you can easily see how you are using typography. The next thing you’ll want to take a look at is in the first column, called “Count”. We’ve counted how many times you’ve used each combination of typographical styles. This can be incredibly helpful when deciding which styles were intentional, versus one-off color pick errors or experiments that never got removed from the code base. If you’ve used one color blue 1,400 times, and another just 23, it’s pretty obvious which is more in line with broader site-wide styles. Consistency before perfection It can be really tempting to try to make everything perfect — to try to make every decision final. When you use the data you can collect from this tool, I’d recommend trying to get to consistent before you try to make things perfect. Stop using fifteen different shades of blue type first, and then if you want to change to a new blue, go for it! You’ll be able to make design changes much more easily once you’ve reduced the total number of typographical styles you rely on. Lower the importance of the decisions you are making. Our sites, like ourselves, are always a work in progress. Or, as a carpenter I used to work with said, “You’re not building a fucking piano.” We’re not building houses. We can choose one typeface today and a different one tomorrow. It is OK to experiment. Be brave. 2013 Nicole Sullivan nicolesullivan 2013-12-20T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/untangling-web-typography/ design
13 Data-driven Design with an Annual Survey Too often, we base designs on assumptions that don’t match customer perspectives. Why? Because the data we need to make informed decisions isn’t available. Imagine starting off the year with a treasure trove of user data that can be filtered, sliced, and diced to inform new UI designs, help you discover where users struggle the most, and expose emerging trends in your customers’ needs that could lead to new features. Why, that would be useful indeed. And it’s easy to obtain by conducting an annual survey. Annual surveys may seem as exciting as receiving socks and undies for Christmas, but they’re the gift that keeps on giving all year long (just like fresh socks and undies). I’m not ashamed to admit it: I love surveys! Each time my design research team runs a survey, we learn so much about customer motivations, interests, and behaviors. Surveys provide an aggregate snapshot of your users that can’t easily be obtained by other research methods, and they can be conducted quickly too. You can build a survey in a few hours, run a pilot test in a day, and have real results streaming in the following day. Speed is essential if design research is going to keep pace with a busy product release schedule. Surveys are also an invaluable springboard for customer interviews, which provide deep perspectives on user behavior. If you play your cards right as you construct your survey, you can capture a user ID and an email address for each respondent, making it easy to get in touch with customers whose feedback is particularly intriguing. No more recruiting customers for your research via Twitter or through a recruiting company charging a small fortune. You can filter survey responses and isolate the exact customers to talk with in moments, not months. I love this connected process of sending targeted surveys, filtering the results, and then — with surgical precision — selecting just the right customers to interview. Not only is it fast and cheap, but it lets design researchers do quantitative and qualitative research in a coordinated way. Aggregate survey responses help you quantify the perspectives of different user segments, and interviews help you get into the heads of your customers. An annual survey can give your team the data needed to make more informed designs in the new year. It all starts with a plan. Planning your survey Before you start jotting down questions to ask users, spend some time thinking about the work your team will be doing in the coming year. Are you planning new mobile apps or a responsive redesign? Then questions about devices used and behaviors around mobile devices might be in order. Rethinking your content strategy? Then you might want to ask a few questions about how your customers consume content. You can’t predict all of the projects you’ll be working on in the coming year, but tuck a couple of sections in your survey about the projects you’re certain about. This will give you the research you need to start new projects with solid foundational data. Google Drive is a great place to start collaboratively building survey questions with colleagues. Questions that seem crystal clear in your head get challenged, refined, or even expanded quickly when the entire team can chime in. As you craft your survey, try to consider how you’ll filter it once all of the data is compiled. Do you need to see responses by industry, by age of an account, by devices used, or by size of company? Adding the right filter questions can help you discover fascinating patterns in user segments. Filtering on responses to a few questions can surface insights like: customers in non-profit companies with more than 100 employees are 17% more likely to use an Android phone and are most attracted to features A, D, and F. A designer working on the landing page for a non-profit would love to have concrete information like this. Filter questions are key, so consider them carefully. But don’t go overboard — too many of them and you’ll start to hurt your survey response rate. Multiple choice questions are the heart of most surveys because respondents can complete them quickly, which increases response rate, and researchers can analyze them without a lot of manual categorization. Open text field questions are valuable too, but be careful not to add too many to your survey. You’ll hate yourself after the survey’s done and you have to sort through and tag thousands of open responses so patterns become visible. Oy vey! An open-ended question works well towards the end of the survey. At this point respondents have a lot of topics swirling around in their head and tend to say weird things that will pique your interest. This is where you’ll find the outliers who are using your product. They’ll be fascinating to interview, and on occasion will help you see your work in a brand new way. Conclude your survey with a question asking permission to get in touch for a followup interview so you don’t pester people who want to be left alone. With your questions nailed down, it’s time to build out that survey and get it ready for sending! Building your survey There are dozens of apps you could use to build your survey, but SurveyMonkey is the one that I prefer. It lets you pass in variables for each respondent such as user ID and email address. Metadata about respondents is essential if you’re going to do any follow-up interviews with your customers in the coming year. SurveyMonkey also makes it easy to set up question logic, showing questions to customers only if they responded in a certain way to a prior question. This helps you avoid asking irrelevant questions to some respondents. Determining survey recipients Once you’ve chosen a survey tool and entered all of your questions, you need to gather a list of recipients. Your first instinct will be to send it to everyone. You might say, “I need maximum response and metric shit tons of data!” But this is rarely the best approach — broad distribution almost always leads to lower response rates, increased noise, and decreased signal in your data. Are there subsets of customers you could send to, like only those who are active, those who are paying, or have been with you for a certain length of time? Talk to the keepers of your customer database and see how they can segment it so you can be certain you’re talking to just the people who will have the most relevant responses for your needs. If you want to get super nerdy when finding the right customer sample to survey, use a [sample size calculator]. Sampling is a deep subject best explored in other articles. Crafting your survey email After focusing your energies on writing and building your survey, the email asking your customers to respond seems almost trivial, but it will greatly influence your response rate. Take great care when writing your subject line and the body of the email. If you can pull it off, A/B testing subject lines can greatly improve the open rate of your email and click-through to your survey. My design research team has seen a ~10% increase in open and click rates when we A/B tested. We’ve found that personalizing subject lines and greetings with the recipients name (ie. “Hey, Aarron. How can we make our app work better for you?”) gave us the best response rates. Your mileage may vary. The tone of your email is important — be friendly, honest, and to the point. Those that are passionate about your product will be happy to share their perspective. Writing a survey email that people will actually respond to ain’t easy — in fact, they’re almost always annoying. But Ben Chestnut found a non-annoying way to send a survey email and improve response rates. The email sent for the 2013 MailChimp survey let customers know what we’d been up to in the previous year, and invited feedback on what we should work on in the coming year. The link to your survey should be a clear call to action. A big button with a label like “Answer a few questions” generally does the trick. The URL linking to the survey will need to include some variables like user ID and email. It might look something like this if you’re using SurveyMonkey: http://surveymonkey.com/s/somesurveyid/?uid=*|UID|*&email=*|email|* As each email is sent, the proper data will be populated in the variables, passing it on to the survey app for inclusion in each response. This is the magic that will help you pinpoint customers to interview down the road, so take special care to test that all is working before sending to all recipients. How you construct the survey link will vary depending on what survey tool and email service provider you use, so don’t take my example as gospel. You’ll need to read the documentation for your survey and email apps to set things up properly. Pilot before sending By now, you’ve whipped yourself into a fever pitch over your brilliant survey and the data you hope to collect. Your finger is on the send button, poised for action, but there’s one very important thing to do before you send to the entire list of customers: send a pilot email. How do you know if your questions are clear, your form logic is sound, and you’re passing variables from the email to the survey properly? You won’t, unless you send to a small segment of your recipients first. The data collected in your pilot will make plain where your survey needs refinement. This data won’t be used in your final analysis, as you’re probably going to make a few changes to your questions. Send the pilot survey to enough people that you can really stress test the clarity of the questions and data you’re gathering, while considering how much data can you comfortably throw out. If you’re sending your final survey to a few thousand people, you might find a couple of hundred recipients for your pilot will give you enough insight into what to improve while leaving the vast majority of the recipients for your final survey. After you’ve sent your pilot, made your survey adjustments, and ensured the variables are being passed from your email into the survey app, you’re ready to send to the remainder of your customers. This is your moment of glory! Analyzing your results After a couple of weeks you can probably safely close the survey so no other responses come in as you transition from data gathering to data analysis. Any survey app worth its salt will chart responses to your multiple choice questions. Reviewing these charts is a great place to start your analysis. Is there anything particularly interesting that stands out? Jot down some of your observations. I like to print screenshots of the charts for each question, highlighting areas of interest. These prints become a particularly handy reference point for the next step in your analysis. Printing results from a survey makes comparing different customers easy. Viewing aggregate data about all responses is interesting, but the deltas between different types of customers are where the real revelations happen. Remember those filter questions you added to your survey? They’re the tool that’ll help you compare customer segments. Most survey apps will let you filter the data based on response to a question. If the one you’re using doesn’t, you can always export your data and create pivot tables in Excel. Try filtering your data based on one of your filter questions, such as industry, company size, or devices used. Now compare those printed screenshots of baseline responses to the filtered data. Chances are you’ll see some significant differences in how each group responded to your questions, giving you clues about the variance in interests and motivations in customer segments and a leg up as you work on future design projects. Open-ended responses are equally interesting, but much more time-consuming to analyze. Yes, you need to read through thousands of responses, some of which are constructive and some of which are not. Taking the time to tag each open response will help you see trends and filter out the responses that are unhelpful. Unlike questions with predefined answers, open-ended responses let users express unique ideas and use cases you may not be looking for. The tedium of reading thousands of response is always cut by eureka moments when users tell you something fascinating that changes your perspective on your app. These are the folks you want to pull out for follow-up interviews. Because you’ve already captured their email addresses when you set up your survey and your email, getting in touch will be a piece of cake. Filter, compare, interview, and summarize; then share your findings with your colleagues. Reports are great for head honchos, but if you want to really inform and inspire, create a video, a poster series, or even a comic to communicate what you’ve learned. Want to get really fancy? Store your survey results in a centrally accessible location so anyone in your company can research and discover the insights they need to make more informed designs. Good design researchers discover valuable insights. Great design researchers turn those insights into stories. Conclusion As we enter the new year, it’s a great time to reflect on the work we’ve done in the past and how we can do better in the future. Without a doubt, designers working with a foundation of insights about customers can make more effective UIs. But designers aren’t the only ones who stand to gain from the data collected in an annual survey—anyone who makes things for or communicates with customers will find themselves empowered to do better work when they know more about the people they serve. The data you collect with your survey is a fantastic holiday gift to your colleagues, one that they’ll appreciate throughout the year. 2013 Aarron Walter aarronwalter 2013-12-13T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/data-driven-design-with-an-annual-survey/ design
14 The Command Position Principle Living where I do, in a small village in rural North Wales, getting anywhere means driving along narrow country roads. Most of these are just about passable when two cars meet. If you’re driving too close to the centre of the road, when two drivers meet you stop, glare at each other and no one goes anywhere. Drive too close to your nearside and in summer you’ll probably scratch your paintwork on the hedgerows, or in winter you’ll sink your wheels into mud. Driving these lanes requires a balance between caring for your own vehicle and consideration for someone else’s, but all too often, I’ve seen drivers pushed towards the hedgerows and mud when someone who’s inconsiderate drives too wide because they don’t want to risk scratching their own paintwork or getting their wheels dirty. If you learn to ride a motorcycle, you’ll be taught about the command position: Approximate central position, or any position from which the rider can exert control over invitation space either side. The command position helps motorcyclists stay safe, because when they ride in the centre of their lane it prevents other people, usually car drivers, from driving alongside, either forcing them into the curb or potentially dangerously close to oncoming traffic. Taking the command position isn’t about motorcyclists being aggressive, it’s about them being confident. It’s them knowing their rightful place on the road and communicating that through how they ride. I’ve recently been trying to take that command position when driving my car on our lanes. When I see someone coming in the opposite direction, instead of instinctively moving closer to my nearside — and in so doing subconsciously invite them into my space on the road — I hold both my nerve and a central position in my lane. Since I done this I’ve noticed that other drivers more often than not stay in their lane or pull closer to their nearside so we occupy equal space on the road. Although we both still need to watch our wing mirrors, neither of us gets our paint scratched or our wheels muddy. We can apply this principle to business too, in particular to negotiations and the way we sell. Here’s how we might do that. Commanding negotiations When a customer’s been sold to well — more on that in just a moment — and they’ve made the decision to buy, the thing that usually stands in the way of us doing business is a negotiation over price. Some people treat negotiations as the equivalent of driving wide. They act offensively, because their aim is to force the other person into getting less, usually in return for giving more. In encounters like this, it’s easy for us to act defensively. We might lack confidence in the price we ask for, or the value of the product or service we offer. We might compromise too early because of that. When that happens, there’s a pretty good chance that we’ll drive away with less than we deserve unless we use the command position principle to help us. Before we start any negotiation it’s important to know that both sides ultimately want to reach an agreement. This isn’t always obvious. If one side isn’t already committed, at least in principle, then it’s not a negotiation at that point, it’s something else. For example, a prospective customer may be looking to learn our lowest price so that they can compare it to our competitors. When that’s the case, we’ve probably failed to qualify that prospect properly as, after all, who wants to be chosen simply because they’re the cheapest? In this situation, negotiating is a waste of time since we don’t yet know that it will result in us making a deal. We should enter into a negotiation only when we know where we stand. So ask confidently: “Are you looking to [make a decision]?” When that’s been confirmed, it’s down to everyone to compromise until a deal’s been reached. That’s because good negotiations aren’t about one side beating the other, they’re about achieving a good deal for both. Using the command position principle helps us to maintain control over our negotiating space and affords us the opportunity to give ground only if we need to and only when we’re ready. It can also ensure that the person we’re negotiating with gives up some of their space. Commanding sales It’s not always necessary to negotiate when we’re doing a business deal, but we should always be prepared to sell. One of the most important parts of our sales process should be controlling when and how we tell someone our price. Unless it’s impossible to avoid, don’t work out a price for someone on the spot. When we do that we lose control over the time and place for presenting our price alongside the value factors that will contribute to the prospective customer accepting that price. For the same reason, never give a ballpark or, worse, a guesstimate figure. If the question of price comes up before we’re fully prepared, we should say politely that we need more time to work out a meaningful cost. When we are ready, we shouldn’t email a price for our prospective customer to read unaccompanied. Instead, create an opportunity to talk a prospect through our figures, demonstrate how we arrived at them and, most importantly, explain the value of what we’re selling to their business. Agree a time and place to do this and, if possible, do it all face-to-face. We shouldn’t hesitate when we give someone a price. When we sound even the slightest bit unsure or apologetic, we give the impression that we’ll be flexible in our position before negotiations have even begun. Think about the command position principle, know the price and present it confidently. That way we send a clear signal that we know our business and how we deal with people. The command position principle isn’t about being cocky, it’s about showing other people respect, asking for it in return and showing it to ourselves. Earlier, I mentioned selling well, because we sometimes hear people say that they dislike being sold to. In my experience, it’s not that people dislike the sales process, it’s that we dislike it done badly. Taking part in a good sales process, either by selling or being sold to, can be a pleasurable experience. Try to be confident — after all, we understand how our skills will benefit a customer better than anyone else. Our confidence will inspire confidence in others. Self-confidence isn’t the same as arrogance, just as the command position isn’t the same as riding without consideration for others. The command position principle preserves others’ space as well as our own. By the same token, we should be considerate of others’ time and not waste it and our own by attempting to force them into buying something that’s inappropriate. To prevent this from happening, evaluate them well to ensure that they’re the right customer for us. If they’re not, let them go on their way. They’ll thank us for it and may well become customers the next time we meet. The business of closing a deal can be made an enjoyable experience for everyone if we take control by guiding someone through the sales process by asking the right questions to uncover their concerns, then allaying them by being knowledgeable and confident. This is riding in the command position. Just like demonstrating we know our rightful position on the road, knowing our rightful place in a business relationship and communicating that through how we deal with people will help everyone achieve an equitable balance. When that happens in business, as well as on the road, no one gets their paintwork scratched or their wheels muddy. 2013 Andy Clarke andyclarke 2013-12-23T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/the-command-position-principle/ business
15 Git for Grown-ups You are a clever and talented person. You create beautiful designs, or perhaps you have architected a system that even my cat could use. Your peers adore you. Your clients love you. But, until now, you haven’t *&^#^! been able to make Git work. It makes you angry inside that you have to ask your co-worker, again, for that *&^#^! command to upload your work. It’s not you. It’s Git. Promise. Yes, this is an article about the popular version control system, Git. But unlike just about every other article written about Git, I’m not going to give you the top five commands that you need to memorize; and I’m not going to tell you all your problems would be solved if only you were using this GUI wrapper or that particular workflow. You see, I’ve come to a grand realization: when we teach Git, we’re doing it wrong. Let me back up for a second and tell you a little bit about the field of adult education. (Bear with me, it gets good and will leave you feeling both empowered and righteous.) Andragogy, unlike pedagogy, is a learner-driven educational experience. There are six main tenets to adult education: Adults prefer to know why they are learning something. The foundation of the learning activities should include experience. Adults prefer to be able to plan and evaluate their own instruction. Adults are more interested in learning things which directly impact their daily activities. Adults prefer learning to be oriented not towards content, but towards problems. Adults relate more to their own motivators than to external ones. Nowhere in this list does it include “memorize the five most popular Git commands”. And yet this is how we teach version control: init, add, commit, branch, push. You’re an expert! Sound familiar? In the hierarchy of learning, memorizing commands is the lowest, or most basic, form of learning. At the peak of learning you are able to not just analyze and evaluate a problem space, but create your own understanding in relation to your existing body of knowledge. “Fine,” I can hear you saying to yourself. “But I’m here to learn about version control.” Right you are! So how can we use this knowledge to master Git? First of all: I give you permission to use Git as a tool. A tool which you control and which you assign tasks to. A tool like a hammer, or a saw. Yes, your mastery of your tools will shape the kinds of interactions you have with your work, and your peers. But it’s yours to control. Git was written by kernel developers for kernel development. The web world has adopted Git, but it is not a tool designed for us and by us. It’s no Sass, y’know? Git wasn’t developed out of our frustration with managing CSS files in an increasingly complex ecosystem of components and atomic design. So, as you work through the next part of this article, give yourself a bit of a break. We’re in this together, and it’s going to be OK. We’re going to do a little activity. We’re going to create your perfect Git cheatsheet. I want you to start by writing down a list of all the people on your code team. This list may include: developers designers project managers clients Next, I want you to write down a list of all the ways you interact with your team. Maybe you’re a solo developer and you do all the tasks. Maybe you only do a few things. But I want you to write down a list of all the tasks you’re actually responsible for. For example, my list looks like this: writing code reviewing code publishing tested code to your server(s) troubleshooting broken code The next list will end up being a series of boxes in a diagram. But to start, I want you to write down a list of your tools and constraints. This list potentially has a lot of noun-like items and verb-like items: code hosting system (Bitbucket? GitHub? Unfuddle? self-hosted?) server ecosystem (dev/staging/live) automated testing systems or review gates automated build systems (that Jenkins dude people keep referring to) Brilliant! Now you’ve got your actors and your actions, it’s time to shuffle them into a diagram. There are many popular workflow patterns. None are inherently right or wrong; rather, some are more or less appropriate for what you are trying to accomplish. Centralized workflow Everyone saves to a single place. This workflow may mean no version control, or a very rudimentary version control system which only ever has a single copy of the work available to the team at any point in time. Branching workflow Everyone works from a copy of the same place, merging their changes into the main copy as their work is completed. Think of the branches as a motorcycle sidecar: they’re along for the ride and probably cannot exist in isolation of the main project for long without serious danger coming to the either the driver or sidecar passenger. Branches are a fundamental concept in version control — they allow you to work on new features, bug fixes, and experimental changes within a single repository, but without forcing the changes onto others working from the same branch. Forking workflow Everyone works from their own, independent repository. A fork is an exact duplicate of a repository that a developer can make their own changes to. It can be kept up to date with additional changes made in other repositories, but it cannot force its changes onto another’s repository. A fork is a complete repository which can use its own workflow strategies. If developers wish to merge their work with the main project, they must make a request of some kind (submit a patch, or a pull request) which the project collaborators may choose to adopt or reject. This workflow is popular for open source projects as it enforces a review process. Gitflow workflow A specific workflow convention which includes five streams of parallel coding efforts: master, development, feature branches, release branches, and hot fixes. This workflow is often simplified down to a few elements by web teams, but may be used wholesale by software product teams. The original article describing this workflow was written by Vincent Driessen back in January 2010. But these workflows aren’t about you yet, are they? So let’s make the connections. From the list of people on your team you identified earlier, draw a little circle. Give each of these circles some eyes and a smile. Now I want you to draw arrows between each of these people in the direction that code (ideally) flows. Does your designer create responsive prototypes which are pushed to the developer? Draw an arrow to represent this. Chances are high that you don’t just have people on your team, but you also have some kind of infrastructure. Hopefully you wrote about it earlier. For each of the servers and code repositories in your infrastructure, draw a square. Now, add to your diagram the relationships between the people and each of the machines in the infrastructure. Who can deploy code to the live server? How does it really get there? I bet it goes through some kind of code hosting system, such as GitHub. Draw in those arrows. But wait! The code that’s on your development machine isn’t the same as the live code. This is where we introduce the concept of a branch in version control. In Git, a repository contains all of the code (sort of). A branch is a fragment of the code that has been worked on in isolation to the other branches within a repository. Often branches will have elements in common. When we compare two (or more) branches, we are asking about the difference (or diff) between these two slivers. Often the master branch is used on production, and the development branch is used on our dev server. The difference between these two branches is the untested code that is not yet deployed. On your diagram, see if you can colour-code according to the branch names at each of the locations within your infrastructure. You might find it useful to make a few different copies of the diagram to isolate each of the tasks you need to perform. For example: our team has a peer review process that each branch must go through before it is merged into the shared development branch. Finally, we are ready to add the Git commands necessary to make sense of the arrows in our diagram. If we are bringing code to our own workstation we will issue one of the following commands: clone (the first time we bring code to our workstation) or pull. Remembering that a repository contains all branches, we will issue the command checkout to switch from one branch to another within our own workstation. If we want to share a particular branch with one of our team mates, we will push this branch back to the place we retrieved it from (the origin). Along each of the arrows in your diagram, write the name of the command you are are going to use when you perform that particular task. From here, it’s up to you to be selfish. Before asking Git what command it would like you to use, sketch the diagram of what you want. Git is your tool, you are not Git’s tool. Draw the diagram. Communicate your tasks with your team as explicitly as you can. Insist on being a selfish adult learner — demand that others explain to you, in ways that are relevant to you, how to do the things you need to do today. 2013 Emma Jane Westby emmajanewestby 2013-12-04T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/git-for-grownups/ code
16 URL Rewriting for the Fearful I think it was Marilyn Monroe who said, “If you can’t handle me at my worst, please just fix these rewrite rules, I’m getting an internal server error.” Even the blonde bombshell hated configuring URL rewrites on her website, and I think most of us know where she was coming from. The majority of website projects I work on require some amount of URL rewriting, and I find it mildly enjoyable — I quite like a good rewrite rule. I suspect you may not share my glee, so in this article we’re going to go back to basics to try to make the whole rigmarole more understandable. When we think about URL rewriting, usually that means adding some rules to an .htaccess file for an Apache web server. As that’s the most common case, that’s what I’ll be sticking to here. If you work with a different server, there’s often documentation specifically for translating from Apache’s mod_rewrite rules. I even found an automatic converter for nginx. This isn’t going to be a comprehensive guide to every URL rewriting problem you might ever have. That would take us until Christmas. If you consider yourself a trial-and-error dabbler in the HTTP 500-infested waters of URL rewriting, then hopefully this will provide a little bit more of a basis to help you figure out what you’re doing. If you’ve ever found yourself staring at the white screen of death after screwing up your .htaccess file, don’t worry. As Michael Jackson once insipidly whined, you are not alone. The basics Rewrite rules form part of the Apache web server’s configuration for a website, and can be placed in a number of different locations as part of your virtual host configuration. By far the simplest and most portable option is to use an .htaccess file in your website root. Provided your server has mod_rewrite available, all you need to do to kick things off in your .htaccess file is: RewriteEngine on The general formula for a rewrite rule is: RewriteRule URL/to/match URL/to/use/if/it/matches [options] When we talk about URL rewriting, we’re normally talking about one of two things: redirecting the browser to a different URL; or rewriting the URL internally to use a particular file. We’ll look at those in turn. Redirects Redirects match an incoming URL, and then redirect the user’s browser to a different address. These can be useful for maintaining legacy URLs if content changes location as part of a site redesign. Redirecting the old URL to the new location makes sure that any incoming links, such as those from search engines, continue to work. In 1998, Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote that Cool URIs don’t change, encouraging us all to go the extra mile to make sure links keep working forever. I think that sometimes it’s fine to move things around — especially to correct bad URL design choices of the past — provided that you can do so while keeping those old URLs working. That’s where redirects can help. A redirect might look like this RewriteRule ^article/used/to/be/here.php$ /article/now/lives/here/ [R=301,L] Rewriting By default, web servers closely map page URLs to the files in your site. On receiving a request for http://example.com/about/history.html the server goes to the configured folder for the example.com website, and then goes into the about folder and returns the history.html file. A rewrite rule changes that process by breaking the direct relationship between the URL and the file system. “When there’s a request for /about/history.html” a rewrite rule might say, “use the file /about_section.php instead.” This opens up lots of possibilities for creative ways to map URLs to the files that know how to serve up the page. Most MVC frameworks will have a single rule to rewrite all page URLs to one single file. That file will be a script which kicks off the framework to figure out what to do to serve the page. RewriteRule ^for/this/url/$ /use/this/file.php [L] Matching patterns By now you’ll have noted the weird ^ and $ characters wrapped around the URL we’re trying to match. That’s because what we’re actually using here is a pattern. Technically, it is what’s called a Perl Compatible Regular Expression (PCRE) or simply a regex or regexp. We’ll call it a pattern because we’re not animals. What are these patterns? If I asked you to enter your credit card expiry date as MM/YY then chances are you’d wonder what I wanted your credit card details for, but you’d know that I wanted a two-digit month, a slash, and a two-digit year. That’s not a regular expression, but it’s the same idea: using some placeholder characters to define the pattern of the input you’re trying to match. We’ve already met two regexp characters. ^ Matches the beginning of a string $ Matches the end of a string When a pattern starts with ^ and ends with $ it’s to make sure we match the complete URL start to finish, not just part of it. There are lots of other ways to match, too: [0-9] Matches a number, 0–9. [2-4] would match numbers 2 to 4 inclusive. [a-z] Matches lowercase letters a–z [A-Z] Matches uppercase letters A–Z [a-z0-9] Combining some of these, this matches letters a–z and numbers 0–9 These are what we call character groups. The square brackets basically tell the server to match from the selection of characters within them. You can put any specific characters you’re looking for within the brackets, as well as the ranges shown above. However, all these just match one single character. [0-9] would match 8 but not 84 — to match 84 we’d need to use [0-9] twice. [0-9][0-9] So, if we wanted to match 1984 we could to do this: [0-9][0-9][0-9][0-9] …but that’s getting silly. Instead, we can do this: [0-9]{4} That means any character between 0 and 9, four times. If we wanted to match a number, but didn’t know how long it might be (for example, a database ID in the URL) we could use the + symbol, which means one or more. [0-9]+ This now matches 1, 123 and 1234567. Putting it into practice Let’s say we need to write a rule to match article URLs for this website, and to rewrite them to use /article.php under the hood. The articles all have URLs like this: 2013/article-title/ They start with a year (from 2005 up to 2013, currently), a slash, and then have a URL-safe version of the article title (a slug), ending in a slash. We’d match it like this: ^[0-9]{4}/[a-z0-9-]+/$ If that looks frightening, don’t worry. Breaking it down, from the start of the URL (^) we’re looking for four numbers ([0-9]{4}). Then a slash — that’s just literal — and then anything lowercase a–z or 0–9 or a dash ([a-z0-9-]) one or more times (+), ending in a slash (/$). Putting that into a rewrite rule, we end up with this: RewriteRule ^[0-9]{4}/[a-z0-9-]+/$ /article.php We’re getting close now. We can match the article URLs and rewrite them to use article.php. Now we just need to make sure that article.php knows which article it’s supposed to display. Capturing groups, and replacements When rewriting URLs you’ll often want to take important parts of the URL you’re matching and pass them along to the script that handles the request. That’s usually done by adding those parts of the URL on as query string arguments. For our example, we want to make sure that article.php knows the year and the article title we’re looking for. That means we need to call it like this: /article.php?year=2013&slug=article-title To do this, we need to mark which parts of the pattern we want to reuse in the destination. We do this with round brackets or parentheses. By placing parentheses around parts of the pattern we want to reuse, we create what’s called a capturing group. To capture an important part of the source URL to use in the destination, surround it in parentheses. Our pattern now looks like this, with parentheses around the parts that match the year and slug, but ignoring the slashes: ^([0-9]{4})/([a-z0-9-]+)/$ To use the capturing groups in the destination URL, we use the dollar sign and the number of the group we want to use. So, the first capturing group is $1, the second is $2 and so on. (The $ is unrelated to the end-of-pattern $ we used before.) RewriteRule ^([0-9]{4})/([a-z0-9-]+)/$ /article.php?year=$1&slug=$2 The value of the year capturing group gets used as $1 and the article title slug is $2. Had there been a third group, that would be $3 and so on. In regexp parlance, these are called back-references as they refer back to the pattern. Options Several brain-taxing minutes ago, I mentioned some options as the final part of a rewrite rule. There are lots of options (or flags) you can set to change how the rule is processed. The most useful (to my mind) are: R=301 Perform an HTTP 301 redirect to send the user’s browser to the new URL. A status of 301 means a resource has moved permanently and so it’s a good way of both redirecting the user to the new URL, and letting search engines know to update their indexes. L Last. If this rule matches, don’t bother processing the following rules. Options are set in square brackets at the end of the rule. You can set multiple options by separating them with commas: RewriteRule ^([0-9]{4})/([a-z0-9-]+)/$ /article.php?year=$1&slug=$2 [L] or RewriteRule ^about/([a-z0-9-]+).jsp/$ /about/$1/ [R=301,L] Common pitfalls Once you’ve built up a few rewrite rules, things can start to go wrong. You may have been there: a rule which looks perfectly good is somehow not matching. One common reason for this is hidden behind that [L] flag. L for Last is a useful option to tell the rewrite engine to stop once the rule has been matched. This is what it does — the remaining rules in the .htaccess file are then ignored. However, once a URL has been rewritten, the entire set of rules are then run again on the new URL. If the new URL matches any of the rules, that too will be rewritten and on it goes. One way to avoid this problem is to keep your ‘real’ pages under a folder path that will never match one of your rules, or that you can exclude from the rewrite rules. Useful snippets I find myself reusing the same few rules over and over again, just with minor changes. Here are some useful examples to refer back to. Excluding a directory As mentioned above, if you’re rewriting lots of fancy URLs to a collection of real files it can be helpful to put those files in a folder and exclude it from rewrite rules. This helps solve the issue of rewrite rules reapplying to your newly rewritten URL. To exclude a directory, put a rule like this at the top of your file, before your other rules. Our files are in a folder called _source, the dash in the rule means do nothing, and the L flag means the following rules won’t be applied. RewriteRule ^_source - [L] This is also useful for excluding things like CMS folders from your website’s rewrite rules RewriteRule ^perch - [L] Adding or removing www from the domain Some folk like to use a www and others don’t. Usually, it’s best to pick one and go with it, and redirect the one you don’t want. On this site, we don’t use www.24ways.org so we redirect those requests to 24ways.org. This uses a RewriteCond which is like an if for a rewrite rule: “If this condition matches, then apply the following rule.” In this case, it’s if the HTTP HOST (or domain name, basically) matches this pattern, then redirect everything: RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.24ways.org$ [NC] RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://24ways.org/$1 [R=301,L] The [NC] flag means ‘no case’ — the match is case-insensitive. The dots in the domain are escaped with a backslash, as a dot is a regular expression character which means match anything, so we escape it because we literally mean a dot in this instance. Removing file extensions Sometimes all you need to do to tidy up a URL is strip off the technology-specific file extension, so that /about/history.php becomes /about/history. This is easily achieved with the help of some more rewrite conditions. RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME}.php -f RewriteRule ^(.+)$ $1.php [L,QSA] This says if the file being asked for isn’t a file (!-f) and if it isn’t a directory (!-d) and if the file name plus .php is an actual file (-f) then rewrite by adding .php on the end. The QSA flag means ‘query string append’: append the existing query string onto the rewritten URL. It’s these sorts of more generic catch-all rules that you need to watch out for when your .htaccess gets rerun after a successful match. Without care they can easily rematch the newly rewritten URL. Logging for when it all goes wrong Although not possible within your .htaccess file, if you have access to your Apache configuration files you can enable rewrite logging. This can be useful to track down where a rule is going wrong, if it’s matching incorrectly or failing to match. It also gives you an overview of the amount of work being done by the rewrite engine, enabling you to rearrange your rules and maximise performance. RewriteEngine On RewriteLog "/full/system/path/to/rewrite.log" RewriteLogLevel 5 To be doubly clear: this will not work from an .htaccess file — it needs to be added to the main Apache configuration files. (I sometimes work using MAMP PRO locally on my Mac, and this can be pasted into the snappily named Customized virtual host general settings box in the Advanced tab for your site.) The white screen of death One of the most frustrating things when working with rewrite rules is that when you make a mistake it can result in the server returning an HTTP 500 Internal Server Error. This in itself isn’t an error message, of course. It’s more of a notification that an error has occurred. The real error message can usually be found in your Apache error log. If you have access to your server logs, check the Apache error log and you’ll usually find a much more descriptive error message, pointing you towards your mistake. (Again, if using MAMP PRO, go to Server, Apache and the View Log button.) In conclusion Rewriting URLs can be a bear, but the advantages are clear. Keeping a tidy URL structure, disconnected from the technology or file structure of your site can result in URLs that are easier to use and easier to maintain into the future. If you’re redesigning a site, remember that cool URIs don’t change, so budget some time to make sure that any content you move has a rewrite rule associated with it to keep any links working. Further reading To find out more about URL rewriting and perhaps even learn more about regular expressions, I can recommend the following resources. From the horse’s mouth, the Apache mod_rewrite documentation Particularly useful with that documentation is the RewriteRule Flags listing You may wish to don sunglasses to follow the otherwise comprehensive Regular-Expressions.info tutorial Friend of 24 ways, Neil Crosby has a mod_rewrite Beginner’s Guide which I’ve found handy over the years. As noted at the start, this isn’t a fully comprehensive guide, but I hope it’s useful in finding your feet with a powerful but sometimes annoying technology. Do you have useful snippets you often use on projects? Feel free to share them in the comments. 2013 Drew McLellan drewmclellan 2013-12-01T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/url-rewriting-for-the-fearful/ code
17 Bringing Design and Research Closer Together The ‘should designers be able to code’ debate has raged for some time, but I’m interested in another debate: should designers be able to research? Are you a designer who can do research? Good research and the insights you uncover inspire fresh ways of thinking and get your creative juices flowing. Good research brings clarity to a woolly brief. Audience insight helps sharpen your focus on what’s really important. Experimentation through research and design brings a sense of playfulness and curiosity to your work. Good research helps you do good design. Being a web designer today is pretty tough, particularly if you’re a freelancer and work on your own. There are so many new ideas, approaches to workflow and trends and tools to keep up with. How do you decide which things to do and which to ignore? A modern web designer needs to be able to consider the needs of the audience, design appropriate IAs and layouts, choose colour palettes, pick appropriate typefaces and type layouts, wrangle with content, style, code, dabble in SEO, and the list goes on and on. Not only that, but today’s web designer also has to keep up with the latest talking points in the industry: responsive design, Agile, accessibility, Sass, Git, lean UX, content first, mobile first, blah blah blah. Any good web designer doesn’t need to be persuaded about the merits of including research in their toolkit, but do you really have time to include research too? Who is responsible for research? Generally, research in the web industry forms part of other disciplines and isn’t so much a discipline in its own right. It’s very often thought of as part of UX, or activities that make up a process such as IA or content strategy. Research is often undertaken by UX designers, information architects or content strategists and isn’t something designers or developers get that involved in. Some people lump all of these activities together and label it design research and have design researchers to do it. Some companies, such as the one I run with my husband Mark, are lucky enough to have someone with specialist research knowledge (yup, that would be me folks) who can lead all or most of the research work undertaken by the company. See also Mule Design, GOV.UK, the BBC, Mailchimp, Facebook and Twitter. What if you’re not lucky enough to have your own researcher or team of researchers? Often research is the kind of thing that’s nice to have, or it can be cut from scope when doing the budget dance with a client. It often forms part of the discovery phase of a project and sometimes just becomes a tick-box exercise. But research isn’t just user testing and it shouldn’t just live in a report on Basecamp that no one reads. I would argue that research and experimentation is a way of working or an approach to how you design. Research can be used during the whole design process and must be a vital part of a designer’s workflow on every project. Even if you work in a small studio, you can still create a culture of audience insight. Even if you work on your own, you can still absorb yourself in as much audience data as you can throughout the project life cycle. Here’s how. Research is everyone’s job There is a subtle difference between writing a research report and delivering it to a client, and them actually using it and applying the insights to their thought process. In my experience of working in the audiences team at the BBC, research was most effective when the role was embedded in the production team and insights were used as part of the editorial process. In this section I’ll talk through some common problems you might encounter in a typical project life cycle and show you ways you can use research to help you. For the sake of this article, let’s imagine that we’re talking about a particular project here and not ongoing product development. The same principles can of course be applied then, but even if you work in-house rather than on the agency side, you’re probably used to working on distinct projects or phases of work. 1. Problem: I want to come up with a new product idea. Solution: Inspiration through insights. Before you begin a new project, a good way of quickly absorbing all the existing knowledge that there maybe about a theme, product type or website is to literally surround yourself with it. This is especially relevant for new ideas or product development. Create an incident room if you can: fill the walls of your meeting room, the walls near your desk, or even just use a pinboard or online pinboard if space is tight or you’re working with a dispersed team. The same process can be used throughout a project’s or product life cycle — read about how MailChimp has applied this idea. Let’s take a new product idea as an example. Say you wanted to develop a responsive tool for web designers but you weren’t sure what aspect of responsive design to focus on. First of all, you should pose a hypothesis or problem statement to gather ideas around. For example: “How to speed up a designer’s responsive workflow.” You would then need to gather insights around this topic. You could run some interviews with freelance designers about how they work responsively. You could shadow a development team for the day to understand their processes. You could observe conversations on Twitter or IRC or wherever your target audience interact to see what people talk about. You could search out industry data and articles currently available. The next stage is to comb through this data and extract insights from it. You can use good old Post-it notes and a sharpie: capture one insight or thought per Post-it. If one insight leads into another, use two Post-its. The objective is volume. Try to ensure clarity in each Post-it so you don’t have to go back and reference material again (maybe you could use a key if you think it’ll get confusing). After this, stick them all up and synthesise the same way you would for any kind of cluster or affinity sort. Organise into broad themes. These themes then become springboards for further exploration and idea generation. You might see a gap or opportunity in one particular area, both from a workflow perspective but also from a business perspective. Bingo. Your insights then become the fuel for ideas generation. This method doesn’t just have to be used for new products — it works particularly well in a discovery phase for new projects or for new features in an existing product. We’re doing something similar for our own responsive tool, Gridset at the moment. Resources: Sticky Wisdom by Dave Allan, Matt Kingdon, Kris Murrin, Daz Rudkin The Science of Serendipity by Matt Kingdon The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley 2. Problem: You’re starting a new project and need to know the basics before you get headlong into designing or building. Solution: Quantitative survey. Common questions might be: Who are the users? How many are there? What are they like? Why do they use the site? What do they need from the site? What are their goals? Print out and stick up what you already know and have in your project space or ‘incident room’: any reports you have found or been given, analytics graphs, personas, pen portraits, as well as screengrabs of the current website, product or branding. Spend time looking through it all and identify the gaps. If you have very little existing audience data, a quick and easy way to get some baseline information is to run a quick user survey on a current website. You can establish basic demographic information, appreciation and views of the website as it stands, as well as delve a little deeper into needs and wants. This is also vital if you want some kind of trackable measures to go back to once you have designed and built your shiny new website for your client — read more in my article for 24 ways last year.) We use surveys a lot at Mark Boulton Design for our client work. Here’s a screen grab of one we ran in March on http://info.cern.ch before we redesigned the site and did the work on the First Website Project. We repeated the survey after the new website went live and were able to compare the results. Both surveys were a great source of insight to the project team as well as for the project stakeholders who needed to pitch the idea of the hack days and fundraise for them. Once you’ve run your survey, you should always write up a short summary for yourself and your client to refer to. If you’re not a trained researcher, you should try to read up on analysis techniques or data visualisation. It can be easy to misinterpret data and make it bend to the story you are trying to tell. You should be looking for the story in the data and present it without bias. If you’re using the ‘incident room’ method I mentioned earlier on, you can also extract the insights onto post it notes and add them to your growing body of knowledge. Resources: Using Questionnaires for Design Research by Emma Boulton Data-driven Design with an Annual Survey by Aarron Walter Research Methods for Product Design by Alex Milton and Paul Rodgers A Practical Guide to Designing with Data by Brian Suda 3. Problem: You have a prototype of a new design and you need some feedback from real users. Solution: User interviews and task based testing. Interviewing is a staple research method that every designer should master as it can be used throughout a project life cycle. Erika Hall recently wrote a great article on the basics for A List Apart. From stakeholder interviews in a discovery phase, to initial user research, right through to task based testing and iteration, interviews can be enormously helpful. They are very time-consuming, however, and although speaking to someone is better than speaking to no one, it’s always better to plan to do a few interviews at once, rather than one or two. I generally find that patterns only start to emerge after I’ve spoken to 4 or 5 people. Interviews are another thing we do a lot of at Mark Boulton Design. Most of the interviews we do are remote due to the location of our clients and their users. Rigour is an important consideration in all research activities and especially if you’re a non-researcher. Interviews particularly can be easily skewed by an inexperienced facilitator, which is why pairing can be a good approach. Building rapport, questioning, time keeping, note taking and thinking on your feet can be difficult to do all at once, so having a colleague take notes while you concentrate on leading the conversation can work really well. It’s important for the note taker to sit in on more than one interview so that they get a more rounded view of the feedback. The same person should also be involved in the analysis of the data. Interviews can be analysed and written up in a report or summary as with other types of research. I often use the same kind of collaborative process detailed earlier for deciding on themes, particularly if multiple members of the team have been involved in interviewing. Interviews are particularly useful for our incident room and can provide much colour and insight to an exploratory process. I often find verbatim quotes to be the most insightful type of data. You might find that an inexperienced researcher (or designer who is used to solving problems) will jump to interpretation too soon and forget to just listen to what the interviewee is saying. Capturing the exact form of words a person uses can help get away from this. Resources: Interviewing Humans by Erika Hall A Pocket Guide to Interviewing for Research by Andrew Travers Interviewing Users by Steve Portigal 4. Problem: How successful have I been with this new design? Solution: Key performance indicators Once your new design has been realised, it’s important to evaluate it. What works, what doesn’t work so well? As well as a straightforward design crit, don’t forget to introduce audience insights into a review meeting or project wash up. Work out what your KPIs — your key performance indicators — will be beforehand and then you can start to track them over time. For example, number of visits, appreciation of the site, willingness to recommend the site to a friend, number of sales, and number of conversions are all sensible measures to track. Interviews can again be helpful but cold, hard numbers are often better here. Read Corey Vilhauer’s take on this on A List Apart. Consistency is key here. If you have looked at your analytics and done a survey beforehand, you will have a baseline to start from. Don’t keep changing your measures and questions, or your data will not be comparable. Pick a few key questions or a set of measures, create a survey and then run it once a month, once a quarter, every six months or annually. You’ll start to see changes over time as the design beds in. You may see seasonal trends and spot patterns in the data related to other activities like marketing, promotion and so on. Keeping a record of all of this will increase your understanding of your audience. We’ve created a satisfaction survey for Gridset with a number of measures that we track on an ongoing basis. MailChimp has also created an annual survey with the aim of tracking their audience measures over time Resources: Search Analytics by Louis Rosenfeld A Primer on A/B Testing by Lara Swanson Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf Anyone can do research Research can be brought into the project life cycle at any stage. And of course, anyone can do research — you don’t need to be a researcher. Some of the main skills most designers possess are also key research skills: inquisitive nature, problem solving, playfulness, empathy, and so on. We have a small team at Mark Boulton Design. Most of the team are designers and the rest of us focus on supporting the team and clients both in terms of billable work (research, content strategy, project management) as well as the non-billable things like finance and studio management. Despite my best intentions, in the past I’ve undertaken research for clients in isolation — first being briefed by the design lead, carrying out the research and then delivering the findings back, trusting the design team to take the findings on board. This was often due to time and availability of resources. We’ve been trying hard to join up our processes and collaborate even more across the team. Undertaking heuristic or design reviews collaboratively; taking part in frequent critiques of our work and the work of others together; pairing a researcher and a designer to run interviews; workshopping results from interviews to come up with recommendations; working closely together on questionnaire design; shadowing each other on tasks that don’t fall within our core skills. A little thing like moving our desks around has also helped us have more conversations that we can all be a part of. I’ve come to the conclusion that my role as the research director at Mark Boulton Design is actually a facilitator of research. As well as carrying out research, I am responsible for ensuring that research happens consistently across the team. I am responsible for empowering and training our designers so they feel confident in carrying out their own user, audience or design research for clients. So they know what to look for, when to listen, when to probe and when to take note of something. So they know how to look for themes, how to synthesise insights from research and how to apply them to their work. Better research leads to better design So, are you a designer who can do research? Are you a researcher who can design? The best designers are a lucky combination of researcher and designer. If you’re not one of those, look at ways of enhancing the skills you lack. Because there’s no doubt in my mind, that becoming a better researcher will make you a better designer. General resources: Seeing the Elephant by Louis Rosenfeld Connected UX by Aarron Walter Beyond Usability Testing by Devan Goldstein Just Enough Research by Erika Hall The User Experience Team of One by Leah Buley Undercover User Experience Design by Cennydd Bowles and James Box A Pocket Guide to Psychology for Designers by Joe Leech A Pocket Guide to International User Research by Chui Chui Tan Remote Research by Nate Bolt and Tony Tulathimutte A Pocket Guide to Experiments for Designers by Colin McFarland 2013 Emma Boulton emmaboulton 2013-12-22T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/bringing-design-and-research-closer-together/ ux
18 Grunt for People Who Think Things Like Grunt are Weird and Hard Front-end developers are often told to do certain things: Work in as small chunks of CSS and JavaScript as makes sense to you, then concatenate them together for the production website. Compress your CSS and minify your JavaScript to make their file sizes as small as possible for your production website. Optimize your images to reduce their file size without affecting quality. Use Sass for CSS authoring because of all the useful abstraction it allows. That’s not a comprehensive list of course, but those are the kind of things we need to do. You might call them tasks. I bet you’ve heard of Grunt. Well, Grunt is a task runner. Grunt can do all of those things for you. Once you’ve got it set up, which isn’t particularly difficult, those things can happen automatically without you having to think about them again. But let’s face it: Grunt is one of those fancy newfangled things that all the cool kids seem to be using but at first glance feels strange and intimidating. I hear you. This article is for you. Let’s nip some misconceptions in the bud right away Perhaps you’ve heard of Grunt, but haven’t done anything with it. I’m sure that applies to many of you. Maybe one of the following hang-ups applies to you. I don’t need the things Grunt does You probably do, actually. Check out that list up top. Those things aren’t nice-to-haves. They are pretty vital parts of website development these days. If you already do all of them, that’s awesome. Perhaps you use a variety of different tools to accomplish them. Grunt can help bring them under one roof, so to speak. If you don’t already do all of them, you probably should and Grunt can help. Then, once you are doing those, you can keep using Grunt to do more for you, which will basically make you better at doing your job. Grunt runs on Node.js — I don’t know Node You don’t have to know Node. Just like you don’t have to know Ruby to use Sass. Or PHP to use WordPress. Or C++ to use Microsoft Word. I have other ways to do the things Grunt could do for me Are they all organized in one place, configured to run automatically when needed, and shared among every single person working on that project? Unlikely, I’d venture. Grunt is a command line tool — I’m just a designer I’m a designer too. I prefer native apps with graphical interfaces when I can get them. But I don’t think that’s going to happen with Grunt1. The extent to which you need to use the command line is: Navigate to your project’s directory. Type grunt and press Return. After set-up, that is, which again isn’t particularly difficult. OK. Let’s get Grunt installed Node is indeed a prerequisite for Grunt. If you don’t have Node installed, don’t worry, it’s very easy. You literally download an installer and run it. Click the big Install button on the Node website. You install Grunt on a per-project basis. Go to your project’s folder. It needs a file there named package.json at the root level. You can just create one and put it there. package.json at root The contents of that file should be this: { "name": "example-project", "version": "0.1.0", "devDependencies": { "grunt": "~0.4.1" } } Feel free to change the name of the project and the version, but the devDependencies thing needs to be in there just like that. This is how Node does dependencies. Node has a package manager called NPM (Node packaged modules) for managing Node dependencies (like a gem for Ruby if you’re familiar with that). You could even think of it a bit like a plug-in for WordPress. Once that package.json file is in place, go to the terminal and navigate to your folder. Terminal rubes like me do it like this: Terminal rube changing directories Then run the command: npm install After you’ve run that command, a new folder called node_modules will show up in your project. Example of node_modules folder The other files you see there, README.md and LICENSE are there because I’m going to put this project on GitHub and that’s just standard fare there. The last installation step is to install the Grunt CLI (command line interface). That’s what makes the grunt command in the terminal work. Without it, typing grunt will net you a “Command Not Found”-style error. It is a separate installation for efficiency reasons. Otherwise, if you had ten projects you’d have ten copies of Grunt CLI. This is a one-liner again. Just run this command in the terminal: npm install -g grunt-cli You should close and reopen the terminal as well. That’s a generic good practice to make sure things are working right. Kinda like restarting your computer after you install a new application was in the olden days. Let’s make Grunt concatenate some files Perhaps in our project there are three separate JavaScript files: jquery.js – The library we are using. carousel.js – A jQuery plug-in we are using. global.js – Our authored JavaScript file where we configure and call the plug-in. In production, we would concatenate all those files together for performance reasons (one request is better than three). We need to tell Grunt to do this for us. But wait. Grunt actually doesn’t do anything all by itself. Remember Grunt is a task runner. The tasks themselves we will need to add. We actually haven’t set up Grunt to do anything yet, so let’s do that. The official Grunt plug-in for concatenating files is grunt-contrib-concat. You can read about it on GitHub if you want, but all you have to do to use it on your project is to run this command from the terminal (it will henceforth go without saying that you need to run the given commands from your project’s root folder): npm install grunt-contrib-concat --save-dev A neat thing about doing it this way: your package.json file will automatically be updated to include this new dependency. Open it up and check it out. You’ll see a new line: "grunt-contrib-concat": "~0.3.0" Now we’re ready to use it. To use it we need to start configuring Grunt and telling it what to do. You tell Grunt what to do via a configuration file named Gruntfile.js2 Just like our package.json file, our Gruntfile.js has a very special format that must be just right. I wouldn’t worry about what every word of this means. Just check out the format: module.exports = function(grunt) { // 1. All configuration goes here grunt.initConfig({ pkg: grunt.file.readJSON('package.json'), concat: { // 2. Configuration for concatinating files goes here. } }); // 3. Where we tell Grunt we plan to use this plug-in. grunt.loadNpmTasks('grunt-contrib-concat'); // 4. Where we tell Grunt what to do when we type "grunt" into the terminal. grunt.registerTask('default', ['concat']); }; Now we need to create that configuration. The documentation can be overwhelming. Let’s focus just on the very simple usage example. Remember, we have three JavaScript files we’re trying to concatenate. We’ll list file paths to them under src in an array of file paths (as quoted strings) and then we’ll list a destination file as dest. The destination file doesn’t have to exist yet. It will be created when this task runs and squishes all the files together. Both our jquery.js and carousel.js files are libraries. We most likely won’t be touching them. So, for organization, we’ll keep them in a /js/libs/ folder. Our global.js file is where we write our own code, so that will be right in the /js/ folder. Now let’s tell Grunt to find all those files and squish them together into a single file named production.js, named that way to indicate it is for use on our real live website. concat: { dist: { src: [ 'js/libs/*.js', // All JS in the libs folder 'js/global.js' // This specific file ], dest: 'js/build/production.js', } } Note: throughout this article there will be little chunks of configuration code like above. The intention is to focus in on the important bits, but it can be confusing at first to see how a particular chunk fits into the larger file. If you ever get confused and need more context, refer to the complete file. With that concat configuration in place, head over to the terminal, run the command: grunt and watch it happen! production.js will be created and will be a perfect concatenation of our three files. This was a big aha! moment for me. Feel the power course through your veins. Let’s do more things! Let’s make Grunt minify that JavaScript We have so much prep work done now, adding new tasks for Grunt to run is relatively easy. We just need to: Find a Grunt plug-in to do what we want Learn the configuration style of that plug-in Write that configuration to work with our project The official plug-in for minifying code is grunt-contrib-uglify. Just like we did last time, we just run an NPM command to install it: npm install grunt-contrib-uglify --save-dev Then we alter our Gruntfile.js to load the plug-in: grunt.loadNpmTasks('grunt-contrib-uglify'); Then we configure it: uglify: { build: { src: 'js/build/production.js', dest: 'js/build/production.min.js' } } Let’s update that default task to also run minification: grunt.registerTask('default', ['concat', 'uglify']); Super-similar to the concatenation set-up, right? Run grunt at the terminal and you’ll get some deliciously minified JavaScript: Minified JavaScript That production.min.js file is what we would load up for use in our index.html file. Let’s make Grunt optimize our images We’ve got this down pat now. Let’s just go through the motions. The official image minification plug-in for Grunt is grunt-contrib-imagemin. Install it: npm install grunt-contrib-imagemin --save-dev Register it in the Gruntfile.js: grunt.loadNpmTasks('grunt-contrib-imagemin'); Configure it: imagemin: { dynamic: { files: [{ expand: true, cwd: 'images/', src: ['**/*.{png,jpg,gif}'], dest: 'images/build/' }] } } Make sure it runs: grunt.registerTask('default', ['concat', 'uglify', 'imagemin']); Run grunt and watch that gorgeous squishification happen: Squished images Gotta love performance increases for nearly zero effort. Let’s get a little bit smarter and automate What we’ve done so far is awesome and incredibly useful. But there are a couple of things we can get smarter on and make things easier on ourselves, as well as Grunt: Run these tasks automatically when they should Run only the tasks needed at the time For instance: Concatenate and minify JavaScript when JavaScript changes Optimize images when a new image is added or an existing one changes We can do this by watching files. We can tell Grunt to keep an eye out for changes to specific places and, when changes happen in those places, run specific tasks. Watching happens through the official grunt-contrib-watch plugin. I’ll let you install it. It is exactly the same process as the last few plug-ins we installed. We configure it by giving watch specific files (or folders, or both) to watch. By watch, I mean monitor for file changes, file deletions or file additions. Then we tell it what tasks we want to run when it detects a change. We want to run our concatenation and minification when anything in the /js/ folder changes. When it does, we should run the JavaScript-related tasks. And when things happen elsewhere, we should not run the JavaScript-related tasks, because that would be irrelevant. So: watch: { scripts: { files: ['js/*.js'], tasks: ['concat', 'uglify'], options: { spawn: false, }, } } Feels pretty comfortable at this point, hey? The only weird bit there is the spawn thing. And you know what? I don’t even really know what that does. From what I understand from the documentation it is the smart default. That’s real-world development. Just leave it alone if it’s working and if it’s not, learn more. Note: Isn’t it frustrating when something that looks so easy in a tutorial doesn’t seem to work for you? If you can’t get Grunt to run after making a change, it’s very likely to be a syntax error in your Gruntfile.js. That might look like this in the terminal: Errors running Grunt Usually Grunt is pretty good about letting you know what happened, so be sure to read the error message. In this case, a syntax error in the form of a missing comma foiled me. Adding the comma allowed it to run. Let’s make Grunt do our preprocessing The last thing on our list from the top of the article is using Sass — yet another task Grunt is well-suited to run for us. But wait? Isn’t Sass technically in Ruby? Indeed it is. There is a version of Sass that will run in Node and thus not add an additional dependency to our project, but it’s not quite up-to-snuff with the main Ruby project. So, we’ll use the official grunt-contrib-sass plug-in which just assumes you have Sass installed on your machine. If you don’t, follow the command line instructions. What’s neat about Sass is that it can do concatenation and minification all by itself. So for our little project we can just have it compile our main global.scss file: sass: { dist: { options: { style: 'compressed' }, files: { 'css/build/global.css': 'css/global.scss' } } } We wouldn’t want to manually run this task. We already have the watch plug-in installed, so let’s use it! Within the watch configuration, we’ll add another subtask: css: { files: ['css/*.scss'], tasks: ['sass'], options: { spawn: false, } } That’ll do it. Now, every time we change any of our Sass files, the CSS will automaticaly be updated. Let’s take this one step further (it’s absolutely worth it) and add LiveReload. With LiveReload, you won’t have to go back to your browser and refresh the page. Page refreshes happen automatically and in the case of CSS, new styles are injected without a page refresh (handy for heavily state-based websites). It’s very easy to set up, since the LiveReload ability is built into the watch plug-in. We just need to: Install the browser plug-in Add to the top of the watch configuration: . watch: { options: { livereload: true, }, scripts: { /* etc */ Restart the browser and click the LiveReload icon to activate it. Update some Sass and watch it change the page automatically. Live reloading browser Yum. Prefer a video? If you’re the type that likes to learn by watching, I’ve made a screencast to accompany this article that I’ve published over on CSS-Tricks: First Moments with Grunt Leveling up As you might imagine, there is a lot of leveling up you can do with your build process. It surely could be a full time job in some organizations. Some hardcore devops nerds might scoff at the simplistic setup we have going here. But I’d advise them to slow their roll. Even what we have done so far is tremendously valuable. And don’t forget this is all free and open source, which is amazing. You might level up by adding more useful tasks: Running your CSS through Autoprefixer (A+ Would recommend) instead of a preprocessor add-ons. Writing and running JavaScript unit tests (example: Jasmine). Build your image sprites and SVG icons automatically (example: Grunticon). Start a server, so you can link to assets with proper file paths and use services that require a real URL like TypeKit and such, as well as remove the need for other tools that do this, like MAMP. Check for code problems with HTML-Inspector, CSS Lint, or JS Hint. Have new CSS be automatically injected into the browser when it ever changes. Help you commit or push to a version control repository like GitHub. Add version numbers to your assets (cache busting). Help you deploy to a staging or production environment (example: DPLOY). You might level up by simply understanding more about Grunt itself: Read Grunt Boilerplate by Mark McDonnell. Read Grunt Tips and Tricks by Nicolas Bevacqua. Organize your Gruntfile.js by splitting it up into smaller files. Check out other people’s and projects’ Gruntfile.js. Learn more about Grunt by digging into its source and learning about its API. Let’s share I think some group sharing would be a nice way to wrap this up. If you are installing Grunt for the first time (or remember doing that), be especially mindful of little frustrating things you experience(d) but work(ed) through. Those are the things we should share in the comments here. That way we have this safe place and useful resource for working through those confusing moments without the embarrassment. We’re all in this thing together! 1 Maybe someday someone will make a beautiful Grunt app for your operating system of choice. But I’m not sure that day will come. The configuration of the plug-ins is the important part of using Grunt. Each plug-in is a bit different, depending on what it does. That means a uniquely considered UI for every single plug-in, which is a long shot. Perhaps a decent middleground is this Grunt DevTools Chrome add-on. 2 Gruntfile.js is often referred to as Gruntfile in documentation and examples. Don’t literally name it Gruntfile — it won’t work. 2013 Chris Coyier chriscoyier 2013-12-11T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/grunt-is-not-weird-and-hard/ code
19 In Their Own Write: Web Books and their Authors The currency of written communication — words on the page, words on the screen — comprises many denominations. To further our ends in web design and development, we freely spend and receive several: tweets aphoristic and trenchant, banal and perfunctory; blog posts and articles that call us to action or reflection; anecdotes, asides, comments, essays, guides, how-tos, manuals, musings, notes, opinions, stories, thoughts, tips pro and not-so-pro. So many, many words. Our industry (so much more than this, but what on earth are we, collectively?), our community thrives on writing and sharing knowledge and experience. 24 ways is a case in point. Everyone can learn and contribute through reading and writing — it’s what we’ve always done. To web authors and readers seeking greater returns, though, broader culture has vouchsafed an enduring and singular artefact: the book. Last month I asked a small sample of web book authors if they would be prepared to answer a few questions; most of them kindly agreed. In spirit, the survey was informal: I had neither hypothesis nor unground axe. I work closely with writers — and yes, I’ve edited or copy-edited books by several of the authors I surveyed — and wanted to share their thoughts about what it was like to write a book (“…it was challenging to find a coherent narrative”), why they did it (“Who wouldn’t want to?”) and what they learned from the experience (“That I could!”). Reasons for writing a book In web development the connection between authors and readers is unusually close and immediate. Working in our medium precipitates a unity that’s rare elsewhere. Yet writing and publishing a book, even during the current books revolution, is something only a few of us attempt and it remains daunting and a little remote. What spurs an author to try it? For some, it’s a deeply held resistance to prevailing trends: I felt that designers and developers needed to be shaken out of what seemed to me had been years of stagnation. —Andrew Clarke Or even a desire to protect us from ourselves: I felt that without a book that clearly defined progressive enhancement in a very approachable and succinct fashion, the web was at risk. I was seeing Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of universal availability slip away… —Aaron Gustafson Sometimes, there’s a knowledge gap to be filled by an author with the requisite excitement and need to communicate. Jon Hicks took his “pet subject” and was “enthused enough to want to spend all that time writing”, particularly because: …there was a gap in the market for it. No one had done it before, and it’s still on its own out there, with no competition. It felt like I was able to contribute something. Cennydd Bowles felt a professional itch at a particular point in his career, understanding that [a]s a designer becomes more senior, they start looking for ways to scale the effects of their work. For some, that leads into management. For others, into writing. Often, though, it’s also simply a personal challenge and ambition to explore a subject at length and create something substantial. Anna Debenham describes a motivation shared by several authors: To be able to point to something more tangible than an article and be able to say “I did that.” That sense of a book’s significance, its heft and gravity even, stems partly from the cultural esteem which honours books and their authors. Books have a long history as sources of wisdom, truth and power. Even with more books being published each year than ever before, writing one is still commonly considered a laudable achievement, including in our field. Challenges of writing a book Received wisdom has it that writing online should be brief and chunky and approachable: get to the point; divide it all up; subheadings and lists are our friends; write like you’re talking; no one has time to read. Much of such advice is true. Followed well, it lends our writing punch and pith, vigour and vim. The web is nimble, the web keeps up, and it suits what we write about developing for it. It’s perfect for delivering our observations, queries and investigations into all the various aspects of the work, professional and personal. Yet even for digital natives like web authors, books printed and electronic retain an attractive glister. Ideas can be developed more fully, their consequences explored to greater depth and extended with more varied examples, and the whole conveyed with more eloquence, more style. Why shouldn’t authors delay their conclusions if the intervening text is apposite, rich with value and helps to flesh out the skeleton of an argument? Conclusions might or might not be reached, of course, but a writer is at greater liberty in a book to digress in tangential and interesting ways. Writing a book involves committing time, energy, thought and money. As Brian Suda found, it can be tough “getting the ideas out of my head into a cohesive blob of text.” Some authors end up talking to themselves… It helps me to keep a real person in mind, someone who I’m talking to as I write. Sometimes I have the same conversations over and over in my head. —Andrew Clarke …while others are thinking ahead, concerned with how their book will be received: Would anyone want to read it? Would they care? Would it be respected by my peers? —Joe Leech Challenges that arose time and again included “starting” and “getting words on the page” as well as “knowing when to stop” or “letting go”. Personal organization problems and those caused by publishers were also widely mentioned. Time loomed large. Making time, finding time. Giving up “sleep and some sanity” and realizing “it will take you far, far, far longer than you naively assumed”. Importantly, writing time is time away from gainful employment: Aaron Gustafson found the hardest thing about writing a book to be “the loss of income while I was writing.” Perils and pleasures of editing Editing, be it structural, technical or copy editing, is founded on reciprocity. Without openness and a shared belief that the book is worthwhile, work can founder in acrimony and mistrust. Editors are a book’s first and most critical (in every sense) readers. Effective and perceptive editing makes a book as good as it can be, finding the book within the draft like sculpture reveals the statue in the stone. A good editor calls you out on poor assumptions and challenges you to really clarify your thinking. Whilst it can be difficult during the process to have your thinking challenged, it’s always been worth it — for me personally — in the long run. A good editor also reins you in when you’ve perhaps wandered off track or taken a little too long to make a point. —Christopher Murphy Andy Croll found editing “all positive” and Aaron Gustafson loves “working with a strong editor […] I want someone to tell it to me straight.” But it can be a rollercoaster, “both terrifying and the real moment of elation”. Mixed emotions during the editing process are common: It was very uncomfortable! I knew it was making the work stronger, but it was awkward having my inconsistencies and waffle picked apart. —Jon Hicks It can be distressing to have written work looked over by a professional, particularly for first-time book authors whose expertise lies elsewhere: I was a little nervous because I don’t consider myself a skilled writer — I never dreamed of becoming an author. I’m a designer, after all. —Geri Coady Communication is key, particularly when it comes to checking or changing the author’s words. I like a good banter between me and the tech editor — if we can have a proper argument in Word comments, that’s great. —Rachel Andrew But if handled poorly, small battles can break out. Rachel Andrew again: However, having had plenty of times where the technical editor has done nothing more than give a cursory glance, I started to leave little issues in for them to spot. If they picked them up I knew they were actually testing the code and I could be sure the work was being properly tech edited. If they didn’t spot them, I’d find someone myself to read through and check it! A major concern for writers is that their voices will be altered, filtered, mangled or otherwise obscured by the editing process. Good copy editing must remain unnoticed while enhancing the author’s voice in print. Donna Spencer appreciated the way her editor “tidied up my work and made it a million times better, but left it sounding exactly like me.” Similarly, Andrew Travers “was incredibly impressed at how well my editor tightened up my own writing without it feeling like another’s voice” and Val Head sums up the consensus that: the editor was able to help me express what I was trying to say in a better way […] I want to have editors for everything now. At the keyboard, keep your friends close, but your editors closer. Publishing and publishers Conditions ought to militate against the allure of writing a book about web design and development. More books are published each year than ever before, so readerships elude new authors and readers can struggle to find authors to trust in their fields of interest. New spaces for more expansive online writing about working on and with the web are opening up (sites like Contents Magazine and STET), and seminal online web development texts are emerging. Publishing online is simple, far-reaching and immediate. Much more so than articles and blog posts, books take time to research, write and read; add the complexity of commissioning, editing, designing, proofreading, printing, marketing and distribution processes, and it can take many months, even years to publish. The ceaseless headlong momentum of the web can leave articles more than a few weeks old whimpering in its wake, but updating them at least is straightforward; printed books about web development can depreciate as rapidly as the technology and techniques they describe, while retaining the “terrifying permanence that print bestows: your opinions will follow you forever”. So much moves on, and becomes out of date. Companies featured get bought by larger companies and die, techniques improve and solutions featured become terribly out of date. Unlike a website, which could be updated continuously, a book represents the thinking ‘at that time’. —Jon Hicks Publishers work hard to mitigate these issues, promoting new books and new authors, bringing authors and readers together under a trusted banner. When a publisher packages up and releases a writer’s words, it confers a seal of approval and “badge of quality”, very important to new authors. Publishers have other benefits to offer, from expert knowledge: My publisher was extraordinarily supportive (and patient). Her expertise in my chosen subject was both a pressure (I didn’t want to let her down) and a reassurance (if she liked it, I knew it was going to be fine). —Andrew Travers …to systems and support mechanisms set up specifically to encourage writers and publish books: Working as a team means you’re bringing in everyone’s expertise. —Chui Chui Tan As a writer, the best part about writing for a publisher was the writing infrastructure offered. —Christopher Murphy There can be drawbacks, however, and the occasional horror story: We were just one small package on a huge conveyor belt. The publisher’s process ruled all. —Cennydd Bowles It’s only looking back I realise how poorly some publishers treat writers — especially when the work is so poorly remunerated.My worst experience was when a publisher decided, after I had completed the book, that they wanted to push a different take on the subject than the brief I had been given. Instead of talking to me, they rewrote chunks of my words, turning my advice into something that I would never have encouraged. Ultimately, I refused to let the book go out under my name alone, and I also didn’t really promote the book as I would have had to point out the things I did not agree with that had been inserted! —Rachel Andrew Self-publishing is now a realistic option for web authors, and can offers “complete control over the end product” as well as the possibility of earning more than a “pathetic author revenue percentage”. There can be substantial barriers, of course, as self-publishing authors must face for themselves the risks and challenges conventional publishers usually bear. Ideally, creating a book is a collaboration between author and publisher. Geri Coady found that “working with my publisher felt more like working with a partner or co-worker, rather than working for a boss.” Wise words So, after meeting the personal costs of writing and publishing a web book — fear, uncertainty, doubt, typing (so much typing) — and then smelling the roses of success, what’s left for an author to say? Some words, perhaps, to people thinking of writing a book. Donna Spencer identifies a stumbling block common to many writers with an insight into the writing process: Having talked to a lot of potential authors, I think most have the problem that they haven’t actually figured out the ‘answer’ to their premise yet. They feel like they are stuck in the writing, but they are actually stuck in the thinking. For some no-nonsense, straightforward advice to cut through any anxiety or inadequacy, Rachel Andrew encourages authors to “treat it like any other work. There is no mystery to writing, you just have to write. Schedule the time, sit down, write words.” Tim Brown notes the importance of the editing process to refine a book and help authors reach their readers: Hire good editors. Editors are amazing thinkers who can vastly improve the quality and clarity of a piece of writing. We are too much beholden to the practical demands and challenges of technology, so Aaron Gustafson suggests a writer should “favor philosophies over techniques and your book will have a longer shelf life.” Most intimations of renown and recognition are nipped in the bud by Joe Leech’s warning: “Don’t expect fame and fortune.” Although Cennydd Bowles’ bitter experience can be discouraging: The sacrifices required are immense. You probably won’t make it. …he would do things differently for a future book: I would approach the book with […] far more concern about conveying the damn joy of what I do for a living. The pleasure of writing, not just having written is captured by James Chudley when he recalls: How much I enjoy writing and also how much I enjoy the discipline or having a side project like this. It’s a really good supplement to working life. And Jon Hicks has words that any author will find comforting: It will be fine. Everything will be fine. Just get on with it! As the web expands effortlessly and ceaselessly to make room for all our words, yet it can also discourage the accumulation of any particular theme in one space, dividing rich seams and scattering knowledge across the web’s surface and into its deepest reaches. How many words become weightless and insubstantial, signals lost in the constant white noise of indistinguishable voices, unloved, unlinked? The web forgets constantly, despite the (somewhat empty) promise of digital preservation: articles and data are sacrificed to expediency, profit and apathy; online attention, acknowledgement and interest wax and wane in days, hours even. Books can encourage deeper engagement in readers, and foster faith in an author, particularly if released under the imprint of a recognized publisher within the field. And books are changing. Although still not widely adopted, EPUB3 is the new standard in ebooks, bringing with it new possibilities for interaction and connection: readers with the text; readers with readers; and readers with authors. EPUB3 is built on HTML, CSS and JavaScript — sound familiar? In the past, we took what we could from the printed page to make the web; now books are rubbing up against what we’ve made. So: a book. Ever thought you could write one? Should write one? Would? I’d like to thank all the authors who wrote their books and answered my questions. Rachel Andrew · CSS3 Layout Modules, The CSS3 Anthology and more Cennydd Bowles · Undercover User Experience Design, with James Box Tim Brown · Combining Typefaces James Chudley · Usability of Web Photos Andrew Clarke · Hardboiled Web Design Geri Coady · Colour Accessibility Andy Croll · HTML Email Anna Debenham · Front-end Style Guides Aaron Gustafson · Adaptive Web Design Val Head · CSS Animations Jon Hicks · The Icon Handbook Joe Leech · Psychology for Designers Christopher Murphy · The Craft of Words, with Niklas Persson Donna Spencer · Information Architecture, Card Sorting and How to Write Great Copy for the Web Brian Suda · Designing with Data Chui Chui Tan · International User Research Andrew Travers · Interviewing for Research 2013 Owen Gregory owengregory 2013-12-15T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/web-books/ content
20 Make Your Browser Dance It was a crisp winter’s evening when I pulled up alongside the pier. I stepped out of my car and the bitterly cold sea air hit my face. I walked around to the boot, opened it and heaved out a heavy flight case. I slammed the boot shut, locked the car and started walking towards the venue. This was it. My first gig. I thought about all those weeks of preparation: editing video clips, creating 3-D objects, making coloured patterns, then importing them all into software and configuring effects to change as the music did; targeting frequency, beat, velocity, modifying size, colour, starting point; creating playlists of these… and working out ways to mix them as the music played. This was it. This was me VJing. This was all a lifetime (well a decade!) ago. When I started web designing, VJing took a back seat. I was more interested in interactive layouts, semantic accessible HTML, learning all the IE bugs and mastering the quirks that CSS has to offer. More recently, I have been excited by background gradients, 3-D transforms, the @keyframe directive, as well as new APIs such as getUserMedia, indexedDB, the Web Audio API But wait, have I just come full circle? Could it be possible, with these wonderful new things in technologies I am already familiar with, that I could VJ again, right here, in a browser? Well, there’s only one thing to do: let’s try it! Let’s take to the dance floor Over the past couple of years working in The Lab I have learned to take a much more iterative approach to projects than before. One of my new favourite methods of working is to create a proof of concept to make sure my theory is feasible, before going on to create a full-blown product. So let’s take the same approach here. The main VJing functionality I want to recreate is manipulating visuals in relation to sound. So for my POC I need to create a visual, with parameters that can be changed, then get some sound and see if I can analyse that sound to detect some data, which I can then use to manipulate the visual parameters. Easy, right? So, let’s start at the beginning: creating a simple visual. For this I’m going to create a CSS animation. It’s just a funky i element with the opacity being changed to make it flash. See the Pen Creating a light by Rumyra (@Rumyra) on CodePen A note about prefixes: I’ve left them out of the code examples in this post to make them easier to read. Please be aware that you may need them. I find a great resource to find out if you do is caniuse.com. You can also check out all the code for the examples in this article Start the music Well, that’s pretty easy so far. Next up: loading in some sound. For this we’ll use the Web Audio API. The Web Audio API is based around the concept of nodes. You have a source node: the sound you are loading in; a destination node: usually the device’s speakers; and any number of processing nodes in between. All this processing that goes on with the audio is sandboxed within the AudioContext. So, let’s start by initialising our audio context. var contextClass = window.AudioContext; if (contextClass) { //web audio api available. var audioContext = new contextClass(); } else { //web audio api unavailable //warn user to upgrade/change browser } Now let’s load our sound file into the new context we created with an XMLHttpRequest. function loadSound() { //set audio file url var audioFileUrl = '/octave.ogg'; //create new request var request = new XMLHttpRequest(); request.open("GET", audioFileUrl, true); request.responseType = "arraybuffer"; request.onload = function() { //take from http request and decode into buffer context.decodeAudioData(request.response, function(buffer) { audioBuffer = buffer; }); } request.send(); } Phew! Now we’ve loaded in some sound! There are plenty of things we can do with the Web Audio API: increase volume; add filters; spatialisation. If you want to dig deeper, the O’Reilly Web Audio API book by Boris Smus is available to read online free. All we really want to do for this proof of concept, however, is analyse the sound data. To do this we really need to know what data we have. Learning the steps Let’s take a minute to step back and remember our school days and science class. I’m sure if I drew a picture of a sound wave, we would all start nodding our heads. The sound you hear is caused by pressure differences in the particles in the air. Sound pushes these particles together, causing vibrations. Amplitude is basically strength of pressure. A simple example of change of amplitude is when you increase the volume on your stereo and the output wave increases in size. This is great when everything is analogue, but the waveform varies continuously and it’s not suitable for digital processing: there’s an infinite set of values. For digital processing, we need discrete numbers. We have to sample the waveform at set time intervals, and record data such as amplitude and frequency. Luckily for us, just the fact we have a digital sound file means all this hard work is done for us. What we’re doing in the code above is piping that data in the audio context. All we need to do now is access it. We can do this with the Web Audio API’s analysing functionality. Just pop in an analysing node before we connect the source to its destination node. function createAnalyser(source) { //create analyser node analyser = audioContext.createAnalyser(); //connect to source source.connect(analyzer); //pipe to speakers analyser.connect(audioContext.destination); } The data I’m really interested in here is frequency. Later we could look into amplitude or time, but for now I’m going to stick with frequency. The analyser node gives us frequency data via the getFrequencyByteData method. Don’t forget to count! To collect the data from the getFrequencyByteData method, we need to pass in an empty array (a JavaScript typed array is ideal). But how do we know how many items the array will need when we create it? This is really up to us and how high the resolution of frequencies we want to analyse is. Remember we talked about sampling the waveform; this happens at a certain rate (sample rate) which you can find out via the audio context’s sampleRate attribute. This is good to bear in mind when you’re thinking about your resolution of frequencies. var sampleRate = audioContext.sampleRate; Let’s say your file sample rate is 48,000, making the maximum frequency in the file 24,000Hz (thanks to a wonderful theorem from Dr Harry Nyquist, the maximum frequency in the file is always half the sample rate). The analyser array we’re creating will contain frequencies up to this point. This is ideal as the human ear hears the range 0–20,000hz. So, if we create an array which has 2,400 items, each frequency recorded will be 10Hz apart. However, we are going to create an array which is half the size of the FFT (fast Fourier transform), which in this case is 2,048 which is the default. You can set it via the fftSize property. //set our FFT size analyzer.fftSize = 2048; //create an empty array with 1024 items var frequencyData = new Uint8Array(1024); So, with an array of 1,024 items, and a frequency range of 24,000Hz, we know each item is 24,000 ÷ 1,024 = 23.44Hz apart. The thing is, we also want that array to be updated constantly. We could use the setInterval or setTimeout methods for this; however, I prefer the new and shiny requestAnimationFrame. function update() { //constantly getting feedback from data requestAnimationFrame(update); analyzer.getByteFrequencyData(frequencyData); } Putting it all together Sweet sticks! Now we have an array of frequencies from the sound we loaded, updating as the sound plays. Now we want that data to trigger our animation from earlier. We can easily pause and run our CSS animation from JavaScript: element.style.webkitAnimationPlayState = "paused"; element.style.webkitAnimationPlayState = "running"; Unfortunately, this may not be ideal as our animation might be a whole heap longer than just a flashing light. We may want to target specific points within that animation to have it stop and start in a visually pleasing way and perhaps not smack bang in the middle. There is no really easy way to do this at the moment as Zach Saucier explains in this wonderful article. It takes some jiggery pokery with setInterval to try to ascertain how far through the CSS animation you are in percentage terms. This seems a bit much for our proof of concept, so let’s backtrack a little. We know by the animation we’ve created which CSS properties we want to change. This is pretty easy to do directly with JavaScript. element.style.opacity = "1"; element.style.opacity = "0.2"; So let’s start putting it all together. For this example I want to trigger each light as a different frequency plays. For this, I’ll loop through the HTML elements and change the opacity style if the frequency gain goes over a certain threshold. //get light elements var lights = document.getElementsByTagName('i'); var totalLights = lights.length; for (var i=0; i<totalLights; i++) { //get frequencyData key var freqDataKey = i*8; //if gain is over threshold for that frequency animate light if (frequencyData[freqDataKey] > 160){ //start animation on element lights[i].style.opacity = "1"; } else { lights[i].style.opacity = "0.2"; } } See all the code in action here. I suggest viewing in a modern browser :) Awesome! It is true — we can VJ in our browser! Let’s dance! So, let’s start to expand this simple example. First, I feel the need to make lots of lights, rather than just a few. Also, maybe we should try a sound file more suited to gigs or clubs. Check it out! I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited — that’s just a bit of HTML, CSS and JavaScript! The other thing to think about, of course, is the sound that you would get at a venue. We don’t want to load sound from a file, but rather pick up on what is playing in real time. The easiest way to do this, I’ve found, is to capture what my laptop’s mic is picking up and piping that back into the audio context. We can do this by using getUserMedia. Let’s include this in this demo. If you make some noise while viewing the demo, the lights will start to flash. And relax :) There you have it. Sit back, play some music and enjoy the Winamp like experience in front of you. So, where do we go from here? I already have a wealth of ideas. We haven’t started with canvas, SVG or the 3-D features of CSS. There are other things we can detect from the audio as well. And yes, OK, it’s questionable whether the browser is the best environment for this. For one, I’m using a whole bunch of nonsensical HTML elements (maybe each animation could be held within a web component in the future). But hey, it’s fun, and it looks cool and sometimes I think it’s OK to just dance. 2013 Ruth John ruthjohn 2013-12-02T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/make-your-browser-dance/ code
21 Keeping Parts of Your Codebase Private on GitHub Open source is brilliant, there’s no denying that, and GitHub has been instrumental in open source’s recent success. I’m a keen open-sourcerer myself, and I have a number of projects on GitHub. However, as great as sharing code is, we often want to keep some projects to ourselves. To this end, GitHub created private repositories which act like any other Git repository, only, well, private! A slightly less common issue, and one I’ve come up against myself, is the desire to only keep certain parts of a codebase private. A great example would be my site, CSS Wizardry; I want the code to be open source so that people can poke through and learn from it, but I want to keep any draft blog posts private until they are ready to go live. Thankfully, there is a very simple solution to this particular problem: using multiple remotes. Before we begin, it’s worth noting that you can actually build a GitHub Pages site from a private repo. You can keep the entire source private, but still have GitHub build and display a full Pages/Jekyll site. I do this with csswizardry.net. This post will deal with the more specific problem of keeping only certain parts of the codebase (branches) private, and expose parts of it as either an open source project, or a built GitHub Pages site. N.B. This post requires some basic Git knowledge. Adding your public remote Let’s assume you’re starting from scratch and you currently have no repos set up for your project. (If you do already have your public repo set up, skip to the “Adding your private remote” section.) So, we have a clean slate: nothing has been set up yet, we’re doing all of that now. On GitHub, create two repositories. For the sake of this article we shall call them site.com and private.site.com. Make the site.com repo public, and the private.site.com repo private (you will need a paid GitHub account). On your machine, create the site.com directory, in which your project will live. Do your initial work in there, commit some stuff — whatever you need to do. Now we need to link this local Git repo on your machine with the public repo (remote) on GitHub. We should all be used to this: $ git remote add origin git@github.com:[user]/site.com.git Here we are simply telling Git to add a remote called origin which lives at git@github.com:[user]/site.com.git. Simple stuff. Now we need to push our current branch (which will be master, unless you’ve explicitly changed it) to that remote: $ git push -u origin master Here we are telling Git to push our master branch to a corresponding master branch on the remote called origin, which we just added. The -u sets upstream tracking, which basically tells Git to always shuttle code on this branch between the local master branch and the master branch on the origin remote. Without upstream tracking, you would have to tell Git where to push code to (and pull it from) every time you ran the push or pull commands. This sets up a permanent bond, if you like. This is really simple stuff, stuff that you will probably have done a hundred times before as a Git user. Now to set up our private remote. Adding your private remote We’ve set up our public, open source repository on GitHub, and linked that to the repository on our machine. All of this code will be publicly viewable on GitHub.com. (Remember, GitHub is just a host of regular Git repositories, which also puts a nice GUI around it all.) We want to add the ability to keep certain parts of the codebase private. What we do now is add another remote repository to the same local repository. We have two repos on GitHub (site.com and private.site.com), but only one repository (and, therefore, one directory) on our machine. Two GitHub repos, and one local one. In your local repo, check out a new branch. For the sake of this article we shall call the branch dev. This branch might contain work in progress, or draft blog posts, or anything you don’t want to be made publicly viewable on GitHub.com. The contents of this branch will, in a moment, live in our private repository. $ git checkout -b dev We have now made a new branch called dev off the branch we were on last (master, unless you renamed it). Now we need to add our private remote (private.site.com) so that, in a second, we can send this branch to that remote: $ git remote add private git@github.com:[user]/private.site.com.git Like before, we are just telling Git to add a new remote to this repo, only this time we’ve called it private and it lives at git@github.com:[user]/private.site.com.git. We now have one local repo on our machine which has two remote repositories associated with it. Now we need to tell our dev branch to push to our private remote: $ git push -u private dev Here, as before, we are pushing some code to a repo. We are saying that we want to push the dev branch to the private remote, and, once again, we’ve set up upstream tracking. This means that, by default, the dev branch will only push and pull to and from the private remote (unless you ever explicitly state otherwise). Now you have two branches (master and dev respectively) that push to two remotes (origin and private respectively) which are public and private respectively. Any work we do on the master branch will push and pull to and from our publicly viewable remote, and any code on the dev branch will push and pull from our private, hidden remote. Adding more branches So far we’ve only looked at two branches pushing to two remotes, but this workflow can grow as much or as little as you’d like. Of course, you’d never do all your work in only two branches, so you might want to push any number of them to either your public or private remotes. Let’s imagine we want to create a branch to try something out real quickly: $ git checkout -b test Now, when we come to push this branch, we can choose which remote we send it to: $ git push -u private test This pushes the new test branch to our private remote (again, setting the persistent tracking with -u). You can have as many or as few remotes or branches as you like. Combining the two Let’s say you’ve been working on a new feature in private for a few days, and you’ve kept that on the private remote. You’ve now finalised the addition and want to move it into your public repo. This is just a simple merge. Check out your master branch: $ git checkout master Then merge in the branch that contained the feature: $ git merge dev Now master contains the commits that were made on dev and, once you’ve pushed master to its remote, those commits will be viewable publicly on GitHub: $ git push Note that we can just run $ git push on the master branch as we’d previously set up our upstream tracking (-u). Multiple machines So far this has covered working on just one machine; we had two GitHub remotes and one local repository. Let’s say you’ve got yourself a new Mac (yay!) and you want to clone an existing project: $ git clone git@github.com:[user]/site.com.git This will not clone any information about the remotes you had set up on the previous machine. Here you have a fresh clone of the public project and you will need to add the private remote to it again, as above. Done! If you’d like to see me blitz through all that in one go, check the showterm recording. The beauty of this is that we can still share our code, but we don’t have to develop quite so openly all of the time. Building a framework with a killer new feature? Keep it in a private branch until it’s ready for merge. Have a blog post in a Jekyll site that you’re not ready to make live? Keep it in a private drafts branch. Working on a new feature for your personal site? Tuck it away until it’s finished. Need a staging area for a Pages-powered site? Make a staging remote with its own custom domain. All this boils down to, really, is the fact that you can bring multiple remotes together into one local codebase on your machine. What you do with them is entirely up to you! 2013 Harry Roberts harryroberts 2013-12-09T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/keeping-parts-of-your-codebase-private-on-github/ code
22 The Responsive Hover Paradigm CSS transitions and animations provide web designers with a whole slew of tools to spruce up our designs. Move over ActionScript tweens! The techniques we can now implement with CSS are reminiscent of Flash-based adventures from the pages of web history. Pairing CSS enhancements with our :hover pseudo-class allows us to add interesting events to our websites. We have a ton of power at our fingertips. However, with this power, we each have to ask ourselves: just because I can do something, should I? Why bother? We hear a lot of mantras in the web community. Some proclaim the importance of content; some encourage methods like mobile first to support content; and others warn of the overhead and speed impact of decorative flourishes and visual images. I agree, one hundred percent. At the same time, I believe that content can reign king and still provide a beautiful design with compelling interactions and acceptable performance impacts. Maybe, just maybe, we can even have a little bit of fun when crafting these systems! Yes, a site with pure HTML content and no CSS will load very fast on your mobile phone, but it leaves a lot to be desired. If you went to your local library and every book looked the same, how would you know which one to borrow? Imagine if every book was printed on the same paper stock with the same cover page in the same type size set at a legible point value… how would you know if you were going to purchase a cookbook about wild game or a young adult story about teens fighting to the death? For certain audiences, seeing a site with hip, lively hovers sure beats a stale website concept. I’ve worked on many higher education sites, and setting the interactive options is often a very important factor in engaging potential students, alumni, and donors. The same can go for e-commerce sites: enticing your audience with surprise and delight factors can be the difference between a successful and a lost sale. Knowing your content and audience can help you decide if an intriguing experience is appropriate for your site; if it is, then hover responses can be a real asset. Why hover? We have all these capabilities with CSS properties to create the aforementioned fun interactions, and it would be quite easy to fall back into some old patterns and animation abuse. The world of Flash intros and skip links could be recreated with CSS keyframes. However, I don’t think any of us want to go the route of forcing users into unwanted exchanges and road blocking content. What’s great about utilizing hover to pair with CSS powered actions is that it’s user initiated. It’s a well-established expectation that when a user mouses over an object, something changes. If we can identify that something as a link, then we will expect something to change as we move our mouse over it. By waiting to trigger a CSS-based response until a user chooses to engage with a target makes for a more polished experience (as opposed to barraging our screens with animations all willy-nilly). This makes it the perfect opportunity to add some unique spunk. What about mobile, touch, and responsive? So, you’re on board with this so far, but what about mobile and touch devices? Sure, some devices like the Samsung Galaxy S4 have some hovering capabilities, but certainly most do not. Beyond mobile devices, we also have to worry about desktops with touch capabilities. It’s super difficult to detect if a user is currently using touch or hover. One option we have is to design strictly for touch only and send hover enhancements to the graveyard. However, being that I’m all “fuck yeah hovers!,” I like to explore all options. So, let’s examine four different types of hover patterns and see how they can translate to our touch devices. 1. The essential text hover Changing text color on hover is something we’ve done for a while and it has helped aid in identifying links. To maintain the best accessibility we can achieve, it helps to have a different visual indicator on the default :link state, such as an underline. By making sure all text links have an underline, we won’t have to rely on visual changes during hover to make sure touch device users know that it is a link. For hover-enabled devices, we can add a basic color transition. Doing so creates a nice fade, which makes the change on hover less jarring. Kinda like smooth jazz. The code* to achieve this is quite simple: a { color: #6dd4b1; transition: color 0.25s linear; } a:hover, a:focus { color: #357099; } Browser prefixes are omitted You can see in the final result that, for both touch and hover, everyone wins: See the Pen Most Basic Link Transition by Jenn Lukas (@Jenn) on CodePen 2. Visual background wizardry and animated hovers We can take this a step further by again making changes to our aesthetic on hover, but not making any content changes. Altering image hovers for fun and personality can separate your site from others; that personality is important and can enhance our content. Let’s look at a few sites that do this really well. Scroll down to the judges section of CSS Off and check out the illustrations of the judges. On hover, the illustration fades into a photo of the judge. This provides a realistic alternative to the drawing. Users without the hover can click into the detail page, where they can see the full color picture and learn more about the judges; the information is still available through a different pathway. Going back to the higher education field, let’s visit Delaware Valley College. The school had recently gone through a rebranding that included loop icons as a symbol to connect ideas. These icons are brought into the website on hover of the slideshow arrows (WebKit browsers). The hover reveals a loop animation, tying in overall themes and adding some extra pizzazz that makes me think, “This is a hip place that feels current.” For visitors who can’t access the hover effect, the default arrow state clearly represents a clickable link, and there is swipe functionality on mobile devices to boot. DIY.org’s Frontend Dev page has a bunch of enjoyable hover actions happening, featuring scaling transforms and looping animations. Nothing new is revealed on hover, so touch devices won’t miss anything, but it intrigues the user who is visiting a site about front-end dev doing cool front-end things. It backs up its claim of front-end knowledge by adding this enhancement. The old Cowork Chicago (now redirecting) had a great example, captured here: Coop: Chicago Coworking from Jenn Lukas on Vimeo. The code for the Join areas is quite simple: .join-buttons .daily, .join-buttons .monthly { height: 260px; z-index: 0; margin-top: 30px; transition: height .2s linear,margin .2s linear; } .join-buttons .daily:hover, .join-buttons .monthly:hover { height: 280px; margin-top: 20px; } li.button:hover { z-index: 20; } The slight rotation on the photos, and the change of color and size of the rate options on hover, add to the fun factor. The site attempts to advertise the co-working space by letting bits of their charisma show through with these transitions. They don’t hit the user over the head with animations, but provide a nice addition to make sure visitors know it’s a welcoming place to work. Some text is added on the hover, but the text isn’t essential to determine where the link goes. 3. Image block hovers There have been more designs popping up with large image blocks acting as extensive hit area links to subsequent pages. On hover of these links, text is revealed, letting the user know where the link destination goes. See the Pen Transitioning Max Height by Jenn Lukas (@Jenn) on CodePen This type of link is tough for users on touch as the image might not provide enough context to reveal its target. If you weren’t aware of what my illustrated avatar from 2007 looked like (or even if you did), then how would you know that this is a link to my Twitter page? Instead, if we provide enough context — such as the @jennlukas handle — you could assume the destination. Users who receive the hover can also see the Twitter bio. It won’t break the experience for users that can’t hover, but it will provide a nice interaction and some more information for those that can. See the Pen Transitioning Max Height by Jenn Lukas (@Jenn) on CodePen The Esquire site follows this same pattern, in which the title of the story is shown and the subheading is revealed on hover. Dining at Altitude took the opposite approach, where all text is shown by default and, on hover, you can see more of the image that the text sits atop. This is a nice technique to follow. For touch users, following the link will allow them to see more of the image detail that was revealed on hover. 4. Drop-down navigation menu hovers Main navigation options that rely on hover have come up as a problem for touch. One way to address this is to be sure your top level items are all functional links to somewhere, and not blank anchors to trigger a submenu drop-down. This ensures that, even without the hover-triggered menu, users can still navigate to those top-level pages. From there, they should be able to access the tertiary pages shown in the drop-down. Following this arrangement, drop-down menus act as a quick shortcut and aren’t necessary to the navigational structure. If the top navigation items are your most visited pages, this execution won’t hinder your visitors. If the information within the menu is vital, such as a lone account menu, another option is to show drop-down menus on click instead of hover. This pattern will allow both mouse and touch users to access the drop-downs. Why can’t we just detect hover? This is a really tricky thing to do. Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 uses the aria-haspopup attribute to simulate hover on touch devices, but usually our audience stretches beyond that group. There’s been discussion around using Modernizr, but false positives have come with that. A W3C draft for Media Queries Level 4 includes a hover feature, but it’s not supported yet. Since some devices can hover and touch, should you rely on hover effects for those? Arguments have come up that users can be browsing your site with a mouse and then decide to switch to touch, or vice versa. That might be a large concern for you, or it might be an edge case that isn’t vital to your site’s success. For one site, I used mousemove and touchstart JavaScript events in order to detect if a visitor starts to browse the site with a mouse. The design initiates for touch users, showing all text on load, but as soon as a mouse movement occurs, the text becomes hidden and is then revealed on hover. See the Pen Detect Touch devices with mousemove and touchstart by Jenn Lukas (@Jenn) on CodePen One downside to this approach is that the text is viewable until a mouse enters the document, but if the elements are further down the page it might not be noticed. A second downside is if a user on a touch- and hover-enabled device starts browsing with the mouse and then switches back to touch, the hover-centric styles will remain until a new page load. These were acceptable scenarios in the project I worked on, but might not be for every project. Can we give our visitors a choice? I’ve been thinking about how we can combat the concern of not knowing if our customers are using touch or a mouse, not to mention keyboard or Wacom tablets or Minority Report screens. We can cover keyboards with our friend :focus, but that still doesn’t solve our other dilemmas. Remember when we couldn’t rely on browsers to zoom text and we had to use those small A, medium A, big A [AAA] buttons? On selection of one of those options, a different style sheet would load with small, medium, or large text sizes to satisfy our user’s request. We could even set cookies to remember their font choices. What if we offered a similar solution, a hover/touch switcher, for our new predicament? See the Pen cwuJf by Jenn Lukas (@Jenn) on CodePen We could add this switcher to our design. Maybe add it to the header on smaller screens and the footer on larger screens to play the odds. Then be sure to deliver the appropriate touch- or hover-optimized adventure for our guests. How about adding View options in the areas where we’re hiding content until hover? Looking at Delta Cycle, there’s logic in place to switch layouts on some mobile devices. On desktops we can see the layout shows the product and price by default, and the name of the item and an Add to cart button on hover. If you want to keep this hover, but also worry that touch users can’t access it — or even if you are concerned that people might want to view it with more details up front — we could add another view switcher. See the Pen List/Grid Views for Hover or Touch by Jenn Lukas (@Jenn) on CodePen Similar to the list versus grid view we often see in operating systems, a choice here could cover all of our bases. Conclusion There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to hover patterns. Design for your content. If you are providing important information about driving directions or healthcare, you might want to err on the side of designing for touch only. If you are behind an educational site and trying to entice more traffic and sign-ups, or a more immersive e-commerce site selling pies, then hover activity can help support your content and engage your visitors without being a detriment. While content can be our top priority, let’s not forget that our designs and interactions, hovers included, can have a great positive impact on how visitors experience our site. Hover wisely, friends. 2013 Jenn Lukas jennlukas 2013-12-12T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/the-responsive-hover-paradigm/  
23 Animating Vectors with SVG It is almost 2014 and fifteen years ago the W3C started to develop a web-based scalable vector graphics (SVG) format. As web technologies go, this one is pretty old and well entrenched. See the Pen yJflC by Drew McLellan (@drewm) on CodePen Embed not working on your device? Try direct. Unlike rasterized images, SVG files will stay crisp and sharp at any resolution. With high-DPI phones, tablets and monitors, all those rasterized icons are starting to look a bit old and blocky. There are several options to get simpler, decorative pieces to render smoothly and respond to various device widths, shapes and sizes. Symbol fonts are one option; the other is SVG. I’m a big fan of SVG. SVG is an XML format, which means it is possible to write by hand or to script. The most common way to create an SVG file is through the use of various drawing applications like Illustrator, Inkscape or Sketch. All of them open and save the SVG format. But, if SVG is so great, why doesn’t it get more attention? The simple answer is that for a long time it wasn’t well supported, so no one touched the technology. SVG’s adoption has always been hampered by browser support, but that’s not the case any more. Every modern browser (at least three versions back) supports SVG. Even IE9. Although the browsers support SVG, it is implemented in many different ways. SVG in HTML Some browsers allow you to embed SVG right in the HTML: the <svg> element. Treating SVG as a first-class citizen works — sometimes. Another way to embed SVG is via the <img> element; using the src attribute, you can refer to an SVG file. Again, this only works sometimes and leaves you in a tight space if you need to have a fallback for older browsers. The most common solution is to use the <object> element, with the data attribute referencing the SVG file. When a browser does not support this, it falls back to the content inside the <object>. This could be a rasterized fallback <img>. This method gets you the best of both worlds: a nice vector image with an alternative rasterized image for browsers that don’t support SVG. The downside is that you need to manage both formats, and some browsers will download both the SVG and the rasterized version, becoming a performance problem. Alexey Ten came up with a brilliant little trick that uses inline SVG combined with an SVG <image> element. This has an SVG href pointing to the vector SVG representation and a src attribute to the rasterized version. Older browsers will rewrite the <image> element as <img> and use the rasterized src attribute, but modern browsers will show the vector SVG. <svg width="96" height="96"> <image xlink:href="svg.svg" src="svg.png" width="96" height="96"/> </svg> It is a great workaround for most situations. You will have to determine the browsers you want or need to support and consider performance issues to decide which method is best for you. So it can be used in HTML. Why? There are two compelling reasons why vector graphics in the form of icons and symbols are going to be important on the web. With higher resolution screens, going from 72dpi to 200, 300, even over 400dpi, your rasterized icons are looking a little too blocky. As we zoom and print, we expect the visuals on the site to also stay smooth and crisp. The other main reason vector graphics are useful is scaling. As responsive websites become the norm, we need a way to dynamically readjust the heights, widths and styles of various elements. SVG handles this perfectly, since vectors remain smooth when changing size. SVG files are text-based, so they’re small and can be gzipped nicely. There are also techniques for creating SVG sprites to further squeeze out performance gains. But SVG really shines when you begin to couple it with JavaScript. Since SVG elements are part of the DOM, they can be interacted with just like any other element you are used to. The folks at Vox Media had an ingenious little trick with their SVG for a Playstation and Xbox One reviews. I’ve used the same technique for the 24 ways example. Vox Media spent a lot of time creating SVG line art of the two consoles, but once in place the artwork scaled and resized beautifully. They still had another trick up their sleeves. In their example, they knew each console was line art, so they used SVG’s line dash property to simulate the lines being drawn by animating the growth of the line by small percentage increments until the lines were complete. This is a great example of a situation where the alternatives wouldn’t be as straightforward to implement. Using an animated GIF would create a heavy file since it would need to contain all the frames of the animation at a large size to permit scaling; even then, smooth aliasing would be lost. canvas and plenty of JavaScript would be another alternative, but this is a rasterized format. It would need be redrawn at each scale, which is certainly possible, but smoothness would be lost when zooming or printing. The HTML, SVG and JavaScript for this example is less than 4KB! Let’s have a quick look at the code: <script> var current_frame = 0; var total_frames = 60; var path = new Array(); var length = new Array(); for(var i=0; i<4;i++){ path[i] = document.getElementById('i'+i); l = path[i].getTotalLength(); length[i] = l; path[i].style.strokeDasharray = l + ' ' + l; path[i].style.strokeDashoffset = l; } var handle = 0; var draw = function() { var progress = current_frame/total_frames; if (progress > 1) { window.cancelAnimationFrame(handle); } else { current_frame++; for(var j=0; j<path.length;j++){ path[j].style.strokeDashoffset = Math.floor(length[j] * (1 - progress)); } handle = window.requestAnimationFrame(draw); } }; draw(); </script> First, we need to initialize a few variables to set the current frame, the number of frames, how fast the animation will run, and we get each of the paths based on their IDs. With those paths, we set the dash and dash offset. path[i].style.strokeDasharray = l + ' ' + l; path[i].style.strokeDashoffset = l; We start the line as a dash, which effectively makes it blank or invisible. Next, we move to the draw() function. This is where the magic happens. We want to increment the frame to move us forward in the animation and check it’s not finished. If it continues, we then take a percentage of the distance based on the frame and then set the dash offset to this new percentage. This gives the illusion that the line is being drawn. Then we have an animation callback, which starts the draw process over again. That’s it! It will work with any SVG <path> element that you can draw. Libraries to get you started If you aren’t sure where to start with SVG, there are several libraries out there to help. They also abstract all browser compatibility issues to make your life easier. Raphaël Snap.svg svg.js You can also get most vector applications to export SVG. This means that you can continue your normal workflows, but instead of flattening the image as a PNG or bringing it over to Photoshop to rasterize, you can keep all your hard work as vectors and reap the benefits of SVG. 2013 Brian Suda briansuda 2013-12-07T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/animating-vectors-with-svg/  
24 Kill It With Fire! What To Do With Those Dreaded FAQs In the mid-1640s, a man named Matthew Hopkins attempted to rid England of the devil’s influence, primarily by demanding payment for the service of tying women to chairs and tossing them into lakes. Unsurprisingly, his methods garnered criticism. Hopkins defended himself in The Discovery of Witches in 1647, subtitled “Certaine Queries answered, which have been and are likely to be objected against MATTHEW HOPKINS, in his way of finding out Witches.” Each “querie” was written in the voice of an imagined detractor, and answered in the voice of an imagined defender (always referring to himself as “the discoverer,” or “him”): Quer. 14. All that the witch-finder doth is to fleece the country of their money, and therefore rides and goes to townes to have imployment, and promiseth them faire promises, and it may be doth nothing for it, and possesseth many men that they have so many wizzards and so many witches in their towne, and so hartens them on to entertaine him. Ans. You doe him a great deale of wrong in every of these particulars. Hopkins’ self-defense was an early modern English FAQ. Digital beginnings Question and answer formatting certainly isn’t new, and stretches back much further than witch-hunt days. But its most modern, most notorious, most reviled incarnation is the internet’s frequently asked questions page. FAQs began showing up on pre-internet mailing lists as a way for list members to answer and pre-empt newcomers’ repetitive questions: The presumption was that new users would download archived past messages through ftp. In practice, this rarely happened and the users tended to post questions to the mailing list instead of searching its archives. Repeating the “right” answers becomes tedious… When all the users of a system can hear all the other users, FAQs make a lot of sense: the conversation needs to be managed and manageable. FAQs were a stopgap for the technological limitations of the time. But the internet moved past mailing lists. Online information can be stored, searched, filtered, and muted; we choose and control our conversations. New users no longer rely on the established community to answer their questions for them. And yet, FAQs are still around. They’re a content anti-pattern, replicated from site to site to solve a problem we no longer have. What we hate when we hate FAQs As someone who creates and structures online content – always with the goal of making that content as useful as possible to people – FAQs drive me absolutely batty. Almost universally, FAQs represent the opposite of useful. A brief list of their sins: Double trouble Duplicated content is practically a given with FAQs. They’re written as though they’ll be accessed in a vacuum – but search results, navigation patterns, and curiosity ensure that users will seek answers throughout the site. Is our goal to split their focus? To make them uncertain of where to look? To divert them to an isolated microcosm of the website? Duplicated content means user confusion (to say nothing of the duplicated workload for maintaining content). Leaving the job unfinished Many FAQs fail before they’re even out of the gate, presenting a list of questions that’s incomplete (too short and careless to be helpful) or irrelevant (avoiding users’ real concerns in favor of soundbites). Alternately, if the right questions are there, the answers may be convoluted, jargon-heavy, or otherwise difficult to understand. Long lists of not-my-question Getting a single answer often means sifting through a haystack of questions. For each potential question, the user must read, comprehend, assess, move on, rinse, repeat. That’s a lot of legwork for little reward – and a lot of opportunity for mistakes. Users may miss their question, or they may fail to recognize a differently worded version of their question, or they may not notice when their sought-after answer appears somewhere they didn’t expect. The ventriloquist act FAQs shift the point of view. While websites speak on behalf of the organization (“our products,” “our services,” “you can call us for assistance,” etc.), FAQs speak as the user – “I can’t find my password” or “How do I sign up?” Both voices are written from the first-person perspective, but speak for different entities, which is disorienting: it breaks the tone and messaging across the website. It’s also presumptuous: why do you get to speak for the user? These all underscore FAQs’ fatal flaw: they are content without context, delivered without regard for the larger experience of the website. You can hear the absurdity in the name itself: if users are asking the same questions so frequently, then there is an obvious gulf between their needs and the site content. (And if not, then we have a labeling problem.) Instead of sending users to a jumble of maybe-it’s-here-maybe-it’s-not questions, the answers to FAQs should be found naturally throughout a website. They are not separated, not isolated, not other. They are the content. To present it otherwise is to create a runaround, and users know it. Jay Martel’s parody, “F.A.Q.s about F.A.Q.s” captures the silliness and frustration of such a system: Q: Why are you so rude? A: For that answer, you would have to consult an F.A.Q.s about F.A.Q.s about F.A.Q.s. But your time might be better served by simply abandoning your search for a magic answer and taking responsibility for your own profound ignorance. FAQs aren’t magic answers. They don’t resolve a content dilemma or even help users. Yet they keep cropping up, defiant, weedy, impossible to eradicate. Where are they all coming from? Blame it on this: writing is hard. When generating content, most of us do whatever it takes to get some words on the screen. And the format of question and answer makes it easy: a reactionary first stab at content development. After all, the point of website content is to answer users’ questions. So this – to give everyone credit – is a really good move. Content creators who think in terms of questions and answers are actually thinking of their users, particularly first-time users, trying to anticipate their needs and write towards them. It’s a good start. But it’s scaffolding: writing that helps you get to the writing you’re supposed to be doing. It supports you while you write your way to the heart of your content. And once you get there, you have to look back and take the scaffolding down. Leaving content in the Q&A format that helped you develop it is missing the point. You’re not there to build scaffolding. You have to see your content in its naked purpose and determine the best method for communicating that purpose – and it usually won’t be what got you there. The goal (to borrow a lesson from content management systems) is to separate the content from its presentation, to let the meaning of the content inform its display. This is, of course, a nice theory. An occasionally necessary evil I have a lot of clients who adore FAQs. They’ve developed their content over a long period of time. They’ve listened to the questions their users are asking. And they’ve answered them all on a page that I simply cannot get them to part with. Which means I’ve had to consider that there may be occasions where an FAQ page is appropriate. As an example: one of my clients is a financial office in a large institution. Because this office manages several third-party systems that serve a range of niche audiences, they had developed FAQs that addressed hyper-specific instances of dysfunction within systems for different users – à la “I’m a financial director and my employee submitted an expense report in such-and-such system and it returned such-and-such error. What do I do?” Yes, this content could be removed from the question format and rewritten. But I’m not sure it would be an improvement. It won’t necessarily resolve concerns about length and searchability, and the different audiences may complicate the delivery. And since the work of rewriting it didn’t fit into the client workflow (small team, no writers, pressed for time), I didn’t recommend the change. I’ve had to make peace with not being to torch all the FAQs on the internet. Some content, like troubleshooting information or complex procedures, may be better in that format. It may be the smartest way for a particular client to handle that particular information. Of course, this has to be determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the amount of content, the subject matter, the skill levels of the content creators, the publishing workflow, and the search habits of the users. If you determine that an FAQ page is the only way to go, ask yourself: Is there a better label or more specific term for the page (support, troubleshooting, product concerns, etc.)? Is there way to structure the page, categorize the questions, or otherwise make it easier for users to navigate quickly to the answer they need? Is a question and answer format absolutely the best way to communicate this information? Form follows function Just as a question and answer format isn’t necessarily required to deliver the content, neither is it an inappropriate method in and of itself. Content professionals have developed a knee-jerk reaction: It’s an FAQ page! Quick, burn it! Buuuuurn it! But there’s no inherent evil in questions and answers. Framing content in an interrogatory construct is no more a deal with the devil than subheads and paragraphs, or narrative arcs, or bullet points. Yes, FAQs are riddled with communication snafus. They deserve, more often than not, to be tied to a chair and thrown into a lake. But that wouldn’t fix our content problems. FAQs are a shiny and obvious target for our frustration, but they’re not unique in their flaws. In any format, in any display, in any kind of page, weak content can rear its ugly, poorly written head. It’s not the Q&A that’s to blame, it’s bad content. Content without context will always fail users. That’s the real witch in our midst. 2013 Lisa Maria Martin lisamariamartin 2013-12-08T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/what-to-do-with-faqs/ content
25 The Introvert Owner’s Manual Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. Albert Camus “Whatever you plan, just make sure there are lots of people there,” said my husband in the run-up to his birthday last year. A few months later, before my own birthday, I uttered, “Whatever you plan, just make sure it is only me and you.” I am an introvert. It is very likely some of you are too, or that you live, work or fraternise with one. Despite there being quite a few of us out there – some say as many as one third of the population, others as little as ten per cent – I think our professional and social lives are biased towards a definition of normality that is more accepting of the extrovert. I hope that by reading this article you will gain some insight to what goes on inside the head of the introvert(s) that you know and understand how to relate to them in a way that respects their disposition. Before we go any further, I should define what exactly being an introvert means, and, equally important, what it does not. Only once this is established will you be able to handle your introvert correctly. What defines an introvert The simplest and most accurate way of describing an introvert is that she uses up energy in social situations and needs to be in solitude to recharge. To explain what I mean, let us take the example of the The Sims: when you create a Sim, you can choose (among other characteristics) whether it will be outgoing or not. If the Sim is outgoing, when you play the game you need to make sure it interacts as much as possible with other Sims or its mood indicator (the plumbob) will become red and that is a bad thing. Conversely, if your Sim is not outgoing, when you put it in too many social situations its plumbob will become red too. So your (real life) introvert might think you are great (you might even be her best friend, her spouse or her child), but if her plumbob is red, or nearly, she might just need a little time and space to recharge before she is ready to interact. This is not the same thing as being shy or in a bad mood all the time. We are not necessarily awkward in social situations, but, if we have not had the time to recharge, being social might be almost impossible. This explains why your introvert will likely ask who will be at the gathering you have planned, for how long she will have to stay there, and what she will be doing before and after the event. It is the equivalent of you wanting to know if there will be power sockets in the restaurant to charge your iPhone – asking this does not mean you don’t want to attend. The explanation above might be a simplistic way of looking at things, but I would say it is one that introverts can relate to; call it a minimalist approach to socialisation. Caring for your introvert Articles and conversations about introversion usually focus on how to fix the condition and how to make introverts more outgoing: a clear example of our society’s bias towards the normality of extroversion. Avoid this. You will not be able to convert your introvert into an extrovert. Believe it or not, there is nothing wrong with her. In her 2012 TED talk, “The power of introverts”, Susan Cain pointed to the fact that places like school and work are designed for extroverts: students and workers are required to constantly work in groups and speaking up is highly valued. Both types are evaluated against the same criteria and more often than not people are expected to excel at being outspoken to be considered well rounded. Obviously, this is not the right way to appraise your introvert. Comparing your introvert with an extrovert using the same parameters and simply asking her to behave more like an extrovert is a mistake and something that will only perpetuate an introvert’s idea that the problem lies with her. Speaking up Your introvert is likely to have strong opinions and ideas, and to have been listening to other people speak at meetings and workshops. Help her voice those thoughts by creating an environment where everyone stops and listens when someone speaks instead of one which fosters interruptions. Show her that it is acceptable for someone to take time to think before they speak: silences are OK. Allow her the freedom to be herself instead of pressuring her to change an innate quality. It is not uncommon to find an introvert who likes to express ideas in writing. The world of web professionals excels in the spread of knowledge that is shared and sought through the written word. Give your introvert the necessary time and tools to write about the job, if she is that way inclined; this might be a good alternative to asking her to speak out. Group work I remember the sinking feeling whenever I heard my teachers say the dreaded words: “And now you’re going to break out into groups of…” Being an introvert does not mean you do not like people (or like to be around or work with others). It is just that activities such as group work will invariably drain your introvert’s energy rapidly. Your introvert’s batteries will need to be fully charged for her to be at her best and afterwards she will most likely need to recharge. Quiet time These days, one of the things that I value most at work is the ability to have moments to create and to think in solitude. When I am able to have those moments at the right time I will in turn be happy to participate in group conversations and tasks. Allow your introvert to have those moments: this does not mean she will have to work from home one day a week (but maybe it will); it might simply mean allowing her to take her laptop and her notebook and work from the empty side of the office, or from the coffee shop downstairs for an hour or two. In all likelihood she will come back fully recharged and ready to engage in more social activities – her plumbob will again be bright green. Leadership Do not think that your introvert cannot lead. Cain notes that introverted leaders are more likely to let their proactive employees run with their ideas instead of taking the ideas as their own. I would say that is a positive attribute in a leader. Maybe next time a project starts, talk to your introvert about the possibility of her being in a leadership position or of having more responsibility: you might be surprised at her ability to plan and foresee potential obstacles in the project. Final thoughts You would not tell someone with dyslexia to get better at spelling without giving her the right tools and enough time to do so. Equally, do not ask your introvert to be more outgoing, or to turn her frown upside down, without giving her the space to do so. I believe that everyone is an introvert at some point. Everyone needs a moment of solitude now and then, and the work we do requires frequent periods of deep focus and concentration. Striving to create workplaces, classrooms, homes that allow introverts to shine and be comfortable in their skin has the potential to also make those places more balanced for everyone else. Resources and further reading The power of introverts 10 myths about introverts Susan Cain’s 2014 TED Talk | Announcing the Quiet Revolution Help Shy Kids — Don’t Punish Them The Introvert Advantage 6 Things You Thought Wrong About Introverts Extraversion and introversion 2014 Inayaili de León Persson inayailideleon 2014-12-13T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/the-introvert-owners-manual/ process
26 Integrating Contrast Checks in Your Web Workflow It’s nearly Christmas, which means you’ll be sure to find an overload of festive red and green decorating everything in sight—often in the ugliest ways possible. While I’m not here to battle holiday tackiness in today’s 24 ways, it might just be the perfect reminder to step back and consider how we can implement colour schemes in our websites and apps that are not only attractive, but also legible and accessible for folks with various types of visual disabilities. This simulated photo demonstrates how red and green Christmas baubles could appear to a person affected by protanopia-type colour blindness—not as festive as you might think. Source: Derek Bruff I’ve been fortunate to work with Simply Accessible to redesign not just their website, but their entire brand. Although the new site won’t be launching until the new year, we’re excited to let you peek under the tree and share a few treats as a case study into how we tackled colour accessibility in our project workflow. Don’t worry—we won’t tell Santa! Create a colour game plan A common misconception about accessibility is that meeting compliance requirements hinders creativity and beautiful design—but we beg to differ. Unfortunately, like many company websites and internal projects, Simply Accessible has spent so much time helping others that they had not spent enough time helping themselves to show the world who they really are. This was the perfect opportunity for them to practise what they preached. After plenty of research and brainstorming, we decided to evolve the existing Simply Accessible brand. Or, rather, salvage what we could. There was no established logo to carry into the new design (it was a stretch to even call it a wordmark), and the Helvetica typography across the site lacked any character. The only recognizable feature left to work with was colour. It was a challenge, for sure: the oranges looked murky and brown, and the blues looked way too corporate for a company like Simply Accessible. We knew we needed to inject a lot of personality. The old Simply Accessible website and colour palette. After an audit to round up every colour used throughout the site, we dug in deep and played around with some ideas to bring some new life to this palette. Choose effective colours Whether you’re starting from scratch or evolving an existing brand, the first step to having an effective and legible palette begins with your colour choices. While we aren’t going to cover colour message and meaning in this article, it’s important to understand how to choose colours that can be used to create strong contrast—one of the most important ways to create hierarchy, focus, and legibility in your design. There are a few methods of creating effective contrast. Light and dark colours The contrast that exists between light and dark colours is the most important attribute when creating effective contrast. Try not to use colours that have a similar lightness next to each other in a design. The red and green colours on the left share a similar lightness and don’t provide enough contrast on their own without making some adjustments. Removing colour and showing the relationship in greyscale reveals that the version on the right is much more effective. It’s important to remember that red and green colour pairs cause difficulty for the majority of colour-blind people, so they should be avoided wherever possible, especially when placed next to each other. Complementary contrast Effective contrast can also be achieved by choosing complementary colours (other than red and green), that are opposite each other on a colour wheel. These colour pairs generally work better than choosing adjacent hues on the wheel. Cool and warm contrast Contrast also exists between cool and warm colours on the colour wheel. Imagine a colour wheel divided into cool colours like blues, purples, and greens, and compare them to warm colours like reds, oranges and yellows. Choosing a dark shade of a cool colour, paired with a light tint of a warm colour will provide better contrast than two warm colours or two cool colours. Develop colour concepts After much experimentation, we settled on a simple, two-colour palette of blue and orange, a cool-warm contrast colour scheme. We added swatches for call-to-action messaging in green, error messaging in red, and body copy and form fields in black and grey. Shades and tints of blue and orange were added to illustrations and other design elements for extra detail and interest. First stab at a new palette. We introduced the new palette for the first time on an internal project to test the waters before going full steam ahead with the website. It gave us plenty of time to get a feel for the new design before sharing it with the public. Putting the test palette into practice with an internal report It’s important to be open to changes in your palette as it might need to evolve throughout the design process. Don’t tell your client up front that this palette is set in stone. If you need to tweak the colour of a button later because of legibility issues, the last thing you want is your client pushing back because it’s different from what you promised. As it happened, we did tweak the colours after the test run, and we even adjusted the logo—what looked great printed on paper looked a little too light on screens. Consider how colours might be used Don’t worry if you haven’t had the opportunity to test your palette in advance. As long as you have some well-considered options, you’ll be ready to think about how the colour might be used on the site or app. Obviously, in such early stages it’s unlikely that you’re going to know every element or feature that will appear on the site at launch time, or even which design elements could be introduced to the site later down the road. There are, of course, plenty of safe places to start. For Simply Accessible, I quickly mocked up these examples in Illustrator to get a handle on the elements of a website where contrast and legibility matter the most: text colours and background colours. While it’s less important to consider the contrast of decorative elements that don’t convey essential information, it’s important for a reader to be able to discern elements like button shapes and empty form fields. A basic list of possible colour combinations that I had in mind for the Simply Accessible website Run initial tests Once these elements were laid out, I manually plugged in the HTML colour code of each foreground colour and background colour on Lea Verou’s Contrast Checker. I added the results from each colour pair test to my document so we could see at a glance which colours needed adjustment or which colours wouldn’t work at all. Note: Read more about colour accessibility and contrast requirements As you can see, a few problems were revealed in this test. To meet the minimum AA compliance, we needed to slightly darken the green, blue, and orange background colours for text—an easy fix. A more complicated problem was apparent with the button colours. I had envisioned some buttons appearing over a blue background, but the contrast ratios were well under 3:1. Although there isn’t a guide in WCAG for contrast requirements of two non-text elements, the ISO and ANSI standard for visible contrast is 3:1, which is what we decided to aim for. We also checked our colour combinations in Color Oracle, an app that simulates the most extreme forms of colour blindness. It confirmed that coloured buttons over blue backgrounds was simply not going to work. The contrast was much too low, especially for the more common deuteranopia and protanopia-type deficiencies. How our proposed colour pairs could look to people with three types of colour blindness Make adjustments if necessary As a solution, we opted to change all buttons to white when used over dark coloured backgrounds. In addition to increasing contrast, it also gave more consistency to the button design across the site instead of introducing a lot of unnecessary colour variants. Putting more work into getting compliant contrast ratios at this stage will make the rest of implementation and testing a breeze. When you’ve got those ratios looking good, it’s time to move on to implementation. Implement colours in style guide and prototype Once I was happy with my contrast checks, I created a basic style guide and added all the colour values from my colour exploration files, introduced more tints and shades, and added patterned backgrounds. I created examples of every panel style we were planning to use on the site, with sample text, links, and buttons—all with working hover states. Not only does this make it easier for the developer, it allows you to check in the browser for any further contrast issues. Run a final contrast check During the final stages of testing and before launch, it’s a good idea to do one more check for colour accessibility to ensure nothing’s been lost in translation from design to code. Unless you’ve introduced massive changes to the design in the prototype, it should be fairly easy to fix any issues that arise, particularly if you’ve stayed on top of updating any revisions in the style guide. One of the more well-known evaluation tools, WAVE, is web-based and will work in any browser, but I love using Chrome’s Accessibility Tools. Not only are they built right in to the Inspector, but they’ll work if your site is password-protected or private, too. Chrome’s Accessibility Tools audit feature shows that there are no immediate issues with colour contrast in our prototype The human touch Finally, nothing beats a good round of user testing. Even evaluation tools have their flaws. Although they’re great at catching contrast errors for text and backgrounds, they aren’t going to be able to find errors in non-text elements, infographics, or objects placed next to each other where discernible contrast is important. Our final palette, compared with our initial ideas, was quite different, but we’re proud to say it’s not just compliant, but shows Simply Accessible’s true personality. Who knows, it may not be final at all—there are so many opportunities down the road to explore and expand it further. Accessibility should never be an afterthought in a project. It’s not as simple as adding alt text to images, or running your site through a compliance checker at the last minute and assuming that a pass means everything is okay. Considering how colour will be used during every stage of your project will help avoid massive problems before launch, or worse, launching with serious issues. If you find yourself working on a personal project over the Christmas break, try integrating these checks into your workflow and make colour accessibility a part of your New Year’s resolutions. 2014 Geri Coady gericoady 2014-12-22T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/integrating-contrast-checks-in-your-web-workflow/ design
27 Putting Design on the Map The web can leave us feeling quite detached from the real world. Every site we make is really just a set of abstract concepts manifested as tools for communication and expression. At any minute, websites can disappear, overwritten by a newfangled version or simply gone. I think this is why so many of us have desires to create a product, write a book, or play with the internet of things. We need to keep in touch with the physical world and to prove (if only to ourselves) that we do make real things. I could go on and on about preserving the web, the challenges of writing a book, or thoughts about how we can deal with the need to make real things. Instead, I’m going to explore something that gives us a direct relationship between a website and the physical world – maps. A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected. Reif Larsen, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet The simplest form of map on a website tends to be used for showing where a place is and often directions on how to get to it. That’s an incredibly powerful tool. So why is it, then, that so many sites just plonk in a default Google Map and leave it as that? You wouldn’t just use dark grey Helvetica on every site, would you? Where’s the personality? Where’s the tailored experience? Where is the design? Jumping into design Let’s keep this simple – we all want to be better web folk, not cartographers. We don’t need to go into the history, mathematics or technology of map making (although all of those areas are really interesting to research). For the sake of our sanity, I’m going to gloss over some of the technical areas and focus on the practical concepts. Tiles If you’ve ever noticed a map loading in sections, it’s because it uses tiles that are downloaded individually instead of requiring the user to download everything that they might need. These tiles come in many styles and can be used for anything that covers large areas, such as base maps and data. You’ve seen examples of alternative base maps when you use Google Maps as Google provides both satellite imagery and road maps, both of which are forms of base maps. They are used to provide context for the real world, or any other world for that matter. A marker on a blank page is useless. The tiles are representations of the physical; they do not have to be photographic imagery to provide context. This means you can design the map itself. The easiest way to conceive this is by comparing Google’s road maps with Ordnance Survey road maps. Everything about the two maps is different: the colours, the label fonts and the symbols used. Yet they still provide the exact same context (other maps may provide different context such as terrain contours). Comparison of Google Maps (top) and the Ordnance Survey (bottom). Carefully designing the base map tiles is as important as any other part of the website. The most obvious, yet often overlooked, aspect are aesthetics and branding. Maps could fit in with the rest of the site; for example, by matching the colours and line weights, they can enhance the full design rather than inhibiting it. You’re also able to define the exact purpose of the map, so instead of showing everything you could specify which symbols or labels to show and hide. I’ve not done any real research on the accessibility of base maps but, having looked at some of the available options, I think a focus on the typography of labels and the colour of the various elements is crucial. While you can choose to hide labels, quite often they provide the data required to make sense of the map. Therefore, make sure each zoom level is not too cluttered and shows enough to give context. Also be as careful when choosing the typeface as you are in any other design work. As for colour, you need to pay closer attention to issues like colour-blindness when using colour to convey information. Quite often a spectrum of colour will be used to show data, or to show the topography, so you need to be aware that some people struggle to see colour differences within a spectrum. A nice example of a customised base map can be found on Michael K Owens’ check-in pages: One of Michael K Owens’ check-in pages. As I’ve already mentioned, tiles are not just for base maps: they are also for data. In the screenshot below you can see how Plymouth Marine Laboratory uses tiles to show data with a spectrum of colour. A map from the Marine Operational Ecology data portal, showing data of adult cod in the North Sea. Technical You’re probably wondering how to design the base layers. I will briefly explain the concepts here and give you tools to use at the end of the article. If you’re worried about the time it takes to design the maps, don’t be – you can automate most of it. You don’t need to manually draw each tile for the entire world! We’ve learned the importance of web standards the hard way, so you’ll be glad (and I won’t have to explain the advantages) of the standard for web mapping from the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) called the Web Map Service (WMS). You can use conventional file formats for the imagery but you need a way to query for the particular tiles to show for the area and zoom level, that is what WMS does. Features Tiles are great for covering large areas but sometimes you need specific smaller areas. We call these features and they usually consist of polygons, lines or points. Examples include postcode boundaries and routes between places, or even something more dynamic such as borders of nations changing over time. Showing features on a map presents interesting design challenges. If the colour or shape conveys some kind of data beyond geographical boundaries then it needs to be made obvious. This is actually really hard, without building complicated user interfaces. For example, in the image below, is it obvious that there is a relationship between the colours? Does it need a way of showing what the colours represent? Choropleth map showing ranked postcode areas, using ViziCities. Features are represented by means of lines or colors; and the effective use of lines or colors requires more than knowledge of the subject – it requires artistic judgement. Erwin Josephus Raisz, cartographer (1893–1968) Where lots of boundaries are small and close together (such as a high street or shopping centre) will it be obvious where the boundaries are and what they represent? When designing maps, the hardest challenge is dealing with how the data is represented and how it is understood by the user. Technical As you probably gathered, we use WMS for tiles and another standard called the web feature service (WFS) for specific features. I need to stress that the difference between the two is that WMS is for tiling, whereas WFS is for specific features. Both can use similar file formats but should be used for their particular use cases. You may be wondering why you can’t just use a vector format such as KML, GeoJSON (or even SVG) – and you can – but the issue is the same as for WMS: you need a way to query the data to get the correct area and zoom level. User interface There is of course never a correct way to design an interface as there are so many different factors to take into consideration for each individual project. Maps can be used in a variety of ways, to provide simple information about directions or for complex visualisations to explain large amounts of data. I would like to just touch on matters that need to be taken into account when working with maps. As I mentioned at the beginning, there are so many Google Maps on the web that people seem to think that its UI is the only way you can use a map. To some degree we don’t want to change that, as people know how to use them; but does every map require a zoom slider or base map toggle? In fact, does the user need to zoom at all? The answer to that one is generally yes, zooming does provide more context to where the map is zoomed in on. In some cases you will need to let users choose what goes on the map (such as data layers or directions), so how do they show and hide the data? Does a simple drop-down box work, or do you need search? Google’s base map toggle is quite nice since it doesn’t offer many options yet provides very different contexts and styling. It isn’t until we get to this point that we realise just plonking a quick Google map is really quite ridiculous, especially when compared to the amount of effort we make in other areas such as colour, typography or how the CSS is written. Each of these is important but we need to make sure the whole site is designed, and that includes the maps as much as any other content. Putting it into practice I could ramble on for ages about what we can do to customise maps to fit a site’s personality and correctly represent the data. I wanted to focus on concepts and standards because tools constantly change and it is never good to just rely on a tool to do the work. That said, there are a large variety of tools that will help you turn these concepts into reality. This is not a comparison; I just want to show you a few of the many options you have for maps on the web. Google OK, I’ve been quite critical so far about Google Maps but that is only because there is such a large amount of the default maps across the web. You can style them almost as much as anything else. They may not allow you to use custom WMS layers but Google Maps does have its own version, called styled maps. Using an array of map features (in the sense of roads and lakes and landmarks rather than the kind WFS is used for), you can style the base map with JavaScript. It even lets you toggle visibility, which helps to avoid the issue of too much clutter on the map. As well as lacking WMS, it doesn’t support WFS, but it does support GeoJSON and KML so you can still show the features on the map. You should also check out Google Maps Engine (the new version of My Maps), which provides an interface for creating more advanced maps with a selection of different base maps. A premium version is available, essentially for creating map-based visualisations, and it provides a step up from the main Google Maps offering. A useful feature in some cases is that it gives you access to many datasets. Leaflet You have probably seen Leaflet before. It isn’t quite as popular as Google Maps but it is definitely used often and for good reason. Leaflet is a lightweight open source JavaScript library. It is not a service so you don’t have to worry about API throttling and longevity. It gives you two options for tiling, the ability to use WMS, or to directly get the file using variables in the filename such as /{z}/{x}/{y}.png. I would recommend using WMS over dynamic file names because it is a standard, but the ability to use variables in a file name could be useful in some situations. Leaflet has a strong community and a well-documented API. Mapbox As a freemium service, Mapbox may not be perfect for every use case but it’s definitely worth looking into. The service offers incredible customisation tools as well as lots of data sources and hosting for the maps. It also provides plenty of libraries for the various platforms, so you don’t have to only use the maps on the web. Mapbox is a service, though its map design tool is open source. Mapbox Studio is a vector-only version of their previous tool called Tilemill. Earlier I wrote about how typography and colour are as important to maps as they are to the rest of a website; if you thought, “Yes, but how on earth can I design those parts of a map?” then this is the tool for you. It is incredibly easy to use. Essentially each map has a stylesheet. If you do not want to open a paid-for Mapbox account, then you can export the tiles (as PNG, SVG etc.) to use with other map tools. OpenLayers After a long wait, OpenLayers 3 has been released. It is similar to Leaflet in that it is a library not a service, but it has a much broader scope. During the last year I worked on the GIS portal at Plymouth Marine Laboratory (which I used to show the data tiles earlier), it essentially used OpenLayers 2 to create a web-based geographic information system, taking a large amount of data and permitting analysis (such as graphs) without downloading entire datasets and complicated software. OpenLayers 3 has improved greatly on the previous version in both performance and accessibility. It is the ideal tool for complex map-based web apps, though it can be used for the simple use cases too. OpenStreetMap I couldn’t write an article about maps on the web without at least mentioning OpenStreetMap. It is the place to go for crowd-sourced data about any location, with complete road maps and a strong API. ViziCities The newest project on this list is ViziCities by Robin Hawkes and Peter Smart. It is a open source 3-D visualisation tool, currently in the very early stages of development. The basic example shows 3-D buildings around the world using OpenStreetMap data. Robin has used it to create some incredible demos such as real-time London underground trains, and planes landing at an airport. Edward Greer and I are currently working on using ViziCities to show ideal housing areas based on particular personas. We chose it because the 3-D aspect gives us interesting possibilities for the data we are able to visualise (such as bar charts on the actual map instead of in the UI). Despite not being a completely stable, fully featured system, ViziCities is worth taking a look at for some use cases and is definitely going to go from strength to strength. So there you have it – a whistle-stop tour of how maps can be customised. Now please stop plonking in maps without thinking about it and design them as you design the rest of your content. 2014 Shane Hudson shanehudson 2014-12-11T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/putting-design-on-the-map/ design
28 Why You Should Design for Open Source Let’s be honest. Most designers don’t like working for nothing. We rally against spec work and make a stand for contracts and getting paid. That’s totally what you should do as a professional designer in the industry. It’s your job. It’s your hard-working skill. It’s your bread and butter. Get paid. However, I’m going to make a case for why you could also consider designing for open source. First, I should mention that not all open source work is free work. Some companies hire open source contributors to work on their projects full-time, usually because that project is used by said company. There are other companies that encourage open source contribution and even offer 20%-time for these projects (where you can spend one day a week contributing to open source). These are super rad situations to be in. However, whether you’re able to land a gig doing this type of work, or you’ve decided to volunteer your time and energy, designing for open source can be rewarding in many other ways. Portfolio building New designers often find themselves in a catch-22 situation: they don’t have enough work experience showcased in their portfolio, which leads to them not getting much work because their portfolio is bare. These new designers often turn to unsolicited redesigns to fill their portfolio. An unsolicited redesign is a proof of concept in which a designer attempts to redesign a popular website. You can see many of these concepts on sites like Dribbble and Behance and there are even websites dedicated to showcasing these designs, such as Uninvited Designs. There’s even a subreddit for them. There are quite a few negative opinions on unsolicited redesigns, though some people see things from both sides. If you feel like doing one or two of these to fill your portfolio, that’s of course up to you. But here’s a better suggestion. Why not contribute design for an open source project instead? You can easily find many projects in great need of design work, from branding to information design, documentation, and website or application design. The benefits to doing this are far better than an unsolicited redesign. You get a great portfolio piece that actually has greater potential to get used (especially if the core team is on board with it). It’s a win-win situation. Not all designers are in need of portfolio filler, but there are other benefits to contributing design. Giving back to the community My first experience with voluntary work was when I collaborated with my friend, Vineet Thapar, on a pro bono project for the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative redesign project back in 2004. I was very excited to contribute CSS to a website that would get used by the W3C! Unfortunately, it decided to go a different direction and my work did not get used. However, it was still pretty exciting to have the opportunity, and I don’t regret a moment of that work. I learned a lot about accessibility from this experience and it helped me land some of the jobs I’ve had since. Almost a decade later, I got super into Sass. One of the core maintainers, Chris Eppstein, lamented on Twitter one day that the Sass website and brand was in dire need of design help. That led to the creation of an open source task force, Team Sass Design, and we revived the brand and the website, which launched at SassConf in 2013. It helped me in my current job. I showed it during my portfolio review when I interviewed for the role. Then I was able to use inspiration from a technique I’d tried on the Sass website to help create the more feature-rich design system that my team at work is building. But most importantly, I soon learned that it is exhilarating to be a part of the Sass community. This is the biggest benefit of all. It feels really good to give back to the technology I love and use for getting my work done. Ben Werdmuller writes about the need for design in open source. It’s great to see designers contributing to open source in awesome ways. When A List Apart’s website went open source, Anna Debenham contributed by helping build its pattern library. Bevan Stephens worked with FontForge on the design of its website. There are also designers who have created their own open source projects. There’s Dan Cederholm’s Pears, which shares common patterns in markup and style. There’s also Brad Frost’s Pattern Lab, which shares his famous method of atomic design and applies it to a design system. These systems and patterns have been used in real-world projects, such as RetailMeNot, so designers have contributed to the web in an even larger way simply by putting their work out there for others to use. That’s kind of fun to think about. How to get started So are you stoked about getting into the open source community? That’s great! Initially, you might get worried or uncomfortable in getting involved. That’s okay. But first consider that the project is open source for a reason. Your contribution (no matter how large or small) can help in a big way. If you find a project you’re interested in helping, make sure you do your research. Sometimes project team members will be attached to their current design. Is there already a designer on the core team? Reach out to that designer first. Don’t be too aggressive with why you think your design is better than theirs. Rather, offer some constructive feedback and a proposal of what would make the design better. Chances are, if the designer cares about the project, and you make a strong case, they’ll be up for it. Are there contribution guidelines? It’s proper etiquette to read these and follow the community’s rules. You’ll have a better chance of getting your work accepted, and it shows that you take the time to care and add to the overall quality of the project. Does the project lack guidelines? Consider starting a draft for that before getting started in the design. When contributing to open source, use your initiative to solve problems in a manageable way. Huge pull requests are hard to review and will often either get neglected or rejected. Work in small, modular, and iterative contributions. So this is my personal take on what I’ve learned from my experience and why I love open source. I’d love to hear from you if you have your own experience in doing this and what you’ve learned along the way as well. Please share in the comments! Thanks Drew McLellan, Eric Suzanne, Kyle Neath for sharing their thoughts with me on this! 2014 Jina Anne jina 2014-12-19T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/why-you-should-design-for-open-source/ design
29 What It Takes to Build a Website In 1994 we lost Kurt Cobain and got the world wide web as a weird consolation prize. In the years that followed, if you’d asked me if I knew how to build a website I’d have said yes, I know HTML, so I know how to build a website. If you’d then asked me what it takes to build a website, I’d have had to admit that HTML would hardly feature. Among the design nerdery and dev geekery it’s easy to think that the nuts and bolts of building a page just need to be multiplied up and Ta-da! There’s your website. That can certainly be true with weekend projects and hackery for fun. It works for throwing something together on GitHub or experimenting with ideas on your personal site. But what about working professionally on client projects? The web is important, so we need to build it right. It’s 2015 – your job involves people paying you money for building websites. What does it take to build a website and to do it right? What practices should we adopt to make really great, successful and professional web projects in 2015? I put that question to some friends and 24 ways authors to see what they thought. Getting the tech right Inevitably, it all starts with the technology. We work in a technical medium, after all. From Notepad and WinFTP through to continuous integration and deployment – how do you build sites? Create a stable development environment There’s little more likely to send a web developer into a wild panic and a client into a wild rage than making a new site live and things just not working. That’s why it’s important to have realistic development and staging environments that mimic the live server as closely as possible. Are you in the habit of developing new sites right on the client’s server? Or maybe in a subfolder on your local machine? It’s time to reconsider. Charlie Perrins writes: Don’t work on a live server – this feels like one of those gear-changing moments for a developer’s growth. Build something that works just as well locally on your own machine as it does on a live server, and capture the differences in the code between the local and live version in a single config file. Ultimately, if you can get all the differences between environments down to a config level then you’ll be in a really good position to automate the deployment process at some point in the future. Anything that creates a significant difference between the development and the live environments has the potential to cause problems you won’t know about until the site goes live – and at that point the problems are very public and very embarrassing, not to mention unprofessional. A reasonable solution is to use a tool like MAMP PRO which enables you to set up an individual local website for each project you work on. Importantly, individual sites give you both consistency of paths between development and live, but also the ability to configure server options (like PHP versions and configuration, for example) to match the live site. Better yet is to use a virtual machine, managed with a tool such as Vagrant. If you’re interested in learning more about that, we have an article on that subject later in the series. Use source control Trent Walton writes: We use source control, and it’s become the centerpiece for how we handle collaboration, enhancements, and issues. It drives our process. I’m hoping by now that you’re either using source control for all your work, or feeling a nagging guilt that you should be. Be it Git, Mercurial, Subversion (name your poison), a revision control system enables you to keep track of changes, revert anything that breaks, and keep rolling backups of your project. The benefits only start there, and Charlie Perrins recommends using source control “not just as a personal backup of your code, but as a way to play nicely with other developers.“ Noting the benefits when collaborating with other developers, he adds: Graduating from being the sole architect of your codebase to contributing to a shared codebase is a huge leap for a developer. Perhaps a practical way for people who tend to work on their own to do that would be to submit a pull request or a patch to an open source project or plugin.” Richard Rutter of Clearleft sees clear advantages for the client, too. He recommends using source control “preferably in some sort of collaborative environment that you can open up or hand over to the client” – a feature found with hosted services such as GitHub. If you’d like to hone your Git skills, Emma Jane Westby wrote Git for Grown-ups in last year’s 24 ways. Don’t repeat, automate! Tim Kadlec is a big proponent of automating your build process: I’ve been hammering that home to every client I’ve had this year. It’s amazing how many companies don’t really have a formal build/deployment process in place. So many issues on the web (performance, accessibility, etc.) can be greatly improved just by having a layer of automation involved. For example, graphic editing software spits out ridiculously bloated images. Very frequently, that’s what ends up getting put on a site. If you have a build process, you can have the compression automated and start seeing immediate gains for no effort. On a recent project, they were able to shave around 1.5MB from their site weight simply by automating compression. Once you have your code in source control, some of that automation can be made easier. Brian Suda writes: We have a few bash scripts that run on git commit: they compile the less, jslint and remove white-space, basically the 3 Cs, Compress, Concatenate, Combine. This is now part of our workflow without even realising it. One great way to get started with a build process is to use a tool like Grunt, and a great way to get started with Grunt is to read Chris Coyier’s Grunt for People Who Think Things Like Grunt are Weird and Hard. Tim reinforces: Issues like [image compression] — or simple accessibility issues like alt tags on images — should never be able to hit a live server. If you can detect it, you can automate it. And if you can automate it, you can free up time for designers and developers to focus on more challenging — and interesting — problems. A clear call to arms to tighten up and formalise development and deployment practices. The less that has to be done manually or is susceptible to change, the less that can go wrong when a site is built and deployed. Any procedures that are automated are no longer dependant on a single person’s knowledge, making it easier to build your team or just cope when someone important is out of the office or leaves. If you’re interested in kicking the FTP habit and automating your site deployments, we have an article later in the series just for you. Build systems, not sites One big theme arising this year was that of building websites as systems, not as individual pages. Brad Frost: For me, teams making websites in 2015 shouldn’t be working on just-another-redesign redesign. People are realizing that in order to make stable, future-friendly, scalable, extensible web experiences they’re going to need to think more systematically. That means crafting deliberate and thoughtful design systems. That means establishing front-end style guides. That means killing the out-dated, siloed, assembly-line waterfall process and getting cross-disciplinary teams working together in meaningful ways. That means treating development as design. That means treating performance as design. That means taking the time out of the day to establish the big picture, rather than aimlessly crawling along quarter by quarter. Designer and developer Jina Bolton also advocates the use of style guides, and recommends making the guide a project deliverable: Consider adding on a style guide/UI library to your project as a deliverable for maintainability and thinking through all UI elements and components. Val Head agrees: “build and maintain a style guide for each project” she wrote. On the subject of approaching a redesign, she added: A UI inventory goes a long way to helping get your head around what a design system needs in the early stages of a redesign project. So what about that old chestnut, responsive web design? Should we be making sites responsive by default? How about mobile first? Richard Rutter: Think mobile first unless you have a very good reason not to. Remember to take the client with you on this principle, otherwise it won’t work as a convincing piece of design. Trent Walton adds: The more you can test and sort of skew your perception for what is typical on the web, the better. 4k displays hooked up to 100Mbps connections can make one extremely unsympathetic. The value of testing with real devices is something Ruth John appreciates. She wrote: I still have my own small device lab at home, even though I work permanently for a well-established company (which has a LOT of devices at its disposal) – it just means I can get a good overview of how things are looking during development. And speaking of systems, Mark Norman Francis recommends the use of measuring tools to aid the design process; “[U]se analytics and make decisions from actual data” he suggests, rather than relying totally on intuition. Tim Kadlec adds a word on performance planning: I think having a performance budget in place should now be a given on any project. We’ve proven pretty conclusively through a hundred and one case studies that performance matters. And over the last year or so, we’ve really seen a lot of great tools emerge to help track and enforce performance budgets. There’s not really a good excuse for not using one any more. It’s clear that in the four years since Ethan Marcotte’s Responsive Web Design article the diversity of screen sizes, network connection speeds and input methods has only increased. New web projects should presume visitors will be using anything from a watch up to a big screen desktop display, and from being offline, through to GPRS, 3G and fast broadband. Will it take more time to design and build for those constraints? Yes, it most likely will. If Internet Explorer is brave enough to ask to be your default browser, you can be brave enough to tell your client they need to build responsively. Working collaboratively A big part of delivering a successful website project is how we work together, both as a design team and a wider project team with the client. Val Head recommends an open line of communication: Keep conversations going. With clients, with teammates. Talking is so important with the way we work now. A good team conversation place, like Slack, is slowly becoming invaluable for me too. Ruth John agrees: We’ve recently opened up our lines of communication by using Slack. It has transformed the way we work. We’re easily more productive and collaborative on projects, as well as making it a lot easier for us all to work remotely (including freelancers). She goes on to point out how tools can be combined to ease team communication without adding further complications: We have a private GitHub organisation (which everyone who works with us is granted access to), which not only holds all our project code but also a team wiki. This has lots of information to get you set up within the team, as well as coding guidelines and best practices and other admin info, like contact numbers/emails for the team. Small-A agile is also the theme of the day, with Mark Norman Francis suggesting an approach of “small iterations with constant feedback around individual features, not spec-it-all-first”. He also encourages you to review as you go, at each stage of the project: Always reflect on what went well and what went badly, and how you can learn from that, even if not Doing Agile™. Ultimately “best practices” should come from learning lessons (both good and bad). Richard Rutter echoes this, warning against working in isolation from the client for too long: Avoid big reveals. Your engagement with the client should be participatory. In business no one likes surprises. This experience rings true for Ruth John who recommends involving real users in the feedback loop, not just the client: We also try and get feedback on what we’re building as soon and as often as we can with our stakeholders/clients and real users. We should also remember that our role is to serve the client’s needs, not just bill them for whatever we can. Brian Suda adds: Don’t sell clients on things they don’t need. We can spout a lot of jargon and scare clients into thinking you are a god. We can do things few can now, but you can’t rip people off because they are unknowledgeable. But do clients know what they’re getting, even when they see it? Trent Walton has an interesting take: We focus on prototypes over image-based comps at all costs, especially when meetings are involved. It’s much easier to assess a prototype, and too often with image-based comps, discussions devolve into how something might feel when actually live, or how a layout could change to fit a given viewport. Val Head also likes to get work into the browser: Sketch design ideas with any software you like, but get to the browser as soon as possible. Beyond your immediate team, Emma Jane Westby has advice for looking further afield: Invest time into building relationships within your (technical) community. You never know when you might be able to lend a hand; or benefit from someone who’s able to lend theirs. And when things don’t go according to plan, Brian Suda has the following advice: If something doesn’t work out, be professional and don’t burn bridges. It will always come back to you. The best work comes from working collaboratively, not just as a team within an agency or department, but with the client and stakeholders too. If doing your job and chucking it over the fence ever worked, it certainly doesn’t fly any more. You can work in isolation, but doing really great work requires collaboration. The business end When you’re building sites professionally, every team member has to think about the business aspects. Estimating time, setting billing rates, and establishing deliverables are all part of the job. In 2008, Andrew Clarke gave us the Contract Killer sample contract we could use to establish a working agreement for a web design project. Richard Rutter agrees that contracts are still an essential part of business: They are there for both parties’ protection. Make sure you know what will happen if you decide you don’t want to work with the client any more (it happens) and, of course, what circumstances mean they can stop taking your services. Having a contract is one thing, but does it adequately protect both you and the client? Emma Jane Westby adds: Find a good IP lawyer/legal counsel. I routinely had an IP lawyer read all of my contracts to find loopholes I wouldn’t have noticed. I didn’t always change the contract, but at least I knew what might come back to bite me. So, you have a contract in place, and know what the project is. Brian Suda recommends keeping track of time and making sure you bill fairly for the hours the project costs you: If I go to a meeting and they are 15 minutes late, the billing clock has already started. They can’t expect me to be in the 1h meeting and not bill for the extra 15–30 minutes they wasted. It goes both ways too. You need to do your best to respect their deadlines and time frame – this is always hard to get right. As ever, it’s good business to do good business. Perhaps we can at last shed the old image of web designers being snowboarding layabouts and demonstrate to clients that we care as much about conducting professional business as they do. Time to review It’s a lot to take in. Some of these ideas and practices will be familiar, others new and yet to be evaluated. The web moves at a fast pace, and we need to be constantly reexamining our tools, techniques and working practices. The most important thing is not to blindly adopt any and all suggestions, but to carefully look at what the benefits might be and decide how they apply to your work. Could you benefit from more formalised development and deployment procedures? Would your design projects run more smoothly and have a longer maintainable life if you approached the solution as a componentised system rather than a series of pages? Are your teams structured in a way that enables the most fluid communication, or are there changes you could make? Are your billing procedures and business agreements serving you and your clients in the best way possible? The new year is a good time to look at your working practices and see what can be improved, and maybe this time next year you’ll look back and think “thank goodness we don’t work like that any more”. 2014 Drew McLellan drewmclellan 2014-12-01T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/what-it-takes-to-build-a-website/ business
30 Making Sites More Responsive, Responsibly With digital projects we’re used to shifting our thinking to align with our target audience. We may undertake research, create personas, identify key tasks, or observe usage patterns, with our findings helping to refine our ongoing creations. A product’s overall experience can make or break its success, and when it comes to defining these experiences our development choices play a huge role alongside more traditional user-focused activities. The popularisation of responsive web design is a great example of how we are able to shape the web’s direction through using technology to provide better experiences. If we think back to the move from table-based layouts to CSS, initially our clients often didn’t know or care about the difference in these approaches, but we did. Responsive design was similar in this respect – momentum grew through the web industry choosing to use an approach that we felt would give a better experience, and which was more future-friendly.  We tend to think of responsive design as a means of displaying content appropriately across a range of devices, but the technology and our implementation of it can facilitate much more. A responsive layout not only helps your content work when the newest smartphone comes out, but it also ensures your layout suitably adapts if a visually impaired user drastically changes the size of the text. The 24 ways site at 400% on a Retina MacBook Pro displays a layout more typically used for small screens. When we think more broadly, we realise that our technical choices and approaches to implementation can have knock-on effects for the greater good, and beyond our initial target audiences. We can make our experiences more responsive to people’s needs, enhancing their usability and accessibility along the way. Being responsibly responsive Of course, when we think about being more responsive, there’s a fine line between creating useful functionality and becoming intrusive and overly complex. In the excellent Responsible Responsive Design, Scott Jehl states that: A responsible responsive design equally considers the following throughout a project: Usability: The way a website’s user interface is presented to the user, and how that UI responds to browsing conditions and user interactions. Access: The ability for users of all devices, browsers, and assistive technologies to access and understand a site’s features and content. Sustainability: The ability for the technology driving a site or application to work for devices that exist today and to continue to be usable and accessible to users, devices, and browsers in the future. Performance: The speed at which a site’s features and content are perceived to be delivered to the user and the efficiency with which they operate within the user interface. Scott’s book covers these ideas in a lot more detail than I’ll be able to here (put it on your Christmas list if it’s not there already), but for now let’s think a bit more about our roles as digital creators and the power this gives us. Our choices around technology and the decisions we have to make can be extremely wide-ranging. Solutions will vary hugely depending on the needs of each project, though we can further explore the concept of making our creations more responsive through the use of humble web technologies. The power of the web We all know that under the HTML5 umbrella are some great new capabilities, including a number of JavaScript APIs such as geolocation, web audio, the file API and many more. We often use these to enhance the functionality of our sites and apps, to add in new features, or to facilitate device-specific interactions. You’ll have seen articles with flashy titles such as “Top 5 JavaScript APIs You’ve Never Heard Of!”, which you’ll probably read, think “That’s quite cool”, yet never use in any real work. There is great potential for technologies like these to be misused, but there are also great prospects for them to be used well to enhance experiences. Let’s have a look at a few examples you may not have considered. Offline first When we make websites, many of us follow a process which involves user stories – standardised snippets of context explaining who needs what, and why. “As a student I want to pay online for my course so I don’t have to visit the college in person.” “As a retailer I want to generate unique product codes so I can manage my stock.” We very often focus heavily on what needs doing, but may not consider carefully how it will be done. As in Scott’s list, accessibility is extremely important, not only in terms of providing a great experience to users of assistive technologies, but also to make your creation more accessible in the general sense – including under different conditions. Offline first is yet another ‘first’ methodology (my personal favourite being ‘tea first’), which encourages us to develop so that connectivity itself is an enhancement – letting users continue with tasks even when they’re offline. Despite the rapid growth in public Wi-Fi, if we consider data costs and connectivity in developing countries, our travel habits with planes, underground trains and roaming (or simply if you live in the UK’s signal-barren East Anglian wilderness as I do), then you’ll realise that connectivity isn’t as ubiquitous as our internet-addled brains would make us believe. Take a scenario that I’m sure we’re all familiar with – the digital conference. Your venue may be in a city served by high-speed networks, but after overloading capacity with a full house of hashtag-hungry attendees, each carrying several devices, then everyone’s likely to be offline after all. Wouldn’t it be better if we could do something like this instead? Someone visits our conference website. On this initial run, some assets may be cached for future use: the conference schedule, the site’s CSS, photos of the speakers. When the attendee revisits the site on the day, the page shell loads up from the cache. If we have cached content (our session timetable, speaker photos or anything else), we can load it directly from the cache. We might then try to update this, or get some new content from the internet, but the conference attendee already has a base experience to use. If we don’t have something cached already, then we can try grabbing it online. If for any reason our requests for new content fail (we’re offline), then we can display a pre-cached error message from the initial load, perhaps providing our users with alternative suggestions from what is cached. There are a number of ways we can make something like this, including using the application cache (AppCache) if you’re that way inclined. However, you may want to look into service workers instead. There are also some great resources on Offline First! if you’d like to find out more about this. Building in offline functionality isn’t necessarily about starting offline first, and it’s also perfectly possible to retrofit sites and apps to catch offline scenarios, but this kind of graceful degradation can end up being more complex than if we’d considered it from the start. By treating connectivity as an enhancement, we can improve the experience and provide better performance than we can when waiting to counter failures. Our websites can respond to connectivity and usage scenarios, on top of adapting how we present our content. Thinking in this way can enhance each point in Scott’s criteria. As I mentioned, this isn’t necessarily the kind of development choice that our clients will ask us for, but it’s one we may decide is simply the right way to build based on our project, enhancing the experience we provide to people, and making it more responsive to their situation. Even more accessible We’ve looked at accessibility in terms of broadening when we can interact with a website, but what about how? Our user stories and personas are often of limited use. We refer in very general terms to students, retailers, and sometimes just users. What if we have a student whose needs are very different from another student? Can we make our sites even more usable and accessible through our development choices? Again using JavaScript to illustrate this concept, we can do a lot more with the ways people interact with our websites, and with the feedback we provide, than simply accepting keyboard, mouse and touch inputs and displaying output on a screen. Input Ambient light detection is one of those features that looks great in simple demos, but which we struggle to put to practical use. It’s not new – many satnav systems automatically change the contrast for driving at night or in tunnels, and our laptops may alter the screen brightness or keyboard backlighting to better adapt to our surroundings. Using web technologies we can adapt our presentation to be better suited to ambient light levels. If our device has an appropriate light sensor and runs a browser that supports the API, we can grab the ambient light in units using ambient light events, in JavaScript. We may then change our presentation based on different bandings, perhaps like this: window.addEventListener('devicelight', function(e) { var lux = e.value; if (lux < 50) { //Change things for dim light } if (lux >= 50 && lux <= 10000) { //Change things for normal light } if (lux > 10000) { //Change things for bright light } }); Live demo (requires light sensor and supported browser). Soon we may also be able to do such detection through CSS, with light-level being cited in the Media Queries Level 4 specification. If that becomes the case, it’ll probably look something like this: @media (light-level: dim) { /*Change things for dim light*/ } @media (light-level: normal) { /*Change things for normal light*/ } @media (light-level: washed) { /*Change things for bright light*/ } While we may be quick to dismiss this kind of detection as being a gimmick, it’s important to consider that apps such as Light Detector, listed on Apple’s accessibility page, provide important context around exactly this functionality. “If you are blind, Light Detector helps you to be more independent in many daily activities. At home, point your iPhone towards the ceiling to understand where the light fixtures are and whether they are switched on. In a room, move the device along the wall to check if there is a window and where it is. You can find out whether the shades are drawn by moving the device up and down.” everywaretechnologies.com/apps/lightdetector Input can be about so much more than what we enter through keyboards. Both an ever increasing amount of available sensors and more APIs being supported by the major browsers will allow us to cater for more scenarios and respond to them accordingly. This can be as complex or simple as you need; for instance, while x-webkit-speech has been deprecated, the web speech API is available for a number of browsers, and research into sign language detection is also being performed by organisations such as Microsoft. Output Web technologies give us some great enhancements around input, allowing us to adapt our experiences accordingly. They also provide us with some nice ways to provide feedback to users. When we play video games, many of our modern consoles come with the ability to have rumble effects on our controller pads. These are a great example of an enhancement, as they provide a level of feedback that is entirely optional, but which can give a great deal of extra information to the player in the right circumstances, and broaden the scope of our comprehension beyond what we’re seeing and hearing. Haptic feedback is possible on the web as well. We could use this in any number of responsible applications, such as alerting a user to changes or using different patterns as a communication mechanism. If you find yourself in a pickle, here’s how to print out SOS in Morse code through the vibration API. The following code indicates the length of vibration in milliseconds, interspersed by pauses in milliseconds. navigator.vibrate([100, 300, 100, 300, 100, 300, 600, 300, 600, 300, 600, 300, 100, 300, 100, 300, 100]); Live demo (requires supported browser) With great power… What you’ve no doubt come to realise by now is that these are just more examples of progressive enhancement, whose inclusion will provide a better experience if the capabilities are available, but which we should not rely on. This idea isn’t new, but the most important thing to remember, and what I would like you to take away from this article, is that it is up to us to decide to include these kind of approaches within our projects – if we don’t root for them, they probably won’t happen. This is where our professional responsibility comes in. We won’t necessarily be asked to implement solutions for the scenarios above, but they illustrate how we can help to push the boundaries of experiences. Maybe we’ll have to switch our thinking about how we build, but we can create more usable products for a diverse range of people and usage scenarios through the choices we make around technology. Let’s stop thinking simply in terms of features inside a narrow view of our target users, and work out how we can extend these to cater for a wider set of situations. When you plan your next digital project, consider the power of the web and the enhancements we can use, and try to make your projects even more responsive and responsible. 2014 Sally Jenkinson sallyjenkinson 2014-12-10T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/making-sites-more-responsive-responsibly/ code
31 Dealing with Emergencies in Git The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that version control soon would be there. This summer I moved to the UK with my partner, and the onslaught of the Christmas holiday season began around the end of October (October!). It does mean that I’ve had more than a fair amount of time to come up with horrible Git analogies for this article. Analogies, metaphors, and comparisons help the learner hook into existing mental models about how a system works. They only help, however, if the learner has enough familiarity with the topic at hand to make the connection between the old and new information. Let’s start by painting an updated version of Clement Clarke Moore’s Christmas living room. Empty stockings are hung up next to the fireplace, waiting for Saint Nicholas to come down the chimney and fill them with small treats. Holiday treats are scattered about. A bowl of mixed nuts, the holiday nutcracker, and a few clementines. A string of coloured lights winds its way up an evergreen. Perhaps a few of these images are familiar, or maybe they’re just settings you’ve seen in a movie. It doesn’t really matter what the living room looks like though. The important thing is to ground yourself in your own experiences before tackling a new subject. Instead of trying to brute-force your way into new information, as an adult learner constantly ask yourself: ‘What is this like? What does this remind me of? What do I already know that I can use to map out this new territory?’ It’s okay if the map isn’t perfect. As you refine your understanding of a new topic, you’ll outgrow the initial metaphors, analogies, and comparisons. With apologies to Mr. Moore, let’s give it a try. Getting Interrupted in Git When on the roof there arose such a clatter! You’re happily working on your software project when all of a sudden there are freaking reindeer on the roof! Whatever you’ve been working on is going to need to wait while you investigate the commotion. If you’ve got even a little bit of experience working with Git, you know that you cannot simply change what you’re working on in times of emergency. If you’ve been doing work, you have a dirty working directory and you cannot change branches, or push your work to a remote repository while in this state. Up to this point, you’ve probably dealt with emergencies by making a somewhat useless commit with a message something to the effect of ‘switching branches for a sec’. This isn’t exactly helpful to future you, as commits should really contain whole ideas of completed work. If you get interrupted, especially if there are reindeer on the roof, the chances are very high that you weren’t finished with what you were working on. You don’t need to make useless commits though. Instead, you can use the stash command. This command allows you to temporarily set aside all of your changes so that you can come back to them later. In this sense, stash is like setting your book down on the side table (or pushing the cat off your lap) so you can go investigate the noise on the roof. You aren’t putting your book away though, you’re just putting it down for a moment so you can come back and find it exactly the way it was when you put it down. Let’s say you’ve been working in the branch waiting-for-st-nicholas, and now you need to temporarily set aside your changes to see what the noise was on the roof: $ git stash After running this command, all uncommitted work will be temporarily removed from your working directory, and you will be returned to whatever state you were in the last time you committed your work. With the book safely on the side table, and the cat safely off your lap, you are now free to investigate the noise on the roof. It turns out it’s not reindeer after all, but just your boss who thought they’d help out by writing some code on the project you’ve been working on. Bless. Rolling your eyes, you agree to take a look and see what kind of mischief your boss has gotten themselves into this time. You fetch an updated list of branches from the remote repository, locate the branch your boss had been working on, and checkout a local copy: $ git fetch $ git branch -r $ git checkout -b helpful-boss-branch origin/helpful-boss-branch You are now in a local copy of the branch where you are free to look around, and figure out exactly what’s going on. You sigh audibly and say, ‘Okay. Tell me what was happening when you first realised you’d gotten into a mess’ as you look through the log messages for the branch. $ git log --oneline $ git log By using the log command you will be able to review the history of the branch and find out the moment right before your boss ended up stuck on your roof. You may also want to compare the work your boss has done to the main branch for your project. For this article, we’ll assume the main branch is named master. $ git diff master Looking through the commits, you may be able to see that things started out okay but then took a turn for the worse. Checking out a single commit Using commands you’re already familiar with, you can rewind through history and take a look at the state of the code at any moment in time by checking out a single commit, just like you would a branch. Using the log command, locate the unique identifier (commit hash) of the commit you want to investigate. For example, let’s say the unique identifier you want to checkout is 25f6d7f. $ git checkout 25f6d7f Note: checking out '25f6d7f'. You are in 'detached HEAD' state. You can look around, make experimental changes and commit them, and you can discard any commits you make in this state without impacting any branches by performing another checkout. If you want to create a new branch to retain commits you create, you may do so (now or later) by using @-b@ with the checkout command again. Example: $ git checkout -b new_branch_name HEAD is now at 25f6d7f... Removed first paragraph. This is usually where people start to panic. Your boss screwed something up, and now your HEAD is detached. Under normal circumstances, these words would be a very good reason to panic. Take a deep breath. Nothing bad is going to happen. Being in a detached HEAD state just means you’ve temporarily disconnected from a known chain of events. In other words, you’re currently looking at the middle of a story (or branch) about what happened – and you’re not at the endpoint for this particular story. Git allows you to view the history of your repository as a timeline (technically it’s a directed acyclic graph). When you make commits which are not associated with a branch, they are essentially inaccessible once you return to a known branch. If you make commits while you’re in a detached HEAD state, and then try to return to a known branch, Git will give you a warning and tell you how to save your work. $ git checkout master Warning: you are leaving 1 commit behind, not connected to any of your branches: 7a85788 Your witty holiday commit message. If you want to keep them by creating a new branch, this may be a good time to do so with: $ git branch new_branch_name 7a85788 Switched to branch 'master' Your branch is up-to-date with 'origin/master'. So, if you want to save the commits you’ve made while in a detached HEAD state, you simply need to put them on a new branch. $ git branch saved-headless-commits 7a85788 With this trick under your belt, you can jingle around in history as much as you’d like. It’s not like sliding around on a timeline though. When you checkout a specific commit, you will only have access to the history from that point backwards in time. If you want to move forward in history, you’ll need to move back to the branch tip by checking out the branch again. $ git checkout helpful-boss-branch You’re now back to the present. Your HEAD is now pointing to the endpoint of a known branch, and so it is no longer detached. Any changes you made while on your adventure are safely stored in a new branch, assuming you’ve followed the instructions Git gave you. That wasn’t so scary after all, now, was it? Back to our reindeer problem. If your boss is anything like the bosses I’ve worked with, chances are very good that at least some of their work is worth salvaging. Depending on how your repository is structured, you’ll want to capture the good work using one of several different methods. Back in the living room, we’ll use our bowl of nuts to illustrate how you can rescue a tiny bit of work. Saving just one commit About that bowl of nuts. If you’re like me, you probably had some favourite kinds of nuts from an assorted collection. Walnuts were generally the most satisfying to crack open. So, instead of taking the entire bowl of nuts and dumping it into a stocking (merging the stocking and the bowl of nuts), we’re just going to pick out one nut from the bowl. In Git terms, we’re going to cherry-pick a commit and save it to another branch. First, checkout the main branch for your development work. From this branch, create a new branch where you can copy the changes into. $ git checkout master $ git checkout -b rescue-the-boss From your boss’s branch, helpful-boss-branch locate the commit you want to keep. $ git log --oneline helpful-boss-branch Let’s say the commit ID you want to keep is e08740b. From your rescue branch, use the command cherry-pick to copy the changes into your current branch. $ git cherry-pick e08740b If you review the history of your current branch again, you will see you now also have the changes made in the commit in your boss’s branch. At this point you might need to make a few additional fixes to help your boss out. (You’re angling for a bonus out of all this. Go the extra mile.) Once you’ve made your additional changes, you’ll need to add that work to the branch as well. $ git add [filename(s)] $ git commit -m "Building on boss's work to improve feature X." Go ahead and test everything, and make sure it’s perfect. You don’t want to introduce your own mistakes during the rescue mission! Uploading the fixed branch The next step is to upload the new branch to the remote repository so that your boss can download it and give you a huge bonus for helping you fix their branch. $ git push -u origin rescue-the-boss Cleaning up and getting back to work With your boss rescued, and your bonus secured, you can now delete the local temporary branches. $ git branch --delete rescue-the-boss $ git branch --delete helpful-boss-branch And settle back into your chair to wait for Saint Nicholas with your book, your branch, and possibly your cat. $ git checkout waiting-for-st-nicholas $ git stash pop Your working directory has been returned to exactly the same state you were in at the beginning of the article. Having fun with analogies I’ve had a bit of fun with analogies in this article. But sometimes those little twists on ideas can really help someone pick up a new idea (git stash: it’s like when Christmas comes around and everyone throws their fashion sense out the window and puts on a reindeer sweater for the holiday party; or git bisect: it’s like trying to find that one broken light on the string of Christmas lights). It doesn’t matter if the analogy isn’t perfect. It’s just a way to give someone a temporary hook into a concept in a way that makes the concept accessible while the learner becomes comfortable with it. As the learner’s comfort increases, the analogies can drop away, making room for the technically correct definition of how something works. Or, if you’re like me, you can choose to never grow old and just keep mucking about in the analogies. I’d argue it’s a lot more fun to play with a string of Christmas lights and some holiday cheer than a directed acyclic graph anyway. 2014 Emma Jane Westby emmajanewestby 2014-12-02T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/dealing-with-emergencies-in-git/ code
32 Cohesive UX With Yosemite, Apple users can answer iPhone calls on their MacBooks. This is weird. And yet it’s representative of a greater trend toward cohesion. Shortly after upgrading to Yosemite, a call came in on my iPhone and my MacBook “rang” in parallel. And I was all, like, “Wut?” This was a new feature in Yosemite, and honestly it was a little bizarre at first. Apple promotional image showing a phone call ringing simultaneously on multiple devices. However, I had just spoken at a conference on the very topic you’re reading about now, and therefore I appreciated the underlying concept: the cohesion of user experience, the cohesion of screens. This is just one of many examples I’ve encountered since beginning to speak about this topic months ago. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look back at the past few years, specifically the role of responsive web design. RWD != cohesive experience I needn’t expound on the virtues of responsive web design (RWD). You’ve likely already encountered more than a career’s worth on the topic. This is a good thing. Count me in as one of its biggest fans. However, if we are to sing the praises of RWD, we must also acknowledge its shortcomings. One of these is that RWD ends where the browser ends. For all its goodness, RWD really has no bearing on native apps or any other experiences that take place outside the browser. This makes it challenging, therefore, to create cohesion for multi-screen users if RWD is the only response to “let’s make it work everywhere.” We need something that incorporates the spirit of RWD while unifying all touchpoints for the entire user experience—single device or several devices, in browser or sans browser, native app or otherwise. I call this cohesive UX, and I believe it’s the next era of successful user experiences. Toward a unified whole Simply put, the goal of cohesive UX is to deliver a consistent, unified user experience regardless of where the experience begins, continues, and ends. Two facets are vital to cohesive UX: Function and form Data symmetry Let’s examine each of these. Function AND form Function over form, of course. Right? Not so fast, kiddo. Consider Bruce Lawson’s dad. After receiving an Android phone for Christmas and thumbing through his favorite sites, he was puzzled why some looked different from their counterparts on the desktop. “When a site looked radically different,” Bruce observed, “he’d check the URL bar to ensure that he’d typed in the right address. In short, he found RWD to be confusing and it meant he didn’t trust the site.” A lack of cohesive form led to a jarring experience for Bruce’s dad. Now, if I appear to be suggesting websites must look the same in every browser—you already learned they needn’t—know that I recognize the importance of context, especially in regards to mobile. I made a case for this more than seven years ago. Rather, cohesive UX suggests that form deserves the same respect as function when crafting user experiences that span multiple screens or devices. And users are increasingly comfortable traversing media. For example, more than 40% of adults in the U.S. owning more than one device start an activity on one screen and finish it on another, according to a study commissioned by Facebook. I suspect that percentage will only increase in 2015, and I suspect the tech-affluent readers of 24 ways are among the 40%. There are countless examples of cohesive form and function. Consider Gmail, which displays email conversations visually as a stack that can be expanded and collapsed like the bellows of an accordion. This visual metaphor has been consistent in virtually any instance of Gmail—website or app—since at least 2007 when I captured this screenshot on my Nokia 6680: Screenshot captured while authoring Mobile Web Design (2007). Back then we didn’t call this an app, but rather a ‘smart client’. When the holistic experience is cohesive as it is with Gmail, users’ mental models and even muscle memory are preserved.1 Functionality and aesthetics align with the expectations users have for how things should function and what they should look like. In other words, the experience is roughly the same across screens. But don’t be ridiculous, peoples. Note that I said “roughly.” It’s important to avoid mindless replication of aesthetics and functionality for the sake of cohesion. Again, the goal is a unified whole, not a carbon copy. Affordances and concessions should be made as context and intuition require. For example, while Facebook users are accustomed to top-aligned navigation in the browser, they encounter bottom-aligned navigation in the iOS app as justified by user testing: The iOS app model has held up despite many attempts to better it: http://t.co/rSMSAqeh9m pic.twitter.com/mBp36lAEgc— Luke Wroblewski (@lukew) December 10, 2014 Despite the (rather minor) lack of consistency in navigation placement, other elements such as icons, labels, and color theme work in tandem to produce a unified, holistic whole. Data symmetry Data symmetry involves the repetition, continuity, or synchronicity of data across screens, devices, and platforms. As regards cohesive UX, data includes not just the material (such as an article you’re writing on Medium) but also the actions that can be performed on or with that material (such as Medium’s authoring tools). That is to say, “sync verbs, not just nouns” (Josh Clark). In my estimation, Amazon is an archetype of data symmetry, as is Rdio. When logged in, data is shared across virtually any device of any kind, irrespective of using a browser or native app. Add a product to your Amazon cart from your phone during the morning commute, and finish the transaction at work on your laptop. Easy peasy. Amazon’s aesthetics are crazy cohesive, to boot: Amazon web (left) and native app (right). With Rdio, not only are playlists and listening history synced across screens as you would expect, but the cohesion goes even further. Rdio’s remote control feature allows you to control music playing on one device using another device, all in real time. Rdio’s remote control feature, as viewed on my MacBook while music plays on my iMac. At my office I often work from my couch using my MacBook, but my speakers are connected to my iMac. When signed in to Rdio on both devices, my MacBook serves as proxy for controlling Rdio on my iMac, much the same as any Yosemite-enabled device can serve as proxy for an incoming iPhone call. Me, in my office. Note the iMac and speakers at far right. This is a brilliant example of cohesive design, and it’s executed entirely via the cloud. Things to consider Consider the following when crafting cohesive experiences: Inventory the elements that comprise your product experience, and cohesify them.2 Consider things such as copy, tone, typography, iconography, imagery, flow, placement, brand identification, account data, session data, user preferences, and so on. Then, create cohesion among these elements to the greatest extent possible, while adapting to context as needed. Store session data in the cloud rather than locally. For example, avoid using browser cookies to store shopping cart data, as cookies are specific to a single browser on a single device. Instead, store this data in the cloud so it can be accessed from other devices, as well as beyond the browser. Consider using web views when developing your native app. “You’re already using web apps in native wrappers without even noticing it,” Lukas Mathis contends. “The fact that nobody even notices, the fact that this isn’t a story, shows that, when it comes to user experience, web vs. native doesn’t matter anymore.” Web views essentially allow you to display HTML content inside a native wrapper. This can reduce the time and effort needed to make the overall experience cohesive. So whereas the navigation bar may be rendered by the app, for example, the remaining page display may be rendered via the web. There’s readily accessible documentation for using web views in C++, iOS, Android, and so forth. Nature is calling Returning to the example of Yosemite and sychronized phone calls, is it really that bizarre in light of cohesive UX? Perhaps at first. But I suspect that, over time, Yosemite’s cohesiveness — and the cohesiveness of other examples like the ones we’ve discussed here — will become not only more natural but more commonplace, too. 1 I browse Flipboard on my iPad nearly every morning as part of my breakfast routine. Swiping horizontally advances to the next page. Countless times I’ve done the same gesture in Flipboard for iPhone only to have it do nothing. This is because the gesture for advancing is vertical on phones. I’m so conditioned to the horizontal swipe that I often fail to make the switch to vertical swipe, and apparently others suffer from the same muscle memory, too. 2 Cohesify isn’t a thing. But chances are you understood what I meant. Yay neologism! 2014 Cameron Moll cameronmoll 2014-12-24T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/cohesive-ux/ ux
33 Five Ways to Animate Responsibly It’s been two years since I wrote about “Flashless Animation” on this very site. Since then, animation has steadily begun popping up on websites, from sleek app-like user interfaces to interactive magazine-like spreads. It’s an exciting time for web animation wonks, interaction developers, UXers, UI designers and a host of other acronyms! But in our rush to experiment with animation it seems that we’re having fewer conversations about whether or not we should use it, and more discussions about what we can do with it. We spend more time fretting over how to animate all the things at 60fps than we do devising ways to avoid incapacitating users with vestibular disorders. I love web animation. I live it. And I make adorably silly things with it that have no place on a self-respecting production website. I know it can be abused. We’ve all made fun of Flash-turbation. But how quickly we forget the lessons we learned from that period of web design. Parallax scrolling effects may be the skip intro of this generation. Surely we have learned better in the sobering up period between Flash and the web animation API. So here are five bits of advice we can use to pull back from the edge of animation abuse. With these thoughts in mind, we can make 2015 the year web animation came into its own. Animate deliberately Sadly, animation is considered decorative by the bulk of the web development community. UI designers and interaction developers know better, of course. But when I’m teaching a workshop on animation for interaction, I know that my students face an uphill battle against decision makers who consider it nice to have, and tack it on at the end of a project, if at all. This stigma is hard to shake. But it starts with us using animation deliberately or not at all. Poorly considered, tacked-on animation will often cause more harm than good. Users may complain that it’s too slow or too fast, or that they have no idea what just happened. When I was at Chrome Dev Summit this year, I had the privilege to speak with Roma Sha, the UX lead behind Polymer’s material design (with the wonderful animation documentation). I asked her what advice she’d give to people using animation and transitions in their own designs. She responded simply: animate deliberately. If you cannot afford to slow down to think about animation and make well-informed and well-articulated decisions on behalf of the user, it is better that you not attempt it at all. Animation takes energy to perform, and a bad animation is worse than none at all. It takes more than twelve principles We always try to draw correlations between disparate things that spark our interest. Recently it feels like more and more people are putting the The Illusion of Life on their reading shelf next to Understanding Comics. These books give us so many useful insights from other industries. However, we should never mistake a website for a comic book or an animated feature film. Some of these concepts, while they help us see our work in a new light, can be more or less relevant to producing said work. The illusion of life from cento lodigiani on Vimeo. I am specifically thinking of the twelve principles of animation put forth by Disney studio veterans in that great tome The Illusion of Life. These principles are very useful for making engaging, lifelike animation, like a ball bouncing or a squirrel scampering, or the physics behind how a lightbox should feel transitioning off a page. But they provide no direction at all for when or how something should be animated as part of a greater interactive experience, like how long a drop-down should take to fully extend or if a group of manipulable objects should be animated sequentially or as a whole. The twelve principles are a great place to start, but we have so much more to learn. I’ve documented at least six more functions of interactive animation that apply to web and app design. When thinking about animation, we should consider why and how, not just what, the physics. Beautiful physics mean nothing if the animation is superfluous or confusing. Useful and necessary, then beautiful There is a Shaker saying: “Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful; but if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.” When it comes to animation and the web, currently there is very little documentation about what makes it useful or necessary. We tend to focus more on the beautiful, the delightful, the aesthetic. And while aesthetics are important, they take a back seat to the user’s overall experience. The first time I saw the load screen for Pokemon Yellow on my Game Boy, I was enthralled. By the sixth time, I was mashing the start button as soon as Game Freak’s logo hit the screen. What’s delightful and meaningful to us while working on a project is not always so for our users. And even when a purely delightful animation is favorably received, as with Pokemon Yellow’s adorable opening screen, too many repetitions of the cutest but ultimately useless animation, and users start to resent it as a hindrance. If an animation doesn’t help the user in some way, by showing them where they are or how two elements on a page relate to each other, then it’s using up battery juice and processing cycles solely for the purpose of delight. Hardly the best use of resources. Rather than animating solely for the sake of delight, we should first be able to articulate two things the animation does for the user. As an example, take this menu icon from Finethought.com (found via Use Your Interface). The menu icon does two things when clicked: It gives the user feedback by animating, letting the user know its been clicked. It demonstrates its changed relationship to the page’s content by morphing into a close button. Assuming we have two good reasons to animate something, there is no reason our third cannot be to delight the user. Go four times faster There is a rule of thumb in the world of traditional animation which is applicable to web animation: however long you think your animation should last, take that time and halve it. Then halve it again! When we work on an animation for hours, our sense of time dilates. What seems fast to us is actually unbearably slow for most users. In fact, the most recent criticism from users of animated interfaces on websites seems to be, “It’s so slow!” A good animation is unobtrusive, and that often means running fast. When getting your animations ready for prime time, reduce those durations to 25% of their original speed: a four-second fade out should be over in one. Install a kill switch No matter how thoughtful and necessary an animation, there will be people who become physically sick from seeing it. For these people, we must add a way to turn off animations on the website. Fortunately, web designers are already thinking of ways to empower users to make their own decisions about how they experience the web. As an example, this site for the animated film Little from the Fish Shop allows users to turn off most of the parallax effects. While it doesn’t remove the animation entirely, this website does reduce the most nauseating of the animations. Animation is a powerful tool in our web design arsenal. But we must take care: if we abuse animation it might get a bad reputation; if we underestimate it, it won’t be prioritized. But if we wield it thoughtfully, use it where it is both necessary and useful, and empower users to turn it off, animation is a tool that will help us build things that are easier to use and more delightful for years to come. Let’s make 2015 the year web animation went to work for users. 2014 Rachel Nabors rachelnabors 2014-12-14T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/five-ways-to-animate-responsibly/ ux
34 Collaborative Responsive Design Workflows Much has been written about workflow and designer-developer collaboration in web design, but many teams still struggle with this issue; either with how to adapt their internal workflow, or how to communicate the need for best practices like mobile first and progressive enhancement to their teams and clients. Christmas seems like a good time to have another look at what doesn’t work between us and how we can improve matters. Why is it so difficult? We’re still beginning to understand responsive design workflows, acknowledging the need to move away from static design tools and towards best practices in development. It’s not that we don’t want to change – so why is it so difficult? Changing the way we do something that has become routine is always problematic, even with small things, and the changes today’s web environment requires from web design and development teams are anything but small. Although developers also have a host of new skills to learn and things to consider, designers are probably the ones pushed furthest out of their comfort zones: as well as graphic design, a web designer today also needs an understanding of interaction design and ergonomics, because more and more websites are becoming tools rather than pages meant to be read like a book or magazine. In addition to that there are thousands of different devices and screen sizes on the market today that layout and interactions need to work on. These aspects make it impossible to design in a static design tool, so beyond having to learn about new aspects of design, the designer has to either learn how to code or learn to work with a responsive design tool. Why do it That alone is enough to leave anyone overwhelmed, as learning a new skill takes time and slows you down in a project – and on most projects time is in short supply. Yet we have to make time or fall behind in the industry as others pitch better, interactive designs. For an efficient workflow, both designers and developers must familiarise themselves with new tools and techniques. A designer has to be able to play with ideas, make small adjustments here and there, look at the result, go back to the settings and make further adjustments, and so on. You can only realistically do that if you are able to play with all the elements of a design, including interactivity, accessibility and responsiveness. Figuring out the right breakpoints in a layout is one of the foremost reasons for designing in a responsive design tool. Even if you create layouts for three viewport sizes (i.e. smartphone, tablet and the most common desktop size), you’d only cover around 30% of visitors and you might miss problems like line breaks and padding at other viewport sizes. Another advantage is consistency. In static design tools changes will not be applied across all your other layouts. A developer referring back to last week’s comps might work with outdated metrics. Furthermore, you cannot easily test what impact changes might have on previously designed areas. In a dynamic design tool such changes will be applied to the entire design and allow you to test things in site areas you had already finished. No static design tool allows you to do this, and having somebody else produce a mockup from your static designs or wireframes will duplicate work and is inefficient. How to do it When working in a responsive design tool rather than in the browser, there is still the question of how and when to communicate with the developer. I have found that working with Sass in combination with a visual style guide is very efficient, but it does need careful planning: fundamental metrics for padding, margins and font sizes, but also design elements like sliders, forms, tabs, buttons and navigational elements, should be defined at the beginning of a project and used consistently across the site. Working with a grid can help you develop a consistent design language across your site. Create a visual style guide that shows what the elements look like and how they behave across different screen sizes – and when interacted with. Put all metrics on paddings, margins, breakpoints, widths, colours and so on in a text document, ideally with names that your developer can use as Sass variables in the CSS. For example: $padding-default-vertical: 1.5em; Developers, too, need an efficient workflow to keep code maintainable and speed up the time needed for more complex interactions with an eye on accessibility and performance. CSS preprocessors like Sass allow you to work with variables and mixins for default rules, as well as style sheet partials for different site areas or design elements. Create your own boilerplate to use for your projects and then update your variables with the information from your designer for each individual project. How to get buy-in One obstacle when implementing responsive design, accessibility and content strategy is the logistics of learning new skills and iterating on your workflow. Another is how to sell it. You might expect everyone on a project (including the client) to want to design and develop the best website possible: ultimately, a great site will lead to more conversions. However, we often hear that people find it difficult to convince their teammates, bosses or clients to implement best practices. Why is that? Well, I believe a lot of it is down to how we sell it. You will have experienced this yourself: some people you trust to know what they are talking about, and others you don’t. Think about why you trust that first person but don’t buy what the other one is telling you. It is likely because person A has a self-assured, calm and assertive demeanour, while person B seems insecure and apologetic. To sell our ideas, we need to become person A! For a timid designer or developer suffering from imposter syndrome (like many of us do in this industry) that is a difficult task. So how can we become more confident in selling our expertise? Write We need to become experts. And I mean not just in writing great code or coming up with beautiful designs but at explaining why we’re doing what we’re doing. Why do you code this way or that? Why is this the best layout? Why does a website have to be accessible and responsive? Write about it. Putting your thoughts down on paper or screen is a really efficient way of getting your head around a topic and learning to make a case for something. You may even find that you come up with new ideas as you are writing, so you’ll become a better designer or developer along the way. Talk Then, talk about it. Start out in front of your team, then do a lightning talk at a web event near you, then a longer talk or workshop. Having to talk about a topic is going to help you put into spoken words the argument that you’ve previously put together in writing. Writing comes more easily when you’re starting out but we use a different register when writing than talking and you need to learn how to speak your case. Do the talk a couple of times and after each talk make adjustments where you found it didn’t work well. By this time, you are more than ready to make your case to the client. In fact, you’ve been ready since that first talk in front of your colleagues ;) Pitch Pitches used to be based on a presentation of static layouts for for three to five typical pages and three different designs. But if we want to sell interactivity, structure, usability, accessibility and responsiveness, we need to demonstrate these things and I believe that it can only do us good. I have seen a few pitches sitting in the client’s chair and static layouts are always sort of dull. What makes a website a website is the fact that I can interact with it and smooth interactions or animations add that extra sparkle. I can’t claim personal experience for this one but I’d be bold and go for only one design. One demo page matching the client’s corporate design but not any specific page for the final site. Include design elements like navigation, photography, typefaces, article layout (with real content), sliders, tabs, accordions, buttons, forms, tables (yes, tables) – everything you would include in a style tiles document, only interactive. Demonstrate how the elements behave when clicked, hovered and touched, and how they change across different screen sizes. You may even want to demonstrate accessibility features like tabbed navigation and screen reader use. Obviously, there are many approaches that will work in different situations but don’t give up on finding a process that works for you and that ultimately allows you to build delightful, accessible, responsive user experiences for the web. Make time to try new tools and techniques and don’t just work on them on the side – start using them on an actual project. It is only when we use a tool or process in the real world that we become true experts. Remember your driving lessons: once the instructor had explained how to operate the car, you were sent to practise driving on the road in actual traffic! 2014 Sibylle Weber sibylleweber 2014-12-07T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/collaborative-responsive-design-workflows/ process
35 SEO in 2015 (and Why You Should Care) If your business is healthy, you can always find plenty of reasons to leave SEO on your to-do list in perpetuity. After all, SEO is technical, complicated, time-consuming and potentially dangerous. The SEO industry is full of self-proclaimed gurus whose lack of knowledge can be deadly. There’s the terrifying fact that even if you dabble in SEO in the most gentle and innocent way, you might actually end up in a worse state than you were to begin with. To make matters worse, Google keeps changing the rules. There have been a bewildering number of major updates, which despite their cuddly names have had a horrific impact on website owners worldwide. Fear aside, there’s also the issue of time. It’s probably tricky enough to find the time to read this article. Setting up, planning and executing an SEO campaign might well seem like an insurmountable obstacle. So why should you care enough about SEO to do it anyway? The main reason is that you probably already see between 30% and 60% of your website traffic come from the search engines. That might make you think that you don’t need to bother, because you’re already doing so well. But you’re almost certainly wrong. If you have a look through the keyword data in your Google Webmaster Tools account, you’ll probably see that around 30–50% of the keywords used to find your website are brand names – the names of your products or companies. These are searches carried out by people who already know about you. But the people who don’t know who you are but are searching for what you sell aren’t finding you right now. This is your opportunity. If a person goes looking for a company or product by name, Google will steer them towards what they’re looking for. Their intelligence does have limits, however, and even though they know your name they won’t be completely clear about what you sell. That’s where SEO would come in. Still need more convincing? How about the fact that the seeming complexities of SEO mean that your competition are almost certainly neglecting it too. They have the same reservations as you about complexity, time and danger, and hopefully they aren’t reading this article and so are none the wiser of the well-kept secret: that 70% of SEO is easy. I’m going to lead you through what you need to do to tap into that stream of people looking for what you sell right now. What is real SEO? Real SEO is all about helping Google understand the content of your website. It’s about steering, guiding and assisting Google. Not manipulating it. It’s easy to assume that Google already understands the content and relevance of each and every page on your website, but the fact is that it needs a fair amount of hand-holding. Fortunately, helping Google along really isn’t very difficult at all. Rest assured that real SEO has nothing to do with keyword stuffing, keyword density, hacks, tricks or cunning techniques. If you hear any of these terms from your SEO advisor, run away from them as quickly as you can. Understanding your current situation – Google Analytics Before you can do anything to improve your SEO status, you need to get an idea of how you’re already doing. Below is a very quick and easy way of doing so. 1. Open up your Google Analytics account. 2. Click on the date range selector on the top-right of the interface and change the year of the first date to last year. So 12 Dec 2014 will become 12 Dec 2013. Then click on Apply. 3. Click on the All Sessions rectangle towards the top-left, click once on Organic Traffic and click Apply. 4. Click the little black-and-white squares icon that has now appeared under the date selector on the top-right, and drag the slider all the way over to Higher Precision. 5. Change the interval buttons on the top-right of the graph to Week to make this easier to digest. At this point your graph should look something like this: It’s worth noting the approximate proportion of your visitors that currently come from organic sources. 6. Click the little downwards arrow to the right of the All Sessions rectangle and choose Remove, so that we’re only looking at the organic traffic on its own. 7. Click on Select a metric next to the Sessions button above the graph and select Pages / Session. You should then see something like this: In the example above we can see that the quantity of traffic has been increasing since the middle of August, but the quality of the traffic (as measured by the number of pages per session) has fallen significantly. How you choose to view this is down to your own graph, recent history and interpretation of events, but this should give you an indication of how things stand at the present time. Trends are often much more revealing than a snapshot of a brief moment in time. Your Google Webmaster Tools data If you’re not very familiar with your Google Webmaster Tools account, it’s really worth taking ten to fifteen minutes to see what’s on offer. I can’t recommend this enough. From the point of view of an SEO health check, I’d advise you to look into the HTML Improvements, Crawl Errors and Crawl Stats, and most importantly the Search Queries. From what you see here and the trends shown in your Analytics data, you should now have a good idea of your current status. If you want to explore further, I recommend Screaming Frog as a good diagnostics tool, or Botify if your website is large or unusually complex. Combining the data into something useful Your Google Analytics session will have shown you how you’re doing from an SEO point of view in terms of the quantity and, to some extent, the quality of your visitors. But it’s only showing you what is already working. In other words: the people who are finding you on the search engines, and clicking on your links. The Google Webmaster Tools search query data, on the other hand, will give you a better idea of what isn’t working. It will show you the keyword searches that are getting you listed in the results, but which aren’t necessarily getting clicked. And it doesn’t take much by the way of expertise to see why. For example, if you see your targeted keyword, which you feel is extremely relevant, has generated over 2,000 impressions in the last month but produced only two clicks, you’ll probably find a very low average position. Bear in mind that an average position of fourteen will mean being around halfway down the second page of results. Think about how rarely you go beyond the first two or three listings, never mind to the second page of results, and you’ll understand why the click-through rate is so low. So now you have an idea of what you’re being found for at the present time. But what about the other terms? What would you like to be found for? This is one of the more common SEO mistakes, on a number of different levels. Many businesses assume that they don’t need to worry about keyword research. They think they know what terms people use to find what they sell, and they also assume that Google understands the content on their website. This is incorrect on all counts. A better starting point is to brainstorm a small number of your most obvious keywords, then run them through Google’s Keyword Planner. Ignore the information in the Ad group ideas tab, and instead go straight to the Keyword ideas tab. Rather than wade through the very unfriendly interface, I recommend downloading the data as a spreadsheet, in which not only is more detail included, but you can also slice, dice, sort and report the data as required. From there you can delete all the irrelevant columns, and start working your way through the list, deleting any irrelevant keywords as you go along. It’s around this stage that you may hit a problem in terms of where to focus your efforts. The number of reported searches for a given keyword is of course important, but so is the level of competition. Ideally, you’d like keywords with plenty of searches but not too much competition. I personally like to factor both together by adding a column that simply divides the number of searches squared by the level of competition: (number of searches × number of searches) ÷ competition There are plenty of alternatives to this basic formula, but I like it for ease of use and simplicity. Once I’ve added this column, I then sort the data by this value (largest to smallest) and I then only usually need ten to fifteen keywords at most to give me plenty of ideas to work with. This is a slightly involved but effective methodology for keyword research, as what you’re left with is a list of keywords that both Google and you consider to be relevant to the content of your website. And relevance is an important concept in SEO. Real SEO keyword research is about making sure that your customers, website and Google are all in agreement and alignment over the content of your website. Other sources of inspiration and ideas include having a look at what terms your competition are targeting, Google Trends and, of course, Google Suggest. If you’re not sure where to find these things, you can probably work out where to search for them! If you want to dive further into understanding your current search engine status, search for some of the better keywords that you just discovered and see where you rank compared to your competition. Note that it’s vital to avoid Google serving up personalised results, so either use the privacy, incognito or anonymous mode of your browser for the searches, or use a browser that you don’t normally use. I hope this is Internet Explorer. If what you find isn’t great, don’t despair: everything in SEO is fixable (terms and conditions may apply). Putting it all together You should now have a good idea of where things stand with your current search engine traffic, and a solid list of keywords that you’re not getting visitors for but very much want. All that’s left now is to work out how to use these keywords. But before we do, let’s take a quick step back. If you have in any way kept up with what’s been happening in SEO over the last couple of years, you’ll have probably heard about Google updates with names like Panda, Hummingbird, Phantom, Pirate and more. I won’t go into the technical details of what Google is doing, but it is important to understand why they’re trying to do it. At the most basic level, Google understands that there’s a very real problem with people who are trying manipulate its index. In response to this, Google is trying to clean up its results. They don’t want people getting fed up with bad results and considering other options – have you even tried Bing? This is extremely important. Remember earlier when I said that 70% of SEO was easy? That rule still applies. So, for example, if you have a list of keywords that you know are relevant to what you sell, then all you need to do is create great content for them. Incredibly, that’s all there is to it (terms and conditions apply again, unfortunately – see below). There is, however, one simple rule to be consistently followed without exception: that the content you create should not only be good quality and completely original, but it should also be written primarily for the human visitor and not the search engine spider. In other words, if you create some fantastic content for a keyword like “choosing a small business HR service”, then the article should not only make perfect sense if read out loud (as opposed to the same phrase being repeated fifteen times), but also provide real value to the person reading it. So the process is simple: Choose your keywords Create spectacular content Wait. Is it really that simple? Unfortunately there’s a lot more to the other 30% of SEO than just creating great content and waiting for the visitors. There are issues like helping Google understand the content on your pages and website, incoming links, page authority, domain authority, usage patterns, spam factors, canonical issues and much more. But there’s the often overlooked fact about Google: it actually does a reasonable job of working out what’s on your website and (to some extent) understanding the gist of it. If you’ve never done any SEO on your website but still get some traffic from Google, this is why. Even without dabbling in the other 30% of SEO, by creating the right content for the right visitors using the precise language and terminology that your potential customers are using, you’re significantly better off than your competition. And you can only gain from this. When you’ve checked this off your to-do list and made it an ingrained part of your content creation process, then you’re ready to delve into the other 30% of SEO. The not-so-easy side. Until then, work on understanding your current situation, exploring the opportunities, creating a list of good keywords, creating the right content for them, and starting 2015 with a little bit of smart, safe and real SEO. 2014 Dave Collins davecollins 2014-12-15T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/seo-in-2015-and-why-you-should-care/ business
36 Naming Things There are only two hard things in computer science: cache invalidation and naming things. Phil Karlton Being a professional web developer means taking responsibility for the code you write and ensuring it is comprehensible to others. Having a documented code style is one means of achieving this, although the size and type of project you’re working on will dictate the conventions used and how rigorously they are enforced. Working in-house may mean working with multiple developers, perhaps in distributed teams, who are all committing changes – possibly to a significant codebase – at the same time. Left unchecked, this codebase can become unwieldy. Coding conventions ensure everyone can contribute, and help build a product that works as a coherent whole. Even on smaller projects, perhaps working within an agency or by yourself, at some point the resulting product will need to be handed over to a third party. It’s sensible, therefore, to ensure that your code can be understood by those who’ll eventually take ownership of it. Put simply, code is read more often than it is written or changed. A consistent and predictable naming scheme can make code easier for other developers to understand, improve and maintain, presumably leaving them free to worry about cache invalidation. Let’s talk about semantics Names not only allow us to identify objects, but they can also help us describe the objects being identified. Semantics (the meaning or interpretation of words) is the cornerstone of standards-based web development. Using appropriate HTML elements allows us to create documents and applications that have implicit structural meaning. Thanks to HTML5, the vocabulary we can choose from has grown even larger. HTML elements provide one level of meaning: a widely accepted description of a document’s underlying structure. It’s only with the mutual agreement of browser vendors and developers that <p> indicates a paragraph. Yet (with the exception of widely accepted microdata and microformat schemas) only HTML elements convey any meaning that can be parsed consistently by user agents. While using semantic values for class names is a noble endeavour, they provide no additional information to the visitor of a website; take them away and a document will have exactly the same semantic value. I didn’t always think this was the case, but the real world has a habit of changing your opinion. Much of my thinking around semantics has been informed by the writing of my peers. In “About HTML semantics and front-end architecture”, Nicholas Gallagher wrote: The important thing for class name semantics in non-trivial applications is that they be driven by pragmatism and best serve their primary purpose – providing meaningful, flexible, and reusable presentational/behavioural hooks for developers to use. These thoughts are echoed by Harry Roberts in his CSS Guidelines: The debate surrounding semantics has raged for years, but it is important that we adopt a more pragmatic, sensible approach to naming things in order to work more efficiently and effectively. Instead of focussing on ‘semantics’, look more closely at sensibility and longevity – choose names based on ease of maintenance, not for their perceived meaning. Naming methodologies Front-end development has undergone a revolution in recent years. As the projects we’ve worked on have grown larger and more important, our development practices have matured. The pros and cons of object-orientated approaches to CSS can be endlessly debated, yet their introduction has highlighted the usefulness of having documented naming schemes. Jonathan Snook’s SMACSS (Scalable and Modular Architecture for CSS) collects style rules into five categories: base, layout, module, state and theme. This grouping makes it clear what each rule does, and is aided by a naming convention: By separating rules into the five categories, naming convention is beneficial for immediately understanding which category a particular style belongs to and its role within the overall scope of the page. On large projects, it is more likely to have styles broken up across multiple files. In these cases, naming convention also makes it easier to find which file a style belongs to. I like to use a prefix to differentiate between layout, state and module rules. For layout, I use l- but layout- would work just as well. Using prefixes like grid- also provide enough clarity to separate layout styles from other styles. For state rules, I like is- as in is-hidden or is-collapsed. This helps describe things in a very readable way. SMACSS is more a set of suggestions than a rigid framework, so its ideas can be incorporated into your own practice. Nicholas Gallagher’s SUIT CSS project is far more strict in its naming conventions: SUIT CSS relies on structured class names and meaningful hyphens (i.e., not using hyphens merely to separate words). This helps to work around the current limits of applying CSS to the DOM (i.e., the lack of style encapsulation), and to better communicate the relationships between classes. Over the last year, I’ve favoured a BEM-inspired approach to CSS. BEM stands for block, element, modifier, which describes the three types of rule that contribute to the style of a single component. This means that, given the following markup: <ul class=“sleigh”> <li class=“sleigh__reindeer sleigh__reindeer––famous”>Rudolph</li> <li class=“sleigh__reindeer”>Dasher</li> <li class=“sleigh__reindeer”>Dancer</li> <li class=“sleigh__reindeer”>Prancer</li> <li class=“sleigh__reindeer”>Vixen</li> <li class=“sleigh__reindeer”>Comet</li> <li class=“sleigh__reindeer”>Cupid</li> <li class=“sleigh__reindeer”>Dunder</li> <li class=“sleigh__reindeer”>Blixem</li> </ul> I know that: .sleigh is a containing block or component. .sleigh__reindeer is used only as a descendent element of .sleigh. .sleigh__reindeer––famous is used only as a modifier of .sleigh__reindeer. With this naming scheme in place, I know which styles relate to a particular component, and which are shared. Beyond reducing specificity-related head-scratching, this approach has given me a framework within which I can consistently label items, and has sped up my workflow considerably. Each of these methodologies shows that any robust CSS naming convention will have clear rules around case (lowercase, camelCase, PascalCase) and the use of special (allowed) characters like hyphens and underscores. What makes for a good name? Regardless of higher-level conventions, there’s no getting away from the fact that, at some point, we’re still going to have to name things. Recognising that classes should be named with other developers in mind, what makes for a good name? Understandable The most important aspect is for a name to be understandable. Words used in your project may come from a variety of sources: some may be widely understood, and others only be recognised by people working within a particular environment. Culture Most words you’ll choose will have common currency outside the world of web development, although they may have a particular interpretation among developers (think menu, list, input). However, words may have a narrower cultural significance; for example, in Germany and other German-speaking countries, impressum is the term used for legally mandated statements of ownership. Industry Industries often use specific terms to describe common business practices and concepts. Publishing has a number of these (headline, standfirst, masthead, colophon…) all have well understood meanings – and not all of them are relevant to online usage. Organisation Companies may have internal names (or nicknames) for their products and services. The Guardian is rife with such names: bisons (and buffalos), pixies (and super-pixies), bentos (and mini-bentos)… all of which mean something very different outside the organisation. Although such names can be useful inside smaller teams, in larger organisations they can become a barrier to entry, a sort of secret code used among employees who have been around long enough to know what they mean. Product Your team will undoubtedly have created names for specific features or interface components used in your product. For example, at Clearleft we coined the term gravigation for a navigation bar that was pinned to the bottom of the viewport. Elements of a visual design language may have names, too. Transport for London’s bar and circle logo is known internally as the roundel, while Nike’s logo is called the swoosh. Branding agencies often christen colours within a brand palette, too, either to evoke aspects of the identity or to indicate intended usage. Once you recognise the origin of the words you use, you’ll be better able to judge their appropriateness. Using Latin words for class names may satisfy a need to use semantic-sounding terms but, unless you work in a company whose employees have a basic grasp of Latin, a degree of translation will be required. Military ranks might be a clever way of declaring sizes without implying actual values, but I’d venture most people outside the armed forces don’t know how they’re ordered. Obvious Quite often, the first name that comes into your head will be the best option. Names that obliquely reference the function of a class (e.g. receptacle instead of container, kevlar instead of no-bullets) only serve to add an additional layer of abstraction. Don’t overthink it! One way of knowing if the names you use are well understood is to look at what similar concepts are called in existing vocabularies. schema.org, Dublin Core and the BBC’s ontologies are all useful sources for object names. Functional While we’ve learned to avoid using presentational classes, there remains a tension between naming things based on their content, and naming them for their intended presentation or behaviour (which may change at different breakpoints). Rather than think about a component’s appearance or behaviour, instead look to its function, its purpose. To clarify, ask what a component’s function is, and not how the component functions. For example, the Guardian’s internal content system uses the following names for different types of image placement: supporting, showcase and thumbnail, with inline being the default. These options make no promise of the resulting position on a webpage (or smartphone app, or television screen…), but do suggest intended use, and therefore imply the likely presentation. Consistent Being consistent in your approach to names will allow for easier naming of successive components, and extending the vocabulary when necessary. For example, a predictably named hierarchy might use names like primary and secondary. Should another level need to be added, tertiary is clearly be preferred over third. Appropriate Your project will feature a mix of style rules. Some will perform utility functions (clearing floats, removing bullets from a list, reseting margins), while others will perform specific functions used only once or twice in a project. Names should reflect this. For commonly used classes, be generic; for unique components be more specific. It’s also worth remembering that you can use multiple classes on an element, so combining both generic and specific can give you a powerful modular design system: Generic: list Specific: naughty-children Combined: naughty-children list If following the BEM methodology, you might use the following classes: Generic: list Specific: list––nice-children Combined: list list––nice-children Extensible Good naming schemes can be extended. One way of achieving this is to use namespaces, which are basically a way of grouping related names under a higher-level term. Microformats are a good example of a well-designed naming scheme, with many of its vocabularies taking property names from existing and related specifications (e.g. hCard is a 1:1 representation of vCard). Microformats 2 goes one step further by grouping properties under several namespaces: h-* for root class names (e.g. h-card) p-* for simple (text) properties (e.g. p-name) u-* for URL properties (e.g. u-photo) dt-* for date/time properties (e.g. dt-bday) e-* for embedded markup properties (e.g. e-note) The inclusion of namespaces is a massive improvement over the earlier specification, but the downside is that microformats now occupy five separate namespaces. This might be problematic if you are using u-* for your utility classes. While nothing will break, your naming system won’t be as robust, so plan accordingly. (Note: Microformats perform a very specific function, separate from any presentational concerns. It’s therefore considered best practice to not use microformat classes as styling hooks, but instead use additional classes that relate to the function of the component and adhere to your own naming conventions.) Short Names should be as long as required, but no longer. When looking for words to describe a particular function, I try to look for single words where possible. Avoid abbreviations unless they are understood within the contexts described above. rrp is fine if labelling a recommended retail price in an online shop, but not very helpful if used to mean ragged-right paragraph, for example. Fun! Finally, names can be an opportunity to have some fun! Names can give character to a project, be it by providing an outlet for in-jokes or adding little easter eggs for those inclined to look. The copyright statement on Apple’s website has long been named sosumi, a word that has a nice little history inside Apple. Until recently, the hamburger menu icon on the Guardian website was labelled honest-burger, after the developer’s favourite burger restaurant. A few thoughts on preprocessors CSS preprocessors have solved a lot of problems, but they have an unfortunate downside: they require you to name yet more things! Whereas we needed to worry only about style rules, now we need names for variables, mixins, functions… oh my! A second article could be written about naming these, so for now I’ll offer just a few thoughts. The first is to note that preprocessors make it easier to change things, as they allow for DRYer code. So while the names of variables are important (and the advice in this article still very much applies), you can afford to relax a little. Looking to name colour variables? If possible, find out if colours have been assigned names in a brand palette. If not, use obvious names (based on appearance or function, depending on your preference) and adapt as the palette grows. If it becomes difficult to name colours that are too similar, I’d venture that the problem lies with the design rather than the naming scheme. The same is true for responsive breakpoints. Preprocessors allow you to move awkward naming conventions out of the markup and into the CSS. Although terms like mobile, tablet and desktop are not desirable given the need to think about device-agnostic design, if these terms are widely understood within a product team and among stakeholders, using them will ensure everyone is using the same language (they can always be changed later). It still feels like we’re at the very beginning of understanding how preprocessors fit into a development workflow, if at all! I suspect over the next few years, best practices will emerge for all of these considerations. In the meantime, use your brain! Even with sensible rules and conventions in place, naming things can remain difficult, but hopefully I’ve made this exercise a little less painful. Christmas is a time of giving, so to the developer reading your code in a year’s time, why not make your gift one of clearer class names. 2014 Paul Lloyd paulrobertlloyd 2014-12-21T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/naming-things/ code
37 JavaScript Modules the ES6 Way JavaScript admittedly has plenty of flaws, but one of the largest and most prominent is the lack of a module system: a way to split up your application into a series of smaller files that can depend on each other to function correctly. This is something nearly all other languages come with out of the box, whether it be Ruby’s require, Python’s import, or any other language you’re familiar with. Even CSS has @import! JavaScript has nothing of that sort, and this has caused problems for application developers as they go from working with small websites to full client-side applications. Let’s be clear: it doesn’t mean the new module system in the upcoming version of JavaScript won’t be useful to you if you’re building smaller websites rather than the next Instagram. Thankfully, the lack of a module system will soon be a problem of the past. The next version of JavaScript, ECMAScript 6, will bring with it a full-featured module and dependency management solution for JavaScript. The bad news is that it won’t be landing in browsers for a while yet – but the good news is that the specification for the module system and how it will look has been finalised. The even better news is that there are tools available to get it all working in browsers today without too much hassle. In this post I’d like to give you the gift of JS modules and show you the syntax, and how to use them in browsers today. It’s much simpler than you might think. What is ES6? ECMAScript is a scripting language that is standardised by a company called Ecma International. JavaScript is an implementation of ECMAScript. ECMAScript 6 is simply the next version of the ECMAScript standard and, hence, the next version of JavaScript. The spec aims to be fully comfirmed and complete by the end of 2014, with a target initial release date of June 2015. It’s impossible to know when we will have full feature support across the most popular browsers, but already some ES6 features are landing in the latest builds of Chrome and Firefox. You shouldn’t expect to be able to use the new features across browsers without some form of additional tooling or library for a while yet. The ES6 module spec The ES6 module spec was fully confirmed in July 2014, so all the syntax I will show you in this article is not expected to change. I’ll first show you the syntax and the new APIs being added to the language, and then look at how to use them today. There are two parts to the new module system. The first is the syntax for declaring modules and dependencies in your JS files, and the second is a programmatic API for loading in modules manually. The first is what most people are expected to use most of the time, so it’s what I’ll focus on more. Module syntax The key thing to understand here is that modules have two key components. First, they have dependencies. These are things that the module you are writing depends on to function correctly. For example, if you were building a carousel module that used jQuery, you would say that jQuery is a dependency of your carousel. You import these dependencies into your module, and we’ll see how to do that in a minute. Second, modules have exports. These are the functions or variables that your module exposes publicly to anything that imports it. Using jQuery as the example again, you could say that jQuery exports the $ function. Modules that depend on and hence import jQuery get access to the $ function, because jQuery exports it. Another important thing to note is that when I discuss a module, all I really mean is a JavaScript file. There’s no extra syntax to use other than the new ES6 syntax. Once ES6 lands, modules and files will be analogous. Named exports Modules can export multiple objects, which can be either plain old variables or JavaScript functions. You denote something to be exported with the export keyword: export function double(x) { return x + x; }; You can also store something in a variable then export it. If you do that, you have to wrap the variable in a set of curly braces. var double = function(x) { return x + x; } export { double }; A module can then import the double function like so: import { double } from 'mymodule'; double(2); // 4 Again, curly braces are required around the variable you would like to import. It’s also important to note that from 'mymodule' will look for a file called mymodule.js in the same directory as the file you are requesting the import from. There is no need to add the .js extension. The reason for those extra braces is that this syntax lets you export multiple variables: var double = function(x) { return x + x; } var square = function(x) { return x * x; } export { double, square } I personally prefer this syntax over the export function …, but only because it makes it much clearer to me what the module exports. Typically I will have my export {…} line at the bottom of the file, which means I can quickly look in one place to determine what the module is exporting. A file importing both double and square can do so in just the way you’d expect: import { double, square } from 'mymodule'; double(2); // 4 square(3); // 9 With this approach you can’t easily import an entire module and all its methods. This is by design – it’s much better and you’re encouraged to import just the functions you need to use. Default exports Along with named exports, the system also lets a module have a default export. This is useful when you are working with a large library such as jQuery, Underscore, Backbone and others, and just want to import the entire library. A module can define its default export (it can only ever have one default export) like so: export default function(x) { return x + x; } And that can be imported: import double from 'mymodule'; double(2); // 4 This time you do not use the curly braces around the name of the object you are importing. Also notice how you can name the import whatever you’d like. Default exports are not named, so you can import them as anything you like: import christmas from 'mymodule'; christmas(2); // 4 The above is entirely valid. Although it’s not something that is used too often, a module can have both named exports and a default export, if you wish. One of the design goals of the ES6 modules spec was to favour default exports. There are many reasons behind this, and there is a very detailed discussion on the ES Discuss site about it. That said, if you find yourself preferring named exports, that’s fine, and you shouldn’t change that to meet the preferences of those designing the spec. Programmatic API Along with the syntax above, there is also a new API being added to the language so you can programmatically import modules. It’s pretty rare you would use this, but one obvious example is loading a module conditionally based on some variable or property. You could easily import a polyfill, for example, if the user’s browser didn’t support a feature your app relied on. An example of doing this is: if(someFeatureNotSupported) { System.import('my-polyfill').then(function(myPolyFill) { // use the module from here }); } System.import will return a promise, which, if you’re not familiar, you can read about in this excellent article on HTMl5 Rocks by Jake Archibald. A promise basically lets you attach callback functions that are run when the asynchronous operation (in this case, System.import), is complete. This programmatic API opens up a lot of possibilities and will also provide hooks to allow you to register callbacks that will run at certain points in the lifetime of a module. Those hooks and that syntax are slightly less set in stone, but when they are confirmed they will provide really useful functionality. For example, you could write code that would run every module that you import through something like JSHint before importing it. In development that would provide you with an easy way to keep your code quality high without having to run a command line watch task. How to use it today It’s all well and good having this new syntax, but right now it won’t work in any browser – and it’s not likely to for a long time. Maybe in next year’s 24 ways there will be an article on how you can use ES6 modules with no extra work in the browser, but for now we’re stuck with a bit of extra work. ES6 module transpiler One solution is to use the ES6 module transpiler, a compiler that lets you write your JavaScript using the ES6 module syntax (actually a subset of it – not quite everything is supported, but the main features are) and have it compiled into either CommonJS-style code (CommonJS is the module specification that NodeJS and Browserify use), or into AMD-style code (the spec RequireJS uses). There are also plugins for all the popular build tools, including Grunt and Gulp. The advantage of using this transpiler is that if you are already using a tool like RequireJS or Browserify, you can drop the transpiler in, start writing in ES6 and not worry about any additional work to make the code work in the browser, because you should already have that set up already. If you don’t have any system in place for handling modules in the browser, using the transpiler doesn’t really make sense. Remember, all this does is convert ES6 module code into CommonJS- or AMD-compliant JavaScript. It doesn’t do anything to help you get that code running in the browser, but if you have that part sorted it’s a really nice addition to your workflow. If you would like a tutorial on how to do this, I wrote a post back in June 2014 on using ES6 with the ES6 module transpiler. SystemJS Another solution is SystemJS. It’s the best solution in my opinion, particularly if you are starting a new project from scratch, or want to use ES6 modules on a project where you have no current module system in place. SystemJS is a spec-compliant universal module loader: it loads ES6 modules, AMD modules, CommonJS modules, as well as modules that just add a variable to the global scope (window, in the browser). To load in ES6 files, SystemJS also depends on two other libraries: the ES6 module loader polyfill; and Traceur. Traceur is best accessed through the bower-traceur package, as the main repository doesn’t have an easy to find downloadable version. The ES6 module load polyfill implements System.import, and lets you load in files using it. Traceur is an ES6-to-ES5 module loader. It takes code written in ES6, the newest version of JavaScript, and transpiles it into ES5, the version of JavaScript widely implemented in browsers. The advantage of this is that you can play with the new features of the language today, even though they are not supported in browsers. The drawback is that you have to run all your files through Traceur every time you save them, but this is easily automated. Additionally, if you use SystemJS, the Traceur compilation is done automatically for you. All you need to do to get SystemJS running is to add a <script> element to load SystemJS into your webpage. It will then automatically load the ES6 module loader and Traceur files when it needs them. In your HTML you then need to use System.import to load in your module: <script> System.import('./app'); </script> When you load the page, app.js will be asynchronously loaded. Within app.js, you can now use ES6 modules. SystemJS will detect that the file is an ES6 file, automatically load Traceur, and compile the file into ES5 so that it works in the browser. It does all this dynamically in the browser, but there are tools to bundle your application in production, so it doesn’t make a lot of requests on the live site. In development though, it makes for a really nice workflow. When working with SystemJS and modules in general, the best approach is to have a main module (in our case app.js) that is the main entry point for your application. app.js should then be responsible for loading all your application’s modules. This forces you to keep your application organised by only loading one file initially, and having the rest dealt with by that file. SystemJS also provides a workflow for bundling your application together into one file. Conclusion ES6 modules may be at least six months to a year away (if not more) but that doesn’t mean they can’t be used today. Although there is an overhead to using them now – with the work required to set up SystemJS, the module transpiler, or another solution – that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. Using any module system in the browser, whether that be RequireJS, Browserify or another alternative, requires extra tooling and libraries to support it, and I would argue that the effort to set up SystemJS is no greater than that required to configure any other tool. It also comes with the extra benefit that when the syntax is supported in browsers, you get a free upgrade. You’ll be able to remove SystemJS and have everything continue to work, backed by the native browser solution. If you are starting a new project, I would strongly advocate using ES6 modules. It is a syntax and specification that is not going away at all, and will soon be supported in browsers. Investing time in learning it now will pay off hugely further down the road. Further reading If you’d like to delve further into ES6 modules (or ES6 generally) and using them today, I recommend the following resources: ECMAScript 6 modules: the final syntax by Axel Rauschmayer Practical Workflows for ES6 Modules by Guy Bedford ECMAScript 6 resources for the curious JavaScripter by Addy Osmani Tracking ES6 support by Addy Osmani ES6 Tools List by Addy Osmani Using Grunt and the ES6 Module Transpiler by Thomas Boyt JavaScript Modules and Dependencies with jspm by myself Using ES6 Modules Today by Guy Bedford 2014 Jack Franklin jackfranklin 2014-12-03T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/javascript-modules-the-es6-way/ code
38 Websites of Christmas Past, Present and Future The websites of Christmas past The first website was created at CERN. It was launched on 20 December 1990 (just in time for Christmas!), and it still works today, after twenty-four years. Isn’t that incredible?! Why does this website still work after all this time? I can think of a few reasons. First, the authors of this document chose HTML. Of course they couldn’t have known back then the extent to which we would be creating documents in HTML, but HTML always had a lot going for it. It’s built on top of plain text, which means it can be opened in any text editor, and it’s pretty readable, even without any parsing. Despite the fact that HTML has changed quite a lot over the past twenty-four years, extensions to the specification have always been implemented in a backwards-compatible manner. Reading through the 1992 W3C document HTML Tags, you’ll see just how it has evolved. We still have h1 – h6 elements, but I’d not heard of the <plaintext> element before. Despite being deprecated since HTML2, it still works in several browsers. You can see it in action on my website. As well as being written in HTML, there is no run-time compilation of code; the first website simply consists of HTML files transmitted over the web. Due to its lack of complexity, it stood a good chance of surviving in the turbulent World Wide Web. That’s all well and good for a simple, static website. But websites created today are increasingly interactive. Many require a login and provide experiences that are tailored to the individual user. This type of dynamic website requires code to be executed somewhere. Traditionally, dynamic websites would execute such code on the server, and transmit a simple HTML file to the user. As far as the browser was concerned, this wasn’t much different from the first website, as the additional complexity all happened before the document was sent to the browser. Doing it all in the browser In 2003, the first single page interface was created at slashdotslash.com. A single page interface or single page app is a website where the page is created in the browser via JavaScript. The benefit of this technique is that, after the initial page load, subsequent interactions can happen instantly, or very quickly, as they all happen in the browser. When software runs on the client rather than the server, it is often referred to as a fat client. This means that the bulk of the processing happens on the client rather than the server (which can now be thin). A fat client is preferred over a thin client because: It takes some processing requirements away from the server, thereby reducing the cost of servers (a thin server requires cheaper, or fewer servers). They can often continue working offline, provided no server communication is required to complete tasks after initial load. The latency of internet communications is bypassed after initial load, as interactions can appear near instantaneous when compared to waiting for a response from the server. But there are also some big downsides, and these are often overlooked: They can’t work without JavaScript. Obviously JavaScript is a requirement for any client-side code execution. And as the UK Government Digital Service discovered, 1.1% of their visitors did not receive JavaScript enhancements. Of that 1.1%, 81% had JavaScript enabled, but their browsers failed to execute it (possibly due to dropping the internet connection). If you care about 1.1% of your visitors, you should care about the non-JavaScript experience for your website. The browser needs to do all the processing. This means that the hardware it runs on needs to be fast. It also means that we require all clients to have largely the same capabilities and browser APIs. The initial payload is often much larger, and nothing will be rendered for the user until this payload has been fully downloaded and executed. If the connection drops at any point, or the code fails to execute owing to a bug, we’re left with the non-JavaScript experience. They are not easily indexed as every crawler now needs to run JavaScript just to receive the content of the website. These are not merely edge case issues to shirk off. The first three issues will affect some of your visitors; the fourth affects everyone, including you. What problem are we trying to solve? So what can be done to address these issues? Whereas fat clients solve some inherent issues with the web, they seem to create as many problems. When attempting to resolve any issue, it’s always good to try to uncover the original problem and work forwards from there. One of the best ways to frame a problem is as a user story. A user story considers the who, what and why of a need. Here’s a template: As a {who} I want {what} so that {why} I haven’t got a specific project in mind, so let’s refer to the who as user. Here’s one that could explain the use of thick clients. As a user I want the site to respond to my actions quickly so that I get immediate feedback when I do something. This user story could probably apply to a great number of websites, but so could this: As a user I want to get to the content quickly, so that I don’t have to wait too long to find out what the site is all about or get the content I need. A better solution How can we balance both these user needs? How can we have a website that loads fast, and also reacts fast? The solution is to have a thick server, that serves the complete document, and then a thick client, that manages subsequent actions and replaces parts of the page. What we’re talking about here is simply progressive enhancement, but from the user’s perspective. The initial payload contains the entire document. At this point, all interactions would happen in a traditional way using links or form elements. Then, once we’ve downloaded the JavaScript (asynchronously, after load) we can enhance the experience with JavaScript interactions. If for whatever reason our JavaScript fails to download or execute, it’s no biggie – we’ve already got a fully functioning website. If an API that we need isn’t available in this browser, it’s not a problem. We just fall back to the basic experience. This second point, of having some minimum requirement for an enhanced experience, is often referred to as cutting the mustard, first used in this sense by the BBC News team. Essentially it’s an if statement like this: if('querySelector' in document && 'localStorage' in window && 'addEventListener' in window) { // bootstrap the JavaScript application } This code states that the browser must support the following methods before downloading and executing the JavaScript: document.querySelector (can it find elements by CSS selectors) window.localStorage (can it store strings) window.addEventListener (can it bind to events in a standards-compliant way) These three properties are what the BBC News team decided to test for, as they are present in their website’s JavaScript. Each website will have its own requirements. The last method, window.addEventListener is in interesting one. Although it’s simple to bind to events on IE8 and earlier, these browsers have very inconsistent support for standards. Making any JavaScript-heavy website work on IE8 and earlier is a painful exercise, and comes at a cost to all users on other browsers, as they’ll download unnecessary code to patch support for IE. JavaScript API support by browser. I discovered that IE8 supports 12% of the current JavaScript APIs, while IE9 supports 16%, and IE10 51%. It seems, then, that IE10 could be the earliest version of IE that I’d like to develop JavaScript for. That doesn’t mean that users on browsers earlier than 10 can’t use the website. On the contrary, they get the core experience, and because it’s just HTML and CSS, it’s much more likely to be bug-free, and could even provide a better experience than trying to run JavaScript in their browser. They receive the thin client experience. By reducing the number of platforms that our enhanced JavaScript version supports, we can better focus our efforts on those platforms and offer an even greater experience to those users. But we can only do that if we use progressive enhancement. Otherwise our website would be completely broken for all other users. So what we have is a thick server, capable of serving the entire website to our users, complete with all core functionality needed for our users to complete their tasks; and we have a thick client on supported browsers, which can bring an even greater experience to those users. This is all transparent to users. They may notice that the website seems snappier on the new iPhone they received for Christmas than on the Windows 7 machine they got five years ago, but then they probably expected it to be faster on their iPhone anyway. Isn’t this just more work? It’s true that making a thick server and a thick client is more work than just making one or the other. But there are some big advantages: The website works for everyone. You can decide when users get the enhanced experience. You can enhance features in an iterative (or agile) manner. When the website breaks, it doesn’t break down. The more you practise this approach, the quicker you will become. The websites of Christmas present The best way to discover websites using this technique of progressive enhancement is to disable JavaScript and see if the website breaks. I use the Web Developer extension, which is available for Chrome and Firefox. It lets me quickly disable JavaScript. Web Developer extension. 24 ways works with and without JavaScript. Try using the menu icon to view the navigation. Without JavaScript, it’s a jump link to the bottom of the page, but with JavaScript, the menu slides in from the right. 24 ways navigation with JavaScript disabled. 24 ways navigation with working JavaScript. Google search will also work without JavaScript. You won’t get instant search results or any prerendering, because those are enhancements. For a more app-like example, try using Twitter. Without JavaScript, it still works, and looks nearly identical. But when you load JavaScript, links open in modal windows and all pages are navigated much quicker, as only the content that has changed is loaded. You can read about how they achieved this in Twitter’s blog posts Improving performance on twitter.com and Implementing pushState for twitter.com. Unfortunately Facebook doesn’t use progressive enhancement, which not only means that the website doesn’t work without JavaScript, but it takes longer to load. I tested it on WebPagetest and if you compare the load times of Twitter and Facebook, you’ll notice that, despite putting similar content on the page, Facebook takes two and a half times longer to render the core content on the page. Facebook takes two and a half times longer to load than Twitter. Websites of Christmas yet to come Every project is different, and making a website that enjoys a long life, or serves a larger number of users may or may not be a high priority. But I hope I’ve convinced you that it certainly is possible to look to the past and future simultaneously, and that there can be significant advantages to doing so. 2014 Josh Emerson joshemerson 2014-12-08T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/websites-of-christmas-past-present-and-future/ code
39 Meet for Learning “I’ve never worked in a place like this,” said one of my direct reports during our daily stand-up meeting. And with that statement, my mind raced to the most important thing about lawyering that I’ve learned from decades of watching lawyers lawyer on TV: don’t ask a question you don’t know the answer to. But I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to learn more. The thought developed in my mind. The words formed in my mouth. And the vocalization occurred: “A place like this?” “I’ve never worked where people are so honest and transparent about things.” Designing a learning-centered culture Before we started Center Centre, Jared Spool and I discussed both the larger goals and the smaller details of this new UX design school. We talked about things like user experience, curriculum, and structure. We discussed the pattern we saw in our research. Hiring managers told us time and again that great designers have excellent technical and interpersonal skills. But, more importantly, the best designers are lifelong learners—they are willing and able to learn how to do new things. Learning this led us to ask a critical question: how would we intentionally design a learning-centered experience? To craft the experience we were aiming for, we knew we had to create a learning-centered culture for our students and our employees. We knew that our staff would need to model the behaviors our students needed to learn. We knew the best way to shape the culture was to work with our direct reports—our directs—to develop the behaviors we wanted them to exemplify. To craft the experience we were aiming for, we knew we had to create a learning-centered culture for our students and our employees. We knew that our staff would need to model the behaviors our students needed to learn. Building a learning team Our learning-centered culture starts with our staff. We believe in transparency. Transparency builds trust. Effective organizations have effective teams who trust each other as individuals. One huge way we build that trust and provide opportunities for transparency is in our meetings. (I know, I know—meetings! Yuck!) But seriously, running and participating in effective meetings is a great opportunity to build a learning-centered culture. Meetings—when done well—allow individuals time to come together, to share, and to listen. These behaviors, executed on a consistent and regular basis, build honest and trusting relationships. An effective meeting is one that achieves the desired outcomes of that meeting. While different meetings aim for different results, at Center Centre all meetings have a secondary goal: meet for learning. A framework for learning-centered meetings We’ve developed a framework for our meetings. We use it for all our meetings, which means attendees know what to expect. It also saves us from reinventing the wheel in each meeting. These basic steps help our meetings focus on the valuable face-to-face interaction we’re having, and help us truly begin to learn from one another. An agenda for a staff meeting. Use effective meeting basics Prepare for the meeting before the meeting. If you’re running the meeting, prepare a typed agenda and share it before the meeting. Agendas have start times for each item. Start the meeting on time. Don’t wait for stragglers. Define ground rules. Get input from attendees. Recurring meetings don’t have to do this every time. Keep to the meeting agenda. Put off-topic questions and ideas in a parking lot, a visual document that everyone can see, so you can address the questions and ideas later. Finish on time. And if you’ve reached the meeting’s goals, finish early. Parking lots where ideas on sticky notes can be posted for later consideration. Focus to learn Have tech-free meetings: no laptops, no phones, no things with notifications. Bring a notebook and a pen. Take notes by hand. You’re not taking minutes, you’re writing to learn. Come with a learning mindset Ask: what are our goals for this meeting? (Hopefully answered by the meeting agenda.) Ask: what can I learn overall? Ask: what can I learn from each of my colleagues? Ask: what can I share that will help the team learn overall? Ask: what can I share that will help each of my colleagues learn? Investing in regularly scheduled learning-centered meetings At Center Centre, we have two types of recurring all-staff meetings: daily stand-ups and weekly staff meetings. (We are a small organization, so it makes sense to meet as an entire group.) Yes, that means we spend thirty minutes each day in stand-up, for a total of two and a half hours of stand-up meeting time each week. And, yes, we also have a weekly ninety-minute sit-down staff meeting on top of that. This investment in time is an investment in learning. We use these meetings to build our transparency, and, therefore, our trust. The regularity of these meetings helps us maintain ongoing, open sharing about our responsibilities, our successes, and our learning. For instance, we answer five questions in our stand-up: What did I get done since the last stand-up (I reported at)? What is my goal to accomplish before the next stand-up? What’s preventing me from getting these things done, if anything? What’s the highest risk or most unknown thing right now about what I’m trying to get done? What is the most important thing I learned since the last time we met and how will what I learned change the way I approach things in the future? Each person writes out their answers to these questions before the meeting. Each person brings their answers printed on paper to the meeting. And each person brings a pen to jot down notes. Notes compiled for a stand-up meeting. During the stand-up, each person shares their answers to the five questions. To sustain a learning-centered culture, the fifth question is the most important question to answer. It allows individual reflection focused on learning. Sometimes this isn’t an easy question to answer. It makes us stretch. It makes us think. By sharing our individual answers to the fifth question, we open ourselves up to the group. When we honestly share what we’ve learned, we openly admit that we didn’t know something. Sharing like this would be scary (and even risky) if we didn’t have a learning-centered culture. We often share the actual process of how we learned something. By listening, each of us is invited to learn more about the topic at hand, consider what more there is to learn about that topic, and even gain insights into other methods of learning—which can be applied to other topics. Sharing the answers to the fifth question also allows opportunities for further conversations. We often take what someone has individually learned and find ways to apply it for our entire team in support of our organization. We are, after all, learning together. Building individual learners We strive to grow together as a team at Center Centre, but we don’t lose sight of the importance of the individuals who form our team. As individuals, we bring our goals, dreams, abilities, and prior knowledge to the team. To build learning teams, we must build individual learners. A team made up of lifelong learners, who share their learning and learn from each other, is a team that will continually produce better results. As a manager, I need to meet each direct where they are with their current abilities and knowledge. Then, I can help them take their skills and knowledge base to the next levels. This process requires each individual direct to engage in professional development. We believe effective managers help their directs engage in behaviors that support growth and development. Effective managers encourage and support learning. Our weekly one-on-ones One way we encourage learning is through weekly one-on-ones. Each of my directs meets with me, individually, for thirty minutes each week. The meeting is their meeting. It is not my meeting. My direct sets the agenda. They talk about what they want to talk about. They can talk about work. They can talk about things outside of work. They can talk about their health, their kids, and even their cat. Whatever is important to them is important to me. I listen. I take notes. Although the direct sets the specific agenda, the meeting has three main parts. Approximately ten minutes for them (the direct), ten minutes for me (the manager), and ten minutes for us to talk about their future within—and beyond—our organization. Coaching for future performance The final third of our one-on-one is when I coach my directs. Coaching looks to the direct’s future performance. It focuses on developing the direct’s skills. Coaching isn’t hard. It doesn’t take much time. For me, it usually takes less than five minutes a week during a one-on-one. The first time I coach one of my directs, I ask them to brainstorm about the skills they want to improve. They usually already have an idea about this. It’s often something they’ve wanted to work on for some time, but didn’t think they had the time or the knowhow to improve. If a direct doesn’t know what they want to improve, we discuss their job responsibilities—specifically the aspects of the job that concern them. Coaching provides an opportunity for me to ask, “In your job, what are the required skills that you feel like you don’t have (or know well enough, or perform effectively, or use with ease)?” Sometimes I have to remind a direct that it’s okay not to know how to do something (even if it’s a required part of their job). After all, our organization is a learning organization. In a learning organization, no one knows everything but everyone is willing to learn anything. After we review the job responsibilities together, I ask my direct what skill they’d like to work to improve. Whatever they choose, we focus on that skill for coaching—I’ve found my directs work better when they’re internally motivated. Sometimes the first time I talk with a direct about coaching, they get a bit anxious. If this happens, I share a personal story about my professional learning journey. I say something like: I didn’t know how to make a school before we started to make Center Centre. I didn’t know how to manage an entire team of people—day in and day out—until I started managing a team of people every day. When I realized that I was the boss—and that the success of the school would hinge, at least in part, on my skills as a manager—I was a bit terrified. I was missing an important skill set that I needed to know (and I needed to know well). When I first understood this, I felt bad—like I should have already known how to be a great manager. But then I realized, I’d never faced this situation. I’d never needed to know how to use this skill set in this way. I worked through my anxiety about feeling inadequate. I decided I’d better learn how to be an effective manager because the school needed me to be one. You needed me to be one. Every day, I work to improve my management skills. You’ve probably noticed that some days I’m better at it than others. I try not to beat myself up about this, although it’s hard—I’d like to be perfect at it. But I’m not. I know that if I make a conscious, daily effort to learn how to be a better manager, I’ll continue to improve. So that’s what I do. Every day I learn. I learn by doing. I learn how to be better than I was the day before. That’s what I ask of you. Once we determine the skill the direct wants to learn, we figure out how they can go about learning it. I ask: “How could you learn this skill?” We brainstorm for two or three minutes about this. We write down every idea that comes to mind, and we write it so both of us can easily see the options (both whiteboards and sticky notes on the wall work well for this exercise). Read a book. Research online. Watch a virtual seminar. Listen to a podcast. Talk to a mentor. Reach out to an expert. Attend a conference. Shadow someone else while they do the skill. Join a professional organization. The goal is to get the direct on a path of self-development. I’m coaching their development, but I’m not the main way my direct will learn this new skill. I ask my direct which path seems like the best place to start. I let them choose whatever option they want (as long as it works with our budget). They are more likely to follow through if they are in control of this process. Next, we work to break down the selected path into tasks. We only plan one week’s worth of tasks. The tasks are small, and the deadlines are short. My direct reports when each task is completed. At our next one-on-one, I ask my direct about their experience learning this new skill. Rinse. Repeat. That’s it. I spend five minutes a week talking with each direct about their individual learning. They develop their professional skills, and together we’re creating a learning-centered culture. Asking questions I don’t know the answer to When my direct said, “I’ve never worked where people are so honest and transparent about things,” it led me to believe that all this is working. We are building a learning-centered culture. This week I was reminded that creating a learning-centered culture starts not just with the staff, but with me. When I challenge myself to learn and then share what I’m currently learning, my directs want to learn more about what I’m learning about. For example, I decided I needed to improve my writing skills. A few weeks ago, I realized that I was sorely out of practice and I felt like I had lost my voice. So I started to write. I put words on paper. I felt overwhelmed. I felt like I didn’t know how to write anymore (at least not well or effectively). I bought some books on writing (mostly Peter Elbow’s books like Writing with Power, Writing Without Teachers, and Vernacular Eloquence), and I read them. I read them all. Reading these books was part of my personal coaching. I used the same steps to coach myself as I use with my directs when I coach them. In stand-ups, I started sharing what I accomplished (like I completed one of the books) and what I learned by doing—specific things, like engaging in freewriting and an open-ended writing process. This week, I went to lunch with one of my directs. She said, “You’ve been talking about freewriting a lot. You’re really excited about it. Freewriting seems like it’s helping your writing process. Would you tell me more about it?” So I shared the details with her. I shared the reasons why I think freewriting is helping. I’m not focused on perfection. Instead, each day I’m focused on spending ten, uninterrupted minutes writing down whatever comes to my mind. It’s opening my writing mind. It’s allowing my words to flow more freely. And it’s helping me feel less self-conscious about my writing. She said, “Leslie, when you say you’re self-conscious about your writing, I laugh. Not because it’s funny. But because when I read what you write, I think, ‘What is there to improve?’ I think you’re a great writer. It’s interesting to know that you think you can be a better writer. I like learning about your learning process. I think I could do freewriting. I’m going to give it a try.” There’s something magical about all of this. I’m not even sure I can eloquently put it into words. I just know that our working environment is something very different. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. Somehow, by sharing that I don’t know everything and that I’m always working to learn more, I invite my directs to be really open about what they don’t know. And they see it’s possible always to learn and grow. I’m glad I ignore all the lawyering I’ve learned from watching TV. I’m glad I ask the questions I don’t know the answers to. And I’m glad my directs do the same. When we meet for learning, we accelerate and amplify the learning process—building individual learners and learning teams. Embracing the unknown and working toward understanding is what makes our culture a learning-centered culture. Photos by Summer Kohlhorst. 2014 Leslie Jensen-Inman lesliejenseninman 2014-12-20T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/meet-for-learning/ process
40 Don’t Push Through the Pain In 2004, I lost my web career. In a single day, it was gone. I was in too much pain to use a keyboard, a Wacom tablet (I couldn’t even click the pen), or a trackball. Switching my mouse to use my left (non-dominant) hand only helped a bit; then that hand went, too. I tried all the easy-to-find equipment out there, except for expensive gizmos with foot pedals. I had tingling in my fingers—which, when I was away from the computer, would rhythmically move as if some other being controlled them. I worried about Parkinson’s because the movements were so dramatic. Pen on paper was painful. Finally, I discovered one day that I couldn’t even turn a doorknob. The only highlight was that I couldn’t dust, scrub, or vacuum. We were forced to hire someone to come in once a week for an hour to whip through the house. You can imagine my disappointment. My injuries had gradually slithered into my life without notice. I’d occasionally have sore elbows, or my wrist might ache for a day, or my shoulders feel tight. But nothing to keyboard home about. That’s the critical bit of news. One day, you’re pretty fine. The next day, you don’t have your job—or any job that requires the use of your hands and wrists. I had to walk away from the computer for over four months—and partially for several months more. That’s right: no income. If I hadn’t found a gifted massage therapist, the right book of stretches, the equipment I should have been using all along, and learned how to pay attention to my body—even just a little bit more—I quite possibly wouldn’t be writing this article today. I wouldn’t be writing anything, anywhere. Most of us have heard of (and even claimed to have read all of) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, who describes the state of flow—the place our minds go when we are fully engaged and in our element. This lovely state of highly focused activity is deeply satisfying, often creative, and quite familiar to many of us on the web who just can’t quit until the copy sings or the code is untangled or we get our highest score yet in Angry Birds. Our minds may enter that flow, but too often as our brains take flight, all else recedes. And we leave something very important behind. Our bodies. My body wasn’t made to make the same minute movements thousands of times a day, most days of the year, for decades, and neither was yours. The wear and tear sneaks up on you, especially if you’re the obsessive perfectionist that we all pretend not to be. Oh? You’re not obsessed? I wasn’t like this all the time, but I remember sitting across from my husband, eating dinner, and I didn’t hear a word he said. I’d left my brain upstairs in my office, where it was wrestling in a death match with the box model or, God help us all, IE 5.2. I was a writer, too, and I was having my first inkling that I was a content strategist. Work was exciting. I could sit up late, in the flow, fingers flying at warp speed. I could sit until those wretched birds outside mocked me with their damn, cheerful “Hurray, it’s morning!” songs. Suddenly, while, say, washing dishes, the one magical phrase that captured the essence of a voice or idea would pop up, and I would have mowed down small animals and toddlers to get to my computer and hammer out that website or article, to capture that thought before it escaped. Note my use of the word hammer. Sound at all familiar? But where was my body during my work? Jaw jutting forward to see the screen, feet oddly positioned—and then left in place like chunks of marble—back unsupported, fingers pounding the keys, wrists and arms permanently twisted in unnatural angles that we thought were natural. And clicking. Clicking, clicking, clicking that mouse. Thumbing tiny keyboards on phones. A lethal little gesture for tiny little tendons. Though I was fine from, say 1997 to 2004, by the end of 2004 this behavior culminated in disaster. I had repetitive stress injuries, aka repetitive motion injuries. As the Apple site says, “A brief exposure to these conditions would not cause harm. But a prolonged exposure may, in some people, result in reduced ability to function.” I’ll say. I frantically turned to people on lists and forums. “Try a track ball.” Already did that. “Try a tablet.” Worse. One person wrote, “I still come here once in a while and can type a couple sentences, but I’ve permanently got thoracic outlet syndrome and I’ll never work again.” Oh, beauteous web, oh, long-distance friends, farewell. The Wrist Bone’s Connected to the Brain Bone That variation on the old song tells part of the story. Most people (and many of their physicians) believe that tingling fingers and aching wrists MUST be carpel tunnel syndrome. Nope. If your neck juts forward, it tenses and stays tense the entire time you work in that position. Remember how your muscles felt after holding a landline phone with your neck tilted to one side for a long client meeting? Regrettable. Tensing your shoulders because your chair’s not designed properly puts you at risk for thoracic outlet syndrome, a career-killer if ever there was one. The nerves and tendons in your neck and shoulder refer down your arms, and muscles swell around nerves, causing pain and dysfunction. Your elbows have a tendon that is especially vulnerable to repetitive movements (think tennis elbow). Your wrists are performing something akin to a circus act with one thousand shows a day. So, all the fine tendons and ligaments in your fingers have problems that may not start at your wrists at all. Though some people truly do have carpal tunnel syndrome, my finger and wrist problems weren’t solved by heavily massaging my fingers (though, that was helpful, too) or my wrists. They were fixed by work on my neck, upper back, shoulders, arms, and elbows. This explains why many people have surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome and just months later say, “What?! How can I possibly have it again? I had an operation!” Well, fellow buckaroo, you may never have had carpel tunnel syndrome. You may have had—or perhaps will have—one long disaster area from your neck to your fingertips. How to Crawl Back Before trying extreme measures, you may be able to function again even if you feel hopeless. I managed to heal, and so have others, but I’ll always be at risk. As Jen Simmons, of The Web Ahead podcast and other projects told me, “It took a long time to injure myself. It took a long time to get back to where I was. My right arm between my elbow and wrist would start aching intermittently. Eventually, my arm even ached at night. I started each day with yesterday’s pain.” Simple measures, used consistently, helped her back. 1. Massage therapy I don’t remember what the rest of the world is like, but in Portland, Oregon, we have more than one massage therapy college. (Of course we do.) I saw a former teacher at the most respected school. This is not your “It was all so soothing. Why, I fell asleep!” massage. This is “Holy crap, he’s grinding his elbow into my armpit!“ massage therapy, with the emphasis on therapy. I owe him everything. Make sure you have someone who really knows what they’re doing. Get many referrals. Try a question, “Does my psoas muscle affect my back?” If they can’t answer it, flee. Regularly see the one you choose and after a while, depending on how injured you are, you may be able to taper off. 2. Change your equipment You may need to be hands-on with several pieces of equipment before you find the ones that don’t cause more pain. Many companies have restocking fees, charges to ship the equipment you want to return, and other retail atrocities. Always be sure to ask what the return policies are at any company before purchasing. Mice You may have more success than I did with equipment such as the Wacom tablet. Mine came with a pen, and it hurt to repetitively click it. Trackballs are another option but, for many, they are better at prevention than recovery. But let’s get to the really effective stuff. One of the biggest sources of pain is using your mouse. One major reason is that your hand and wrist are in a perpetually unnatural position and you’re also moving your arm quite a bit. Each time you move the mouse, it is placing stress on your neck, shoulders and arms, because you need to lift them slightly in order to move the mouse and you need to angle your wrist. You may also be too injured to use the trackpad all the time, and this mouse, the vertical mouse is a dandy preventative measure, too. Shaking up your patterns is a wise move. I have long fingers, not especially thin, yet the small size works best for me. (They have larger choices available.) What?! A sideways mouse? Yep. All the weight of your hand will be resting on it in the handshake position. Your forearms aren’t constantly twisting over hill and dale. You aren’t using any muscles in your wrist or hand. They are relaxing. You’ll adapt in a day, and oh, oh, what a relief it is. Keyboards I really liked doing business with the people at Kinesis-Ergo. (I’m not affiliated with them in any way.) They have the vertical mouse and a number of keyboards. The one that felt the most natural to me, and, once again, it only takes a day to adapt, is the Freestyle2 for the Mac. They have several options. I kept the keyboard halves attached to each other at first, and then spread them apart a little more. I recommend choosing one that slants and can separate. You can adjust the angle. For a little extra, they’ll make sure it’s all set up and ready to go for you. I’m guessing that some Googling will find you similar equipment, wherever you live. Warning: if you use the ergonomic keyboards, you may have fewer USB ports. The laptop will be too far away to see unless you find a satisfactory setup using a stand. This is the perfect excuse for purchasing a humongous display. You may not look cool while jetting coast to coast in your skinny jeans and what appears to be the old-time orthopedic shoe version of computing gear. But once you have rested and used many of these suggestions consistently, you may be able to use your laptop or other device in all its lovely sleekness during the trip. Other doohickies The Kinesis site and The Human Solution have a wide selection of ergonomic products: standing desks, ergonomically correct chairs, and, yes, even things with foot pedals. Explore! 3. Stop clicking, at least for a while Use keyboard shortcuts, but use them slowly. This is not the time to show off your skillz. You’ll be sort of like a recovering alcoholic, in that you’ll be a recovering repetitive stress survivor for the rest of your life, once you really injure yourself. Always be vigilant. There’s also a bit of software sold by The Human Solution and other places, and it was my salvation. It’s called the McNib for Macs, and the Nib for PCs. (I’ve only used the McNib.) It’s for click-free mousing. I found it tricky to use when writing markup and code, but you may become quite adept at it. A little rectangle pops up on your screen, you mouse over it and choose, let’s say, “Double-click.” Until you change that choice, if you mouse over a link or anything else, it will double-click it for you. All you do is glide your mouse around. Awkward for a day or two, but you’ll pick it up quickly. Though you can use it all day for work, even if you just use this for browsing LOLcats or Gary Vaynerchuk’s YouTube videos, it will help you by giving your fingers a sweet break. But here’s the sad news. The developer who invented this died a few years ago. (Yes, I used to speak to him on the phone.) While it is for sale, it isn’t compatible with Mac OS X Lion or anything subsequent. PowerPC strikes again. His site is still up. Demos for use with older software can be downloaded free at his old site, or at The Human Solution. Perhaps an enterprising developer can invent something that would provide this help, without interfering with patents. Rumor has it among ergonomic retailers (yes, I’m like a police dog sniffing my way to a criminal once I head down a trail) that his company was purchased by a company in China, with no update in sight. 4. Use built-in features That little microphone icon that comes up alongside the keyboard on your iPhone allows you to speak your message instead of incessantly thumbing it. I believe it works in any program that uses the keyboard. It’s not Siri. She’s for other things, like having a personal relationship with an inanimate object. Apple even has a good section on ergonomics. You think I’m intense about this subject? To improve your repetitive stress, Apple doesn’t want you to use oral contraceptives, alcohol, or tobacco, to which I say, “Have as much sex, bacon, and chocolate as possible to make up for it.” Apple’s info even has illustrations of things like a faucet dripping into what is labeled a bucket full of “TRAUMA.” Sounds like upgrading to Yosemite, but I digress. 5. Take breaks If it’s a game or other non-essential activity, take a break for a month. Fine, now that I’ve called games non-essential, I suppose you’ll all unfollow me on Twitter. 6. Whether you are sore or not, do stretches throughout the day This is a big one. Really big. The best book on the subject of repetitive stress injuries is Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Other Repetitive Strain Injuries: A Self-Care Program by Sharon J. Butler. Don’t worry, most of it is illustrations. Pretend it’s a graphic novel. I’m notorious for never reading instructions, and who on earth reads the introduction of a book, unless they wrote it? I wrote a book a long time ago, and I bet my house, husband, and life savings that my own parents never read the intro. Well, I did read the intro to this book, and you should, too. Stretching correctly, in a way that doesn’t further hurt you, that keeps you flexible if you aren’t injured, that actually heals you, calls for precision. Read and you’ll see. The key is to stretch just until you start to feel the stretch, even if that’s merely a tiny movement. Don’t force anything past that point. Kindly nurse yourself back to health, or nurture your still-healthy body by stretching. Over the following days, weeks, months, you’ll be moving well past that initial stretch point. The book is brimming with examples. You only have to pick a few stretches, if this is too much to handle. Do it every single day. I can tell you some of the best ones for me, but it depends on the person. You’ll also discover in Butler’s book that areas that you think are the problem are sometimes actually adjacent to the muscle or tendon that is the source of the problem. Add a few stretches or two for that area, too. But please follow the instructions in the introduction. If you overdo it, or perform some other crazy-ass hijinks, as I would be tempted to do, I am not responsible for your outcome. I give you fair warning that I am not a healthcare provider. I’m just telling you as a friend, an untrained one, at that, who has been through this experience. 7. Follow good habits Develop habits like drinking lots of water (which helps with lactic acid buildup in muscles), looking away from the computer for twenty seconds every twenty to thirty minutes, eating right, and probably doing everything else your mother told you to do. Maybe this is a good time to bring up flossing your teeth, and going outside to play instead of watching TV. As your mom would say, “It’s a beautiful day outside, what are you kids doing in here?” 8. Speak instead of writing, if you can Amber Simmons, who is very smart and funny, once tweeted in front of the whole world that, “@carywood is a Skype whore.” I was always asking people on Twitter if we could Skype instead of using iChat or exchanging emails. (I prefer the audio version so I don’t have to, you know, do something drastic like comb my hair.) Keyboarding is tough on hands, whether you notice it or not at the time, and when doing rapid-fire back-and-forthing with people, you tend to speed up your typing and not take any breaks. This is a hand-killer. Voice chats have made such a difference for me that I am still a rabid Skype whore. Wait, did I say that out loud? Speak your text or emails, using Dragon Dictate or other software. In about 2005, accessibility and user experience design expert, Derek Featherstone, in Canada, and I, at home, chatted over the internet, each of us using a different voice-to-text program. The programs made so many mistakes communicating with each other that we began that sort of endless, tearful laughing that makes you think someone may need to call an ambulance. This type of software has improved quite a bit over the years, thank goodness. Lack of accessibility of any kind isn’t funny to Derek or me or to anyone who can’t use the web without pain. 9. Watch your position For example, if you lift up your arms to use the computer, or stare down at your laptop, you’ll need to rearrange your equipment. The internet has a lot of information about ideal ergonomic work areas. Please use a keyboard drawer. Be sure to measure the height carefully so that even a tented keyboard, like the one I recommend, will fit. I also recommend getting the version of the Freestyle with palm supports. Just these two measures did much to help both Jen Simmons and me. 10. If you need to take anti-inflammatories, stop working If you are all drugged up on ibuprofen, and pounding and clicking like mad, your body will not know when you are tired or injuring yourself. I don’t recommend taking these while using your computing devices. Perhaps just take it at night, though I’m not a fan of that category of medications. Check with your healthcare provider. At least ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory, which may help you. In contrast, acetaminophen (paracetamol) only makes your body think it’s not in pain. Ice is great, as is switching back and forth between ice and heat. But again, if you need ice and ibuprofen you really need to take a major break. 11. Don’t forget the rest of your body I’ve zeroed in on my personal area of knowledge and experience, but you may be setting yourself up for problems in other areas of your body. There’s what is known to bad writers as “a veritable cornucopia” of information on the web about how to help the rest of your body. A wee bit of research on the web and you’ll discover simple exercises and stretches for the rest of your potential catastrophic areas: your upper back, your lower back, your legs, ankles, and eyes. Do gentle stretches, three or four times a day, rather than powering your way through. Ease into new equipment such as standing desks. Stretch those newly challenged areas until your body adapts. Pay attention to your body, even though I too often forget mine. 12. Remember the children Kids are using equipment to play highly addictive games or to explore amazing software, and if these call for repetitive motions, children are being set up for future injuries. They’ll grab hold of something, as parents out there know, and play it 3,742 times. That afternoon. Perhaps by the time they are adults, everything will just be holograms and mind-reading, but adult fingers and hands are used for most things in life, not just computing devices and phones with keyboards sized for baby chipmunks. I’ll be watching you Quickly now, while I (possibly) have your attention. Don’t move a muscle. Is your neck tense? Are you unconsciously lifting your shoulders up? How long since you stopped staring at the screen? How bright is your screen? Are you slumping (c’mon now, ‘fess up) and inviting sciatica problems? Do you have to turn your hands at an angle relative to your wrist in order to type? Uh-oh. That’s a bad one. Your hands, wrists, and forearms should be one straight line while keyboarding. Future you is begging you to change your ways. Don’t let your #ThrowbackThursday in 2020 say, “Here’s a photo from when I used to be able to do so many wonderful things that I can’t do now.” And, whatever you do, don’t try for even a nanosecond to push through the pain, or the next thing you know, you’ll be an unpaid extra in The Expendables 7. 2014 Carolyn Wood carolynwood 2014-12-06T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/dont-push-through-the-pain/ business
41 What Is Vagrant and Why Should I Care? If you run a web server, a database server and your scripting language(s) of choice on your main machine and you have not yet switched to using virtualisation in your workflow then this essay may be of some value to you. I know you exist because I bump into you daily: freelancers coming in to work on our projects; internet friends complaining about reinstalling a development environment because of an operating system upgrade; fellow agency owners who struggle to brief external help when getting a particular project up and running; or even hardcore back-end developers who “don’t do ops” and prefer to run their development stack of choice locally. There are many perfectly reasonable arguments as to why you may not have already made the switch, from being simply too busy, all the way through to a distrust of the new. I’ll admit that there are many new technologies or workflows that I hear of daily and instantly disregard because I have tool overload, that feeling I get when I hear about a new shiny thing and think “Well, what I do now works – I’ll leave it for others to play with.” If that’s you when it comes to Vagrant then I hope you’ll hear me out. The business case is compelling enough for you to make that switch; as a bonus it’s also really easy to get going. In this article we’ll start off by going through the high level, the tools available and how it all fits together. Then we’ll touch on the justification for making the switch, providing a few use cases that might resonate with you. Finally, I’ll provide a very simple example that you can follow to get yourself up and running. What? You already know what virtualisation is. You use the ability to run an operating system within another operating system every day. Whether that’s Parallels or VMware on your laptop or similar server-based tools that drive the ‘cloud’, squeezing lots of machines on to physical hardware and making it really easy to copy servers and even clusters of servers from one place to another. It’s an amazing technology which has changed the face of the internet over the past fifteen years. Simply put, Vagrant makes it really easy to work with virtual machines. According to the Vagrant docs: If you’re a designer, Vagrant will automatically set everything up that is required for that web app in order for you to focus on doing what you do best: design. Once a developer configures Vagrant, you don’t need to worry about how to get that app running ever again. No more bothering other developers to help you fix your environment so you can test designs. Just check out the code, vagrant up, and start designing. While I’m not sure I agree with the implication that all designers would get others to do the configuring, I think you’ll agree that the “Just check out the code… and start designing” premise is very compelling. You don’t need Vagrant to develop your web applications on virtual machines. All you need is a virtualisation software package, something like VMware Workstation or VirtualBox, and some code. Download the half-gigabyte operating system image that you want and install it. Then download and configure the stack you’ll be working with: let’s say Apache, MySQL, PHP. Then install some libraries, CuRL and ImageMagick maybe, and finally configure the ability to easily copy files from your machine to the new virtual one, something like Samba, or install an FTP server. Once this is all done, copy the code over, import the database, configure Apache’s virtual host, restart and cross your fingers. If you’re a bit weird like me then the above is pretty easy to do and secretly quite fun. Indeed, the amount of traffic to one of my more popular blog posts proves that a lot of people have been building themselves development servers from scratch for some time (or at least trying to anyway), whether that’s on virtual or physical hardware. Or you could use Vagrant. It allows you, or someone else, to specify in plain text how the machine’s virtual hardware should be configured and what should be installed on it. It also makes it insanely easy to get the code on the server. You check out your project, type vagrant up and start work. Why? It’s worth labouring the point that Vagrant makes it really easy; I mean look-no-tangle-of-wires-or-using-vim-and-loads-of-annoying-command-line-stuff easy to run a development environment. That’s all well and good, I hear you say, but there’s a steep learning curve, an overhead to switch. You’re busy and this all sounds great but you need to get on; you’ve got a career to build or a business to run and you don’t have time to learn new stuff right now. In short, what’s the business case? The business case involves saved time, a very low barrier to entry and the ability to give the exact same environment to somebody else. Getting your first development virtual machine running will take minutes, not counting download time. Seriously, use pre-built Vagrant files and provisioners (we’ll touch on this below) and you can start developing immediately. Once you’ve finished developing you can check in your changes, ask a colleague or freelancer to check them out, and then they run the code on the exact same machine – even if they are on the other side of the world and regardless of whether they are on Windows, Linux or Apple OS X. The configuration to build the machine isn’t a huge binary disk image that’ll take ages to download from Git; it’s two small text files that can be version controlled too, so you can see any changes made to the config and roll back if needed. No more ‘It works for me’ reports; no ‘Oh, I was using PHP 5.3.3, not PHP 5.3.11’ – you’re both working on exact same copies of the development environment. With a tested and verified provisioning file you’ll have the confidence that when you brief your next freelancer in to your team there won’t be that painful to and fro of getting the system up and running, where you’re on a Skype call and they are uttering the immortal words, ‘It still doesn’t work’. You know it works because you can run it too. This portability becomes even more important when you’re working on larger sites and systems. Need a load balancer? Multiple front-end servers and a clustered database back-end? No problem. Add each server into the same Vagrant file and a single command will build all of them. As you’ll know if you work on larger, business critical systems, keeping the operating systems in sync is a real problem: one server with a slightly different library causing sporadic and hard to trace issues is a genuine time black hole. Well, the good news is that you can use the same provisioning files to keep test and production machines in sync using your current build workflow. Let’s also not forget the most simple use case: a single developer with multiple websites running on a single machine. If that’s you and you switch to using Vagrant-managed virtual machines then the next time you upgrade your operating system or do a fresh install there’s no chance that things will all stop working. The server config is all tucked away in version control with your code. Just pull it down and carry on coding. OK, got it. Show me already If you want to try this out you’ll need to install the latest VirtualBox and Vagrant for your platform. If you already have VMware Workstation or another supported virtualisation package installed you can use that instead but you may need to tweak my Vagrant file below. Depending on your operating system, a reboot might also be wise. Note: the commands below were executed on my MacBook, but should also work on Windows and Linux. If you’re using Windows make sure to run the command prompt as Administrator or it’ll fall over when trying to update the hosts file. As a quick sanity check let’s just make sure that we have the vagrant command in our path, so fire up a terminal and check the version number: $ vagrant -v Vagrant 1.6.5 We’ve one final thing to install and that’s the vagrant-hostsupdater plugin. Once again, in your terminal: $ vagrant plugin install vagrant-hostsupdater Installing the 'vagrant-hostsupdater' plugin. This can take a few minutes... Installed the plugin 'vagrant-hostsupdater (0.0.11)'! Hopefully that wasn’t too painful for you. There are two things that you need to manage a virtual machine with Vagrant: a Vagrant file: this tells Vagrant what hardware to spin up a provisioning file: this tells Vagrant what to do on the machine To save you copying and pasting I’ve supplied you with a simple example (ZIP) containing both of these. Unzip it somewhere sensible and in your terminal make sure you are inside the Vagrant folder: $ cd where/you/placed/it/24ways $ ls -l -rw-r--r--@ 1 bealers staff 11055 9 Nov 09:16 bealers-24ways.md -rw-r--r--@ 1 bealers staff 118152 9 Nov 10:08 it-works.png drwxr-xr-x 5 bealers staff 170 8 Nov 22:54 vagrant $ cd vagrant/ $ ls -l -rw-r--r--@ 1 bealers staff 1661 8 Nov 21:50 Vagrantfile -rwxr-xr-x@ 1 bealers staff 3841 9 Nov 08:00 provision.sh The Vagrant file tells Vagrant how to configure the virtual hardware of your development machine. Skipping over some of the finer details, here’s what’s in that Vagrant file: www.vm.box = "ubuntu/trusty64" Use Ubuntu 14.04 for the VM’s OS. Vagrant will only download this once. If another project uses the same OS, Vagrant will use a cached version. www.vm.hostname = "bealers-24ways.dev" Set the machine’s hostname. If, like us, you’re using the vagrant-hostsupdater plugin, this will also get added to your hosts file, pointing to the virtual machine’s IP address. www.vm.provider :virtualbox do |vb| vb.customize ["modifyvm", :id, "--cpus", "2" ] end Here’s an example of configuring the virtual machine’s hardware on the fly. In this case we want two virtual processors. Note: this is specific for the VirtualBox provider, but you could also have a section for VMware or other supported virtualisation software. www.vm.network "private_network", ip: "" This specifies that we want a private networking link between your computer and the virtual machine. It’s probably best to use a reserved private subnet like or www.vm.synced_folder "../", "/var/www/24ways", owner: "www-data", group: "www-data" A particularly handy bit of Vagrant magic. This maps your local 24ways parent folder to /var/www/24ways on the virtual machine. This means the virtual machine already has direct access to your code and so do you. There’s no messy copying or synchronisation – just edit your files and immediately run them on the server. www.vm.provision :shell, :path => "provision.sh" This is where we specify the provisioner, the script that will be executed on the machine. If you open up the provisioner you’ll see it’s a bash script that does things like: install Apache, PHP, MySQL and related libraries configure the libraries: set permissions, enable logging create a database and grant some access rights set up some code for us to develop on; in this case, fire up a vanilla WordPress installation To get this all up and running you simply need to run Vagrant from within the vagrant folder: $ vagrant up You should now get a Matrix-like stream of stuff shooting up the screen. If this is the first time Vagrant has used this particular operating system image – remember we’ve specified the latest version of Ubuntu – it’ll download the disc image and cache it for future reuse. Then all the packages are downloaded and installed and finally all our configuration steps occur incluing the download and configuration of WordPress. Halfway through proceedings it’s likely that the process will halt at a prompt something like this: ==> www: adding to (/etc/hosts) : bealers-24ways.dev # VAGRANT: 2dbfbced1b1e79d2a0942728a0a57ece (www) / 899bd80d-4251-4f6f-91a0-d30f2d9918cc Password: You need to enter your password to give vagrant sudo rights to add the IP address and hostname mapping to your local hosts file. Once finished, fire up your browser and go to http://bealers-24ways.dev. You should see a default WordPress installation. The username for wp-admin is admin and the password is 24ways. If you take a look at your local filesystem the 24ways folder should now look like: $ cd ../ $ ls -l -rw-r--r--@ 1 bealers staff 13074 9 Nov 10:14 bealers-24ways.md drwxr-xr-x 21 bealers staff 714 9 Nov 10:06 code drwxr-xr-x 3 bealers staff 102 9 Nov 10:06 etc -rw-r--r--@ 1 bealers staff 118152 9 Nov 10:08 it-works.png drwxr-xr-x 5 bealers staff 170 9 Nov 10:03 vagrant -rwxr-xr-x 1 bealers staff 1315849 9 Nov 10:06 wp-cli $ cd vagrant/ $ ls -l -rw-r--r--@ 1 bealers staff 1661 9 Nov 09:41 Vagrantfile -rwxr-xr-x@ 1 bealers staff 3836 9 Nov 10:06 provision.sh The code folder contains all the WordPress files. You can edit these directly and refresh that page to see your changes instantly. Staying in the vagrant folder, we’ll now SSH to the machine and have a quick poke around. $ vagrant ssh Welcome to Ubuntu 14.04.1 LTS (GNU/Linux 3.13.0-39-generic x86_64) * Documentation: https://help.ubuntu.com/ System information as of Sun Nov 9 10:03:38 UTC 2014 System load: 1.35 Processes: 102 Usage of /: 2.7% of 39.34GB Users logged in: 0 Memory usage: 16% IP address for eth0: Swap usage: 0% Graph this data and manage this system at: https://landscape.canonical.com/ Get cloud support with Ubuntu Advantage Cloud Guest: http://www.ubuntu.com/business/services/cloud 0 packages can be updated. 0 updates are security updates. vagrant@bealers-24ways:~$ You’re now logged in as the Vagrant user; if you want to become root this is easy: vagrant@bealers-24ways:~$ sudo su - root@bealers-24ways:~# Or you could become the webserver user, which is a good idea if you’re editing the web files directly on the server: root@bealers-24ways:~# su - www-data www-data@bealers-24ways:~$ www-data’s home directory is /var/www so we should be able to see our magically mapped files: www-data@bealers-24ways:~$ ls -l total 4 drwxr-xr-x 1 www-data www-data 306 Nov 9 10:09 24ways drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Nov 9 10:05 html www-data@bealers-24ways:~$ cd 24ways/ www-data@bealers-24ways:~/24ways$ ls -l total 1420 -rw-r--r-- 1 www-data www-data 13682 Nov 9 10:19 bealers-24ways.md drwxr-xr-x 1 www-data www-data 714 Nov 9 10:06 code drwxr-xr-x 1 www-data www-data 102 Nov 9 10:06 etc -rw-r--r-- 1 www-data www-data 118152 Nov 9 10:08 it-works.png drwxr-xr-x 1 www-data www-data 170 Nov 9 10:03 vagrant -rwxr-xr-x 1 www-data www-data 1315849 Nov 9 10:06 wp-cli We can also see some of our bespoke configurations: www-data@bealers-24ways:~/24ways$ cat /etc/php5/mods-available/siftware.ini upload_max_filesize = 15M log_errors = On display_errors = On display_startup_errors = On error_log = /var/log/apache2/php.log memory_limit = 1024M date.timezone = Europe/London www-data@bealers-24ways:~/24ways$ ls -l /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/ total 0 lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 43 Nov 9 10:06 bealers-24ways.dev.conf -> /var/www/24ways/etc/bealers-24ways.dev.conf If you want to leave the server, simply type Ctrl+D a few times and you’ll be back where you started. www-data@bealers-24ways:~/24ways$ logout root@bealers-24ways:~# logout vagrant@bealers-24ways:~$ logout Connection to closed. $ You can now halt the machine: $ vagrant halt ==> www: Attempting graceful shutdown of VM... ==> www: Removing hosts Bonus level The example I’ve provided isn’t very realistic. In the real world I’d expect the Vagrant file and provisioner to be included with the project and for it not to create the directory structure, which should already exist in your project. The same goes for the Apache VirtualHost file. You’ll also probably have a default SQL script to populate the database. As you work with Vagrant you might start to find bash provisioning to be quite limiting, especially if you are working on larger projects which use more than one server. In that case I would suggest you take a look at Ansible, Puppet or Chef. We use Ansible because we like YAML but they all do the same sort of thing. The main benefit is being able to use the same Vagrant provisioning scripts to also provision test, staging and production environments using your build workflows. Having to supply a password so the hosts file can be updated gets annoying very quicky so you can give Vagrant sudo rights: $ sudo visudo Add these lines to the bottom (Shift+G then i then Ctrl+V then Esc then :wq) Cmnd_Alias VAGRANT_HOSTS_ADD = /bin/sh -c echo "*" >> /etc/hosts Cmnd_Alias VAGRANT_HOSTS_REMOVE = /usr/bin/sed -i -e /*/ d /etc/hosts %staff ALL=(root) NOPASSWD: VAGRANT_HOSTS_ADD, VAGRANT_HOSTS_REMOVE Vagrant caches the operating system images that you download but it’ll download the installed software packages every time. You can get around this by using a plugin like vagrant-cachier or, if you’re really keen, maintain local Apt repositories (or whatever the equivalent is for your server architecture). At some point you might start getting a large number of virtual machines running on your poor hardware all at the same time, especially if you’re switching between projects a lot and each of those projects use lots of servers. We’re just getting to that stage now, so are considering a medium-term move to a containerised option like Docker, which seems to be maturing now. If you are keen not to use any command line tools whatsoever and you’re on OS X then you could check out Vagrant Manager as it looks quite shiny. Finally, there are a huge amount of resources to give you pre-built Vagrant machines from the likes of VVV for Wordpress, something similar for Perch, PuPHPet for generating various configurations, and a long list of pre-built operating systems at VagrantBox.es. Wrapping up Hopefully you can now see why it might be worthwhile to add Vagrant to your development workflow. Whether you’re an agency drafting in freelancers or a one-person band running lots of sites on your laptop using MAMP or something similar. Vagrant makes it easy to launch exact copies of the same machine in a repeatable and version controlled way. The learning curve isn’t too steep and, once configured, you can forget about it and focus on getting your work done. 2014 Darren Beale darrenbeale 2014-12-05T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/what-is-vagrant-and-why-should-i-care/ process
42 An Overview of SVG Sprite Creation Techniques SVG can be used as an icon system to replace icon fonts. The reasons why SVG makes for a superior icon system are numerous, but we won’t be going over them in this article. If you don’t use SVG icons and are interested in knowing why you may want to use them, I recommend you check out “Inline SVG vs Icon Fonts” by Chris Coyier – it covers the most important aspects of both systems and compares them with each other to help you make a better decision about which system to choose. Once you’ve made the decision to use SVG instead of icon fonts, you’ll need to think of the best way to optimise the delivery of your icons, and ways to make the creation and use of icons faster. Just like bitmaps, we can create image sprites with SVG – they don’t look or work exactly alike, but the basic concept is pretty much the same. There are several ways to create SVG sprites, and this article will give you an overview of three of them. While we’re at it, we’re going to take a look at some of the available tools used to automate sprite creation and fallback for us. Prerequisites The content of this article assumes you are familiar with SVG. If you’ve never worked with SVG before, you may want to look at some of the introductory tutorials covering SVG syntax, structure and embedding techniques. I recommend the following: SVG basics: Using SVG. Structure: Structuring, Grouping, and Referencing in SVG — The <g>, <use>, <defs> and <symbol> Elements. We’ll mention <use> and <symbol> quite a bit in this article. Embedding techniques: Styling and Animating SVGs with CSS. The article covers several topics, but the section linked focuses on embedding techniques. A compendium of SVG resources compiled by Chris Coyier — contains resources to almost every aspect of SVG you might be interested in. And if you’re completely new to the concept of spriting, Chris Coyier’s CSS Sprites explains all about them. Another important SVG feature is the viewBox attribute. For some of the techniques, knowing your way around this attribute is not required, but it’s definitely more useful if you understand – even if just vaguely – how it works. The last technique mentioned in the article requires that you do know the attribute’s syntax and how to use it. To learn all about viewBox, you can refer to my blog post about SVG coordinate systems. With the prerequisites in place, let’s move on to spriting SVGs! Before you sprite… In order to create an SVG sprite with your icons, you’ll of course need to have these icons ready for use. Some spriting tools require that you place your icons in a folder to which a certain spriting process is to be applied. As such, for all of the upcoming sections we’ll work on the assumption that our SVG icons are placed in a folder named SVG. Each icon is an individual .svg file. You’ll need to make sure each icon is well-prepared and optimised for use – make sure you’ve cleaned up the code by running it through one of the optimisation tools or processes available (or doing it manually if it’s not tedious). After prepping the icon files and placing them in a folder, we’re ready to create our SVG sprite. HTML inline SVG sprites Since SVG is XML code, it can be embedded inline in an HTML document as a code island using the <svg> element. Chris Coyier wrote about this technique first on CSS-Tricks. The embedded SVG will serve as a container for our icons and is going to be the actual sprite we’re going to use. So we’ll start by including the SVG in our document. <!DOCTYPE html> <!-- HTML document stuff --> <svg style="display:none;"> <!-- icons here --> </svg> <!-- other document stuff --> </html> Next, we’re going to place the icons inside the <svg>. Each icon will be wrapped in a <symbol> element we can then reference and use elsewhere in the page using the SVG <use> element. The <symbol> element has many benefits, and we’re using it because it allows us to define a symbol (which is a convenient markup for an icon) without rendering that symbol on the screen. The elements defined inside <symbol> will only be rendered when they are referenced – or called – by the <use> element. Moreover, <symbol> can have its own viewBox attribute, which makes it possible to control the positioning of its content inside its container at any time. Before we move on, I’d like to shed some light on the style="display:none;" part of the snippet above. Without setting the display of the SVG to none, and even though its contents are not rendered on the page, the SVG will still take up space in the page, resulting in a big empty area. In order to avoid that, we’re hiding the SVG entirely with CSS. Now, suppose we have a Twitter icon in the icons folder. twitter.svg might look something like this: <!-- twitter.svg --> <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?> <!DOCTYPE svg PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD SVG 1.1//EN" "http://www.w3.org/Graphics/SVG/1.1/DTD/svg11.dtd"> <svg version="1.1" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink" width="32" height="32" viewBox="0 0 32 32"> <path d="M32 6.076c-1.177 0.522-2.443 0.875-3.771 1.034 1.355-0.813 2.396-2.099 2.887-3.632-1.269 0.752-2.674 1.299-4.169 1.593-1.198-1.276-2.904-2.073-4.792-2.073-3.626 0-6.565 2.939-6.565 6.565 0 0.515 0.058 1.016 0.17 1.496-5.456-0.274-10.294-2.888-13.532-6.86-0.565 0.97-0.889 2.097-0.889 3.301 0 2.278 1.159 4.287 2.921 5.465-1.076-0.034-2.088-0.329-2.974-0.821-0.001 0.027-0.001 0.055-0.001 0.083 0 3.181 2.263 5.834 5.266 6.437-0.551 0.15-1.131 0.23-1.73 0.23-0.423 0-0.834-0.041-1.235-0.118 0.835 2.608 3.26 4.506 6.133 4.559-2.247 1.761-5.078 2.81-8.154 2.81-0.53 0-1.052-0.031-1.566-0.092 2.905 1.863 6.356 2.95 10.064 2.95 12.076 0 18.679-10.004 18.679-18.68 0-0.285-0.006-0.568-0.019-0.849 1.283-0.926 2.396-2.082 3.276-3.398z" fill="#000000"></path> </svg> We don’t need the root svg element, so we’ll strip the code and only keep the parts that make up the Twitter icon’s shape, which in this example is just the <path> element.Let’s drop that into the sprite container like so: <svg style="display:none;"> <symbol id="twitter-icon" viewBox="0 0 32 32"> <path d="M32 6.076c-1.177 …" fill="#000000"></path> </symbol> <!-- remaining icons here --> <symbol id="instagram-icon" viewBox="0 0 32 32"> <!-- icon contents --> </symbol> <!-- etc. --> </svg> Repeat for the other icons. The value of the <symbol> element’s viewBox attribute depends on the size of the SVG. You don’t need to know how the viewBox works to use it in this case. Its value is made up of four parts: the first two will almost always be “0 0”; the second two will be equal to the size of the icon. For example, our Twitter icon is 32px by 32px (see twitter.svg above), so the viewBox value is “0 0 32 32”. That said, it is certainly useful to understand how the viewBox works – it can help you troubleshoot SVG sometimes and gives you better control over it, allowing you to scale, position and even crop SVGs manually without having to resort to an editor. My blog post explains all about the viewBox attribute and its related attributes. Once you have your SVG sprite ready, you can display the icons anywhere on the page by referencing them using the SVG <use> element: <svg class="twitter-icon"> <use xlink:href="#twitter-icon"></use> <svg> And that’s all there is to it! HTML-inline SVG sprites are simple to create and use, but when you have a lot of icons (and the more icon sets you create) it can easily become daunting if you have to manually transfer the icons into the <svg>. Fortunately, you don’t have to do that. Fabrice Weinberg created a Grunt plugin called grunt-svgstore which takes the icons in your SVG folder and generates the SVG sprites for you; all you have to do is just drop the sprites into your page and use the icons like we did earlier. This technique works in all browsers supporting SVG. There seems to be a bug in Safari on iOS which causes the icons not to show up when the SVG sprite is defined at the bottom of the document after the <use> references to the icons, so it’s safest to include the sprite before you use the icons until this bug is fixed. This technique has one disadvantage: the SVG sprite cannot be cached. We’re saving an extra HTTP request here but the browser cannot cache the image, so we aren’t speeding up any subsequent page loads by inlining the SVG. There must be a better way – and there is. Styling the icons is possible, but getting deep into the styles becomes a bit harder owing to the nature of the contents of the <use> element – these contents are cloned into a shadow DOM, and hence selecting elements in CSS the traditional way is not possible. However, some techniques to work around that do exist, and give us slightly more styling flexibility. Animations work as expected. Referencing an external SVG sprite in HTML Instead of including the SVG inline in the document, you can reference the sprite and the icons inside it externally, taking advantage of fragment identifiers to select individual icons in the sprite. For example, the above reference to the Twitter icon would look something like this instead: <svg class="twitter-icon"> <use xlink:href="path/to/icons.svg#twitter-icon"></use> <svg> icons.svg is the name of the SVG file that contains all of our icons as symbols, and the fragment identifier #twitter-icon is the reference to the <symbol> wrapping the Twitter icon’s contents. Very convenient, isn’t it? The browser will request the sprite and then cache it, speeding up subsequent page loads. Win! This technique also works in all browsers supporting SVG except Internet Explorer – not even IE9+ with SVG support permits this technique. No version of IE supports referencing an external SVG in <use>. Fortunately (again), Jonathan Neil has created a plugin called svg4everybody which fills this gap in IE; you can reference an external sprite in <use> and also provide fallback for browsers that do not support SVG. However, it requires you to have the fallback images (PNG or JPEG, for example) available to do so. For details, refer to the plugin’s Github repository’s readme file. CSS inline SVG sprites Another way to create an SVG sprite is by inlining the SVG icons in a style sheet using data URIs, and providing fallback for non-supporting browsers – also within the CSS. Using this approach, we’re turning the style sheet into the sprite that includes our icons. The style sheet is normally cached by the browser, so we have that concern out of the way. This technique is put into practice in Filament Group’s icon system approach, which uses their Grunticon plugin – or its sister Grumpicon web app – for generating the necessary CSS for the sprite. As such, we’re going to cover this technique by following a workflow that uses one of these tools. Again, we start with our icon SVG files. To focus on the actual spriting method and not on the tooling, I’ll go over the process of sprite creation using the Grumpicon web app, instead of the Grunticon plugin. Both tools generate the same resources that we’re going to use for the icon system. Whether you choose the web app or the Grunt set-up, after processing your SVG folder you’re going to end up with the same set of resources that we’ll be using throughout this section. The first step is to drop your icons into the Grumpicon web app. Grumpicon homepage screenshot. The application will then show you a preview of your icons, and a download button will allow you to download the generated files. These files will contain everything you need for your icon system – all that’s left is for you to drop the generated files and code into your project as recommended and you’ll have your sprite and icons ready to use anywhere you want in your page. Grumpicon generates five files and one folder in the downloaded package: a png folder containing PNG versions of your icons; three style sheets (that we’ll go over briefly); a loader script file; and preview.html which is a live example showing you the other files in action. The script in the loader goes into the <head> of your page. This script handles browser and feature detection, and requests the necessary style sheet depending on browser support for SVG and base64 data URIs. If you view the source code of the preview page, you can see exactly how the script is added. icons.data.svg.css is the style sheet that contains your icons – the sprite. The icons are embedded inline inside the style sheet using data URIs, and applied to elements of your choice as background images, using class names. For example: .twitter-icon{ background-image: url('data:image/svg+xml;…'); /* the ellipsis is where the icon’s data would go */ background-repeat: no-repeat; background-position: 50% 50%; height: 2em; width: 2em; /* etc. */ } Then, you only have to apply the twitter-icon class name to an element in your HTML to apply the icon as a background to it: <span class="twitter-icon"></span> And that’s all you need to do to get an icon on the page. icons.data.svg.css, along with the other two style sheets and the png folder should be added to your CSS folder. icons.data.png.css is the style sheet the script will load in browsers that don’t support SVG, such as IE8. Fallback for the inline SVG is provided as a base64-encoded PNG. For instance, the fallback for the Twitter icon from our example would look like so: .twitter-icon{ background-image: url('data:image/png;base64;…’); /* etc. */ } icons.fallback.css is the style sheet required for browsers that don’t support base64-encoded PNGs – the PNG images are loaded as usual using the image’s URL. The script will load this style sheet for IE6 and IE7, for example. .twitter-icon{ background-image: url(png/twitter-icon.png); /* etc. */ } This technique is very different from the previous one. The sprite in this case is literally the style sheet, not an SVG container, and the icon usage is very similar to that of a CSS sprite – the icons are provided as background images. This technique has advantages and disadvantages. For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into further details, but the main limitations worth mentioning are that SVGs embedded as background images cannot be styled with CSS; and animations are restricted to those defined inside the <svg> for each icon. CSS interactions (such as hover effects) don’t work either. Thus, to apply an effect for an icon that changes its color on hover, for example, you’ll need to export a set of SVGs for each colour in order for Grumpicon to create matching fallback PNG images that can then be used for the animation. For more details about the Grumpicon workflow, I recommend you check out “A Designer’s Guide to Grumpicon” on Filament Group’s website. Using SVG fragment identifiers and views This spriting technique is, again, different from the previous ones, and it is my personal favourite. SVG comes with a standard way of cropping to a specific area in a particular SVG image. If you’ve ever worked with CSS sprites before then this definitely sounds familiar: it’s almost exactly what we do with CSS sprites – the image containing all of the icons is cropped, so to speak, to show only the one icon that we want in the background positioning area of the element, using background size and positioning properties. Instead of using background properties, we’ll be using SVG’s viewBox attribute to crop our SVG to the specific icon we want. What I like about this technique is that it is more visual than the previous ones. Using this technique, the SVG sprite is treated like an actual image containing other images (the icons), instead of treating it as a piece of code containing other code. Again, our SVG icons are placed inside a main SVG container that is going to be our SVG sprite. If you’re working in a graphics editor, position or arrange your icons inside the canvas any way you want them to be, and then export the graphic as is. Of course, the less empty space there is in your SVG, the better. In our example, the sprite contains three icons as shown in the following image. The sprite is open in Sketch. Notice how the SVG is just big enough to fit the icons inside it. It doesn’t have to be like this, but it’s cleaner this way. Screenshot showing the SVG sprite containing our icons. Now, suppose you want to display only the Instagram icon. Using the SVG viewBox attribute, we can crop the SVG to the icon. The Instagram icon is positioned at 64px along the positive x-axis, and zero pixels along the y-axis. It is also 32px by 32px in size. Screenshot showing the position (offset) of the Instagram icon inside the SVG sprite, and its size. Using this information, we can specify the value of the viewBox as: 64 0 32 32. This area of the view box contains only the Instagram icon. 64 0 specifies the top-left corner of the view box area, and 32 32 specify its dimensions. Now, if we were to change the viewBox value on the SVG sprite to this value, only the Instagram icon will be visible inside the SVG viewport. Great. But how do we use this information to display the icon in our page using our sprite? SVG comes with a native way to link to portions or areas of an image using fragment identifiers. Fragment identifiers are used to link into a particular view area of an SVG document. Thus, using a fragment identifier and the boundaries of the area that we want (from the viewBox), we can link to that area and display it. For example, if you want to display the icon from the sprite using an <img> tag, you can reference the icon in the sprite like so: <img src='uiIcons.svg#svgView(viewBox(64, 0, 32, 32))' alt="Settings icon"/> The fragment identifier in the snippet above (#svgView(viewBox(64, 0, 32, 32))) is the important part. This will result in only the Instagram icon’s area of the sprite being displayed. There is also another way to do this, using the SVG <view> element. The <view> element can be used to define a view area and then reference that area somewhere else. For example, to define the view box containing the Instagram icon, we can do the following: <view id='instagram-icon' viewBox='64 0 32 32' /> Then, we can reference this view in our <img> element like this: <img src='sprite.svg#instagram-icon' alt="Instagram icon" /> The best part about this technique – besides the ability to reference an external SVG and hence make use of browser caching – is that it allows us to use practically any SVG embedding technique and does not restrict us to specific tags. It goes without saying that this feature can be used for more than just icon systems, owing to viewBox’s power in controlling an SVG’s viewable area. SVG fragment identifiers have decent browser support, but the technique is buggy in Safari: there is a bug that causes problems when loading a server SVG file and then using fragment identifiers with it. Bear Travis has documented the issue and a workaround. Where to go from here Pick the technique that works best for your project. Each technique has its own pros and cons, relating to convenience and maintainability, performance, and styling and scripting. Each technique also requires its own fallback mechanism. The spriting techniques mentioned here are not the only techniques available. Other methods exist, such as SVG stacks, and others may surface in future, but these are the three main ones today. The third technique using SVG’s built-in viewBox features is my favourite, and with better browser support and fewer (ideally, no) bugs, I believe it is more likely to become the standard way to create and use SVG sprites. Fallback techniques can be created, of course, in one of many possible ways. Do you use SVG for your icon system? If so, which is your favourite technique? Do you know or have worked with other ways for creating SVG sprites? 2014 Sara Soueidan sarasoueidan 2014-12-16T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/an-overview-of-svg-sprite-creation-techniques/ code
43 Content Production Planning While everyone agrees that getting the content of a website right is vital to its success, unless you’re lucky enough to have an experienced editor or content strategist on board, planning content production often seems to fall through the cracks. One reason is that, for most of the team, it feels like someone else’s problem. Not necessarily a specific person’s problem. Just someone else’s. It’s only when everyone starts urgently asking when the content is going to be ready, that it becomes clear the answer is, “Not as soon as we’d like it”. The good news is that there are some quick and simple things you can do, even if you’re not the official content person on a project, to get everyone on the same content planning page. Content production planning boils down to answering three deceptively simple questions: What content do you need? How much of it do you need? Who’s going to make it? Even if it’s not your job to come up with the answers, by asking these questions early enough and agreeing who is going to come up with the answers, you’ll be a long way towards avoiding the last-minute content problems which so often plague projects. How much content do we need? People tend to underestimate two crucial things about content: how much content they need, and how long that content takes to produce. When I ask someone how big their website is – how many pages it contains – I usually double or triple the answer I get. That’s because almost everyone’s mental model of their website greatly underestimates its true size. You can see the problem for yourself if you look at a site map. Site maps are great at representing a mental model of a website. But because they’re a deliberate simplification they naturally lead us to underestimate how much content is involved in populating them. Several years ago I was asked to help a client create a new microsite (their word) which they wanted ready in two weeks for a conference they were attending. Here’s the site map they had in mind. At first glance it looks like a pretty small website. Maybe twenty to thirty pages? That’s what the client thought. But see those boxes which are multiple boxes stacked on top of one another, for product categories, descriptions and supporting material? They’re known as page stacks, and page stacks are the content strategy equivalent of Here Be Dragons. Say we have: five product categories each with five products which all have two or three supporting documents Those are still fairly small numbers. But small numbers multiplied by other small numbers tend to lead to big numbers. 5 categories = 5 category descriptions plus 5 categories × 5 products each = 25 product descriptions plus 25 products × 2.5 (average) supporting documents = 63 supporting documents equals 93 pages Suddenly our twenty- or thirty-page website is running towards one hundred. That’s probably enough to get most project teams to sit up and take notice. But there’s still the danger of underestimating how long it’s going to take to create the content. After all, assuming the supporting documents already exist in some form, there are only about twenty-five to thirty pages of new copy to write. How much work is it? Again, we have the problem that small numbers when multiplied by other small numbers tend to lead to big numbers. Let’s make a rough guess that it’ll take four hours to write each product category and description page we need. That feels a little conservative if we’re writing stuff from scratch, but assuming the person doing it already knows the products fairly well it’s not unreasonable. 30 pages × 4 hours each = 120 hours 120 hours ÷ 7.5 working hours a day = 16 days Ouch. At this point it’s pretty clear we’re not getting this site launched in two weeks. The goal is the conversation By breaking down the site into its content components, and putting some rough estimates on how long each might take to produce, the client instantly realised that there was no way they would be ready to launch it in two weeks. Although we still didn’t know exactly when it would be ready, getting to that realisation right at the start of the project was a major win for everybody. Without it, the design agency would have bust a gut to get the design, front-end and CMS all done in double-quick time, only to find it was all for nothing as barely half the content was ready. As it was, an early discussion about content, albeit a brief one, bought everyone time to tackle the project properly, without pulling any long nights or working weekends. If you haven’t been able to get people to discuss content plans for the project, these kinds of rough estimates should give you enough evidence to get everyone to start taking it seriously. Your goal is to get everyone on the project to a place where they are ready to talk in detail about who is going to create this content, and how long it’s really going to take them, and to get to those conversations before lack of content becomes a problem. Be careful though. It’s best to talk in ranges and round numbers when your estimates are this uncertain. And watch those multipliers. Given small numbers multiplied by other small numbers lead to big numbers, changing just one number can greatly change the overall estimate. I like to run a couple of different scenarios to check what things look like if I’ve under- or overestimated either how many pages we’re going to need, or how long they’re going to take to create. For example: Top end: 30 pages × 5 hours = 150 hours, or 20 days Bottom end: 25 pages × 4 hours = 100 hours, or 13.3 days So rather than say, “I estimate the content will take around sixteen days to produce”, I’m going to say, “I think the content will take about three to four weeks to produce”. Even with qualifiers like estimate and around, sixteen days sounds too precise. Whereas three to four weeks instantly conveys that this is just a rough figure. Who’s going to make it? So, people tend to underestimate two crucial things about content: how much content they need, and how long content takes to write. At this stage, you’re still in danger of the latter, because it’s tempting to simply estimate how much time content takes to write (or record, if we’re talking audio or visual content), and overlook all the other work that needs to goes on around it. Take 24 ways as an example. In terms of our three deceptively simple questions: what is practical articles about web design; how many is twenty-four, one for each day of Advent; and who are experts working on the web, one to write each article. But there’s another who you might not have considered. Someone needs to select those authors in the first place, make sure they deliver their articles on time (and find someone to replace them if they don’t), review drafts, copy-edit and proofread final versions, upload them to the site, promote them, keep an eye on the comments and make sure there are still presents under the tree on Christmas morning. Even if each of those tasks only takes an hour or so, it then needs multiplying by twenty-four (except the presents, obviously). And as we’ve already seen, small numbers multiplied by small numbers quickly turn into much bigger numbers. Just a few hours per article, when multiplied by twenty-four articles, easily multiplies up to days or even weeks of effort. To get a more accurate estimate of how long the different kinds of content are going to take, you need to break down the content production work into its constituent stages, starting with planning, moving on through the main work of creation, to reviewing, approvals and finally publishing. You need to think about who needs to be involved at each step, and how much time they’ll need to do their bit. Taken together, these things make up your content workflow. The workflow will be different for each organisation, but might look something like this: Eddie the web editor will work out the key messages and objectives for each page, and agree them with Mo the marketing director. Eddie will then get Cal, the copywriter, to write the first draft. As part of that, Cal will interview Sam the subject expert to understand the intricacies of the subject and get all the facts straight. Once Cal’s done the first draft, it’ll go to Sam to check for accuracy, while Eddie reviews it for style and message. Once Cal has incorporated their feedback it’s time to get Mo to have a look at the final draft. If Mo’s happy, it’ll get a final proofread, be uploaded to the CMS, and Mo will give the final sign-off and release it for publishing. You can plot this on a table, with the stages of the content production process down the side, and the key roles or personnel along with top. Then the team can estimate how much time they think each of them needs at each stage. Mo (marketing director) Sam (subject expert) Eddie (web editor) Cal (copywriter) Outline: define key messages and objectives 30 min Review outline 15 min First draft 30 min 3 hours Review 1st draft 30 min 30 min 2nd draft 1 hour Review 2nd draft 15 min 15 min 15 min Final amendments 30 min Proofread 15 min Upload 15 min Sign-off 10 min TOTAL 40 min 1 hour 15 min 1 hour 30 min 4 hours 45 min You can then bring out your calculator again, and come up with some more big scary numbers showing how much time it’s going to take for the whole team to get all the content needed not just written, but also planned, reviewed, approved and published. With an experienced team you can run this exercise as a group workshop and get some fairly accurate estimates pretty quickly. If this is all a bit new to you, check out Gather Content’s Content Production Planning for Agencies ebook for a useful guide to common content roles, ballpark estimates for how much time each one needs on a typical piece of content, and how to run a process and estimating workshop to dig into them in more detail. On a small team, one person might play many roles, but you should still sanity-check your estimates by breaking down the process and putting a rough estimate on each stage. With only a couple of people involved, it’s even easier to only include the core activity like writing or recording in your estimates, and forget to allow time for the planning, reviewing, proofreading, publishing and promoting you’ll still need to do. And even in a team of one, if at all possible you should find at least one other person to act as a second pair of eyes, and give anything you produce a quick once-over and proofread before it’s published. Depending on the kind of content you’re making, you should also consider what will happen after it’s published. The full content life cycle should include promotion, monitoring and regular reviews to make sure content stays accurate and up to date. Making sure you have the time and resources available to do all those things for each piece of content is essential for creating a sustainable content programme. The proof of the pudding Even after digging into workflow and getting the whole team involved in estimating, you’re still largely in the realm of the guesstimate. The good news, though, is that you can quite quickly start finding out if your guesstimates are right or not. As soon as you can, pilot the production process with some real content. This is a double-win: you start finding out how long it really takes to produce all this fab new content, and you get real content to work with in designs and prototypes. Once you’ve run a few things through your process, you’ll be able to refine your estimates, confirm your workflow, and give everyone involved a clear idea of when it will all be ready, and what you need from them. Keeping it all on track At this point I like to pull everything together into the content strategist’s favourite tool: the spreadsheet. A simple content production checklist is a bit like a content inventory or audit, but for the content you don’t yet have, not the stuff already done. You can grab an example here. Each piece of content gets its own row, with columns for basic information like page title, ID (which should match the site map), and who’s responsible for making it. You can capture simple details like target audience and key messages here too, though for more complex content, page description tables like those described by Relly Annett-Baker in “Extracting the Content” may be a better tool to use. Just adapt these columns to whatever makes sense for your content. I then have columns to track where each piece is in the production process. I usually keep this simple, with a column each to mark whether it’s draft, final or uploaded. The status column on the left automatically shows the item’s status, using a simple traffic light colour scheme for whether the item is still to do (red), in draft (amber), or done (green). Seeing the whole thing slowly turn from red to green is a nice motivator. If you want to track the workflow in more detail, a kanban board in a tool like Trello is a great way for a team to collaborate on content production, track each item’s progress, and keep an eye out for bottlenecks and delays. Getting to the content strategy conversation It’s a relatively simple exercise, then, to decide not just what kinds of pages you need, but also how many of them: put some rough estimates of effort on the tasks needed to create those pages – not just the writing, but all the other stages of planning, reviewing, approving, publishing and promoting – and then multiply all those things together. This will quickly bring some reality to grand visions and overambitious plans. Do it early enough, and even when the final big scary number is a lot bigger and scarier than everyone thought, you’ll still have time to do something about it. As well as getting everyone on board for some proper content planning activities, that big scary number is your opportunity to get to the real core questions of content strategy: do we really need all this content? Where can existing content be reused and repurposed? How do we prioritise our efforts? What really matters to our readers and users? Time and again, case studies show that less content delivers more: more leads, more sales, more self-service support and savings in the call centre. Although that argument is primarily one you should make from a good-for-the-users perspective, it doesn’t hurt to be able to make it from the cheaper-for-the-business perspective as well, and to have some big scary numbers to back that up. 2014 Sophie Dennis sophiedennis 2014-12-17T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/content-production-planning/ content
44 Taglines and Truisms To bring her good luck, “white rabbits” was the first thing that my grandmother said out loud on the first day of every month. We all need a little luck, but we shouldn’t rely on it, especially when it comes to attracting new clients. The first thing we say to a prospective client when they visit our website for the first time helps them to understand not only what we do but why we do it. We can also help them understand why they should choose to work with us over one of our competitors. Take a minute or two to look at your competitors’ websites. What’s the first thing that they say about themselves? Do they say that they “design delightful digital experiences,” “craft beautiful experiences” or “create remarkable digital experiences?” It’s easy to find companies who introduce themselves with what they do, their proposition, but what a company does is only part of their story. Their beliefs and values, what they stand for why they do what they do are also important. When someone visits our websites for the first time, we have only a brief moment to help them understand us. To help us we can learn from the advertising industry, where the job of a tagline is to communicate a concept, deliver a message and sell a product, often using only a few words. When an advertising campaign is effective, its tagline stays with you, sometimes long after that campaign is over. For example, can you remember which company or brand these taglines help to sell? (Answers at the bottom of the article:) The Ultimate Driving Machine Just Do It Don’t Leave Home Without It A clever tagline isn’t just a play on words, although it can include one. A tagline does far more than help make your company memorable. Used well, it brings together notions of what makes your company and what you offer special. Then it expresses those notions in a few words or possibly a short sentence. I’m sure that everyone can find examples of company slogans written in the type of language that should stay within the walls of a marketing department. We can also find taglines where the meaning is buried so deep that the tag itself becomes effectively meaningless. A meaningful tagline supports our ideas about who we are and what we offer, and provides a platform for different executions of them, sometimes over a period of time. For a tagline to work well, it must allow for current and future ideas about a brand. It must also be meaningful to our brand and describe a truism, a truth that need not be a fact or statistic, but something that’s true about us, who we are, what we do and why that’s distinctive. It can be obvious, funny, serious or specific but above all it must be true. It should also be difficult to argue with, making your messages difficult to argue with too. I doubt that I need remind you who this tagline belongs to: There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else there’s MasterCard. That tagline was launched in 1997 by McCann-Erickson along with the “Priceless” campaign and it helped establish MasterCard as a friendlier credit card company, one with a sense of humour. MasterCard’s truism is that the things which really matter in life can’t be bought. They are worth more than anything that a monetary value can be applied to. In expressing that truism through the tagline, MasterCard’s advertising tells people to use not just any credit card, but their MasterCard, to pay for everything they buy. “Guinness is good for you” may have been a stretch, but “Good things come to those who wait” builds on the truism that patience is a virtue and therefore a good pint of Guinness takes time to pour (119.5 seconds. I know you were wondering.) The fact that British Airways flies to more destinations than any other airline is their truism, and led their advertisers to the now famous tagline, “The world’s favourite airline.” At my company, Stuff & Nonsense, we’ve been thinking about taglines as we think about our position within an industry that seems full of companies who “design”, “craft”, and “create” “delightful”, “beautiful”, “remarkable digital experiences”. Much of what made us different has changed along with the type of work we’re interested in doing. Our work’s expanded beyond websites and now includes design for mobile and other media. It’s true we can’t know how or where it will be seen. The ways that we make it are flexible too as we’re careful not to become tied to particular tools or approaches. It’s also true that we’re a small team. One that’s flexible enough to travel around the world to work alongside our clients. We join their in-house teams and we collaborate with them in ways that other agencies often find more difficult. We know that our clients appreciate our flexibility and have derived enormous value from it. We know that we’ve won business because of it and that it’s now a big part of our proposition. Our truism is that we’re flexible, “Fabulously flexible” as our tagline now expresses. And although we know that there may be other agencies who can be similarly flexible – after all, being flexible is not a unique selling proposition – only we do it so fabulously. As the old year rolls into the new, how will your company describe what you do in 2015? More importantly, how will you tell prospective clients why you do it, what matters to you and why they should work with you? Start by writing a list of truisms about your company. Write as many as you can, but then whittle that list down to just one, the most important truth. Work on that truism to create a tagline that’s meaningful, difficult to be argue with and, above all, uniquely yours. Answers The Ultimate Driving Machine (BMW) Just Do It (Nike) Don’t Leave Home Without It (American Express) 2014 Andy Clarke andyclarke 2014-12-23T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/taglines-and-truisms/ business
45 Is Agile Harder for Agencies? I once sat in a pitch meeting and watched a new business exec tell a potential client that his agency followed an agile workflow process at all times. The potential client nodded wisely, and they both agreed that agile was indeed the way to go. The meeting progressed and they signed off on a contract for a massive project, to be delivered in a standard waterfall fashion, with all manner of phases and key deliverables. Of course both of them left the meeting perfectly happy, because neither of them knew nor cared what an agile workflow process might be. That was about five years ago. As 2015 heaves into view I think it’s fair to say that attitudes have changed. Perhaps the same number of people claim to do Agile™ now as in 2010, but I think more of them are telling the truth. As a developer in an agency that works primarily with larger organisations, this year I have started to see a shift from agencies pushing agile methodologies with their clients, to clients requesting and even demanding agile practices from their agencies. Only a couple of years ago this would have been unusual behaviour. So what’s the problem? We should be happy then, no? Those of us in agencies will get to spend more time delivering great products, and less time arguing over out-of-date functional specs or battling through an adversarial change management procedure because somebody had a good idea during development rather than planning. We get to be a little bit more like our brothers and sisters in vaunted teams like the Government Digital Service, which is using agile approaches to great effect on projects that have a real benefit to their users. Almost. Unfortunately, it seems to be the case that adhering to an agile framework such as scrum is more difficult within an agency/client structure than it is for an in-house development team. This is no surprise. The Agile Manifesto was written in 2001 by a group of software developers for their own use. Many of the underlying principles of a framework like Scrum assume the existence of an in-house team, working on a highly technical project, and working for the business that employs them. The agency/client model must to some extent be retrofitted into agile frameworks. It can be done though, and there are plenty of agencies out there doing it well. This article isn’t meant to be another introduction to agile techniques – there are too many of those online already. This article is for people just dipping their toes into this way of working. I’ve laid out a few of the key reasons why adopting a more fully agile approach seems difficult, at least initially, for those of us working in agencies. 1. Agile asks more of your clients When a team adopts Scrum everyone has to get used to a number of unfamiliar roles and rituals. Few team members have a steeper learning curve than the person designated as the product owner. The product owner carries a lot of weight on their shoulders. They have to uphold the overall vision for the project. They are also meant to be the primary author of the project’s user stories (short atomic descriptions of project features which are testable and relate to a real business need). They should own this list of stories (called a backlog) and should be able to prioritise the order in which the stories are developed, to ensure that the project is delivering real value to the business early and often. When a burst of work is completed (bursts of work in Scrum are called sprints), the product owner leads a review or show-and-tell session with the wider project stakeholders. The product owner needs to understand the work that has been completed, and must champion it to the business. Finally, and most importantly, the product owner is responsible for managing the feedback and requests from stakeholders in such a way that they don’t derail the project team’s agreed workload for any given sprint, without upsetting or offending any of the stakeholders – some of whom may outrank the product owner. If you follow that spec, this is a job for a superhuman in any organisational context. And within the agency/client structure this superhuman needs to be client-side for the process to be at its most effective. So your client, who in the past might have briefed a project to an agency team and then had the work presented back to them every few weeks, is now asked to be involved with the team on a daily basis; to fight on behalf of the team when new or difficult requests come in from senior figures within their organisation; and to present the agency’s work to their own colleagues after each sprint. It’s a big change if all that gets dropped into someone’s lap without warning. There are several ways agencies can mitigate this issue. The ScrumAlliance suggests some alternative ways to structure the product owner role. The approach I have taken in the past is simply to start slow, and gradually move more of the product owner role over to the client side as and when they feel comfortable with it. If you’re working together long-term on a project, and you both see tangible improvements in the quality of the work after adopting an agile process, then your client is more likely to be open to further changes as the partnership progresses. 2. My client wants fixed costs, fixed deadlines and a fixed scope I know. Mine too. Of course they do – it is the way that agencies and clients have agreed to work in digital and other creative service industries for a very long time. On both sides of the fence we’re used to thinking about projects in this way. Of the three, fixing scope is the one that agile purists would rail hardest against. The more time we spend working on digital projects, the less sense it makes. James Archer, CEO of UI/UX design agency Forty puts it like this: For me, the Agile approach is really about acknowledging that disturbing truth that every project manager knows, but has trouble admitting. The truth that the project plan is wrong. Scope creep. Change orders. Shifting priorities. New directions. We act shocked and appalled when those things happen during our carefully planned project, even though they happen on every project ever. Successful relationships require trust and honesty, and we shouldn’t be afraid of discussing this aspect of project management. If you do move away from a fixed scope of work, then the other two items (costs and timings) can be fixed – more or less. If you can get your clients to buy into this from a standing start then you are doing well. In fact you probably deserve a promotion. For most of us this is a continual discussion. Anyway, as soon as you’ve made headway on the argument that it makes little or no sense to try and fix the scope of a digital project, you usually run into a related concern, which we’ll look at next. 3. Fear of uncontrolled costs We all know that a dog is for life, not just for Christmas. At this time of year perhaps we should reiterate to everyone that digital products and services also need support and love once we have taken the decision to bring them into the world. More organisations are realising that their investment in digital platforms should be viewed as an operational expenditure rather than a capital expenditure. But from time to time we will find ourselves working on projects for people who have a finite amount of money to invest in a product at a given point in time. When agencies start talking about these projects as rolling investments those responsible can understandably worry about their costs running out of control. There’s another factor at play here. Agile, on the whole, prefers to derive a cost for services from the hours a team spends working on a project. In other industries this is referred to as charging for time and materials, and there seems to be an ingrained distrust in this approach among people in general. See, for example, the Citizens Advice Bureau’s “Top tips for employing a builder”: “Bear in mind that if you pay a daily rate, this makes it easier for a builder to string the work out and get more money so agree what you will do if the job takes longer than expected.” It’s hard not to feel stung if you are in the builder’s shoes here, as we are when we’re talking about our role as an agency. But if you’ve ever haggled with a builder over time and materials, and also moaned about your clients misunderstanding agile methods, take a moment to reflect on the similarities from your client’s point of view. Again, there are some things we can do to mitigate this issue. Some agencies put in place a service level agreement around their team’s velocity (an agile-related term related to how much work a team delivers in any given sprint) and this can help. As the industry moves further towards a long-term approach to investment in digital I hope this fear will subside. But that shift in approach leads to the final concern I want to address. 4. Agency structures need shaking up If you work for a company that has spent many years developing a business model around the waterfall process, you may have to break through many layers of entrenched thinking in order to establish new practices and effect organisational change. There are consultancies that exist specifically to help agencies through their own agile transformation. One of these companies, AgencyAgile, provides a helpful list of common pitfalls. They emphasise the need to look at your whole agency’s structure, rather than simply encouraging project teams to adopt new workflows. Even awesomely run Agile projects can have a limited impact on the overall organization. If you’re serious about changing the way your company approaches projects then try talking to people who sit outside the usual project delivery team. Speak to the finance department if you have one, and try to convince your senior management team if they’re not already on board. And definitely speak to your new business people, who go out there and win the projects you get to work on. It’s these people who need to understand the potential business benefits of working in a new way, and also which of their existing habits and behaviours they might need to change to accommodate a new approach. Otherwise you’ll find yourself with a team of designers, developers and project managers who are ready and waiting to deliver work in an iterative and collaborative way, but by the time they get hold of the project a cost has already been agreed, a deadline has been imposed, and a functional requirements document has been painstakingly put together. Nobody wins in this situation. Conclusion So where should we go from here? I certainly don’t have hard and fast answers – I’m not sure that they exist in a one-size-fits-all approach for agencies. There are plenty of smart people thinking about this problem. It’s a hot topic right now. Earlier in the year a London-based meetup was established called Agile for Agencies. If you’re in the capital and want to discuss these issues with your peers it’s a great opportunity to do so. I’ve mentioned James Archer and Forty already. Both James and Paul Boag have written in the last twelve months on this subject. They both come out on the side of the argument that suggests you adopt agile principles, but don’t have to worry about the rituals if they don’t fit in with your practices. Personally, I think the rituals and the discipline mandated by an agile framework like Scrum can provide a great deal of value to your team, even it if is hard to implement within an agency culture that has traditionally structured its work and its services in another way. In whatever way you figure out the details, when your teams collaborate with your clients rather than work for them at arm’s length, and when everyone prioritises frequent delivery, reflection and iteration over exhaustive scoping and planning, I believe you’ll see a tangible difference in the quality of the work that you create. 2014 Charlie Perrins charlieperrins 2014-12-12T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/is-agile-harder-for-agencies/ process
46 Responsive Enhancement 24 ways has been going strong for ten years. That’s an aeon in internet timescales. Just think of all the changes we’ve seen in that time: the rise of Ajax, the explosion of mobile devices, the unrecognisably changed landscape of front-end tooling. Tools and technologies come and go, but one thing has remained constant for me over the past decade: progressive enhancement. Progressive enhancement isn’t a technology. It’s more like a way of thinking. Instead of thinking about the specifics of how a finished website might look, progressive enhancement encourages you to think about the fundamental meaning of what the website is providing. So instead of thinking of a website in terms of its ideal state in a modern browser on a nice widescreen device, progressive enhancement allows you to think about the core functionality in a more abstract way. Once you’ve figured out what the core functionality is – adding an item to a shopping cart, posting a message, sharing a photo – then you can enable that functionality in the simplest possible way. That usually means starting with good old-fashioned HTML. Links and forms are often all you need. Then, once you have the core functionality working in a basic way, you can start to enhance to make a progressively better experience for more modern browsers. The advantage of working this way isn’t just that your site will work in older browsers (albeit in a rudimentary way). It also ensures that if anything goes wrong in a modern browser, it won’t be catastrophic. There’s a common misconception that progressive enhancement means that you’ll spend your time dealing with older browsers, but in fact the opposite is true. Putting the basic functionality into place doesn’t take very long at all. And once you’ve done that, you’re free to spend all your time experimenting with the latest and greatest browser technologies, secure in the knowledge that even if they aren’t universally supported yet, that’s OK: you’ve already got your fallback in place. The key to thinking about web development this way is realising that there isn’t one final interface – there could be many, slightly different interfaces depending on the properties and capabilities of any particular user agent at any particular moment. And that’s OK. Websites do not need to look the same in every browser. Once you truly accept that, it’s an immensely liberating idea. Instead of spending your time trying to make websites look the same in wildly varying browsers, you can spend your time making sure that the core functionality of what you build works everywhere, while providing the best possible experience for more capable browsers. Allow me to demonstrate with a simple example: navigation. Step one: core functionality Let’s say we have a straightforward website about the twelve days of Christmas, with a page for each day. The core functionality is pretty clear: To read about any particular day. To browse from day to day. The first is easily satisfied by marking up the text with headings, paragraphs and all the usual structural HTML elements. The second is satisfied by providing a list of good ol’ hyperlinks. Now where’s the best place to position this navigation list? Personally, I’m a big fan of the jump-to-footer pattern. This puts the content first and the navigation second. At the top of the page there’s a link with an href attribute pointing to the fragment identifier for the navigation. <body> <main role="main" id="top"> <a href="#menu" class="control">Menu</a> ... </main> <nav role="navigation" id="menu"> ... <a href="#top" class="control">Dismiss</a> </nav> </body> See the footer-anchor pattern in action. Because it’s nothing more than a hyperlink, this works in just about every browser since the dawn of the web. Following hyperlinks is what web browsers were made to do (hence the name). Step two: layout as an enhancement The footer-anchor pattern is a particularly neat solution on small-screen devices, like mobile phones. Once more screen real estate is available, I can use the magic of CSS to reposition the navigation above the content. I could use position: absolute, flexbox or, in this case, display: table. @media all and (min-width: 35em) { .control { display: none; } body { display: table; } [role="navigation"] { display: table-caption; columns: 6 15em; } } See the styles for wider screens in action Step three: enhance! Right. At this point I’m providing core functionality to everyone, and I’ve got nice responsive styles for wider screens. I could stop here, but the real advantage of progressive enhancement is that I don’t have to. From here on, I can go crazy adding all sorts of fancy enhancements for modern browsers, without having to worry about providing a fallback for older browsers – the fallback is already in place. What I’d really like is to provide a swish off-canvas pattern for small-screen devices. Here’s my plan: Position the navigation under the main content. Listen out for the .control links being activated and intercept that action. When those links are activated, toggle a class of .active on the body. If the .active class exists, slide the content out to reveal the navigation. Here’s the CSS for positioning the content and navigation: @media all and (max-width: 35em) { [role="main"] { transition: all .25s; width: 100%; position: absolute; z-index: 2; top: 0; right: 0; } [role="navigation"] { width: 75%; position: absolute; z-index: 1; top: 0; right: 0; } .active [role="main"] { transform: translateX(-75%); } } In my JavaScript, I’m going to listen out for any clicks on the .control links and toggle the .active class on the body accordingly: (function (win, doc) { 'use strict'; var linkclass = 'control', activeclass = 'active', toggleClassName = function (element, toggleClass) { var reg = new RegExp('(s|^)' + toggleClass + '(s|$)'); if (!element.className.match(reg)) { element.className += ' ' + toggleClass; } else { element.className = element.className.replace(reg, ''); } }, navListener = function (ev) { ev = ev || win.event; var target = ev.target || ev.srcElement; if (target.className.indexOf(linkclass) !== -1) { ev.preventDefault(); toggleClassName(doc.body, activeclass); } }; doc.addEventListener('click', navListener, false); }(this, this.document)); I’m all set, right? Not so fast! Cutting the mustard I’ve made the assumption that addEventListener will be available in my JavaScript. That isn’t a safe assumption. That’s because JavaScript – unlike HTML or CSS – isn’t fault-tolerant. If you use an HTML element or attribute that a browser doesn’t understand, or if you use a CSS selector, property or value that a browser doesn’t understand, it’s no big deal. The browser will just ignore what it doesn’t understand: it won’t throw an error, and it won’t stop parsing the file. JavaScript is different. If you make an error in your JavaScript, or use a JavaScript method or property that a browser doesn’t recognise, that browser will throw an error, and it will stop parsing the file. That’s why it’s important to test for features before using them in JavaScript. That’s also why it isn’t safe to rely on JavaScript for core functionality. In my case, I need to test for the existence of addEventListener: (function (win, doc) { if (!win.addEventListener) { return; } ... }(this, this.document)); The good folk over at the BBC call this kind of feature test cutting the mustard. If a browser passes the test, it cuts the mustard, and so it gets the enhancements. If a browser doesn’t cut the mustard, it doesn’t get the enhancements. And that’s fine because, remember, websites don’t need to look the same in every browser. I want to make sure that my off-canvas styles are only going to apply to mustard-cutting browsers. I’m going to use JavaScript to add a class of .cutsthemustard to the document: (function (win, doc) { if (!win.addEventListener) { return; } ... var enhanceclass = 'cutsthemustard'; doc.documentElement.className += ' ' + enhanceclass; }(this, this.document)); Now I can use the existence of that class name to adjust my CSS: @media all and (max-width: 35em) { .cutsthemustard [role="main"] { transition: all .25s; width: 100%; position: absolute; z-index: 2; top: 0; right: 0; } .cutsthemustard [role="navigation"] { width: 75%; position: absolute; z-index: 1; top: 0; right: 0; } .cutsthemustard .active [role="main"] { transform: translateX(-75%); } } See the enhanced mustard-cutting off-canvas navigation. Remember, this only applies to small screens so you might have to squish your browser window. Enhance all the things! This was a relatively simple example, but it illustrates the thinking behind progressive enhancement: once you’re providing the core functionality to everyone, you’re free to go crazy with all the latest enhancements for modern browsers. Progressive enhancement doesn’t mean you have to provide all the same functionality to everyone – quite the opposite. That’s why it’s key to figure out early on what the core functionality is, and make sure that it can be provided with the most basic technology. But from that point on, you’re free to add many more features that aren’t mission-critical. You should reward more capable browsers by giving them more of those features, such as animation in CSS, geolocation in JavaScript, and new input types in HTML. Like I said, progressive enhancement isn’t a technology. It’s a way of thinking. Once you start thinking this way, you’ll be prepared for whatever the next ten years throws at us. 2014 Jeremy Keith jeremykeith 2014-12-09T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/responsive-enhancement/ code
47 Developing Robust Deployment Procedures Once you have developed your site, how do you make it live on your web hosting? For many years the answer was to log on to your server and upload the files via FTP. Over time most hosts and FTP clients began to support SFTP, ensuring your files were transmitted over a secure connection. The process of deploying a site however remained the same. There are issues with deploying a site in this way. You are essentially transferring files one by one to the server without any real management of that transfer. If the transfer fails for some reason, you may end up with a site that is only half updated. It can then be really difficult to work out what hasn’t been replaced or added, especially where you are updating an existing site. If you are updating some third-party software your update may include files that should be removed, but that may not be obvious to you and you risk leaving outdated files littering your file system. Updating using (S)FTP is a fragile process that leaves you open to problems caused by both connectivity and human error. Is there a better way to do this? You’ll be glad to know that there is. A modern professional deployment workflow should have you moving away from fragile manual file transfers to deployments linked to code committed into source control. The benefits of good practice You may never have experienced any major issues while uploading files over FTP, and good FTP clients can help. However, there are other benefits to moving to modern deployment practices. No surprises when you launch If you are deploying in the way I suggest in this article you should have no surprises when you launch because the code you committed from your local environment should be the same code you deploy – and to staging if you have a staging server. A missing vital file won’t cause things to start throwing errors on updating the live site. Being able to work collaboratively Source control and good deployment practice makes working with your clients and other developers easy. Deploying first to a staging server means you can show your client updates and then push them live. If you subcontract some part of the work, you can give your subcontractor the ability to deploy to staging, leaving you with the final push to launch, once you know you are happy with the work. Having a proper backup of site files with access to them from anywhere The process I will outline requires the use of hosted, external source control. This gives you a backup of your latest commit and the ability to clone those files and start working on them from any machine, wherever you are. Being able to jump back into a site quickly when the client wants a few changes When doing client work it is common for some work to be handed over, then several months might go by without you needing to update the site. If you don’t have a good process in place, just getting back to work on it may take several hours for what could be only a few hours of work in itself. A solid method for getting your local copy up to date and deploying your changes live can cut that set-up time down to a few minutes. The tool chain In the rest of this article I assume that your current practice is to deploy your files over (S)FTP, using an FTP client. You would like to move to a more robust method of deployment, but without blowing apart your workflow and spending all Christmas trying to put it back together again. Therefore I’m selecting the most straightforward tools to get you from A to B. Source control Perhaps you already use some kind of source control for your sites. Today that is likely to be Git but you might also use Subversion or Mercurial. If you are not using any source control at all then I would suggest you choose Git, and that is what I will be working with in this article. When you work with Git, you always have a local repository. This is where your changes are committed. You also have the option to push those changes to a remote repository; for example, GitHub. You may well have come across GitHub as somewhere you can go to download open source code. However, you can also set up private repositories for sites whose code you don’t want to make publicly accessible. A hosted Git repository gives you somewhere to push your commits to and deploy from, so it’s a crucial part of our tool chain. A deployment service Once you have your files pushed to a remote repository, you then need a way to deploy them to your staging environment and live server. This is the job of a deployment service. This service will connect securely to your hosting, and either automatically (or on the click of a button) transfer files from your Git commit to the hosting server. If files need removing, the service should also do this too, so you can be absolutely sure that your various environments are the same. Tools to choose from What follows are not exhaustive lists, but any of these should allow you to deploy your sites without FTP. Hosted Git repositories GitHub Beanstalk Bitbucket Standalone deployment tools Deploy dploy.io FTPloy I’ve listed Beanstalk as a hosted Git repository, though it also includes a bundled deployment tool. Dploy.io is a standalone version of that tool just for deployment. In this tutorial I have chosen two separate services to show how everything fits together, and because you may already be using source control. If you are setting up all of this for the first time then using Beanstalk saves having two accounts – and I can personally recommend them. Putting it all together The steps we are going to work through are: Getting your local site into a local Git repository Pushing the files to a hosted repository Connecting a deployment tool to your web hosting Setting up a deployment Get your local site into a local Git repository Download and install Git for your operating system. Open up a Terminal window and tell Git your name using the following command (use the name you will set up on your hosted repository). > git config --global user.name "YOUR NAME" Use the next command to give Git your email address. This should be the address that you will use to sign up for your remote repository. > git config --global user.email "YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS" Staying in the command line, change to the directory where you keep your site files. If your files are in /Users/rachel/Sites/mynicewebite you would type: > cd /Users/rachel/Sites/mynicewebsite The next command tells Git that we want to create a new Git repository here. > git init We then add our files: > git add . Then commit the files: > git commit -m “Adding initial files” The bit in quotes after -m is a message describing what you are doing with this commit. It’s important to add something useful here to remind yourself later why you made the changes included in the commit. Your local files are now in a Git repository! However, everything should be just the same as before in terms of working on the files or viewing them in a local web server. The only difference is that you can add and commit changes to this local repository. Want to know more about Git? There are some excellent resources in a range of formats here. Setting up a hosted Git repository I’m going to use Atlassian Bitbucket for my first example as they offer a free hosted and private repository. Create an account on Bitbucket. Then create a new empty repository and give it a name that will identify the repository easily. Click Getting Started and under Command Line select “I have an existing project”. This will give you a set of instructions to run on the command line. The first instruction is just to change into your working directory as we did before. We then add a remote repository, and run two commands to push everything up to Bitbucket. cd /path/to/my/repo git remote add origin https://myuser@bitbucket.org/myname/24ways-tutorial.git git push -u origin --all git push -u origin --tags When you run the push command you will be asked for the password that you set for Bitbucket. Having entered that, you should be able to view the files of your site on Bitbucket by selecting the navigation option Source in the sidebar. You will also be able to see commits. When we initially committed our files locally we added the message “Adding initial files”. If you select Commits from the sidebar you’ll see we have one commit, with the message we set locally. You can imagine how useful this becomes when you can look back and see why you made certain changes to a project that perhaps you haven’t worked on for six months. Before working on your site locally you should run: > git pull in your working directory to make sure you have all of the most up-to-date files. This is especially important if someone else might work on them, or you just use multiple machines. You then make your changes and add any changed or modified files, for example: > git add index.php Commit the change locally: > git commit -m “updated the homepage” Then push it to Bitbucket: > git push origin master If you want to work on your files on a different computer you clone them using the following command: > git clone https://myuser@bitbucket.org/myname/24ways-tutorial.git You then have a copy of your files that is already a Git repository with the Bitbucket repository set up as a remote, so you are all ready to start work. Connecting a deployment tool to your repository and web hosting The next step is deploying files. I have chosen to use a deployment tool called Deploy as it has support for Bitbucket. It does have a monthly charge – but offers a free account for open source projects. Sign up for your account then log in and create your first project. Select Create an empty project. Under Configure Repository Details choose Bitbucket and enter your username and password. If Deploy can connect, it will show you your list of projects. Select the one you want. The next screen is Add New Server and here you need to configure the server that you want to deploy to. You might set up more than one server per project. In an ideal world you would deploy to a staging server for your client preview changes and then deploy once everything is signed off. For now I’ll assume you just want to set up your live site. Give the server a name; I usually use Production for the live web server. Then choose the protocol to connect with. Unless your host really does not support SFTP (which is pretty rare) I would choose that instead of FTP. You now add the same details your host gave you to log in with your SFTP client, including the username and password. The Path on server should be where your files are on the server. When you log in with an SFTP client and you get put in the directory above public_html then you should just be able to add public_html here. Once your server is configured you can deploy. Click Deploy now and choose the server you just set up. Then choose the last commit (which will probably be selected for you) and click Preview deployment. You will then get a preview of which files will change if you run the deployment: the files that will be added and any that will be removed. At the very top of that screen you should see the commit message you entered right back when you initially committed your files locally. If all looks good, run the deployment. You have taken the first steps to a more consistent and robust way of deploying your websites. It might seem like quite a few steps at first, but you will very soon come to realise how much easier deploying a live site is through this process. Your new procedure step by step Edit your files locally as before, testing them through a web server on your own computer. Commit your changes to your local Git repository. Push changes to the remote repository. Log into the deployment service. Hit the Deploy now button. Preview the changes. Run the deployment and then check your live site. Taking it further I have tried to keep things simple in this article because so often, once you start to improve processes, it is easy to get bogged down in all the possible complexities. If you move from deploying with an FTP client to working in the way I have outlined above, you’ve taken a great step forward in creating more robust processes. You can continue to improve your procedures from this point. Staging servers for client preview When we added our server we could have added an additional server to use as a staging server for clients to preview their site on. This is a great use of a cheap VPS server, for example. You can set each client up with a subdomain – clientname.yourcompany.com – and this becomes the place where they can view changes before you deploy them. In that case you might deploy to the staging server, let the client check it out and then go back and deploy the same commit to the live server. Using Git branches As you become more familiar with using Git, and especially if you start working with other people, you might need to start developing using branches. You can then have a staging branch that deploys to staging and a production branch that is always a snapshot of what has been pushed to production. This guide from Beanstalk explains how this works. Automatic deployment to staging I wouldn’t suggest doing automatic deployment to the live site. It’s worth having someone on hand hitting the button and checking that everything worked nicely. If you have configured a staging server, however, you can set it up to deploy the changes each time a commit is pushed to it. If you use Bitbucket and Deploy you would create a deployment hook on Bitbucket to post to a URL on Deploy when a push happens to deploy the code. This can save you a few steps when you are just testing out changes. Even if you have made lots of changes to the staging deployment, the commit that you push live will include them all, so you can do that manually once you are happy with how things look in staging. Further Reading The tutorials from Git Client Tower, already mentioned in this article, are a great place to start if you are new to Git. A presentation from Liam Dempsey showing how to use the GitHub App to connect to Bitbucket Try Git from Code School The Git Workbook a self study guide to Git from Lorna Mitchell Get set up for the new year I love to start the New Year with a clean slate and improved processes. If you are still wrangling files with FTP then this is one thing you could tick off your list to save you time and energy in 2015. Post to the comments if you have suggestions of tools or ideas for ways to enhance this type of set-up for those who have already taken the first steps. 2014 Rachel Andrew rachelandrew 2014-12-04T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/developing-robust-deployment-procedures/ process
48 A Holiday Wish A friend and I were talking the other day about why clients spend more on toilet cleaning than design, and how the industry has changed since the mid-1990s, when we got our starts. Early in his career, my friend wrote a fine CSS book, but for years he has called himself a UX designer. And our conversation got me thinking about how I reacted to that title back when I first started hearing it. “Just what this business needs,” I said to myself, “another phony expert.” Okay, so I was wrong about UX, but my touchiness was not altogether unfounded. In the beginning, our industry was divided between freelance jack-of-all-trade punks, who designed and built and coded and hosted and Photoshopped and even wrote the copy when the client couldn’t come up with any, and snot-slick dot-com mega-agencies that blew up like Alice and handed out titles like impoverished nobles in the years between the world wars. I was the former kind of designer, a guy who, having failed or just coasted along at a cluster of other careers, had suddenly, out of nowhere, blossomed into a web designer—an immensely curious designer slash coder slash writer with a near-insatiable lust to shave just one more byte from every image. We had modems back then, and I dreamed in sixteen colors. My source code was as pretty as my layouts (arguably prettier) and I hoovered up facts and opinions from newsgroups and bulletin boards as fast as any loudmouth geek could throw them. It was a beautiful life. But soon, too soon, the professional digital agencies arose, buying loft buildings downtown, jacking in at T1 speeds, charging a hundred times what I did, and communicating with their clients in person, in large artfully bedecked rooms, wearing hand-tailored Barney’s suits and bringing back the big city bullshit I thought I’d left behind when I quit advertising to become a web designer. Just like the big bad ad agencies of my early career, the new digital agencies stocked every meeting with a totem pole worth of ranks and titles. If the client brought five upper middle managers to the meeting, the agency did likewise. If fifteen stakeholders got to ask for a bigger logo, fifteen agency personnel showed up to take notes on the percentage of enlargement required. But my biggest gripe was with the titles. The bigger and more expensive the agency, the lousier it ran with newly invented titles. Nobody was a designer any more. Oh, no. Designer, apparently, wasn’t good enough. Designer was not what you called someone you threw that much money at. Instead of designers, there were user interaction leads and consulting middleware integrators and bilabial experience park rangers and you name it. At an AIGA Miami event where I was asked to speak in the 1990s, I once watched the executive creative director of the biggest dot-com agency of the day make a presentation where he spent half his time bragging that the agency had recently shaved down the number of titles for people who basically did design stuff from forty-six to just twenty-three—he presented this as though it were an Einsteinian coup—and the other half of his time showing a film about the agency’s newly opened branch in Oslo. The Oslo footage was shot in December. I kept wondering which designer in the audience who lived in the constant breezy balminess of Miami they hoped to entice to move to dark, wintry Norway. But I digress. Shortly after I viewed this presentation, the dot-com world imploded, brought about largely by the euphoric excess of the agencies and their clients. But people still needed websites, and my practice flourished—to the point where, in 1999, I made the terrifying transition from guy in his underwear working freelance out of his apartment to head of a fledgling design studio. (Note: you never stop working on that change.) I had heard about experience design in the 1990s, but assumed it was a gig for people who only knew one font. But sometime around 2004 or 2005, among my freelance and small-studio colleagues, like a hobbit in the Shire, I began hearing whispers in the trees of a new evil stirring. The fires of Mordor were burning. Web designers were turning in their HTML editing tools and calling themselves UXers. I wasn’t sure if they pronounced it “uck-sir,” or “you-ex-er,” but I trusted their claims to authenticity about as far as I trusted the actors in a Doctor Pepper commercial when they claimed to be Peppers. I’m an UXer, you’re an UXer, wouldn’t you like to be an UXer too? No thanks, said I. I still make things. With my hands. Such was my thinking. I may have earned an MFA at the end of some long-past period of soul confusion, but I have working-class roots and am profoundly suspicious of, well, everything, but especially of anything that smacks of pretense. I got exporting GIFs. I didn’t get how white papers and bullet points helped anybody do anything. I was wrong. And gradually I came to know I was wrong. And before other members of my tribe embraced UX, and research, and content strategy, and the other airier consultant services, I was on board. It helped that my wife of the time was a librarian from Michigan, so I’d already bought into the cult of information architecture. And if I wasn’t exactly the seer who first understood how borderline academic practices related to UX could become as important to our medium and industry as our craft skills, at least I was down a lot faster than Judd Apatow got with feminism. But I digress. I love the web and all the people in it. Today I understand design as a strategic practice above all. The promise of the web, to make all knowledge accessible to all people, won’t be won by HTML5, WCAG 2, and responsive web design alone. We are all designers. You may call yourself a front-end developer, but if you spend hours shaving half-seconds off an interaction, that’s user experience and you, my friend, are a designer. If the client asks, “Can you migrate all my old content to the new CMS?” and you answer, “Of course we can, but should we?”, you are a designer. Even our users are designers. Think about it. Once again, as in the dim dumb dot-com past, we seem to be divided by our titles. But, O, my friends, our varied titles are only differing facets of the same bright gem. Sisters, brothers, we are all designers. Love on! Love on! And may all your web pages, cards, clusters, clumps, asides, articles, and relational databases be bright. 2014 Jeffrey Zeldman jeffreyzeldman 2014-12-18T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/a-holiday-wish/ ux
49 Universal React One of the libraries to receive a huge amount of focus in 2015 has been ReactJS, a library created by Facebook for building user interfaces and web applications. More generally we’ve seen an even greater rise in the number of applications built primarily on the client side with most of the logic implemented in JavaScript. One of the main issues with building an app in this way is that you immediately forgo any customers who might browse with JavaScript turned off, and you can also miss out on any robots that might visit your site to crawl it (such as Google’s search bots). Additionally, we gain a performance improvement by being able to render from the server rather than having to wait for all the JavaScript to be loaded and executed. The good news is that this problem has been recognised and it is possible to build a fully featured client-side application that can be rendered on the server. The way in which these apps work is as follows: The user visits www.yoursite.com and the server executes your JavaScript to generate the HTML it needs to render the page. In the background, the client-side JavaScript is executed and takes over the duty of rendering the page. The next time a user clicks, rather than being sent to the server, the client-side app is in control. If the user doesn’t have JavaScript enabled, each click on a link goes to the server and they get the server-rendered content again. This means you can still provide a very quick and snappy experience for JavaScript users without having to abandon your non-JS users. We achieve this by writing JavaScript that can be executed on the server or on the client (you might have heard this referred to as isomorphic) and using a JavaScript framework that’s clever enough handle server- or client-side execution. Currently, ReactJS is leading the way here, although Ember and Angular are both working on solutions to this problem. It’s worth noting that this tutorial assumes some familiarity with React in general, its syntax and concepts. If you’d like a refresher, the ReactJS docs are a good place to start.  Getting started We’re going to create a tiny ReactJS application that will work on the server and the client. First we’ll need to create a new project and install some dependencies. In a new, blank directory, run: npm init -y npm install --save ejs express react react-router react-dom That will create a new project and install our dependencies: ejs is a templating engine that we’ll use to render our HTML on the server. express is a small web framework we’ll run our server on. react-router is a popular routing solution for React so our app can fully support and respect URLs. react-dom is a small React library used for rendering React components. We’re also going to write all our code in ECMAScript 6, and therefore need to install BabelJS and configure that too. npm install --save-dev babel-cli babel-preset-es2015 babel-preset-react Then, create a .babelrc file that contains the following: { "presets": ["es2015", "react"] } What we’ve done here is install Babel’s command line interface (CLI) tool and configured it to transform our code from ECMAScript 6 (or ES2015) to ECMAScript 5, which is more widely supported. We’ll need the React transforms when we start writing JSX when working with React. Creating a server For now, our ExpressJS server is pretty straightforward. All we’ll do is render a view that says ‘Hello World’. Here’s our server code: import express from 'express'; import http from 'http'; const app = express(); app.use(express.static('public')); app.set('view engine', 'ejs'); app.get('*', (req, res) => { res.render('index'); }); const server = http.createServer(app); server.listen(3003); server.on('listening', () => { console.log('Listening on 3003'); }); Here we’re using ES6 modules, which I wrote about on 24 ways last year, if you’d like a reminder. We tell the app to render the index view on any GET request (that’s what app.get('*') means, the wildcard matches any route). We now need to create the index view file, which Express expects to be defined in views/index.ejs: <!DOCTYPE html> <html> <head> <title>My App</title> </head> <body> Hello World </body> </html> Finally, we’re ready to run the server. Because we installed babel-cli earlier we have access to the babel-node executable, which will transform all your code before running it through node. Run this command: ./node_modules/.bin/babel-node server.js And you should now be able to visit http://localhost:3003 and see ‘Hello World’ right there: Building the React app Now we’ll build the React application entirely on the server, before adding the client-side JavaScript right at the end. Our app will have two routes, / and /about which will both show a small amount of content. This will demonstrate how to use React Router on the server side to make sure our React app plays nicely with URLs. Firstly, let’s update views/index.ejs. Our server will figure out what HTML it needs to render, and pass that into the view. We can pass a value into our view when we render it, and then use EJS syntax to tell it to output that data. Update the template file so the body looks like so: <body> <%- markup %> </body> Next, we’ll define the routes we want our app to have using React Router. For now we’ll just define the index route, and not worry about the /about route quite yet. We could define our routes in JSX, but I think for server-side rendering it’s clearer to define them as an object. Here’s what we’re starting with: const routes = { path: '', component: AppComponent, childRoutes: [ { path: '/', component: IndexComponent } ] } These are just placed at the top of server.js, after the import statements. Later we’ll move these into a separate file, but for now they are fine where they are. Notice how I define first that the AppComponent should be used at the '' path, which effectively means it matches every single route and becomes a container for all our other components. Then I give it a child route of /, which will match the IndexComponent. Before we hook these routes up with our server, let’s quickly define components/app.js and components/index.js. app.js looks like so: import React from 'react'; export default class AppComponent extends React.Component { render() { return ( <div> <h2>Welcome to my App</h2> { this.props.children } </div> ); } } When a React Router route has child components, they are given to us in the props under the children key, so we need to include them in the code we want to render for this component. The index.js component is pretty bland: import React from 'react'; export default class IndexComponent extends React.Component { render() { return ( <div> <p>This is the index page</p> </div> ); } } Server-side routing with React Router Head back into server.js, and firstly we’ll need to add some new imports: import React from 'react'; import { renderToString } from 'react-dom/server'; import { match, RoutingContext } from 'react-router'; import AppComponent from './components/app'; import IndexComponent from './components/index'; The ReactDOM package provides react-dom/server which includes a renderToString method that takes a React component and produces the HTML string output of the component. It’s this method that we’ll use to render the HTML from the server, generated by React. From the React Router package we use match, a function used to find a matching route for a URL; and RoutingContext, a React component provided by React Router that we’ll need to render. This wraps up our components and provides some functionality that ties React Router together with our app. Generally you don’t need to concern yourself about how this component works, so don’t worry too much. Now for the good bit: we can update our app.get('*') route with the code that matches the URL against the React routes: app.get('*', (req, res) => { // routes is our object of React routes defined above match({ routes, location: req.url }, (err, redirectLocation, props) => { if (err) { // something went badly wrong, so 500 with a message res.status(500).send(err.message); } else if (redirectLocation) { // we matched a ReactRouter redirect, so redirect from the server res.redirect(302, redirectLocation.pathname + redirectLocation.search); } else if (props) { // if we got props, that means we found a valid component to render // for the given route const markup = renderToString(<RoutingContext {...props} />); // render `index.ejs`, but pass in the markup we want it to display res.render('index', { markup }) } else { // no route match, so 404. In a real app you might render a custom // 404 view here res.sendStatus(404); } }); }); We call match, giving it the routes object we defined earlier and req.url, which contains the URL of the request. It calls a callback function we give it, with err, redirectLocation and props as the arguments. The first two conditionals in the callback function just deal with an error occuring or a redirect (React Router has built in redirect support). The most interesting bit is the third conditional, else if (props). If we got given props and we’ve made it this far it means we found a matching component to render and we can use this code to render it: ... } else if (props) { // if we got props, that means we found a valid component to render // for the given route const markup = renderToString(<RoutingContext {...props} />); // render `index.ejs`, but pass in the markup we want it to display res.render('index', { markup }) } else { ... } The renderToString method from ReactDOM takes that RoutingContext component we mentioned earlier and renders it with the properties required. Again, you need not concern yourself with what this specific component does or what the props are. Most of this is data that React Router provides for us on top of our components. Note the {...props}, which is a neat bit of JSX syntax that spreads out our object into key value properties. To see this better, note the two pieces of JSX code below, both of which are equivalent: <MyComponent a="foo" b="bar" /> // OR: const props = { a: "foo", b: "bar" }; <MyComponent {...props} /> Running the server again I know that felt like a lot of work, but the good news is that once you’ve set this up you are free to focus on building your React components, safe in the knowledge that your server-side rendering is working. To check, restart the server and head to http://localhost:3003 once more. You should see it all working! Refactoring and one more route Before we move on to getting this code running on the client, let’s add one more route and do some tidying up. First, move our routes object out into routes.js: import AppComponent from './components/app'; import IndexComponent from './components/index'; const routes = { path: '', component: AppComponent, childRoutes: [ { path: '/', component: IndexComponent } ] } export { routes }; And then update server.js. You can remove the two component imports and replace them with: import { routes } from './routes'; Finally, let’s add one more route for ./about and links between them. Create components/about.js: import React from 'react'; export default class AboutComponent extends React.Component { render() { return ( <div> <p>A little bit about me.</p> </div> ); } } And then you can add it to routes.js too: import AppComponent from './components/app'; import IndexComponent from './components/index'; import AboutComponent from './components/about'; const routes = { path: '', component: AppComponent, childRoutes: [ { path: '/', component: IndexComponent }, { path: '/about', component: AboutComponent } ] } export { routes }; If you now restart the server and head to http://localhost:3003/about` you’ll see the about page! For the finishing touch we’ll use the React Router link component to add some links between the pages. Edit components/app.js to look like so: import React from 'react'; import { Link } from 'react-router'; export default class AppComponent extends React.Component { render() { return ( <div> <h2>Welcome to my App</h2> <ul> <li><Link to='/'>Home</Link></li> <li><Link to='/about'>About</Link></li> </ul> { this.props.children } </div> ); } } You can now click between the pages to navigate. However, everytime we do so the requests hit the server. Now we’re going to make our final change, such that after the app has been rendered on the server once, it gets rendered and managed in the client, providing that snappy client-side app experience. Client-side rendering First, we’re going to make a small change to views/index.ejs. React doesn’t like rendering directly into the body and will give a warning when you do so. To prevent this we’ll wrap our app in a div: <body> <div id="app"><%- markup %></div> <script src="build.js"></script> </body> I’ve also added in a script tag to build.js, which is the file we’ll generate containing all our client-side code. Next, create client-render.js. This is going to be the only bit of JavaScript that’s exclusive to the client side. In it we need to pull in our routes and render them to the DOM. import React from 'react'; import ReactDOM from 'react-dom'; import { Router } from 'react-router'; import { routes } from './routes'; import createBrowserHistory from 'history/lib/createBrowserHistory'; ReactDOM.render( <Router routes={routes} history={createBrowserHistory()} />, document.getElementById('app') ) The first thing you might notice is the mention of createBrowserHistory. React Router is built on top of the history module, a module that listens to the browser’s address bar and parses the new location. It has many modes of operation: it can keep track using a hashbang, such as http://localhost/#!/about (this is the default), or you can tell it to use the HTML5 history API by calling createBrowserHistory, which is what we’ve done. This will keep the URLs nice and neat and make sure the client and the server are using the same URL structure. You can read more about React Router and histories in the React Router documentation. Finally we use ReactDOM.render and give it the Router component, telling it about all our routes, and also tell ReactDOM where to render, the #app element. Generating build.js We’re actually almost there! The final thing we need to do is generate our client side bundle. For this we’re going to use webpack, a module bundler that can take our application, follow all the imports and generate one large bundle from them. We’ll install it and babel-loader, a webpack plugin for transforming code through Babel. npm install --save-dev webpack babel-loader To run webpack we just need to create a configuration file, called webpack.config.js. Create the file in the root of our application and add the following code: var path = require('path'); module.exports = { entry: path.join(process.cwd(), 'client-render.js'), output: { path: './public/', filename: 'build.js' }, module: { loaders: [ { test: /.js$/, loader: 'babel' } ] } } Note first that this file can’t be written in ES6 as it doesn’t get transformed. The first thing we do is tell webpack the main entry point for our application, which is client-render.js. We use process.cwd() because webpack expects an exact location – if we just gave it the string ‘client-render.js’, webpack wouldn’t be able to find it. Next, we tell webpack where to output our file, and here I’m telling it to place the file in public/build.js. Finally we tell webpack that every time it hits a file that ends in .js, it should use the babel-loader plugin to transform the code first. Now we’re ready to generate the bundle! ./node_modules/.bin/webpack This will take a fair few seconds to run (on my machine it’s about seven or eight), but once it has it will have created public/build.js, a client-side bundle of our application. If you restart your server once more you’ll see that we can now navigate around our application without hitting the server, because React on the client takes over. Perfect! The first bundle that webpack generates is pretty slow, but if you run webpack -w it will go into watch mode, where it watches files for changes and regenerates the bundle. The key thing is that it only regenerates the small pieces of the bundle it needs, so while the first bundle is very slow, the rest are lightning fast. I recommend leaving webpack constantly running in watch mode when you’re developing. Conclusions First, if you’d like to look through this code yourself you can find it all on GitHub. Feel free to raise an issue there or tweet me if you have any problems or would like to ask further questions. Next, I want to stress that you shouldn’t use this as an excuse to build all your apps in this way. Some of you might be wondering whether a static site like the one we built today is worth its complexity, and you’d be right. I used it as it’s an easy example to work with but in the future you should carefully consider your reasons for wanting to build a universal React application and make sure it’s a suitable infrastructure for you. With that, all that’s left for me to do is wish you a very merry Christmas and best of luck with your React applications! 2015 Jack Franklin jackfranklin 2015-12-05T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/universal-react/ code
50 Make a Comic For something slightly different over Christmas, why not step away from your computer and make a comic? Definitely not the author working on a comic in the studio, with the desk displaying some of the things you need to make a comic on paper. Why make a comic? First of all, it’s truly fun and it’s not that difficult. If you’re a designer, you can use skills you already have, so why not take some time to indulge your aesthetic whims and make something for yourself, rather than for a client or your company. And you can use a computer – or not. If you’re an interaction designer, it’s likely you’ve already made a storyboard or flow, or designed some characters for personas. This is a wee jump away from that, to the realm of storytelling and navigating human emotions through characters who may or may not be human. Similar medium and skills, different content. It’s not a client deliverable but something that stands by itself, and you’ve nobody’s criteria to meet except those that exist in your imagination! Thanks to your brain and the alchemy of comics, you can put nearly anything in a sequence and your brain will find a way to make sense of it. Scott McCloud wrote about the non sequitur in comics: “There is a kind of alchemy at work in the space between panels which can help us find meaning or resonance in even the most jarring of combinations.” Here’s an example of a non sequitur from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics – the images bear no relation to one another, but since they’re in a sequence our brains do their best to understand it: Once you know this it takes the pressure off somewhat. It’s a fun thing to keep in mind and experiment with in your comics! Materials needed A4 copy/printing paper HB pencil for light drawing Dip pen and waterproof Indian ink Bristol board (or any good quality card with a smooth, durable surface) Step 1: Get ideas You’d be surprised where you can take a small grain of an idea and develop it into an interesting comic. Think about a funny conversation you had, or any irrational fears, habits, dreams or anything else. Just start writing and drawing. Having ideas is hard, I know, but you will get some ideas when you start working. One way to keep track of ideas is to keep a sketch diary, capturing funny conversations and other events you could use in comics later. You might want to just sketch out the whole comic very roughly if that helps. I tend to sketch the story first, but it usually changes drastically during step 2. Step 2: Edit your story using thumbnails How thumbnailing works. Why use thumbnails? You can move them around or get rid of them! Drawings are harder and much slower to edit than words, so you need to draw something very quick and very rough. You don’t have to care about drawing quality at this point. You might already have a drafted comic from the previous step; now you can split each panel up into a thumbnail like the image above. Get an A4 sheet of printing paper and tear it up into squares. A thumbnail equals a comic panel. Start drawing one panel per thumbnail. This way you can move scenes and parts of the story around as you work on the pacing. It’s an extremely useful tip if you want to expand a moment in time or draw out a dialogue, or if you want to just completely cut scenes. Step 3: Plan a layout So you’ve got the story more or less down: you now need to know how they’ll look on the page. Sketch a layout and arrange the thumbnails into the layout. The simplest way to do this is to divide an A4 page into equal panels — say, nine. But if you want, you can be more creative than that. The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins is an excellent example of the scope for using page layout creatively. You can really push the form: play with layout, scale, story and what you think of as a comic. Step 4: Draw the comic I recommend drawing on A4 Bristol board paper since it has a smooth surface, can tolerate a lot of rubbing out and holds ink well. You can get it from any art shop. Using your thumbnails for reference, draw the comic lightly using an HB pencil. Don’t make the line so heavy that it can’t be erased (since you’ll ink over the lines later). Step 5: Ink the comic Image before colour was added. You’ve drawn your story. Well done! Now for the fun part. I recommend using a dip pen and some waterproof ink. Why waterproof? If you want, you can add an ink wash later, or even paint it. If you don’t have a dip pen, you could also use any quality pen. Carefully go over your pencilled lines with the pen, working from top left to right and down, to avoid smudging it. It’s unfortunately easy to smudge the ink from the dip pen, so I recommend practising first. You’ve made a comic! Step 6: Adding colour Comics traditionally had a limited colour palette before computers (here’s an in-depth explanation if you’re curious). You can actually do a huge amount with a restricted colour palette. Ellice Weaver’s comics show how very nicely how you can paint your work using a restricted palette. So for the next step, resist the temptation to add ALL THE COLOURS and consider using a limited palette. Once the ink is completely dry, erase the pencilled lines and you’ll be left with a beautiful inked black and white drawing. You could use a computer for this part. You could also photocopy it and paint straight on the copy. If you’re feeling really brave, you could paint straight on the original. But I’d suggest not doing this if it’s your first try at painting! What follows is an extremely basic guide for painting using Photoshop, but there are hundreds of brilliant articles out there and different techniques for digital painting. How to paint your comic using Photoshop Scan the drawing and open it in Photoshop. You can adjust the levels (Image → Adjustments → Levels) to make the lines darker and crisper, and the paper invisible. At this stage, you can erase any smudges or mistakes. With a Wacom tablet, you could even completely redraw parts! Computers are just amazing. Keep the line art as its own layer. Add a new layer on top of the lines, and set the layer state from normal to multiply. This means you can paint your comic without obscuring your lines. Rename the layer something else, so you can keep track. Start blocking in colour. And once you’re happy with that, experiment with adding tone and texture. Christmas comic challenge! Why not challenge yourself to make a short comic over Christmas? If you make one, share it in the comments. Or show me on Twitter — I’d love to see it. Credit: Many of these techniques were learned on the Royal Drawing School’s brilliant ‘Drawing the Graphic Novel’ course. 2015 Rebecca Cottrell rebeccacottrell 2015-12-20T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/make-a-comic/ design
51 Blow Your Own Trumpet Even if your own trumpet’s tiny and fell out of a Christmas cracker, blowing it isn’t something that everyone’s good at. Some people find selling themselves and what they do difficult. But, you know what? Boo hoo hoo. If you want people to buy something, the reality is you’d better get good at selling, especially if that something is you. For web professionals, the best place to tell potential business customers or possible employers about what you do is on your own website. You can write what you want and how you want, but that doesn’t make knowing what to write any easier. As a matter of fact, writing for yourself often proves harder than writing for someone else. I spent this autumn thinking about what I wanted to say about Stuff & Nonsense on the website we relaunched recently. While I did that, I spoke to other designers about how they struggled to write about their businesses. If you struggle to write well, don’t worry. You’re not on your own. Here are five ways to hit the right notes when writing about yourself and your work. Be genuine about who you are I’ve known plenty of talented people who run a successful business pretty much single-handed. Somehow they still feel awkward presenting themselves as individuals. They wonder whether describing themselves as a company will give them extra credibility. They especially agonise over using “we” rather than “I” when describing what they do. These choices get harder when you’re a one-man band trading as a limited company or LLC business entity. If you mainly work alone, don’t describe yourself as anything other than “I”. You might think that saying “we” makes you appear larger and will give you a better chance of landing bigger and better work, but the moment a prospective client asks, “How many people are you?” you’ll have some uncomfortable explaining to do. This will distract them from talking about your work and derail your sales process. There’s no need to be anything other than genuine about how you describe yourself. You should be proud to say “I” because working alone isn’t something that many people have the ability, business acumen or talent to do. Explain what you actually do How many people do precisely the same job as you? Hundreds? Thousands? The same goes for companies. If yours is a design studio, development team or UX consultancy, there are countless others saying exactly what you’re saying about what you do. Simply stating that you code, design or – God help me – “handcraft digital experiences” isn’t enough to make your business sound different from everyone else. Anyone can and usually does say that, but people buy more than deliverables. They buy something that’s unique about you and your business. Potentially thousands of companies deliver code and designs the same way as Stuff & Nonsense, but our clients don’t just buy page designs, prototypes and websites from us. They buy our taste for typography, colour and layout, summed up by our “It’s the taste” tagline and bowler hat tip to the PG Tips chimps. We hope that potential clients will understand what’s unique about us. Think beyond your deliverables to what people actually buy, and sell the uniqueness of that. Describe work in progress It’s sad that current design trends have made it almost impossible to tell one website from another. So many designers now demonstrate finished responsive website designs by pasting them onto iMac, MacBook, iPad and iPhone screens that their portfolios don’t fare much better. Every designer brings their own experience, perspective and process to a project. In my experience, it’s understanding those differences which forms a big part of how a prospective client makes a decision about who to work with. Don’t simply show a prospective client the end result of a previous project; explain your process, the development of your thinking and even the wrong turns you took. Traditional case studies, like the one I’ve just written about Stuff & Nonsense’s work for WWF UK, can take a lot of time. That’s probably why many portfolios get out of date very quickly. Designers make new work all the time, so there must be a better way to show more of it more often, to give prospective clients a clearer understanding of what we do. At Stuff & Nonsense our solution was to create a feed where we could post fragments of design work throughout a project. This also meant rewriting our Contract Killer to give us permission to publish work before someone signs it off. Outline a client’s experience Recently a client took me to one side and offered some valuable advice. She told me that our website hadn’t described anything about the experience she’d had while working with us. She said that knowing more about how we work would’ve helped her make her buying decision. When a client chooses your business, they’re hoping for more than a successful outcome. They want their project to run smoothly. They want to feel that they made a correct decision when they chose you. If they work for an organisation, they’ll want their good judgement to be recognised too. Our client didn’t recognise her experience because we hadn’t made our own website part of it. Remember, the challenge of creating a memorable user experience starts with selling to the people paying you for it. Address your ideal client It’s important to understand that a portfolio’s job isn’t to document your work, it’s to attract new work from clients you want. Make sure that work you show reflects the work you want, because what you include in your portfolio often leads to more of the same. When you’re writing for your portfolio and elsewhere on your website, imagine that you’re addressing your ideal client. Picture them sitting opposite and answer the questions they’d ask as you would in conversation. Be direct, funny if that’s appropriate and serious when it’s not. If it helps, ask a friend to read the questions aloud and record what you say in response. This will help make what you write sound natural. I’ve found this technique helps clients write copy too. Toot your own horn Some people confuse expressing confidence in yourself and your work as boastfulness, but in a competitive world the reality is that if you are to succeed, you need to show confidence so that others can show their confidence in you. If you want people to hear you, pick up your trumpet and blow it. 2015 Andy Clarke andyclarke 2015-12-23T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/blow-your-own-trumpet/ business
52 Git Rebasing: An Elfin Workshop Workflow This year Santa’s helpers have been tasked with making a garland. It’s a pretty simple task: string beads onto yarn in a specific order. When the garland reaches a specific length, add it to the main workshop garland. Each elf has a specific sequence they’re supposed to chain, which is given to them via a work order. (This is starting to sound like one of those horrible calculus problems. I promise it isn’t. It’s worse; it’s about Git.) For the most part, the system works really well. The elves are able to quickly build up a shared chain because each elf specialises on their own bit of garland, and then links the garland together. Because of this they’re able to work independently, but towards the common goal of making a beautiful garland. At first the elves are really careful with each bead they put onto the garland. They check with one another before merging their work, and review each new link carefully. As time crunches on, the elves pour a little more cheer into the eggnog cooler, and the quality of work starts to degrade. Tensions rise as mistakes are made and unkind words are said. The elves quickly realise they’re going to need a system to change the beads out when mistakes are made in the chain. The first common mistake is not looking to see what the latest chain is that’s been added to the main garland. The garland is huge, and it sits on a roll in one of the corners of the workshop. It’s a big workshop, so it is incredibly impractical to walk all the way to the roll to check what the last link is on the chain. The elves, being magical, have set up a monitoring system that allows them to keep a local copy of the main garland at their workstation. It’s an imperfect system though, so the elves have to request a manual refresh to see the latest copy. They can request a new copy by running the command git pull --rebase=preserve (They found that if they ran git pull on its own, they ended up with weird loops of extra beads off the main garland, so they’ve opted to use this method.) This keeps the shared garland up to date, which makes things a lot easier. A visualisation of the rebase process is available. The next thing the elves noticed is that if they worked on the main workshop garland, they were always running into problems when they tried to share their work back with the rest of the workshop. It was fine if they were working late at night by themselves, but in the middle of the day, it was horrible. (I’ve been asked not to talk about that time the fight broke out.) Instead of trying to share everything on their local copy of the main garland, the elves have realised it’s a lot easier to work on a new string and then knot this onto the main garland when their pattern repeat is finished. They generate a new string by issuing the following commands: git checkout master git checkout -b 1234_pattern-name 1234 represents the work order number and pattern-name describes the pattern they’re adding. Each bead is then added to the new link (git add bead.txt) and locked into place (git commit). Each elf repeats this process until the sequence of beads described in the work order has been added to their mini garland. To combine their work with the main garland, the elves need to make a few decisions. If they’re making a single strand, they issue the following commands: git checkout master git merge --ff-only 1234_pattern-name To share their work they publish the new version of the main garland to the workshop spool with the command git push origin master. Sometimes this fails. Sharing work fails because the workshop spool has gotten new links added since the elf last updated their copy of the main workshop spool. This makes the elves both happy and sad. It makes them happy because it means the other elves have been working too, but it makes them sad because they now need to do a bit of extra work to close their work order. To update the local copy of the workshop spool, the elf first unlinks the chain they just linked by running the command: git reset --merge ORIG_HEAD This works because the garland magic notices when the elves are doing a particularly dangerous thing and places a temporary, invisible bookmark to the last safe bead in the chain before the dangerous thing happened. The garland no longer has the elf’s work, and can be updated safely. The elf runs the command git pull --rebase=preserve and the changes all the other elves have made are applied locally. With these new beads in place, the elf now has to restring their own chain so that it starts at the right place. To do this, the elf turns back to their own chain (git checkout 1234_pattern-name) and runs the command git rebase master. Assuming their bead pattern is completely unique, the process will run and the elf’s beads will be restrung on the tip of the main workshop garland. Sometimes the magic fails and the elf has to deal with merge conflicts. These are kind of annoying, so the elf uses a special inspector tool to figure things out. The elf opens the inspector by running the command git mergetool to work through places where their beads have been added at the same points as another elf’s beads. Once all the conflicts are resolved, the elf saves their work, and quits the inspector. They might need to do this a few times if there are a lot of new beads, so the elf has learned to follow this update process regularly instead of just waiting until they’re ready to close out their work order. Once their link is up to date, the elf can now reapply their chain as before, publish their work to the main workshop garland, and close their work order: git checkout master git merge --ff-only 1234_pattern-name git push origin master Generally this process works well for the elves. Sometimes, though, when they’re tired or bored or a little drunk on festive cheer, they realise there’s a mistake in their chain of beads. Fortunately they can fix the beads without anyone else knowing. These tools can be applied to the whole workshop chain as well, but it causes problems because the magic assumes that elves are only ever adding to the main chain, not removing or reordering beads on the fly. Depending on where the mistake is, the elf has a few different options. Let’s pretend the elf has a sequence of five beads she’s been working on. The work order says the pattern should be red-blue-red-blue-red. If the sequence of beads is wrong (for example, blue-blue-red-red-red), the elf can remove the beads from the chain, but keep the beads in her workstation using the command git reset --soft HEAD~5. If she’s been using the wrong colours and the wrong pattern (for example, green-green-yellow-yellow-green), she can remove the beads from her chain and discard them from her workstation using the command git reset --hard HEAD~5. If one of the beads is missing (for example, red-blue-blue-red), she can restring the beads using the first method, or she can use a bit of magic to add the missing bead into the sequence. Using a tool that’s a bit like orthoscopic surgery, she first selects a sequence of beads which contains the problem. A visualisation of this process is available. Start the garland surgery process with the command: git rebase --interactive HEAD~4 A new screen comes up with the following information (the oldest bead is on top): pick c2e4877 Red bead pick 9b5555e Blue bead pick 7afd66b Blue bead pick e1f2537 Red bead The elf adjusts the list, changing “pick” to “edit” next to the first blue bead: pick c2e4877 Red bead edit 9b5555e Blue bead pick 7afd66b Blue bead pick e1f2537 Red bead She then saves her work and quits the editor. The garland magic has placed her back in time at the moment just after she added the first blue bead. She needs to manually fix up her garland to add the new red bead. If the beads were files, she might run commands like vim beads.txt and edit the file to make the necessary changes. Once she’s finished her changes, she needs to add her new bead to the garland (git add --all) and lock it into place (git commit). This time she assigns the commit message “Red bead – added” so she can easily find it. The garland magic has replaced the bead, but she still needs to verify the remaining beads on the garland. This is a mostly automatic process which is started by running the command git rebase --continue. The new red bead has been assigned a position formerly held by the blue bead, and so the elf must deal with a merge conflict. She opens up a new program to help resolve the conflict by running git mergetool. She knows she wants both of these beads in place, so the elf edits the file to include both the red and blue beads. With the conflict resolved, the elf saves her changes and quits the mergetool. Back at the command line, the elf checks the status of her work using the command git status. rebase in progress; onto 4a9cb9d You are currently rebasing branch '2_RBRBR' on '4a9cb9d'. (all conflicts fixed: run "git rebase --continue") Changes to be committed: (use "git reset HEAD <file>..." to unstage) modified: beads.txt Untracked files: (use "git add <file>..." to include in what will be committed) beads.txt.orig She removes the file added by the mergetool with the command rm beads.txt.orig and commits the edits she just made to the bead file using the commands: git add beads.txt git commit --message "Blue bead -- resolved conflict" With the conflict resolved, the elf is able to continue with the rebasing process using the command git rebase --continue. There is one final conflict the elf needs to resolve. Once again, she opens up the visualisation tool and takes a look at the two conflicting files. She incorporates the changes from the left and right column to ensure her bead sequence is correct. Once the merge conflict is resolved, the elf saves the file and quits the mergetool. Once again, she cleans out the backup file added by the mergetool (rm beads.txt.orig) and commits her changes to the garland: git add beads.txt git commit --message "Red bead -- resolved conflict" and then runs the final verification steps in the rebase process (git rebase --continue). The verification process runs through to the end, and the elf checks her work using the command git log --oneline. 9269914 Red bead -- resolved conflict 4916353 Blue bead -- resolved conflict aef0d5c Red bead -- added 9b5555e Blue bead c2e4877 Red bead She knows she needs to read the sequence from bottom to top (the oldest bead is on the bottom). Reviewing the list she sees that the sequence is now correct. Sometimes, late at night, the elf makes new copies of the workshop garland so she can play around with the bead sequencer just to see what happens. It’s made her more confident at restringing beads when she’s found real mistakes. And she doesn’t mind helping her fellow elves when they run into trouble with their beads. The sugar cookies they leave her as thanks don’t hurt either. If you would also like to play with the bead sequencer, you can get a copy of the branches the elf worked. Our lessons from the workshop: By using rebase to update your branches, you avoid merge commits and keep a clean commit history. If you make a mistake on one of your local branches, you can use reset to take commits off your branch. If you want to save the work, but uncommit it, add the parameter --soft. If you want to completely discard the work, use the parameter, --hard. If you have merged working branch changes to the local copy of your master branch and it is preventing you from pushing your work to a remote repository, remove these changes using the command reset with the parameter --merge ORIG_HEAD before updating your local copy of the remote master branch. If you want to make a change to work that was committed a little while ago, you can use the command rebase with the parameter --interactive. You will need to include how many commits back in time you want to review. 2015 Emma Jane Westby emmajanewestby 2015-12-07T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/git-rebasing/ code
53 Get Expressive with Your Typography In 1955 Beatrice Warde, an American communicator on typography, published a series of essays entitled The Crystal Goblet in which she wrote, “People who love ideas must have a love of words. They will take a vivid interest in the clothes that words wear.” And with that proposition Warde introduced the idea that just as we judge someone based on the clothes they are wearing, so we make judgements about text based on the typefaces in which it is set. Beatrice Warde. ©1970 Monotype Imaging Inc. Choosing the same typeface as everyone else, especially if you’re trying to make a statement, is like turning up to a party in the same dress; to a meeting in the same suit, shirt and tie; or to a craft ale dispensary in the same plaid shirt and turned-up skinny jeans. But there’s more to your choice of typeface than simply making an impression. In 2012 Jon Tan wrote on 24 ways about a scientific study called “The Aesthetics of Reading” which concluded that “good quality typography is responsible for greater engagement during reading and thus induces a good mood.” Furthermore, at this year’s Ampersand conference Sarah Hyndman, an expert in multisensory typography, discussed how typefaces can communicate with our subconscious. Sarah showed that different fonts could have an effect on how food tasted. A rounded font placed near a bowl of jellybeans would make them taste sweeter, and a jagged angular font would make them taste more sour. The quality of your typography can therefore affect the mood of your reader, and your font choice directly affect the senses. This means you can manipulate the way people feel. You can change their emotional state through type alone. Now that’s a real superpower! The effects of your body text design choices are measurable but subtle. If you really want to have an impact you need to think big. Literally. Display text and headings are your attention grabbers. They are your chance to interrupt, introduce and seduce. Display text and headings set the scene and draw people in. Text set large creates an image that visitors see before they read, and that’s your chance to choose a typeface that immediately expresses what the text, and indeed the entire website, stands for. What expectations of the text do you want to set up? Youthful enthusiasm? Businesslike? Cutting-edge? Hipster? Sensible and secure? Fun and informal? Authoritarian? Typography conveys much more than just information. It imparts feeling, emotion and sentiment, and arouses preconceived ideas of trust, tone and content. Think about taking advantage of this by introducing impactful, expressive typography to your designs on the web. You can alter the way your reader feels, so what emotion do you want to provoke? Maybe you want them to feel inspired like this stop smoking campaign: helsenorge.no Perhaps they should be moved and intrigued, as with Makeshift magazine: mkshft.org Or calmly reassured: www.cleopatra-marina.gr Fonts also tap into the complex library of associations that we’ve been accumulating in our brains all of our lives. You build up these associations every time you see a font from the context that you see it in. All of us associate certain letterforms with topics, times and places. Retiro is obviously Spanish: Retiro by Typofonderie Bodoni and Eurostile used in this menu couldn’t be much more Italian: Bodoni and Eurostile, both designed in Italy To me, Clarendon gives a sense of the 1960s and 1970s. I’m not sure if that’s what Costa was going for, but that’s what it means to me: Costa coffee flier And Knockout and Gotham really couldn’t be much more American: Knockout and Gotham by Hoefler & Co When it comes to choosing your display typeface, the type designer Christian Schwartz says there are two kinds. First are the workhorse typefaces that will do whatever you want them to do. Helvetica, Proxima Nova and Futura are good examples. These fonts can be shaped in many different ways, but this also means they are found everywhere and take great skill and practice to work with in a unique and striking manner. The second kind of typeface is one that does most of the work for you. Like finely tailored clothing, it’s the detail in the design that adds interest. Setting headings in Bree rather than Helvetica makes a big difference to the tone of the article Such typefaces carry much more inherent character, but are also less malleable and harder to adapt to different contexts. Good examples are Marr Sans, FS Clerkenwell, Strangelove and Bree. Push the boat out Remember, all type can have an effect on the reader. Take advantage of that and allow your type to have its own vernacular and impact. Be expressive with your type. Don’t be too reverential, dogmatic – or ordinary. Be brave and push a few boundaries. Adapted from Web Typography a book in progress by Richard Rutter. 2015 Richard Rutter richardrutter 2015-12-04T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/get-expressive-with-your-typography/ design
54 Putting My Patterns through Their Paces Over the last few years, the conversation around responsive design has shifted subtly, focusing not on designing pages, but on patterns: understanding the small, reusable elements that comprise a larger design system. And given that many of those patterns are themselves responsive, learning to manage these small layout systems has become a big part of my work. The thing is, the more pattern-driven work I do, the more I realize my design process has changed in a number of subtle, important ways. I suppose you might even say that pattern-driven design has, in a few ways, redesigned me. Meet the Teaser Here’s a recent example. A few months ago, some friends and I redesigned The Toast. (It was a really, really fun project, and we learned a lot.) Each page of the site is, as you might guess, stitched together from a host of tiny, reusable patterns. Some of them, like the search form and footer, are fairly unique, and used once per page; others are used more liberally, and built for reuse. The most prevalent example of these more generic patterns is the teaser, which is classed as, uh, .teaser. (Look, I never said I was especially clever.) In its simplest form, a teaser contains a headline, which links to an article: Fairly straightforward, sure. But it’s just the foundation: from there, teasers can have a byline, a description, a thumbnail, and a comment count. In other words, we have a basic building block (.teaser) that contains a few discrete content types – some required, some not. In fact, very few of those pieces need to be present; to qualify as a teaser, all we really need is a link and a headline. But by adding more elements, we can build slight variations of our teaser, and make it much, much more versatile. Nearly every element visible on this page is built out of our generic “teaser” pattern. But the teaser variation I’d like to call out is the one that appears on The Toast’s homepage, on search results or on section fronts. In the main content area, each teaser in the list features larger images, as well as an interesting visual treatment: the byline and comment count were the most prominent elements within each teaser, appearing above the headline. The approved visual design of our teaser, as it appears on lists on the homepage and the section fronts. And this is, as it happens, the teaser variation that gave me pause. Back in the old days – you know, like six months ago – I probably would’ve marked this module up to match the design. In other words, I would’ve looked at the module’s visual hierarchy (metadata up top, headline and content below) and written the following HTML: <div class="teaser"> <p class="article-byline">By <a href="#">Author Name</a></p> <a class="comment-count" href="#">126 <i>comments</i></a> <h1 class="article-title"><a href="#">Article Title</a></h1> <p class="teaser-excerpt">Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur…</p> </div> But then I caught myself, and realized this wasn’t the best approach. Moving Beyond Layout Since I’ve started working responsively, there’s a question I work into every step of my design process. Whether I’m working in Sketch, CSSing a thing, or researching a project, I try to constantly ask myself: What if someone doesn’t browse the web like I do? …Okay, that doesn’t seem especially fancy. (And maybe you came here for fancy.) But as straightforward as that question might seem, it’s been invaluable to so many aspects of my practice. If I’m working on a widescreen layout, that question helps me remember the constraints of the small screen; if I’m working on an interface that has some enhancements for touch, it helps me consider other input modes as I work. It’s also helpful as a reminder that many might not see the screen the same way I do, and that accessibility (in all its forms) should be a throughline for our work on the web. And that last point, thankfully, was what caught me here. While having the byline and comment count at the top was a lovely visual treatment, it made for a terrible content hierarchy. For example, it’d be a little weird if the page was being read aloud in a speaking browser: the name of the author and the number of comments would be read aloud before the title of the article with which they’re associated. That’s why I find it’s helpful to begin designing a pattern’s hierarchy before its layout: to move past the visual presentation in front of me, and focus on the underlying content I’m trying to support. In other words, if someone’s encountering my design without the CSS I’ve written, what should their experience be? So I took a step back, and came up with a different approach: <div class="teaser"> <h1 class="article-title"><a href="#">Article Title</a></h1> <h2 class="article-byline">By <a href="#">Author Name</a></h2> <p class="teaser-excerpt"> Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur… <a class="comment-count" href="#">126 <i>comments</i></a> </p> </div> Much, much better. This felt like a better match for the content I was designing: the headline – easily most important element – was at the top, followed by the author’s name and an excerpt. And while the comment count is visually the most prominent element in the teaser, I decided it was hierarchically the least critical: that’s why it’s at the very end of the excerpt, the last element within our teaser. And with some light styling, we’ve got a respectable-looking hierarchy in place: Yeah, you’re right – it’s not our final design. But from this basic-looking foundation, we can layer on a bit more complexity. First, we’ll bolster the markup with an extra element around our title and byline: <div class="teaser"> <div class="teaser-hed"> <h1 class="article-title"><a href="#">Article Title</a></h1> <h2 class="article-byline">By <a href="#">Author Name</a></h2> </div> … </div> With that in place, we can use flexbox to tweak our layout, like so: .teaser-hed { display: flex; flex-direction: column-reverse; } flex-direction: column-reverse acts a bit like a change in gravity within our teaser-hed element, vertically swapping its two children. Getting closer! But as great as flexbox is, it doesn’t do anything for elements outside our container, like our little comment count, which is, as you’ve probably noticed, still stranded at the very bottom of our teaser. Flexbox is, as you might already know, wonderful! And while it enjoys incredibly broad support, there are enough implementations of old versions of Flexbox (in addition to plenty of bugs) that I tend to use a feature test to check if the browser’s using a sufficiently modern version of flexbox. Here’s the one we used: var doc = document.body || document.documentElement; var style = doc.style; if ( style.webkitFlexWrap == '' || style.msFlexWrap == '' || style.flexWrap == '' ) { doc.className += " supports-flex"; } Eagle-eyed readers will note we could have used @supports feature queries to ask browsers if they support certain CSS properties, removing the JavaScript dependency. But since we wanted to serve the layout to IE we opted to write a little question in JavaScript, asking the browser if it supports flex-wrap, a property used elsewhere in the design. If the browser passes the test, then a class of supports-flex gets applied to our html element. And with that class in place, we can safely quarantine our flexbox-enabled layout from less-capable browsers, and finish our teaser’s design: .supports-flex .teaser-hed { display: flex; flex-direction: column-reverse; } .supports-flex .teaser .comment-count { position: absolute; right: 0; top: 1.1em; } If the supports-flex class is present, we can apply our flexbox layout to the title area, sure – but we can also safely use absolute positioning to pull our comment count out of its default position, and anchor it to the top right of our teaser. In other words, the browsers that don’t meet our threshold for our advanced styles are left with an attractive design that matches our HTML’s content hierarchy; but the ones that pass our test receive the finished, final design. And with that, our teaser’s complete. Diving Into Device-Agnostic Design This is, admittedly, a pretty modest application of flexbox. (For some truly next-level work, I’d recommend Heydon Pickering’s “Flexbox Grid Finesse”, or anything Zoe Mickley Gillenwater publishes.) And for such a simple module, you might feel like this is, well, quite a bit of work. And you’d be right! In fact, it’s not one layout, but two: a lightly styled content hierarchy served to everyone, with the finished design served conditionally to the browsers that can successfully implement it. But I’ve found that thinking about my design as existing in broad experience tiers – in layers – is one of the best ways of designing for the modern web. And what’s more, it works not just for simple modules like our teaser, but for more complex or interactive patterns as well. Open video Even a simple search form can be conditionally enhanced, given a little layered thinking. This more layered approach to interface design isn’t a new one, mind you: it’s been championed by everyone from Filament Group to the BBC. And with all the challenges we keep uncovering, a more device-agnostic approach is one of the best ways I’ve found to practice responsive design. As Trent Walton once wrote, Like cars designed to perform in extreme heat or on icy roads, websites should be built to face the reality of the web’s inherent variability. We have a weird job, working on the web. We’re designing for the latest mobile devices, sure, but we’re increasingly aware that our definition of “smartphone” is much too narrow. Browsers have started appearing on our wrists and in our cars’ dashboards, but much of the world’s mobile data flows over sub-3G networks. After all, the web’s evolution has never been charted along a straight line: it’s simultaneously getting slower and faster, with devices new and old coming online every day. With all the challenges in front of us, including many we don’t yet know about, a more device-agnostic, more layered design process can better prepare our patterns – and ourselves – for the future. (It won’t help you get enough to eat at holiday parties, though.) 2015 Ethan Marcotte ethanmarcotte 2015-12-10T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/putting-my-patterns-through-their-paces/ code
55 How Tabs Should Work Tabs in browsers (not browser tabs) are one of the oldest custom UI elements in a browser that I can think of. They’ve been done to death. But, sadly, most of the time I come across them, the tabs have been badly, or rather partially, implemented. So this post is my definition of how a tabbing system should work, and one approach of implementing that. But… tabs are easy, right? I’ve been writing code for tabbing systems in JavaScript for coming up on a decade, and at one point I was pretty proud of how small I could make the JavaScript for the tabbing system: var tabs = $('.tab').click(function () { tabs.hide().filter(this.hash).show(); }).map(function () { return $(this.hash)[0]; }); $('.tab:first').click(); Simple, right? Nearly fits in a tweet (ignoring the whole jQuery library…). Still, it’s riddled with problems that make it a far from perfect solution. Requirements: what makes the perfect tab? All content is navigable and available without JavaScript (crawler-compatible and low JS-compatible). ARIA roles. The tabs are anchor links that: are clickable have block layout have their href pointing to the id of the panel element use the correct cursor (i.e. cursor: pointer). Since tabs are clickable, the user can open in a new tab/window and the page correctly loads with the correct tab open. Right-clicking (and Shift-clicking) doesn’t cause the tab to be selected. Native browser Back/Forward button correctly changes the state of the selected tab (think about it working exactly as if there were no JavaScript in place). The first three points are all to do with the semantics of the markup and how the markup has been styled. I think it’s easy to do a good job by thinking of tabs as links, and not as some part of an application. Links are navigable, and they should work the same way other links on the page work. The last three points are JavaScript problems. Let’s investigate that. The shitmus test Like a litmus test, here’s a couple of quick ways you can tell if a tabbing system is poorly implemented: Change tab, then use the Back button (or keyboard shortcut) and it breaks The tab isn’t a link, so you can’t open it in a new tab These two basic things are, to me, the bare minimum that a tabbing system should have. Why is this important? The people who push their so-called native apps on users can’t have more reasons why the web sucks. If something as basic as a tab doesn’t work, obviously there’s more ammo to push a closed native app or platform on your users. If you’re going to be a web developer, one of your responsibilities is to maintain established interactivity paradigms. This doesn’t mean don’t innovate. But it does mean: stop fucking up my scrolling experience with your poorly executed scroll effects. </rant> :breath: URI fragment, absolute URL or query string? A URI fragment (AKA the # hash bit) would be using mysite.com/config#content to show the content panel. A fully addressable URL would be mysite.com/config/content. Using a query string (by way of filtering the page): mysite.com/config?tab=content. This decision really depends on the context of your tabbing system. For something like GitHub’s tabs to view a pull request, it makes sense that the full URL changes. For our problem though, I want to solve the issue when the page doesn’t do a full URL update; that is, your regular run-of-the-mill tabbing system. I used to be from the school of using the hash to show the correct tab, but I’ve recently been exploring whether the query string can be used. The biggest reason is that multiple hashes don’t work, and comma-separated hash fragments don’t make any sense to control multiple tabs (since it doesn’t actually link to anything). For this article, I’ll keep focused on using a single tabbing system and a hash on the URL to control the tabs. Markup I’m going to assume subcontent, so my markup would look like this (yes, this is a cat demo…): <ul class="tabs"> <li><a class="tab" href="#dizzy">Dizzy</a></li> <li><a class="tab" href="#ninja">Ninja</a></li> <li><a class="tab" href="#missy">Missy</a></li> </ul> <div id="dizzy"> <!-- panel content --> </div> <div id="ninja"> <!-- panel content --> </div> <div id="missy"> <!-- panel content --> </div> It’s important to note that in the markup the link used for an individual tab references its panel content using the hash, pointing to the id on the panel. This will allow our content to connect up without JavaScript and give us a bunch of features for free, which we’ll see once we’re on to writing the code. URL-driven tabbing systems Instead of making the code responsive to the user’s input, we’re going to exclusively use the browser URL and the hashchange event on the window to drive this tabbing system. This way we get Back button support for free. With that in mind, let’s start building up our code. I’ll assume we have the jQuery library, but I’ve also provided the full code working without a library (vanilla, if you will), but it depends on relatively new (polyfillable) tech like classList and dataset (which generally have IE10 and all other browser support). Note that I’ll start with the simplest solution, and I’ll refactor the code as I go along, like in places where I keep calling jQuery selectors. function show(id) { // remove the selected class from the tabs, // and add it back to the one the user selected $('.tab').removeClass('selected').filter(function () { return (this.hash === id); }).addClass('selected'); // now hide all the panels, then filter to // the one we're interested in, and show it $('.panel').hide().filter(id).show(); } $(window).on('hashchange', function () { show(location.hash); }); // initialise by showing the first panel show('#dizzy'); This works pretty well for such little code. Notice that we don’t have any click handlers for the user and the Back button works right out of the box. However, there’s a number of problems we need to fix: The initialised tab is hard-coded to the first panel, rather than what’s on the URL. If there’s no hash on the URL, all the panels are hidden (and thus broken). If you scroll to the bottom of the example, you’ll find a “top” link; clicking that will break our tabbing system. I’ve purposely made the page long, so that when you click on a tab, you’ll see the page scrolls to the top of the tab. Not a huge deal, but a bit annoying. From our criteria at the start of this post, we’ve already solved items 4 and 5. Not a terrible start. Let’s solve items 1 through 3 next. Using the URL to initialise correctly and protect from breakage Instead of arbitrarily picking the first panel from our collection, the code should read the current location.hash and use that if it’s available. The problem is: what if the hash on the URL isn’t actually for a tab? The solution here is that we need to cache a list of known panel IDs. In fact, well-written DOM scripting won’t continuously search the DOM for nodes. That is, when the show function kept calling $('.tab').each(...) it was wasteful. The result of $('.tab') should be cached. So now the code will collect all the tabs, then find the related panels from those tabs, and we’ll use that list to double the values we give the show function (during initialisation, for instance). // collect all the tabs var tabs = $('.tab'); // get an array of the panel ids (from the anchor hash) var targets = tabs.map(function () { return this.hash; }).get(); // use those ids to get a jQuery collection of panels var panels = $(targets.join(',')); function show(id) { // if no value was given, let's take the first panel if (!id) { id = targets[0]; } // remove the selected class from the tabs, // and add it back to the one the user selected tabs.removeClass('selected').filter(function () { return (this.hash === id); }).addClass('selected'); // now hide all the panels, then filter to // the one we're interested in, and show it panels.hide().filter(id).show(); } $(window).on('hashchange', function () { var hash = location.hash; if (targets.indexOf(hash) !== -1) { show(hash); } }); // initialise show(targets.indexOf(location.hash) !== -1 ? location.hash : ''); The core of working out which tab to initialise with is solved in that last line: is there a location.hash? Is it in our list of valid targets (panels)? If so, select that tab. The second breakage we saw in the original demo was that clicking the “top” link would break our tabs. This was due to the hashchange event firing and the code didn’t validate the hash that was passed. Now this happens, the panels don’t break. So far we’ve got a tabbing system that: Works without JavaScript. Supports right-click and Shift-click (and doesn’t select in these cases). Loads the correct panel if you start with a hash. Supports native browser navigation. Supports the keyboard. The only annoying problem we have now is that the page jumps when a tab is selected. That’s due to the browser following the default behaviour of an internal link on the page. To solve this, things are going to get a little hairy, but it’s all for a good cause. Removing the jump to tab You’d be forgiven for thinking you just need to hook a click handler and return false. It’s what I started with. Only that’s not the solution. If we add the click handler, it breaks all the right-click and Shift-click support. There may be another way to solve this, but what follows is the way I found – and it works. It’s just a bit… hairy, as I said. We’re going to strip the id attribute off the target panel when the user tries to navigate to it, and then put it back on once the show code starts to run. This change will mean the browser has nowhere to navigate to for that moment, and won’t jump the page. The change involves the following: Add a click handle that removes the id from the target panel, and cache this in a target variable that we’ll use later in hashchange (see point 4). In the same click handler, set the location.hash to the current link’s hash. This is important because it forces a hashchange event regardless of whether the URL actually changed, which prevents the tabs breaking (try it yourself by removing this line). For each panel, put a backup copy of the id attribute in a data property (I’ve called it old-id). When the hashchange event fires, if we have a target value, let’s put the id back on the panel. These changes result in this final code: /*global $*/ // a temp value to cache *what* we're about to show var target = null; // collect all the tabs var tabs = $('.tab').on('click', function () { target = $(this.hash).removeAttr('id'); // if the URL isn't going to change, then hashchange // event doesn't fire, so we trigger the update manually if (location.hash === this.hash) { // but this has to happen after the DOM update has // completed, so we wrap it in a setTimeout 0 setTimeout(update, 0); } }); // get an array of the panel ids (from the anchor hash) var targets = tabs.map(function () { return this.hash; }).get(); // use those ids to get a jQuery collection of panels var panels = $(targets.join(',')).each(function () { // keep a copy of what the original el.id was $(this).data('old-id', this.id); }); function update() { if (target) { target.attr('id', target.data('old-id')); target = null; } var hash = window.location.hash; if (targets.indexOf(hash) !== -1) { show(hash); } } function show(id) { // if no value was given, let's take the first panel if (!id) { id = targets[0]; } // remove the selected class from the tabs, // and add it back to the one the user selected tabs.removeClass('selected').filter(function () { return (this.hash === id); }).addClass('selected'); // now hide all the panels, then filter to // the one we're interested in, and show it panels.hide().filter(id).show(); } $(window).on('hashchange', update); // initialise if (targets.indexOf(window.location.hash) !== -1) { update(); } else { show(); } This version now meets all the criteria I mentioned in my original list, except for the ARIA roles and accessibility. Getting this support is actually very cheap to add. ARIA roles This article on ARIA tabs made it very easy to get the tabbing system working as I wanted. The tasks were simple: Add aria-role set to tab for the tabs, and tabpanel for the panels. Set aria-controls on the tabs to point to their related panel (by id). I use JavaScript to add tabindex=0 to all the tab elements. When I add the selected class to the tab, I also set aria-selected to true and, inversely, when I remove the selected class I set aria-selected to false. When I hide the panels I add aria-hidden=true, and when I show the specific panel I set aria-hidden=false. And that’s it. Very small changes to get full sign-off that the tabbing system is bulletproof and accessible. Check out the final version (and the non-jQuery version as promised). In conclusion There’s a lot of tab implementations out there, but there’s an equal amount that break the browsing paradigm and the simple linkability of content. Clearly there’s a special hell for those tab systems that don’t even use links, but I think it’s clear that even in something that’s relatively simple, it’s the small details that make or break the user experience. Obviously there are corners I’ve not explored, like when there’s more than one set of tabs on a page, and equally whether you should deliver the initial markup with the correct tab selected. I think the answer lies in using query strings in combination with hashes on the URL, but maybe that’s for another year! 2015 Remy Sharp remysharp 2015-12-22T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/how-tabs-should-work/ code
56 Helping VIPs Care About Performance Making a site feel super fast is the easy part of performance work. Getting people around you to care about site speed is a much bigger challenge. How do we keep the site fast beyond the initial performance work? Keeping very important people like your upper management or clients invested in performance work is critical to keeping a site fast and empowering other designers and developers to contribute. The work to get others to care is so meaty that I dedicated a whole chapter to the topic in my book Designing for Performance. When I speak at conferences, the majority of questions during Q&A are on this topic. When I speak to developers and designers who care about performance, getting other people at one’s organization or agency to care becomes the most pressing question. My primary response to folks who raise this issue is the question: “What metric(s) do your VIPs care about?” This is often met with blank stares and raised eyebrows. But it’s also our biggest clue to what we need to do to help empower others to care about performance and work on it. Every organization and executive is different. This means that three major things vary: the primary metrics VIPs care about; the language they use about measuring success; and how change is enacted. By clueing in to these nuances within your organization, you can get a huge leg up on crafting a successful pitch about performance work. Let’s start with the metric that we should measure. Sure, (most) everybody cares about money - but is that really the metric that your VIPs are looking at each day to measure the success or efficacy of your site? More likely, dollars are the end game, but the metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) people focus on might be: rate of new accounts created/signups cost of acquiring or retaining a customer visitor return rate visitor bounce rate favoriting or another interaction rate These are just a few examples, but they illustrate how wide-ranging the options are that people care about. I find that developers and designers haven’t necessarily investigated this when trying to get others to care about performance. We often reach for the obvious – money! – but if we don’t use the same kind of language our VIPs are using, we might not get too far. You need to know this before you can make the case for performance work. To find out these metrics or KPIs, start reading through the emails your VIPs are sending within your company. What does it say on company wikis? Are there major dashboards internally that people are looking at where you could find some good metrics? Listen intently in team meetings or thoroughly read annual reports to see what these metrics could be. The second key here is to pick up on language you can effectively copy and paste as you make the case for performance work. You need to be able to reflect back the metrics that people already find important in a way they’ll be able to hear. Once you know your key metrics, it’s time to figure out how to communicate with your VIPs about performance using language that will resonate with them. Let’s start with visit traffic as an example metric that a very important person cares about. Start to dig up research that other people and companies have done that correlates performance and your KPI. For example, cite studies: “When the home page of Google Maps was reduced from 100KB to 70–80KB, traffic went up 10% in the first week, and an additional 25% in the following three weeks.” (source). Read through websites like WPOStats, which collects the spectrum of studies on the impact of performance optimization on user experience and business metrics. Tweet and see if others have done similar research that correlates performance and your site’s main KPI. Once you have collected some research that touches on the same kind of language your VIPs use about the success of your site, it’s time to present it. You can start with something simple, like a qualitative description of the work you’re actively doing to improve the site that translates to improved metrics that your VIPs care about. It can be helpful to append a performance budget to any proposal so you can compare the budget to your site’s reality and how it might positively impact those KPIs folks care about. Words and graphs are often only half the battle when it comes to getting others to care about performance. Often, videos appeal to folks’ emotions in a way that is missed when glancing through charts and graphs. On A List Apart I recently detailed how to create videos of how fast your site loads. Let’s say that your VIPs care about how your site loads on mobile devices; it’s time to show them how your site loads on mobile networks. Open video You can use these videos to make a number of different statements to your VIPs, depending on what they care about: Look at how slow our site loads versus our competitor! Look at how slow our site loads for users in another country! Look at how slow our site loads on mobile networks! Again, you really need to know which metrics your VIPs care about and tune into the language they’re using. If they don’t care about the overall user experience of your site on mobile devices, then showing them how slow your site loads on 3G isn’t going to work. This will be your sales pitch; you need to practice and iterate on the language and highlights that will land best with your audience. To make your sales pitch as solid as possible, gut-check your ideas on how to present it with other co-workers to get their feedback. Read up on how to construct effective arguments and deliver them; do some research and see what others have done at your company when pitching to VIPs. Are slides effective? Memos or emails? Hallway conversations? Sometimes the best way to change people’s minds is by mentioning it in informal chats over coffee. Emulate the other leaders in your organization who are successful at this work. Every organization and very important person is different. Learn what metrics folks truly care about, study the language that they use, and apply what you’ve learned in a way that’ll land with those individuals. It may take time to craft your pitch for performance work over time, but it’s important work to do. If you’re able to figure out how to mirror back the language and metrics VIPs care about, and connect the dots to performance for them, you will have a huge leg up on keeping your site fast in the long run. 2015 Lara Hogan larahogan 2015-12-08T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/helping-vips-care-about-performance/ business
57 Cooking Up Effective Technical Writing Merry Christmas! May your preparations for this festive season of gluttony be shaping up beautifully. By the time you read this I hope you will have ordered your turkey, eaten twice your weight in Roses/Quality Street (let’s not get into that argument), and your Christmas cake has been baked and is now quietly absorbing regular doses of alcohol. Some of you may be reading this and scoffing Of course! I’ve also made three batches of mince pies, a seasonal chutney and enough gingerbread men to feed the whole street! while others may be laughing Bake? Oh no, I can’t cook to save my life. For beginners, recipes are the step-by-step instructions that hand-hold us through the cooking process, but even as a seasoned expert you’re likely to refer to a recipe at some point. Recipes tell us what we need, what to do with it, in what order, and what the outcome will be. It’s the documentation behind our ideas, and allows us to take the blueprint for a tasty morsel and to share it with others so they can recreate it. In fact, this is a little like the open source documentation and tutorials that we put out there, similarly aiming to guide other developers through our creations. The ‘just’ification of documentation Lately it feels like we’re starting to consider the importance of our words, and the impact they can have on others. Brad Frost warned us of the dangers of “Just” when it comes to offering up solutions to queries: “Just use this software/platform/toolkit/methodology…” “Just” makes me feel like an idiot. “Just” presumes I come from a specific background, studied certain courses in university, am fluent in certain technologies, and have read all the right books, articles, and resources. “Just” is a dangerous word. “Just” by Brad Frost I can really empathise with these sentiments. My relationship with code started out as many good web tales do, with good old HTML, CSS and JavaScript. University years involved some time with Perl, PHP, Java and C. In my first job I worked primarily with ColdFusion, a bit of ActionScript, some classic  ASP and pinch of Java. I’d do a bit of PHP outside work every now and again. .NET came in, but we never really got on, and eventually I started learning some Ruby, Python and Node. It was a broad set of learnings, and I enjoyed the similarities and differences that came with new languages. I don’t develop day in, day out any more, and my interests and work have evolved over the years, away from full-time development and more into architecture and strategy. But I still make things, and I still enjoy learning. I have often found myself bemoaning the lack of tutorials or courses that cater for the middle level – someone who may be learning a new language, but who has enough programming experience under their belt to not need to revise the concepts of how loops or objects work, and is perfectly adept at googling the syntax for getting a substring. I don’t want snippets out of context; I want an understanding of architectural principles, of the strengths and weaknesses, of the type of applications that work well with the language. I’m caught in the place between snoozing off when ‘Using the Instagram API with Ruby’ hand-holds me through what REST is, and feeling like I’m stupid and need to go back to dev school when I can’t get my environment and dependencies set up, let alone work out how I’m meant to get any code to run. It’s seems I’m not alone with this – Erin McKean seems to have been here too: “Some tutorials (especially coding tutorials) like to begin things in media res. Great for a sense of dramatic action, bad for getting to “Step 1” without tears. It can be really discouraging to fire up a fresh terminal window only to be confronted by error message after error message because there were obligatory steps 0.1.0 through 0.9.9 that you didn’t even know about.” “Tips for Learning What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know” by Erin McKean I’m sure you’ve been here too. Many tutorials suffer badly from the fabled ‘how to draw an owl’-itis. It’s the kind of feeling you can easily get when sifting through recipes as well as with code. Far from being the simple instructions that let us just follow along, they too can be a minefield. Fall in too low and you may be skipping over an explanation of what simmering is, or set your sights too high and you may get stuck at the point where you’re trying to sous vide a steak using your bathtub and a Ziploc bag. Don’t be a turkey, use your loaf! My mum is a great cook in my eyes (aren’t all mums?). I love her handcrafted collection of gathered recipes from over the years, including the one below, which is a great example of how something may make complete sense to the writer, but could be impermeable to a reader. Depending on your level of baking knowledge, you may ask: What’s SR flour? What’s a tsp? Should I use salted or unsalted butter? Do I use sticks of cinnamon or ground? Why is chopped chocolate better? How do I cream things? How big should the balls be? How well is “well spaced”? How much leeway do I have for “(ish!!)”? Does the “20” on the other cookie note mean I’ll end up with twenty? At any point, making a wrong call could lead to rubbish cookies, and lead to someone heading down the path of an I can’t cook mentality. You may be able to cook (or follow recipes), but you may not understand the local terms for ingredients, may not be able to acquire something and need to know what kind of substitutes you can use, or may need to actually do some prep before you jump into the main bit. However, if we look at good examples of recipes, I think there’s a lot we can apply when it comes to technical writing on the web. I’ve written before about the benefit of breaking documentation into small, reusable parts, and this will help us, but we can also take it a bit further. Here are my five top tips for better technical writing. 1. Structure and standardise your information Think of the structure of a recipe. We very often have some common elements and they usually follow roughly the same format. We have standards and conventions that allow us to understand very quickly what a recipe is and how it should be used.  Great recipes help their chefs know what they need to get ready in advance, both in terms of buying ingredients and putting together their kit. They then talk through the process, using appropriate language, and without making assumptions that the person can fill in any gaps for themselves; they explain why things are done the way they are. The best recipes may also suggest how you can take what you’ve done and put your own spin on it. For instance, a good recipe for the simple act of boiling an egg will explain cooking time in relation to your preference for yolk gooiness. There are also different flavour combinations to try, accompaniments, or presentation suggestions.  By breaking down your technical writing into similar sections, you can help your audience understand the elements they’ll be working with, what they need to do once they have these, and how they can move on from your self-contained illustration. Title Ensure your title is suitably descriptive and representative of the result. Getting Started with Python perhaps isn’t as helpful as Learn Python: General Syntax and Basics. Result Many recipes include a couple of lines as an overview of what you’ll end up with, and many include a photo of the finished dish. With our technical writing we can do the same: In this tutorial we’re going to learn how to set up our development environment, and we’ll then undertake some exercises to explore the general syntax, finishing by building a mini calculator. Ingredients What are the components we’ll be working with, whether in terms of versions, environment, languages or the software packages and libraries you’ll need along the way? Listing these up front gives the reader a great summary of the things they’ll be using, and any gotchas. Being able to provide a small amount of supporting information will also help less experienced users. Ideally, explain briefly what things are and why we’re using it. Prep As we heard from Erin above, not fully understanding the prep needed can be a huge source of frustration. Attempting to run a code snippet without context will often lead to failure when the prerequisites and process aren’t clear. Be sure to include information around any environment set-up, installation or config you’ll need to have done before you start. Stu Robson’s Simple Sass documentation aims to do this before getting into specifics, although ideally this would also include setting up Sass itself. Instructions The body of the tutorial itself is the whole point of our writing. The next four tips will hopefully make your tutorial much more successful. Variations Like our ingredients section, as important as explaining why we’re using something in this context is, it’s also great to explain alternatives that could be used instead, and the impact of doing so. Perhaps go a step further, explaining ways that people can change what you have done in your tutorial/readme for use in different situations, or to provide further reading around next steps. What happens if they want to change your static array of demo data to use JSON, for instance? By giving some thought to follow-up questions, you can better support your readers. While not in a separate section, the source code for GreenSock’s GSAP JS basics explains: We’ll use a window.onload for simplicity, but typically it is best to use either jQuery’s $(document).ready() or $(window).load() or cross-browser event listeners so that you’re not limited to one. Keep in mind to both: Explain what variations are possible. Explain why certain options may be more desirable than others in different situations. 2. Small, reusable components Reusable components are for life, not just for Christmas, and they’re certainly not just for development. If you start to apply the structure above to your writing, you’re probably going to keep coming across the same elements: Do I really have to explain how to install Sass and Node.js again, Sally? The danger with more clarity is that our writing becomes bloated and overly convoluted for advanced readers, those who don’t need to be told how to beat an egg for the hundredth time.  Instead, by making our writing reusable and modular, and by creating smaller, central resources, we can provide context and extra detail where needed without diluting our core message. These could be references we create, or those already created well by others. This recipe for katsudon makes use of this concept. Rather than explaining how to make tonkatsu or dashi stock, these each have their own page. Once familiar, more advanced readers will likely skip over the instructions for the component parts. 3. Provide context to aid accessibility Here I’m talking about accessibility in the broadest sense. Small, isolated snippets can be frustrating to those who don’t fully understand the wider context of how our examples work. Showing an exciting standalone JavaScript function is great, but giving someone the full picture of how and when this is called, and how it should be included in relation to other HTML and CSS is even better. Giving your readers the ability to view a big picture version, and ideally the ability to download a full version of the source, will help to reduce some of the frustrations of trying to get your component to work in their set-up.  4. Be your own tech editor A good editor can be invaluable to your work, and wherever possible I’d recommend that you try to get a neutral party to read over your writing. This may not always be possible, though, and you may need to rely on yourself to cast a critical eye over your work. There are many tips out there around general editing, including printing out your work onto paper, or changing the font size: both will force your eyes to review it in a new light. Beyond this, I’d like to encourage you to think about the following: Explain what things are. For example, instead of referencing Grunt, in the first instance perhaps reference “Grunt (a JavaScript task runner that minimises repetitive activities through automation).” Explain how you get things, even if this is a link to official installers and documentation. Don’t leave your readers having to search. Why are you using this approach/technology over other options? What happens if I use something else? What depends on this? Avoid exclusionary lingo or acronyms. Airbnb’s JavaScript Style Guide includes useful pointers around their reasoning: Use computed property names when creating objects with dynamic property names. Why? They allow you to define all the properties of an object in one place. The language we use often makes assumptions, as we saw with “just”. An article titled “ES6 for Beginners” is hugely ambiguous: is this truly for beginner coders, or actually for people who have a good pre-existing understanding of JavaScript but are new to these features? Review your writing with different types of readers in mind. How might you confuse or mislead them? How can you better answer their questions? This doesn’t necessarily mean supporting everyone – your audience may need to have advanced skills – but even if you’re providing low-level, deep-dive, reference material, trying not to make assumptions or take shortcuts will hopefully lead to better, clearer writing. 5. A picture is worth a thousand words… …or even better: use a thousand pictures, stitched together into a quick video or animated GIF. People learn in different ways. Just as recipes often provide visual references or a video to work along with, providing your technical information with alternative demonstrations can really help get your point across. Your audience will be able to see exactly what you’re doing, what they should expect as interaction responses, and what the process looks like at different points. There are many, many options for recording your screen, including QuickTime Player on Mac OS X (File → New Screen Recording), GifGrabber, or Giffing Tool on Windows. Paul Swain, a UX designer, uses GIFs to provide additional context within his documentation, improving communication: “My colleagues (from across the organisation) love animated GIFs. Any time an interaction is referenced, it’s accompanied by a GIF and a shared understanding of what’s being designed. The humble GIF is worth so much more than a thousand words; and it’s great for cats.” Paul Swain Next time you’re cooking up some instructions for readers, think back to what we can learn from recipes to help make your writing as accessible as possible. Use structure, provide reusable bitesize morsels, give some context, edit wisely, and don’t scrimp on the GIFs. And above all, have a great Christmas! 2015 Sally Jenkinson sallyjenkinson 2015-12-18T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/cooking-up-effective-technical-writing/ content
58 Beyond the Style Guide Much like baking a Christmas cake, designing for the web involves creating an experience in layers. Starting with a solid base that provides the core experience (the fruit cake), we can add further layers, each adding refinement (the marzipan) and delight (the icing). Don’t worry, this isn’t a misplaced cake recipe, but an evaluation of modular design and the role style guides can play in acknowledging these different concerns, be they presentational or programmatic. The auteur’s style guide Although trained as a graphic designer, it was only when I encountered the immediacy of the web that I felt truly empowered as a designer. Given a desire to control every aspect of the resulting experience, I slowly adopted the role of an auteur, exploring every part of the web stack: front-end to back-end, and everything in between. A few years ago, I dreaded using the command line. Today, the terminal is a permanent feature in my Dock. In straddling the realms of graphic design and programming, it’s the point at which they meet that I find most fascinating, with each dicipline valuing the creation of effective systems, be they for communication or code efficiency. Front-end style guides live at this intersection, demonstrating both the modularity of code and the application of visual design. Painting by numbers In our rush to build modular systems, design frameworks have grown in popularity. While enabling quick assembly, these come at the cost of originality and creative expression – perhaps one reason why we’re seeing the homogenisation of web design. In editorial design, layouts should accentuate content and present it in an engaging manner. Yet on the web we see a practice that seeks templated predictability. In ‘Design Machines’ Travis Gertz argued that (emphasis added): Design systems still feel like a novelty in screen-based design. We nerd out over grid systems and modular scales and obsess over style guides and pattern libraries. We’re pretty good at using them to build repeatable components and site-wide standards, but that’s sort of where it ends. […] But to stop there is to ignore the true purpose and potential of a design system. Unless we consider how interface patterns fully embrace the design systems they should be built upon, style guides may exacerbate this paint-by-numbers approach, encouraging conformance and suppressing creativity. Anatomy of a button Let’s take a look at that most canonical of components, the button, and consider what we might wish to document and demonstrate in a style guide. The different layers of our button component. Content The most variable aspect of any component. Content guidelines will exert the most influence here, dictating things like tone of voice (whether we should we use stiff, formal language like ‘Submit form’, or adopt a more friendly tone, perhaps ‘Send us your message’) and appropriate language. For an internationalised interface, this may also impact word length and text direction or orientation. Structure HTML provides a limited vocabulary which we can use to structure content and add meaning. For interactive elements, the choice of element can also affect its behaviour, such as whether a button submits form data or links to another page: <button type="submit">Button text</button> <a href="/index.html">Button text</a> Note: One of the reasons I prefer to use <button> instead of <input type=“button”>, besides allowing the inclusion of content other than text, is that it has a markup structure similar to links, therefore keeping implementation differences to a minimum. We should also think about each component within the broader scope of our particular product. For this we can employ a further vocabulary, which can be expressed by adding values to the class attribute. For a newspaper, we might use names like lede, standfirst and headline, while a social media application might see us reach for words like stream, action or avatar. Presentation The appearance of a component can never be considered in isolation. Informed by its relationship to other elements, style guides may document different stylistic variations of a component, even if the underlying function remains unchanged: primary and secondary button styles, for example. Behaviour A component can exhibit various states: blank, loading, partial, error and ideal, and a style guide should reflect that. Our button component is relatively simple, yet even here we need to consider hover, focused, active and disabled states. Transcending layers This overview reinforces Ethan’s note from earlier in this series: I’ve found that thinking about my design as existing in broad experience tiers – in layers – is one of the best ways of designing for the modern web. While it’s tempting to describe a component as series of layers, certain aspects will transcend several of these. The accessibility of a component, for example, may influence the choice of language, the legibility of text, colour contrast and which affordances are provided in different states. Visual design language: documenting the missing piece Even given this small, self-contained component, we can see several concerns at play, and in reviewing our button it seems we have most things covered. However, a few questions remain unanswered. Why does it have a blue background? Why are the borders 2px thick, with a radius of 4px? Why are we using that font, at that size and with that weight? These questions can be answered by our visual design language. More than a set of type choices and colour palettes, a design language can dicate common measures, ratios and the resulting grid(s) these influence. Ideally governed by a set of broader design principles, it can also inform an illustration style, the type of photography sourced or commissioned, and the behaviour of any animations. Whereas a style guide ensures conformity, having it underpinned by an effective design language will allow for flexibility; only by knowing the rules can you know how to break them! Type pairings in the US Web Design Standards guide. For a style guide to thoroughly articulate a visual design system, the spectrum of choices it allows for should be acknowledged. A fantastic example of this can be found in the US Web Design Standards. By virtue of being a set of standards designed to apply to a number of different sites, this guide offers a range of type pairings (that take into account performance considerations) and provides primary, secondary and tertiary palette relationships, with shades and tones thereof: Colour palettes in the US Web Design Standards guide. A visual language in code form Properly documenting our design language in a style guide is a good start, yet even better if it can be expressed in code. This is where CSS preprocessors become a powerful ally. In Sass, methods like mixins and maps can help us represent relationships between values. Variables (and CSS variables) extend the vocabulary provided natively by CSS, meaning we can describe patterns in terms of our own visual language. These tools effectively become an interface to our design system. Furthermore, they help maintain a separation of concerns, with visual presentation remaining where it should be: in our style sheets. Take this simple example, an article summary on a website counting down the best Christmas movies: The design for our simple component example. Our markup is as follows, using appropriate semantic HTML elements and incorporating the vocabulary from our collection of design patterns (expressed using the BEM methodology): <article class="summary"> <h1 class="summary__title"> <a href="scrooged.html"> <span class="summary__position">12</span> Scrooged (1988) </a> </h1> <div class="summary__body"> <p>It’s unlikely that Bill Murray could ever have got through his career without playing a version of Scrooge…</p> </div> <footer class="summary__meta"> <strong>Director:</strong> Richard Donner<br/> <strong>Stars:</strong> Bill Murray, Buddy Hackett, Karen Allen </footer> </article> We can then describe the presentation of this HTML by using Sass maps to define our palettes, mixins to include predefined font metrics, and variables to recall common measurements: .summary { margin-bottom: ($baseline * 4) } .summary__title { @include font-family(display-serif); @include font-size(title); color: palette(neutral, dark); margin-bottom: ($baseline * 4); border-top: $rule-height solid palette(primary, purple); padding-top: ($baseline * 2); } .summary__position { @include font-family(display-sans, 300); color: palette(neutral, mid); } .summary__body { @include font-family(text-serif); @include font-size(body); margin-bottom: ($baseline * 2); } .summary__meta { @include font-family(text-sans); @include font-size(caption); } Of course, this is a simplistic example for the purposes of demonstration. However, such thinking was employed at a much larger scale at the Guardian. Using a set of Sass components, complex patterns could be described using a language familar to everyone on the product team, be they a designer, developer or product owner: The design of a component on the Guardian website, described in terms of its Sass-powered design system. Unlocking possibility Alongside tools like preprocessors, newer CSS layout modules like flexbox and grid layout mean the friction we’ve long been accustomed to when creating layouts on the web is no longer present, and the full separation of presentation from markup is now possible. Now is the perfect time for graphic designers to advocate design systems that these developments empower, and ensure they’re fully represented in both documentation and code. That way, together, we can build systems that allow for greater visual expression. After all, there’s more than one way to bake a Christmas cake. 2015 Paul Lloyd paulrobertlloyd 2015-12-16T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/beyond-the-style-guide/ design
59 Animating Your Brand Let’s talk about how we add animation to our designs, in a way that’s consistent with other aspects of our brand, such as fonts, colours, layouts and everything else. Animating is fun. Adding animation to our designs can bring them to life and make our designs stand out. Animations can show how the pieces of our designs fit together. They provide context and help people use our products. All too often animation is something we tack on at the end. We put a transition on a modal window or sliding menu and we often don’t think about whether that animation is consistent with our overall design. Style guides to the rescue A style guide is a document that establishes and enforces style to improve communication. It can cover anything from typography and writing style to ethics and other, broader goals. It might be a static visual document showing every kind of UI, like in the Codecademy.com redesign shown below. UI toolkit from “Reimagining Codecademy.com” by @mslima It might be a technical reference with code examples. CodePen’s new design patterns and style guide is a great example of this, showing all the components used throughout the website as live code. CodePen’s design patterns and style guide A style guide gives a wide view of your project, it maintains consistency when adding new content, and we can use our style guide to present animations. Living documents Style guides don’t need to be static. We can use them to show movement. We can share CSS keyframe animations or transitions that can then go into production. We can also explain why animation is there in the first place. Just as a style guide might explain why we chose a certain font or layout, we can use style guides to explain the intent behind animation. This means that if someone else wants to create a new component, they will know why animation applies. If you haven’t yet set up a style guide, you might want to take a look at Pattern Lab. It’s a great tool for setting up your own style guide and includes loads of design patterns to get started. There are many style guide articles linked from the excellent, open sourced, Website Style Guide Resources. Anna Debenham also has an excellent pocket book on the subject. Adding animation Before you begin throwing animation at all the things, establish the character you want to convey. Andrex Puppy (British TV ad from 1994) List some words that describe the character you’re aiming for. If it was the Andrex brand, they might have gone for: fun, playful, soft, comforting. Perhaps you’re aiming for something more serious, credible and authoritative. Or maybe exciting and intense, or relaxing and meditative. For each scenario, the animations that best represent these words will be different. In the example below, two animations both take the same length of time, but use different timing functions. One eases, and the other bounces around. Either might be good, depending on your needs. Timing functions (CodePen) Example: Kitman Labs Working with Kitman Labs, we spent a little time working out what words best reflected the brand and came up with the following: Scientific Precise Fast Solid Dependable Helpful Consistent Clear With such a list of words in hand, we design animation that fits. We might prefer a tween that moves quickly to its destination over one that drifts slowly or bounces. We can use the list when justifying our use of animation, such as when it helps our customers understand the context of data on the page. Or we may even choose not to animate, when that might make the message inconsistent. Create guidelines If you already have a style guide, adding animation could begin with creating an overview section. One approach is to create a local website and share it within your organisation. We recently set up a local site for this purpose. A recent project’s introduction to the topic of animation This document becomes a reference when adding animation to components. Include links to related resources or examples of animation to help demonstrate the animation style you want. Prototyping You can explain the intent of your animation style guide with live animations. This doesn’t just mean waving our hands around. We can show animation through prototypes. There are so many prototype tools right now. You could use Invision, Principle, Floid, or even HTML and CSS as embedded CodePens. A login flow prototype created in Principle These tools help when trying out ideas and working through several approaches. Create videos, animated GIFs or online demos to share with others. Experiment. Find what works for you and work with whatever lets you get the most ideas out of your head fastest. Iterate and refine an animation before it gets anywhere near production. Build up a collection Build up your guide, one animation at a time. Some people prefer to loosely structure a guide with places to put things as they are discovered or invented; others might build it one page at a time – it doesn’t matter. The main thing is that you collect animations like you would trading cards. Or Pokemon. Keep them ready to play and deliver that explosive result. You could include animated GIFs, or link to videos or even live webpages as examples of animation. The use of animation to help user experience is also covered nicely in Val Head’s UI animation and UX article on A List Apart. What matters is that you create an organised place for them to be found. Here are some ideas to get started. Logos and brandmarks Many sites include some subtle form of animation in their logos. This can draw the eye, add some character, or bring a little liveliness to an otherwise static page. Yahoo and Google have been experimenting with animation on their logos. Even a simple bouncing animation, such as the logo on Hop.ie, can add character. The CSS-animated bouncer from Hop.ie Content transitions Adding content, removing content, showing and hiding messages are all opportunities to use animation. Careful and deliberate use of animation helps convey what’s changing on screen. Animating list items with CSS (CSSAnimation.rocks) For more detail on this, I also recommend “Transitional Interfaces” by Pasquale D’Silva. Page transitions On a larger scale than the changes to content, full-page transitions can smooth the flow between sections of a site. Medium’s article transitions are a good example of this. Medium-style page transition (Tympanus.net) Preparing a layout before the content arrives We can use animation to draw a page before the content is ready, such as when a page calls a server for data before showing it. Optimistic loading grid (CodePen) Sometimes it’s good to show something to let the user know that everything’s going well. A short animation could cover just enough time to load the initial content and make the loading transition feel seamless. Interactions Hover effects, dropdown menus, slide-in menus and active states on buttons and forms are all opportunities. Look for ways you can remove the sudden changes and help make the experience of using your UI feel smoother. Form placeholder animation (Studio MDS) Keep animation visible It takes continuous effort to maintain a style guide and keep it up to date, but it’s worth it. Make it easy to include animation and related design decisions in your documentation and you’ll be more likely to do so. If you can make it fun, and be proud of the result, better still. When updating your style guide, be sure to show the animations at the same time. This might mean animated GIFs, videos or live embedded examples of your components. By doing this you can make animation integral to your design process and make sure it stays relevant. Inspiration and resources There are loads of great resources online to help you get started. One of my favourites is IBM’s design language site. IBM’s design language: animation design guidelines IBM describes how animation principles apply to its UI work and components. They break down the animations into five categories of animations and explain how they apply to each example. The site also includes an animation library with example videos of animations and links to source code. Example component from IBM’s component library The way IBM sets out its aims and methods is helpful not only for their existing designers and developers, but also helps new hires. Furthermore, it’s a good way to show the world that IBM cares about these details. Another popular animation resource is Google’s material design. Google’s material design documentation Google’s guidelines cover everything from understanding easing through to creating engaging and useful mobile UI. This approach is visible across many of Google’s apps and software, and has influenced design across much of the web. The site is helpful both for learning about animation and as an showcase of how to illustrate examples. Frameworks If you don’t want to create everything from scratch, there are resources you can use to start using animation in your UI. One such resource is Salesforce’s Lightning design system. The system goes further than most guides. It includes a downloadable framework for adding animation to your projects. It has some interesting concepts, such as elevation settings to handle positioning on the z-axis. Example of elevation from Salesforce’s Lightning design system You should also check out Animate.css. “Just add water” — Animate.css Animate.css gives you a set of predesigned animations you can apply to page elements using classes. If you use JavaScript to add or remove classes, you can then trigger complex animations. It also plays well with scroll-triggering, and tools such as WOW.js. Learn, evolve and make it your own There’s a wealth online of information and guides we can use to better understand animation. They can inspire and kick-start our own visual and animation styles. So let’s think of the design of animations just as we do fonts, colours and layouts. Let’s choose animation deliberately, making it part of our style guides. Many thanks to Val Head for taking the time to proofread and offer great suggestions for this article. 2015 Donovan Hutchinson donovanhutchinson 2015-12-01T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/animating-your-brand/ design
60 What’s Ahead for Your Data in 2016? Who owns your data? Who decides what can you do with it? Where can you store it? What guarantee do you have over your data’s privacy? Where can you publish your work? Can you adapt software to accommodate your disability? Is your tiny agency subject to corporate regulation? Does another country have rights over your intellectual property? If you aren’t the kind of person who is interested in international politics, I hate to break it to you: in 2016 the legal foundations which underpin our work on the web are being revisited in not one but three major international political agreements, and every single one of those questions is up for grabs. These agreements – the draft EU Data Protection Regulation (EUDPR), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the draft Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – stand poised to have a major impact on your data, your workflows, and your digital rights. While some proposed changes could protect the open web for the future, other provisions would set the internet back several decades. In this article we will review the issues you need to be aware of as a digital professional. While each of these agreements covers dozens of topics ranging from climate change to food safety, we will focus solely on the aspects which pertain to the work we do on the web. The Trans-Pacific Partnership The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a free trade agreement between the US, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru – a bloc comprising 40% of the world’s economy. The agreement is expected to be signed by all parties, and thereby to come into effect, in 2016. This agreement is ostensibly about the bloc and its members working together for their common interests. However, the latest draft text of the TPP, which was formulated entirely in secret, has only been made publicly available on a Medium blog published by the U.S. Trade Representative which features a patriotic banner at the top proclaiming “TPP: Made in America.” The message sent about who holds the balance of power in this agreement, and whose interests it will benefit, is clear. By far the most controversial area of the TPP has centred around the provisions on intellectual property. These include copyright terms of up to 120 years, mandatory takedowns of allegedly infringing content in response to just one complaint regardless of that complaint’s validity, heavy and disproportionate penalties for alleged violations, and – most frightening of all – government seizures of equipment allegedly used for copyright violations. All of these provisions have been raised without regard for the fact that a trade agreement is not the appropriate venue to negotiate intellectual property law. Other draft TPP provisions would restrict the digital rights of people with disabilities by banning the workarounds they use every day. These include no exemptions for the adaptations of copywritten works for use in accessible technology (such as text-to-speech in ebook readers), a ban on circumventing DRM or digital locks in order to convert a file to an accessible format, and requiring the takedown of adapted works, such as a video with added subtitles, even if that adaptation would normally have fallen under the definition of fair use. The e-commerce provisions would prohibit data localisation, the practice of requiring data to be physically stored on servers within a country’s borders. Data localisation is growing in popularity following the Snowden revelations, and some of your own personal data may have been recently “localised” in response to the Safe Harbor verdict. Prohibiting data localisation through the TPP would address the symptom but not the cause. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published an excellent summary of the digital rights issues raised by the agreement along with suggested actions American readers can take to speak out. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership TTIP stands for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a draft free trade agreement between the United States and the EU. The plan has been hugely controversial and divisive, and the internet and digital provisions of the draft form just a small part of that contention. The most striking digital provision of TTIP is an attempt to circumvent and override European data protection law. As EDRI, a European digital rights organisation, noted: “the US proposal would authorise the transfer of EU citizens’ personal data to any country, trumping the EU data protection framework, which ensures that this data can only be transferred in clearly defined circumstances. For years, the US has been trying to bypass the default requirement for storage of personal data in the EU. It is therefore not surprising to see such a proposal being {introduced} in the context of the trade negotiations.” This draft provision was written before the Safe Harbor data protection agreement between the EU and US was invalidated by the Court of Justice of the European Union. In other words, there is no longer any protective agreement in place, and our data is as vulnerable as this political situation. However, data protection is a matter of its own law, the acting Data Protection Directive and the draft EU Data Protection Reform. A trade agreement, be it the TTIP or the TPP, is not the appropriate place to revamp a law on data protection. Other digital law issues raised by TTIP include the possibility of renegotiating standards on encryption (which in practice means lowering them) and renegotiating intellectual property rights such as copyright. The spectre of net neutrality has even put in an appearance, with an attempt to introduce rules on access to the internet itself being introduced as provisions. TTIP is still under discussion, and this month the EU trade representative said that “we agreed to further intensify our work during 2016 to help negotiations move forward rapidly.” This has been cleverly worded: this means the agreement has little chance of being passed or coming into effect in 2016, which buys civil society more precious time to speak out. The EU Data Protection Regulation On 15 December 2015 the European Commission announced their agreement on the text of the draft General Data Protection Regulation. This law will replace its predecessor, the EU Data Protection Regulation of 1995, which has done a remarkable job of protecting data privacy across the continent throughout two decades of constant internet evolution. The goal of the reform process has been to return power over data, and its uses, to citizens. Users will have more control over what data is captured about them, how it is used, how it is retained, and how it can be deleted. Businesses and digital professionals, in turn, will have to restructure their relationships with client and customer data. Compliance obligations will increase, and difficult choices will have to be made. However, this time should be seen as an opportunity to rethink our relationship with data. After Snowden, Schrems, and Safe Harbor, it is clear that we cannot go back to the way things were before. In an era of where every one of our heartbeats is recorded on a wearable device and uploaded to a surveilled data centre in another country, the need for reform has never been more acute. While texts of the draft GDPR are available, there is not enough mulled wine in the world that will help you get through them. Instead, the law firm Fieldfisher Waterhouse has produced this helpful infographic which will give you a good idea of the changes we can expect to see (view full size): The most surprising outcome announced on 15 December was the new regulation’s teeth. Under the new law, companies that fail to heed the updated data protection rules will face fines of up to 4% of their global turnover. Additionally, the law expands the liability for data protection to both the controller (the company hosting the data) and the data processor (the company using the data). The new law will also introduce a one-stop shop for resolving concerns over data misuse. Companies will no longer be able to headquarter their European operations in countries which are perceived to have relatively light-touch data protection enforcement (that means you, Ireland) as a means of automatically rejecting any complaints filed by citizens outside that country. For digital professionals, the most immediate concern is analytics. In fact, I am going to make a prediction: in 2016 we will begin to see the same misguided war on analytics that we saw on cookies. By increasing the legal liabilities for both data processors and controllers – in other words, the company providing the analytics as well as the site administrator studying them – the new regulation risks creating disproportionate burdens as well as the same “guilt by association” risks we saw in 2012. There have already been statements made by some within the privacy community that analytics are tracking, and tracking is surveillance, therefore analytics are evil. Yet “just don’t use analytics,” as was suggested by one advocate, is simply not an option. European regulators should consult with the web community to gain a clear understanding of why analytics are vital to everyday site administrators, and must find a happy medium that protects users’ data without criminalising every website by default. No one wants a repeat of the crisis of consent, as well as the scaremongering, caused by the cookie law. Assuming the text is adopted in 2016, the new EU Data Protection Regulation would not come into effect until 2018. We have a considerable challenge ahead, but we also have plenty of time to get it right. 2015 Heather Burns heatherburns 2015-12-21T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/whats-ahead-for-your-data-in-2016/ business
61 Animation in Responsive Design Animation and responsive design can sometimes feel like they’re at odds with each other. Animation often needs space to do its thing, but RWD tells us that the amount of space we’ll have available is going to change a lot. Balancing that can lead to some tricky animation situations. Embracing the squishiness of responsive design doesn’t have to mean giving up on your creative animation ideas. There are three general techniques that can help you balance your web animation creativity with your responsive design needs. One or all of these approaches might help you sneak in something just a little extra into your next project. Focused art direction Smaller viewports mean a smaller stage for your motion to play out on, and this tends to amplify any motion in your animation. Suddenly 100 pixels is really far and multiple moving parts can start looking like they’re battling for space. An effect that looked great on big viewports can become muddled and confusing when it’s reframed in a smaller space. Making animated movements smaller will do the trick for simple motion like a basic move across the screen. But for more complex animation on smaller viewports, you’ll need to simplify and reduce the number of moving parts. The key to this is determining what the vital parts of the animation are, to zone in on the parts that are most important to its message. Then remove the less necessary bits to distill the motion’s message down to the essentials. For example, Rally Interactive’s navigation folds down into place with two triangle shapes unfolding each corner on larger viewports. If this exact motion was just scaled down for narrower spaces the two corners would overlap as they unfolded. It would look unnatural and wouldn’t make much sense. Open video The main purpose of this animation is to show an unfolding action. To simplify the animation, Rally unfolds only one side for narrower viewports, with a slightly different animation. The action is still easily interpreted as unfolding and it’s done in a way that is a better fit for the available space. The message the motion was meant to convey has been preserved while the amount of motion was simplified. Open video Si Digital does something similar. The main concept of the design is to portray the studio as a creative lab. On large viewports, this is accomplished primarily through an animated illustration that runs the full length of the site and triggers its animations based on your scroll position. The illustration is there to support the laboratory concept visually, but it doesn’t contain critical content. Open video At first, it looks like Si Digital just turned off the animation of the illustration for smaller viewports. But they’ve actually been a little cleverer than that. They’ve also reduced the complexity of the illustration itself. Both the amount of motion (reduced down to no motion) and the illustration were simplified to create a result that is much easier to glean the concept from. Open video The most interesting thing about these two examples is that they’re solved more with thoughtful art direction than complex code. Keeping the main concept of the animations at the forefront allowed each to adapt creative design solutions to viewports of varying size without losing the integrity of their design. Responsive choreography Static content gets moved around all the time in responsive design. A three-column layout might line up from left to right on wide viewports, then stack top to bottom on narrower viewports. The same approach can be used to arrange animated content for narrower views, but the animation’s choreography also needs to be adjusted for the new layout. Even with static content, just scaling it down or zooming out to fit it into the available space is rarely an ideal solution. Rearranging your animations’ choreography to change which animation starts when, or even which animations play at all, keeps your animated content readable on smaller viewports. In a recent project I had three small animations that played one after the other, left to right, on wider viewports but needed to be stacked on narrower viewports to be large enough to see. On wide viewports, all three animations could play one right after the other in sequence because all three were in the viewable area at the same time. But once these were stacked for the narrower viewport layouts, that sequence had to change. Open video What was essentially one animation on wider viewports became three separate animations when stacked on narrower viewports. The layout change meant the choreography had to change as well. Each animation starts independently when it comes into view in the stacked layout instead of playing automatically in sequence. (I’ve put the animated parts in this demo if you want to peek under the hood.) Open video I choose to use the GreenSock library, with the choreography defined in two different timelines for this particular project. But the same goals could be accomplished with other JavaScript options or even CSS keyframe animations and media queries. Even more complex responsive choreography can be pulled off with SVG. Media queries can be used to change CSS animations applied to SVG elements at specific breakpoints for starters. For even more responsive power, SVG’s viewBox property, and the positioning of the objects within it, can be adjusted at JavaScript-defined breakpoints. This lets you set rules to crop the viewable area and arrange your animating elements to fit any space. Sarah Drasner has some great examples of how to use this technique with style in this responsive infographic and this responsive interactive illustration. On the other hand, if smart scalability is what you’re after, it’s also possible to make all of an SVG’s shapes and motion scale with the SVG canvas itself. Sarah covers both these clever responsive SVG techniques in detail. Creative and complex animation can easily become responsive thanks to the power of SVG! Open video Bake performance into your design decisions It’s hard to get very far into a responsive design discussion before performance comes up. Performance goes hand in hand with responsive design and your animation decisions can have a big impact on the overall performance of your site. The translate3D “hack”, backface-visibility:hidden, and the will-change property are the heavy hitters of animation performance. But decisions made earlier in your animation design process can have a big impact on rendering performance and your performance budget too. Pick a technology that matches your needs One of the biggest advantages of the current web animation landscape is the range of tools we have available to us. We can use CSS animations and transitions to add just a dash of interface animation to our work, go all out with webGL to create a 3D experience, or anywhere in between. All within our browsers! Having this huge range of options is amazing and wonderful but it also means you need to be cognizant of what you’re using to get the job done. Loading in the full weight of a robust JavaScript animation library is going to be overkill if you’re only animating a few small elements here and there. That extra overhead will have an impact on performance. Performance budgets will not be pleased. Always match the complexity of the technology you choose to the complexity of your animation needs to avoid unnecessary performance strain. For small amounts of animation, stick to CSS solutions since it’s the most lightweight option. As your animations grow in complexity, or start to require more robust logic, move to a JavaScript solution that can accomplish what you need. Animate the most performant properties Whether you’re animating in CSS or JavaScript, you’re affecting specific properties of the animated element. Browsers can animate some properties more efficiently than others based on how many steps need to happen behind the scenes to visually update those properties. Browsers are particularly efficient at animating opacity, scale, rotation, and position (when the latter three are done with transforms). This article from Paul Irish and Paul Lewis gives the full scoop on why. Conveniently, those are also the most common properties used in motion design. There aren’t many animated effects that can’t be pulled off with this list. Stick to these properties to set your animations up for the best performance results from the start. If you find yourself needing to animate a property outside of this list, check CSS Triggers… to find out how much of an additional impact it might have. Offset animation start times Offsets (the concept of having a series of similar movements execute one slightly after the other, creating a wave-like pattern) are a long-held motion graphics trick for creating more interesting and organic looking motion. Employing this trick of the trade can also be smart for performance. Animating a large number of objects all at the same time can put a strain on the browser’s rendering abilities even in the best cases. Adding short delays to offset these animations in time, so they don’t all start at once, can improve rendering performance. Go explore the responsive animation possibilities for yourself! With smart art direction, responsive choreography, and an eye on performance you can create just about any creative web animation you can think up while still being responsive. Keep these in mind for your next project and you’ll pull off your animations with style at any viewport size! 2015 Val Head valhead 2015-12-09T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/animation-in-responsive-design/ design
62 Being Customer Supportive Every day in customer support is an inbox, a Twitter feed, or a software forum full of new questions. Each is brimming with your customers looking for advice, reassurance, or fixes for their software problems. Each one is an opportunity to take a break from wrestling with your own troublesome tasks and assist someone else in solving theirs. Sometimes the questions are straightforward and can be answered in a few minutes with a short greeting, a link to a help page, or a prewritten bit of text you use regularly: how to print a receipt, reset a password, or even, sadly, close your account. More often, a support email requires you to spend some time unpacking the question, asking for more information, and writing a detailed personal response, tailored to help that particular user on this particular day. Here I offer a few of my own guidelines on how to make today’s email the best support experience for both me and my customer. And even if you don’t consider what you do to be customer support, you might still find the suggestions useful for the next time you need to communicate with a client, to solve a software problem with teammates, or even reach out and ask for help yourself. (All the examples appearing in this article are fictional. Any resemblance to quotes from real, software-using persons is entirely coincidental. Except for the bit about Star Wars. That happened.) Who’s TAHT girl I’ll be honest: I briefly tried making these recommendations into a clever mnemonic like FAST (facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulties, time) or PAD (pressure, antiseptic, dressing). But instead, you get TAHT: tone, ask, help, thank. Ah, well. As I work through each message in my support queue, I listen to the tone of the email ask clarifying questions bring in extra help as needed and thank the customer when the problem is solved. Let’s open an email and get started! Leave your message at the sound of the tone With our enthusiasm for emoji, it can be very hard to infer someone’s tone from plain text. How much time have you spent pondering why your friend responded with “Thanks.” instead of “Thanks!”? I mean, why didn’t she :grin: or :wink: too? Our support customers, however, are often direct about how they’re feeling: I’m working against a deadline. Need this fixed ASAP!!!! This hasn’t worked in a week and I am getting really frustrated. I’ve done this ten times before and it’s always worked. I must be missing something simple. They want us to understand the urgency of this from their point of view, just as much as we want to help them in a timely manner. How this information is conveyed gives us an instant sense of whether they are frustrated, angry, or confused—and, just as importantly, how frustrated-angry-confused they are. Listen to this tone before you start writing your reply. Here are two ways I might open an email: “I’m sorry that you ran into trouble with this.” “Sorry you ran into trouble with this!” The content is largely the same, but the tone is markedly different. The first version is a serious, staid reaction to the problem the customer is having; the second version is more relaxed, but no less sincere. Matching the tone to the sender’s is an important first step. Overusing exclamation points or dropping in too-casual language may further upset someone who is already having a crummy time with your product. But to a cheerful user, a formal reply or an impersonal form response can be off-putting, and damage a good relationship. When in doubt, I err on the side of being too formal, rather than sending a reply that may be read as flip or insincere. But whichever you choose, matching your correspondent’s tone will make for a more comfortable conversation. Catch the ball and throw it back Once you’ve got that tone on lock, it’s time to tackle the question at hand. Let’s see what our customer needs help with today: I tried everything in the troubleshooting page but I can’t get it to work again. I am on a Mac. Please help. Hmm, not much information here. Now, if I got this short email after helping five other people with the same problem on Mac OS X, I would be sorely tempted to send this customer that common solution in my first reply. I’ve found it’s important to resist the urge to assume this sixth person needs the same answer as the other five, though: there isn’t enough to connect this email to the ones that came before hers. Instead, ask a few questions to start. Invest some time to see if there are other symptoms in common, like so: I’m sorry that you ran into trouble with this! I’ll need a little more information to see what’s happening here. [questions] Thank you for your help. Those questions are customized for the customer’s issue as much as possible, and can be fairly wide-ranging. They may include asking for log files, getting some screenshots, or simply checking the browser and operating system version she’s using. I’ll ask anything that might make a connection to the previous cases I’ve answered—or, just as importantly, confirm that there isn’t a connection. What’s more, a few well-placed questions may save us both from pursuing the wrong path and building additional frustration. (A note on that closing: “Thank you for your help”–I often end an email this way when I’ve asked for a significant amount of follow up information. After all, I’m imposing on my customer’s time to run any number of tests. It’s a necessary step, but I feel that thanking them is a nice acknowledgment we’re in this together.) Having said that, though, let’s bring tone back into the mix: I tried everything in the troubleshooting but I can’t get it to work again. I am on a Mac. I’m working against a deadline. Need this fixed ASAP!!!! This customer wants answers now. I’ll still ask for more details, but would consider including the solution to the previous problem in my initial reply as well. (But only if doing so can’t make the situation worse!) I’m sorry that you ran into trouble with this! I’ll need a little more information to see what’s happening here. [questions] If you’d like to try something in the meantime, delete the file named xyz.txt. (If this isn’t the cause of the problem, deleting the file won’t hurt anything.) Here’s how to find that file on your computer: [steps] Let me know how it goes! In the best case, the suggestion works and the customer is on her way. If it doesn’t solve the problem, you will get more information in answer to your questions and can explore other options. And you’ve given the customer an opportunity to be involved in fixing the issue, and some new tools which might come in handy again in the future. Bring in help The support software I use counts how many emails the customer and I have exchanged, and reports it in a summary line in my inbox. It’s an easy, passive reminder of how long the customer and I have been working together on a problem, especially first thing in the morning when I’m reacquainting myself with my open support cases. Three is the smallest number I’ll see there: the customer sends the initial question (1 email); I reply with an answer (2 emails); the customer confirms the problem is solved (3 emails). But the most complicated, stickiest tickets climb into double-digit replies, and anything that stretches beyond a dozen is worthy of a cheer in Slack when we finally get to the root of the problem and get it fixed. While an extra round of questions and answers will nudge that number higher, it gives me the chance to feel out the technical comfort level of the person I’m helping. If I ask the customer to send some screenshots or log files and he isn’t sure how to do that, I will use that information to adjust my instructions on next steps. I may still ask him to try running a traceroute on his computer, but I’ll break down the steps into a concise, numbered list, and attach screenshots of each step to illustrate it. If the issue at hand is getting complicated, take note if the customer starts to feel out of their depth technically—either because they tell you so directly or because you sense a shift in tone. If that happens, propose bringing some outside help into the conversation: Do you have a network firewall or do you use any antivirus software? One of those might be blocking a connection that the software needs to work properly; here’s a list of the required connections [link]. If you have an IT department in-house, they should be able to help confirm that none of those are being blocked. or: This error message means you don’t have permission to install the software on your own computer. Is there a systems administrator in the office that may be able to help with this? For email-based support cases, I’ll even offer to add someone from their IT department to the thread, so we can discuss the problem together rather than have the customer relay questions and answers back and forth. Similarly, there are occasionally times when my way of describing things doesn’t fit how the customer understands them. Rather than bang our heads against our keyboards, I will ask one of my support colleagues to join the conversation from our side, and see if he can explain things more clearly than I’ve been able to do. We appreciate your business. Please call again And then, o frabjous day, you get your reward: the reply which says the problem has been solved. That worked!! Thank you so much for saving my day! I wish I could send you some cookies! If you were here, I would give you my tickets to Star Wars. [Reply is an animated gif.] Sometimes the reply is a bit more understated: That fixed it. Thanks. Whether the customer is elated, satisfied, or frankly happy to be done with emailing support, I like to close longer email threads or short, complicated issues with a final thanks and reminder that we’re here to help: Thank you for the update; I’m glad to hear that solved the problem for you! I hope everything goes smoothly for you now, but feel free to email us again if you run into any other questions or problems. Best, Then mark that support case closed, and move on to the next question. Because even with the most thoughtfully designed software product, there will always be customers with questions for your capable support team to answer. Tone, ask, help, thank So there you have it: TAHT. Pay attention to tone; ask questions; bring in help; thank your customer. (Lack of) catchy mnemonics aside, good customer support is about listening, paying attention, and taking care in your replies. I think it can be summed up beautifully by this quote from Pamela Marie (as tweeted by Chris Coyier): Golden rule asking a question: imagine trying to answer it Golden rule in answering: imagine getting your answer You and your teammates are applying a variation of this golden rule in every email you write. You’re the software ambassadors to your customers and clients. You get the brunt of the problems and complaints, but you also get to help fix them. You write the apologies, but you also have the chance to make each person’s experience with your company or product a little bit better for next time. I hope that your holidays are merry and bright, and may all your support inboxes be light. 2015 Elizabeth Galle elizabethgalle 2015-12-02T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/being-customer-supportive/ process
63 Be Fluid with Your Design Skills: Build Your Own Sites Just five years ago in 2010, when we were all busy trying to surprise and delight, learning CSS3 and trying to get whole websites onto one page, we had a poster on our studio wall. It was entitled ‘Designers Vs Developers’, an infographic that showed us the differences between the men(!) who created websites. Designers wore skinny jeans and used Macs and developers wore cargo pants and brought their own keyboards to work. We began to learn that designers and developers were not only doing completely different jobs but were completely different people in every way. This opinion was backed up by hundreds of memes, millions of tweets and pages of articles which used words like void and battle and versus. Thankfully, things move quickly in this industry; the wide world of web design has moved on in the last five years. There are new devices, technologies, tools – and even a few women. Designers have been helped along by great apps, software, open source projects, conferences, and a community of people who, to my unending pride, love to share their knowledge and their work. So the world has moved on, and if Miley Cyrus, Ruby Rose and Eliot Sumner are identifying as gender fluid (an identity which refers to a gender which varies over time or is a combination of identities), then I would like to come out as discipline fluid! OK, I will probably never identify as a developer, but I will identify as fluid! How can we be anything else in an industry that moves so quickly? That’s how we should think of our skills, our interests and even our job titles. After all, Steve Jobs told us that “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Sorry skinny-jean-wearing designers – this means we’re all designing something together. And it’s not just about knowing the right words to use: you have to know how it feels. How it feels when you make something work, when you fix that bug, when you make it work on IE. Like anything in life, things run smoothly when you make the effort to share experiences, empathise and deeply understand the needs of others. How can designers do that if they’ve never built their own site? I’m not talking the big stuff, I’m talking about your portfolio site, your mate’s business website, a website for that great idea you’ve had. I’m talking about doing it yourself to get an unique insight into how it feels. We all know that designers and developers alike love an <ol>, so here it is. Ten reasons designers should be fluid with their skills and build their own sites 1. It’s never been easier Now here’s where the definition of ‘build’ is going to get a bit loose and people are going to get angry, but when I say it’s never been easier I mean because of the existence of apps and software like WordPress, Squarespace, Tumblr, et al. It’s easy to make something and get it out there into the world, and these are all gateway drugs to hard coding! 2. You’ll understand how it feels How it feels to be so proud that something actually works that you momentarily don’t notice if the kerning is off or the padding is inconsistent. How it feels to see your site appear when you’ve redirected a URL. How it feels when you just can’t work out where that one extra space is in a line of PHP that has killed your whole site. 3. It makes you a designer Not a better designer, it makes you a designer when you are designing how things look and how they work. 4. You learn about movement Photoshop and Sketch just don’t cut it yet. Until you see your site in a browser or your app on a phone, it’s hard to imagine how it moves. Building your own sites shows you that it’s not just about how the content looks on the screen, but how it moves, interacts and feels. 5. You make techie friends All the tutorials and forums in the world can’t beat your network of techie friends. Since I started working in web design I have worked with, sat next to, and co-created with some of the greatest developers. Developers who’ve shared their knowledge, encouraged me to build things, patiently explained HTML, CSS, servers, divs, web fonts, iOS development. There has been no void, no versus, very few battles; just people who share an interest and love of making things. 6. You will own domain names When something is paid for, online and searchable then it’s real and you’ve got to put the work in. Buying domains has taught me how to stop procrastinating, but also about DNS, FTP, email, and how servers work. 7. People will ask you to do things
 Learning about code and development opens a whole new world of design. When you put your own personal websites and projects out there people ask you to do more things. OK, so sometimes those things are “Make me a website for free”, but more often it’s cool things like “Come and speak at my conference”, “Write an article for my magazine” and “Collaborate with me.” 8. The young people are coming! They love typography, they love print, they love layout, but they’ve known how to put a website together since they started their first blog aged five and they show me clever apps they’ve knocked together over the weekend! They’re new, they’re fluid, and they’re better than us! 9. Your portfolio is your portfolio OK, it’s an obvious one, but as designers our work is our CV, our legacy! We need to show our skill, our attention to detail and our creativity in the way we showcase our work. Building your portfolio is the best way to start building your own websites. (And please be that designer who’s bothered to work out how to change the Squarespace favicon!) 10. It keeps you fluid! Building your own websites is tough. You’ll never be happy with it, you’ll constantly be updating it to keep up with technology and fashion, and by the time you’ve finished it you’ll want to start all over again. Perfect for forcing you to stay up-to-date with what’s going on in the industry. </ol> 2015 Ros Horner roshorner 2015-12-12T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/be-fluid-with-your-design-skills-build-your-own-sites/ code
64 Being Responsive to the Small Things It’s that time of the year again to trim the tree with decorations. Or maybe a DOM tree? Any web page is made of HTML elements that lay themselves out in a tree structure. We start at the top and then have multiple branches with branches that branch out from there. To decorate our tree, we use CSS to specify which branches should receive the tinsel we wish to adorn upon it. It’s all so lovely. In years past, this was rather straightforward. But these days, our trees need to be versatile. They need to be responsive! Responsive web design is pretty wonderful, isn’t it? Based on our viewport, we can decide how elements on the page should change their appearance to accommodate various constraints using media queries. Clearleft have a delightfully clean and responsive site Alas, it’s not all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. With complex layouts, we may have design chunks — let’s call them components — that appear in different contexts. Each context may end up providing its own constraints on the design, both in its default state and in its possibly various responsive states. Media queries, however, limit us to the context of the entire viewport, not individual containers on the page. For every container our component lives in, we need to specify how to rearrange things in that context. The more complex the system, the more contexts we need to write code for. @media (min-width: 800px) { .features > .component { } .sidebar > .component {} .grid > .component {} } Each new component and each new breakpoint just makes the entire system that much more difficult to maintain. @media (min-width: 600px) { .features > .component { } .grid > .component {} } @media (min-width: 800px) { .features > .component { } .sidebar > .component {} .grid > .component {} } @media (min-width: 1024px) { .features > .component { } } Enter container queries Container queries, also known as element queries, allow you to specify conditional CSS based on the width (or maybe height) of the container that an element lives in. In doing so, you no longer have to consider the entire page and the interplay of all the elements within. With container queries, you’ll be able to consider the breakpoints of just the component you’re designing. As a result, you end up specifying less code and the components you develop have fewer dependencies on the things around them. (I guess that makes your components more independent.) Awesome, right? There’s only one catch. Browsers can’t do container queries. There’s not even an official specification for them yet. The Responsive Issues (née Images) Community Group is looking into solving how such a thing would actually work. See, container queries are tricky from an implementation perspective. The contents of a container can affect the size of the container. Because of this, you end up with troublesome circular references. For example, if the width of the container is under 500px then the width of the child element should be 600px, and if the width of the container is over 500px then the width of the child element should be 400px. Can you see the dilemma? When the container is under 500px, the child element resizes to 600px and suddenly the container is 600px. If the container is 600px, then the child element is 400px! And so on, forever. This is bad. I guess we should all just go home and sulk about how we just got a pile of socks when we really wanted the Millennium Falcon. Our saviour this Christmas: JavaScript The three wise men — Tim Berners-Lee, Håkon Wium Lie, and Brendan Eich — brought us the gifts of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. To date, there are a handful of open source solutions to fill the gap until a browser implementation sees the light of day. Elementary by Scott Jehl ElementQuery by Tyson Matanich EQ.js by Sam Richards CSS Element Queries from Marcj Using any of these can sometimes feel like your toy broke within ten minutes of unwrapping it. Each take their own approach on how to specify the query conditions. For example, Elementary, the smallest of the group, only supports min-width declarations made in a :before selector. .mod-foo:before { content: “300 410 500”; } The script loops through all the elements that you specify, reading the content property and then setting an attribute value on the HTML element, allowing you to use CSS to style that condition. .mod-foo[data-minwidth~="300"] { background: blue; } To get the script to run, you’ll need to set up event handlers for when the page loads and for when it resizes. window.addEventListener( "load", window.elementary, false ); window.addEventListener( "resize", window.elementary, false ); This works okay for static sites but breaks down on pages where elements can expand or contract, or where new content is dynamically inserted. In the case of EQ.js, the implementation requires the creation of the breakpoints in the HTML. That means that you have implementation details in HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. (Although, with the JavaScript, once it’s in the build system, it shouldn’t ever be much of a concern unless you’re tracking down a bug.) Another problem you may run into is the use of content delivery networks (CDNs) or cross-origin security issues. The ElementQuery and CSS Element Queries libraries need to be able to read the CSS file. If you are unable to set up proper cross-origin resource sharing (CORS) headers, these libraries won’t help. At Shopify, for example, we had all of these problems. The admin that store owners use is very dynamic and the CSS and JavaScript were being loaded from a CDN that prevented the JavaScript from reading the CSS. To go responsive, the team built their own solution — one similar to the other scripts above, in that it loops through elements and adds or removes classes (instead of data attributes) based on minimum or maximum width. The caveat to this particular approach is that the declaration of breakpoints had to be done in JavaScript. elements = [ { ‘module’: “.carousel”, “className”:’alpha’, minWidth: 768, maxWidth: 1024 }, { ‘module’: “.button”, “className”:’beta’, minWidth: 768, maxWidth: 1024 } , { ‘module’: “.grid”, “className”:’cappa’, minWidth: 768, maxWidth: 1024 } ] With that done, the script then had to be set to run during various events such as inserting new content via Ajax calls. This sometimes reveals itself in flashes of unstyled breakpoints (FOUB). An unfortunate side effect but one largely imperceptible. Using this approach, however, allowed the Shopify team to make the admin responsive really quickly. Each member of the team was able to tackle the responsive story for a particular component without much concern for how all the other components would react. Each element responds to its own breakpoint that would amount to dozens of breakpoints using traditional breakpoints. This approach allows for a truly fluid and adaptive interface for all screens. Christmas is over I wish I were the bearer of greater tidings and cheer. It’s not all bad, though. We may one day see browsers implement container queries natively. At which point, we shall all rejoice! 2015 Jonathan Snook jonathansnook 2015-12-19T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/being-responsive-to-the-small-things/ code
65 The Accessibility Mindset Accessibility is often characterized as additional work, hard to learn and only affecting a small number of people. Those myths have no logical foundation and often stem from outdated information or misconceptions. Indeed, it is an additional skill set to acquire, quite like learning new JavaScript frameworks, CSS layout techniques or new HTML elements. But it isn’t particularly harder to learn than those other skills. A World Health Organization (WHO) report on disabilities states that, [i]ncluding children, over a billion people (or about 15% of the world’s population) were estimated to be living with disability. Being disabled is not as unusual as one might think. Due to chronic health conditions and older people having a higher risk of disability, we are also currently paving the cowpath to an internet that we can still use in the future. Accessibility has a very close relationship with usability, and advancements in accessibility often yield improvements in the usability of a website. Websites are also more adaptable to users’ needs when they are built in an accessible fashion. Beyond the bare minimum In the time of table layouts, web developers could create code that passed validation rules but didn’t adhere to the underlying semantic HTML model. We later developed best practices, like using lists for navigation, and with HTML5 we started to wrap those lists in nav elements. Working with accessibility standards is similar. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 can inform your decision to make websites accessible and can be used to test that you met the success criteria. What it can’t do is measure how well you met them. W3C developed a long list of techniques that can be used to make your website accessible, but you might find yourself in a situation where you need to adapt those techniques to be the most usable solution for your particular problem. The checkbox below is implemented in an accessible way: The input element has an id and the label associated with the checkbox refers to the input using the for attribute. The hover area is shown with a yellow background and a black dotted border: Open video The label is clickable and the checkbox has an accessible description. Job done, right? Not really. Take a look at the space between the label and the checkbox: Open video The gutter is created using a right margin which pushes the label to the right. Users would certainly expect this space to be clickable as well. The simple solution is to wrap the label around the checkbox and the text: Open video You can also set the label to display:block; to further increase the clickable area: Open video And while we’re at it, users might expect the whole box to be clickable anyway. Let’s apply the CSS that was on a wrapping div element to the label directly: Open video The result enhances the usability of your form element tremendously for people with lower dexterity, using a voice mouse, or using touch interfaces. And we only used basic HTML and CSS techniques; no JavaScript was added and not one extra line of CSS. <form action="#"> <label for="uniquecheckboxid"> <input type="checkbox" name="checkbox" id="uniquecheckboxid" /> Checkbox 4 </label> </form> Button Example The button below looks like a typical edit button: a pencil icon on a real button element. But if you are using a screen reader or a braille keyboard, the button is just read as “button” without any indication of what this button is for. Open video A screen reader announcing a button. Contains audio. The code snippet shows why the button is not properly announced: <button> <span class="icon icon-pencil"></span> </button> An icon font is used to display the icon and no text alternative is given. A possible solution to this problem is to use the title or aria-label attributes, which solves the alternative text use case for screen reader users: Open video A screen reader announcing a button with a title. However, screen readers are not the only way people with and without disabilities interact with websites. For example, users can reset or change font families and sizes at will. This helps many users make websites easier to read, including people with dyslexia. Your icon font might be replaced by a font that doesn’t include the glyphs that are icons. Additionally, the icon font may not load for users on slow connections, like on mobile phones inside trains, or because users decided to block external fonts altogether. The following screenshots show the mobile GitHub view with and without external fonts: The mobile GitHub view with and without external fonts. Even if the title/aria-label approach was used, the lack of visual labels is a barrier for most people under those circumstances. One way to tackle this is using the old-fashioned img element with an appropriate alt attribute, but surprisingly not every browser displays the alternative text visually when the image doesn’t load. <button> <img src="icon-pencil.svg" alt="Edit"> </button> Providing always visible text is an alternative that can work well if you have the space. It also helps users understand the meaning of the icons. <button> <span class="icon icon-pencil"></span> Edit </button> This also reads just fine in screen readers: Open video A screen reader announcing the revised button. Clever usability enhancements don’t stop at a technical implementation level. Take the BBC iPlayer pages as an example: when a user navigates the “captioned videos” or “audio description” categories and clicks on one of the videos, captions or audio descriptions are automatically switched on. Small things like this enhance the usability and don’t need a lot of engineering resources. It is more about connecting the usability dots for people with disabilities. Read more about the BBC iPlayer accessibility case study. More information W3C has created several documents that make it easier to get the gist of what web accessibility is and how it can benefit everyone. You can find out “How People with Disabilities Use the Web”, there are “Tips for Getting Started” for developers, designers and content writers. And for the more seasoned developer there is a set of tutorials on web accessibility, including information on crafting accessible forms and how to use images in an accessible way. Conclusion You can only produce a web project with long-lasting accessibility if accessibility is not an afterthought. Your organization, your division, your team need to think about accessibility as something that is the foundation of your website or project. It needs to be at the same level as performance, code quality and design, and it needs the same attention. Users often don’t notice when those fundamental aspects of good website design and development are done right. But they’ll always know when they are implemented poorly. If you take all this into consideration, you can create accessibility solutions based on the available data and bring accessibility to people who didn’t know they’d need it: Open video In this video from the latest Apple keynote, the Apple TV is operated by voice input through a remote. When the user asks “What did she say?” the video jumps back fifteen seconds and captions are switched on for a brief time. All three, the remote, voice input and captions have their roots in assisting people with disabilities. Now they benefit everyone. 2015 Eric Eggert ericeggert 2015-12-17T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/the-accessibility-mindset/ code
66 Solve the Hard Problems So, here we find ourselves on the cusp of 2016. We’ve had a good year – the web is still alive, no one has switched it off yet. Clients still have websites, teenagers still have phone apps, and there continue to be plenty of online brands to meaningfully engage with each day. Good job team, high fives all round. As it’s the time to make resolutions, I wanted to share three small ideas to take into the new year. Get good at what you do “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” the old joke goes. “Practise, practise, practise.” We work in an industry where there is an awful lot to learn. There’s a lot to learn to get started and then once you do, there’s a lot more to learn to keep your skills current. Just when you think you’ve mastered something, it changes. This is true of many industries, of course, but the sheer pace of change for us makes learning not an annual activity, but daily. Learning takes time, and while I’m not convinced that every skill takes the fabled ten thousand hours to master, there is certainly no escaping that to remain current we must reinvest time in keeping our skills up to date. Picking where to spend your time One of the hardest aspects of this thing of ours is just choosing what to learn. If you, like me, invested any time in learning the Less CSS preprocessor over the last few years, you’ll probably now be spending your time relearning Sass instead. If you spent time learning Grunt, chances are you’ll now be thinking about whether you should switch to Gulp. It’s not just that there are new types of tools, there are new tools and frameworks to do the things you’re already doing, but, well, differently. Deciding what to learn is hard and the costs of backing the wrong horse can seriously mount up; so much so that by the time you’ve learned and then relearned the tools everyone says you need for your job, there’s rarely enough time to spend really getting to know how best to use them.  Practise, practise, practise Do you know how you don’t get to Carnegie Hall? By learning a new instrument each week. It takes time and experience to really learn something well. That goes for a new JavaScript framework as much as a violin. If you flit from one shiny new thing to another, you’re destined to produce amateurish work forever. Learn the new thing, but then stick with it long enough to get really good at it – even if Twitter trolls try to convince you it’s not cool. What’s really not cool is living as a forevernoob. If you’re still not sure what to learn, go back to basics. Considering a new CSS or JavaScript framework? Invest that time in learning the underlying CSS or JavaScript really well instead. Those skills will stand the test of time. Audience and purpose Back when I was in school, my English teacher (a nice Welsh lady, who I appreciate more now than I did back then) used to love to remind us that every piece of writing should have an audience and a purpose. So much so that audience and purpose almost became her catch phrase. For every essay, article or letter, we were reminded to consider who we were writing it for and what we were trying to achieve. It’s something I think about a lot; certainly when writing, but also in almost every other creative endeavour. Asking who is this for and what am I trying to achieve applies equally to designing a logo or website, through to composing music or writing software. Being productive It seems like everyone wants to have a product these days. As someone who used to do client services work and now has a product company, I often talk with people who are interested in taking something they’ve built in-house and turning it into a product. You know the sort of thing: a design agency with its own CMS or project management web app; the very logical thought process of: if this helps our business, maybe others will find it valuable too; the question that inevitably follows: could we turn this into a product? Whether consciously or not, the audience and purpose influence nearly every aspect of your creative process. Once written or designed or developed or created, revising a work to change the audience and purpose can be quite a challenge. No matter how much you want to turn the tension-building, atmospheric music for a horror film into a catchy chart hit, it’s going to be a struggle. Yes, it’s music, but that’s neither the audience nor purpose for which it was created. The same is absolutely true for your in-house tools – those were also designed for a specific audience and purpose. Your in-house CMS would have been designed with an audience of your own development team, who are busy implementing sites for clients. The purpose is to make that team more productive overall, taking into account considerations of maintaining multiple sites on a common codebase, training clients, a more mature and stable platform and all the other benefits of reusing the same code for each project. The audience is your team and the purpose increased productivity. That’s very different from a customer who wants to buy a polished system to use off-the-shelf. If their needs perfectly aligned with yours then they wouldn’t be in the market for your product – they would have built their own. Sometimes you hear the advice to “scratch your own itch” when it comes to product design. I don’t completely agree. Got an itch? Great. Find other itchy people and sell them a backscratcher. Building a product, like designing a website, is a lot of work. It requires knowing your audience and purpose inside out. You can’t fudge it and you can’t just hope you’ll find an audience for some old thing you have lying around. Always consider the audience and purpose for everything you create. It’s often the difference between success and failure. Solve the hard problems Human beings have a natural tendency to avoid hard problems. In digital design (websites, software, whatever) the received wisdom is often that we can get 80% of the way towards doing the hard thing by doing something that’s not very hard. Do you know what you get at the end of it? Paid. But nothing really great ever happens that way. I worked on a client project a while back where one of the big challenges was making full use of the massive image library they had built up over the years. The client had tens of thousands of photographs, along with a fair amount of video and a large MP3 audio library too. If it wasn’t managed carefully, storage sizes would get out of control, content would go unattributed, and everything would get very messy very quickly. I could tell from the outset that this aspect of the project was going to be a constant problem. So we tackled it head-on. We designed and built a media management system to hold and process all the assets, and added an API so the content management system could talk to it. Every time the site needed a photo at a new size, it made an API request to the system and everything was handled seamlessly. It was a daunting job to invest all the time and effort in building that dedicated system and API, but it really paid off. Instead of having the constant troubles of a vast library of media, it became one of the strongest parts of the project. Turn your hardest problems into your biggest strengths There’s a funny thing about hard problems. The hardest problems are the most fun to solve and have the biggest impact. Maybe you’re the sort of person who clocks in for work, does their job and clocks out at 5pm without another thought. But I don’t think you are, because you’re here reading this. If you really love what you do, I don’t think you can be satisfied in your work unless you’re seeking out and working on those hard problems. That’s where the magic is. The new year is a helpful time to think about breaking bad habits. Whether it’s smoking a bit less, or going to the gym a bit more, the ticking over of the calendar can provide the motivation for a new start. I have some suggestions for you. Get good at what you do. Practise your skills and don’t just flit from one shiny thing to the next. Remember who you’re doing it for and why. Consider the audience and purpose for everything you create. Solve the hard problems. It’s more interesting, more satisfying, and has a greater impact. As we move into 2016, these are the things I’m going to continue to work on. Maybe you’d like to join me. 2015 Drew McLellan drewmclellan 2015-12-24T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/solve-the-hard-problems/ process
67 What I Learned about Product Design This Year 2015 was a humbling year for me. In September of 2014, I joined a tiny but established startup called SproutVideo as their third employee and first designer. The role interests me because it affords the opportunity to see how design can grow a solid product with a loyal user-base into something even better. The work I do now could also have a real impact on the brand and user experience of our product for years to come, which is a thrilling prospect in an industry where much of what I do feels small and temporary. I got in on the ground floor of something special: a small, dedicated, useful company that cares deeply about making video hosting effortless and rewarding for our users. I had (and still have) grand ideas for what thoughtful design can do for a product, and the smaller-scale product design work I’ve done or helped manage over the past few years gave me enough eager confidence to dive in head first. Readers who have experience redesigning complex existing products probably have a knowing smirk on their face right now. As I said, it’s been humbling. A year of focused product design, especially on the scale we are trying to achieve with our small team at SproutVideo, has taught me more than any projects in recent memory. I’d like to share a few of those lessons. Product design is very different from marketing design The majority of my recent work leading up to SproutVideo has been in marketing design. These projects are so fun because their aim is to communicate the value of the product in a compelling and memorable way. In order to achieve this goal, I spent a lot of time thinking about content strategy, responsive design, and how to create striking visuals that tell a story. These are all pursuits I love. Product design is a different beast. When designing a homepage, I can employ powerful imagery, wild gradients, and somewhat-quirky fonts. When I began redesigning the SproutVideo product, I wanted to draw on all the beautiful assets I’ve created for our marketing materials, but big gradients, textures, and display fonts made no sense in this new context. That’s because the product isn’t about us, and it isn’t about telling our story. Product design is about getting out of the way so people can do their job. The visual design is there to create a pleasant atmosphere for people to work in, and to help support the user experience. Learning to take “us” out of the equation took some work after years of creating gorgeous imagery and content for the sales-driven side of businesses. I’ve learned it’s very valuable to design both sides of the experience, because marketing and product design flex different muscles. If you’re currently in an environment where the two are separate, consider switching teams in 2016. Designing for product when you’ve mostly done marketing, or vice versa, will deepen your knowledge as a designer overall. You’ll face new unexpected challenges, which is the only way to grow. Product design can not start with what looks good on Dribbble I have an embarrassing confession: when I began the redesign, I had a secret goal of making something that would look gorgeous in my portfolio. I have a collection of product shots that I admire on Dribbble; examples of beautiful dashboards and widgets and UI elements that look good enough to frame. I wanted people to feel the same way about the final outcome of our redesign. Mistakenly, this was a factor in my initial work. I opened Photoshop and crafted pixel-perfect static buttons and form elements and color palettes that — when applied to our actual product — looked like a toddler beauty pageant. It added up to a lot of unusable shininess, noise, and silliness. I was disappointed; these elements seemed so lovely in isolation, but in context, they felt tacky and overblown. I realized: I’m not here to design the world’s most beautiful drop down menu. Good design has nothing to do with ego, but in my experience designers are, at least a little bit, secret divas. I’m no exception. I had to remind myself that I am not working in service of a bigger Dribbble following or to create the most Pinterest-ing work. My function is solely to serve the users — to make life a little better for the good people who keep my company in business. This meant letting go of pixel-level beauty to create something bigger and harder: a system of elements that work together in harmony in many contexts. The visual style exists to guide the users. When done well, it becomes a language that users understand, so when they encounter a new feature or have a new goal, they already feel comfortable navigating it. This meant stripping back my gorgeous animated menu into something that didn’t detract from important neighboring content, and could easily fit in other parts of the app. In order to know what visual style would support the users, I had to take a wider view of the product as a whole. Just accept that designing a great product – like many worthwhile pursuits – is initially laborious and messy Once I realized I couldn’t start by creating the most Dribbble-worthy thing, I knew I’d have to begin with the unglamorous, frustrating, but weirdly wonderful work of mapping out how the product’s content could better be structured. Since we’re redesigning an existing product, I assumed this would be fairly straightforward: the functionality was already in place, and my job was just to structure it in a more easily navigable way. I started by handing off a few wireframes of the key screens to the developer, and that’s when the questions began rolling in: “If we move this content into a modal, how will it affect this similar action here?” “What happens if they don’t add video tags, but they do add a description?” “What if the user has a title that is 500 characters long?” “What if they want their video to be private to some users, but accessible to others?”. How annoying (but really, fantastic) that people use our product in so many ways. Turns out, product design isn’t about laying out elements in the most ideal scenario for the user that’s most convenient for you. As product designers, we have to foresee every outcome, and anticipate every potential user need. Which brings me to another annoying epiphany: if you want to do it well, and account for every user, product design is so much more snarly and tangled than you’d expect going in. I began with a simple goal: to improve the experience on just one of our key product pages. However, every small change impacts every part of the product to some degree, and that impact has to be accounted for. Every decision is based on assumptions that have to be tested; I test my assumptions by observing users, talking to the team, wireframing, and prototyping. Many of my assumptions are wrong. There are days when it’s incredibly frustrating, because an elegant solution for users with one goal will complicate life for users with another goal. It’s vital to solve as many scenarios as possible, even though this is slow, sometimes mind-bending work. As a side bonus, wireframing and prototyping every potential state in a product is tedious, but your developers will thank you for it. It’s not their job to solve what happens when there’s an empty state, error, or edge case. Showing you’ve accounted for these scenarios will win a developer’s respect; failing to do so will frustrate them. When you’ve created and tested a system that supports user needs, it will be beautiful Remember what I said in the beginning about wanting to create a Dribbble-worthy product? When I stopped focusing on the visual details of the design (color, spacing, light and shadow, font choices) and focused instead on structuring the content to maximize usability and delight, a beautiful design began to emerge naturally. I began with grayscale, flat wireframes as a strategy to keep me from getting pulled into the visual style before the user experience was established. As I created a system of elements that worked in harmony, the visual style choices became obvious. Some buttons would need to be brighter and sit off the page to help the user spot important actions. Some elements would need line separators to create a hierarchy, where others could stand on their own as an emphasized piece of content. As the user experience took shape, the visual style emerged naturally to support it. The result is a product that feels beautiful to use, because I was thoughtful about the experience first. A big takeaway from this process has been that my assumptions will often be proven wrong. My assumptions about how to design a great product, and how users will interact with that product, have been tested and revised repeatedly. At SproutVideo we’re about to undertake the biggest test of our work; we’re going to launch a small part of the product redesign to our users. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I will continue to be humbled by the ongoing effort of making the best product I can, which is a wonderful thing. Next year, I hope you all get to do work that takes you out of our comfort zone. Be regularly confounded and embarrassed by your wrong assumptions, learn from them, and come back and tell us what you learned in 2016. 2015 Meagan Fisher meaganfisher 2015-12-14T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/what-i-learned-about-product-design-this-year/ design
68 Grid, Flexbox, Box Alignment: Our New System for Layout Three years ago for 24 ways 2012, I wrote an article about a new CSS layout method I was excited about. A specification had emerged, developed by people from the Internet Explorer team, bringing us a proper grid system for the web. In 2015, that Internet Explorer implementation is still the only public implementation of CSS grid layout. However, in 2016 we should be seeing it in a new improved form ready for our use in browsers. Grid layout has developed hidden behind a flag in Blink, and in nightly builds of WebKit and, latterly, Firefox. By being developed in this way, breaking changes could be safely made to the specification as no one was relying on the experimental implementations in production work. Another new layout method has emerged over the past few years in a more public and perhaps more painful way. Shipped prefixed in browsers, The flexible box layout module (flexbox) was far too tempting for developers not to use on production sites. Therefore, as changes were made to the specification, we found ourselves with three different flexboxes, and browser implementations that did not match one another in completeness or in the version of specified features they supported. Owing to the different ways these modules have come into being, when I present on grid layout it is often the very first time someone has heard of the specification. A question I keep being asked is whether CSS grid layout and flexbox are competing layout systems, as though it might be possible to back the loser in a CSS layout competition. The reality, however, is that these two methods will sit together as one system for doing layout on the web, each method playing to certain strengths and serving particular layout tasks. If there is to be a loser in the battle of the layouts, my hope is that it will be the layout frameworks that tie our design to our markup. They have been a necessary placeholder while we waited for a true web layout system, but I believe that in a few years time we’ll be easily able to date a website to circa 2015 by seeing <div class="row"> or <div class="col-md-3"> in the markup. In this article, I’m going to take a look at the common features of our new layout systems, along with a couple of examples which serve to highlight the differences between them. To see the grid layout examples you will need to enable grid in your browser. The easiest thing to do is to enable the experimental web platform features flag in Chrome. Details of current browser support can be found here. Relationship Items only become flex or grid items if they are a direct child of the element that has display:flex, display:grid or display:inline-grid applied. Those direct children then understand themselves in the context of the complete layout. This makes many things possible. It’s the lack of relationship between elements that makes our existing layout methods difficult to use. If we float two columns, left and right, we have no way to tell the shorter column to extend to the height of the taller one. We have expended a lot of effort trying to figure out the best way to make full-height columns work, using techniques that were never really designed for page layout. At a very simple level, the relationship between elements means that we can easily achieve full-height columns. In flexbox: See the Pen Flexbox equal height columns by rachelandrew (@rachelandrew) on CodePen. And in grid layout (requires a CSS grid-supporting browser): See the Pen Grid equal height columns by rachelandrew (@rachelandrew) on CodePen. Alignment Full-height columns rely on our flex and grid items understanding themselves as part of an overall layout. They also draw on a third new specification: the box alignment module. If vertical centring is a gift you’d like to have under your tree this Christmas, then this is the box you’ll want to unwrap first. The box alignment module takes the alignment and space distribution properties from flexbox and applies them to other layout methods. That includes grid layout, but also other layout methods. Once implemented in browsers, this specification will give us true vertical centring of all the things. Our examples above achieved full-height columns because the default value of align-items is stretch. The value ensured our columns stretched to the height of the tallest. If we want to use our new vertical centring abilities on all items, we would set align-items:center on the container. To align one flex or grid item, apply the align-self property. The examples below demonstrate these alignment properties in both grid layout and flexbox. The portrait image of Widget the cat is aligned with the default stretch. The other three images are aligned using different values of align-self. Take a look at an example in flexbox: See the Pen Flexbox alignment by rachelandrew (@rachelandrew) on CodePen. And also in grid layout (requires a CSS grid-supporting browser): See the Pen Grid alignment by rachelandrew (@rachelandrew) on CodePen. The alignment properties used with CSS grid layout. Fluid grids A cornerstone of responsive design is the concept of fluid grids. “[…]every aspect of the grid—and the elements laid upon it—can be expressed as a proportion relative to its container.” —Ethan Marcotte, “Fluid Grids” The method outlined by Marcotte is to divide the target width by the context, then use that value as a percentage value for the width property on our element. h1 { margin-left: 14.575%; /* 144px / 988px = 0.14575 */ width: 70.85%; /* 700px / 988px = 0.7085 */ } In more recent years, we’ve been able to use calc() to simplify this (at least, for those of us able to drop support for Internet Explorer 8). However, flexbox and grid layout make fluid grids simple. The most basic of flexbox demos shows this fluidity in action. The justify-content property – another property defined in the box alignment module – can be used to create an equal amount of space between or around items. As the available width increases, more space is assigned in proportion. In this demo, the list items are flex items due to display:flex being added to the ul. I have given them a maximum width of 250 pixels. Any remaining space is distributed equally between the items as the justify-content property has a value of space-between. See the Pen Flexbox: justify-content by rachelandrew (@rachelandrew) on CodePen. For true fluid grid-like behaviour, your new flexible friends are flex-grow and flex-shrink. These properties give us the ability to assign space in proportion. The flexbox flex property is a shorthand for: flex-grow flex-shrink flex-basis The flex-basis property sets the default width for an item. If flex-grow is set to 0, then the item will not grow larger than the flex-basis value; if flex-shrink is 0, the item will not shrink smaller than the flex-basis value. flex: 1 1 200px: a flexible box that can grow and shrink from a 200px basis. flex: 0 0 200px: a box that will be 200px and cannot grow or shrink. flex: 1 0 200px: a box that can grow bigger than 200px, but not shrink smaller. In this example, I have a set of boxes that can all grow and shrink equally from a 100 pixel basis. See the Pen Flexbox: flex-grow by rachelandrew (@rachelandrew) on CodePen. What I would like to happen is for the first element, containing a portrait image, to take up less width than the landscape images, thus keeping it more in proportion. I can do this by changing the flex-grow value. By giving all the items a value of 1, they all gain an equal amount of the available space after the 100 pixel basis has been worked out. If I give them all a value of 3 and the first box a value of 1, the other boxes will be assigned three parts of the available space while box 1 is assigned only one part. You can see what happens in this demo: See the Pen Flexbox: flex-grow by rachelandrew (@rachelandrew) on CodePen. Once you understand flex-grow, you should easily be able to grasp how the new fraction unit (fr, defined in the CSS grid layout specification) works. Like flex-grow, this unit allows us to assign available space in proportion. In this case, we assign the space when defining our track sizes. In this demo (which requires a CSS grid-supporting browser), I create a four-column grid using the fraction unit to define my track sizes. The first track is 1fr in width, and the others 2fr. grid-template-columns: 1fr 2fr 2fr 2fr; See the Pen Grid fraction units by rachelandrew (@rachelandrew) on CodePen. The four-track grid. Separation of concerns My younger self petitioned my peers to stop using tables for layout and to move to CSS. One of the rallying cries of that movement was the concept of separating our source and content from how they were displayed. It was something of a failed promise given the tools we had available: the display leaked into the markup with the need for redundant elements to cope with browser bugs, or visual techniques that just could not be achieved without supporting markup. Browsers have improved, but even now we can find ourselves compromising the ideal document structure so we can get the layout we want at various breakpoints. In some ways, the situation has returned to tables-for-layout days. Many of the current grid frameworks rely on describing our layout directly in the markup. We add divs for rows, and classes to describe the number of desired columns. We nest these constructions of divs inside one another. Here is a snippet from the Bootstrap grid examples – two columns with two nested columns: <div class="row"> <div class="col-md-8"> .col-md-8 <div class="row"> <div class="col-md-6"> .col-md-6 </div> <div class="col-md-6"> .col-md-6 </div> </div> </div> <div class="col-md-4"> .col-md-4 </div> </div> Not a million miles away from something I might have written in 1999. <table> <tr> <td class="col-md-8"> .col-md-8 <table> <tr> <td class="col-md-6"> .col-md-6 </td> <td class="col-md-6"> .col-md-6 </td> </tr> </table> </td> <td class="col-md-4"> .col-md-4 </td> </tr> </table> Grid and flexbox layouts do not need to be described in markup. The layout description happens entirely in the CSS, meaning that elements can be moved around from within the presentation layer. Flexbox gives us the ability to reverse the flow of elements, but also to set the order of elements with the order property. This is demonstrated here, where Widget the cat is in position 1 in the source, but I have used the order property to display him after the things that are currently unimpressive to him. See the Pen Flexbox: order by rachelandrew (@rachelandrew) on CodePen. Grid layout takes this a step further. Where flexbox lets us set the order of items in a single dimension, grid layout gives us the ability to position things in two dimensions: both rows and columns. Defined in the CSS, this positioning can be changed at any breakpoint without needing additional markup. Compare the source order with the display order in this example (requires a CSS grid-supporting browser): See the Pen Grid positioning in two dimensions by rachelandrew (@rachelandrew) on CodePen. Laying out our items in two dimensions using grid layout. As these demos show, a straightforward way to decide if you should use grid layout or flexbox is whether you want to position items in one dimension or two. If two, you want grid layout. A note on accessibility and reordering The issues arising from this powerful ability to change the way items are ordered visually from how they appear in the source have been the subject of much discussion. The current flexbox editor’s draft states “Authors must use order only for visual, not logical, reordering of content. Style sheets that use order to perform logical reordering are non-conforming.” —CSS Flexible Box Layout Module Level 1, Editor’s Draft (3 December 2015) This is to ensure that non-visual user agents (a screen reader, for example) can rely on the document source order as being correct. Take care when reordering that you do so from the basis of a sound document that makes sense in terms of source order. Avoid using visual order to convey meaning. Automatic content placement with rules Having control over the order of items, or placing items on a predefined grid, is nice. However, we can often do that already with one method or another and we have frameworks and tools to help us. Tools such as Susy mean we can even get away from stuffing our markup full of grid classes. However, our new layout methods give us some interesting new possibilities. Something that is useful to be able to do when dealing with content coming out of a CMS or being pulled from some other source, is to define a bunch of rules and then say, “Display this content, using these rules.” As an example of this, I will leave you with a Christmas poem displayed in a document alongside Widget the cat and some of the decorations that are bringing him no Christmas cheer whatsoever. The poem is displayed first in the source as a set of paragraphs. I’ve added a class identifying each of the four paragraphs but they are displayed in the source as one text. Below that are all my images, some landscape and some portrait; I’ve added a class of landscape to the landscape ones. The mobile-first grid is a single column and I use line-based placement to explicitly position my poem paragraphs. The grid layout auto-placement rules then take over and place the images into the empty cells left in the grid. At wider screen widths, I declare a four-track grid, and position my poem around the grid, keeping it in a readable order. I also add rules to my landscape class, stating that these items should span two tracks. Once again the grid layout auto-placement rules position the rest of my images without my needing to position them. You will see that grid layout takes items out of source order to fill gaps in the grid. It does this because I have set the property grid-auto-flow to dense. The default is sparse meaning that grid will not attempt this backfilling behaviour. Take a look and play around with the full demo (requires a CSS grid layout-supporting browser): See the Pen Grid auto-flow with rules by rachelandrew (@rachelandrew) on CodePen. The final automatic placement example. My wish for 2016 I really hope that in 2016, we will see CSS grid layout finally emerge from behind browser flags, so that we can start to use these features in production — that we can start to move away from using the wrong tools for the job. However, I also hope that we’ll see developers fully embracing these tools as the new system that they are. I want to see people exploring the possibilities they give us, rather than trying to get them to behave like the grid systems of 2015. As you discover these new modules, treat them as the new paradigm that they are, get creative with them. And, as you find the edges of possibility with them, take that feedback to the CSS Working Group. Help improve the layout systems that will shape the look of the future web. Some further reading I maintain a site of grid layout examples and resources at Grid by Example. The three CSS specifications I’ve discussed can be found as editor’s drafts: CSS grid, flexbox, box alignment. I wrote about the last three years of my interest in CSS grid layout, which gives something of a history of the specification. More examples of box alignment and grid layout. My presentation at Fronteers earlier this year, in which I explain more about these concepts. 2015 Rachel Andrew rachelandrew 2015-12-15T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/grid-flexbox-box-alignment-our-new-system-for-layout/ code
69 How to Do a UX Review A UX review is where an expert goes through a website looking for usability and experience problems and makes recommendations on how to fix them. I’ve completed a number of UX reviews over my twelve years working as a user experience consultant and I thought I’d share my approach. I’ll be talking about reviewing websites here; you can adapt the approach for web apps, or mobile or desktop apps. Why conduct a review Typically, a client asks for a review to be undertaken by a trusted and, ideally, detached third party who either works for an agency or is a freelancer. Often they may ask a new member of the UX team to complete one, or even set it as a task for a job interview. This indicates the client is looking for an objective view, seen from the outside as a user would see the website. I always suggest conducting some user research rather than a review. Users know their goals and watching them make (what you might think of as) mistakes on the website is invaluable. Conducting research with six users can give you six hours’ worth of review material from six viewpoints. In short, user research can identify more problems and show how common those problems might be. There are three reasons, though, why a review might better suit client needs than user research: Quick results: user research and analysis takes at least three weeks. Limited budget: the £6–10,000 cost to run user research is about twice the cost of a UX review. Users are hard to reach: in the business-to-business world, reaching users is difficult, especially if your users hold senior positions in their organisations. Working with consumers is much easier as there are often more of them. There is some debate about the benefits of user research over UX review. In my experience you learn far more from research, but opinions differ. Be objective The number one mistake many UX reviewers make is reporting back the issues they identify as their opinion. This can cause credibility problems because you have to keep justifying why your opinion is correct. I’ve had the most success when giving bad news in a UX review and then finally getting things fixed when I have been as objective as possible, offering evidence for why something may be a problem. To be objective we need two sources of data: numbers from analytics to appeal to reason; and stories from users in the form of personas to speak to emotions. Highlighting issues with dispassionate numerical data helps show the extent of the problem. Making the problems more human using personas can make the problem feel more real. Numbers from analytics The majority of clients I work with use Google Analytics, but if you use a different analytics package the same concepts apply. I use analytics to find two sets of things. 1. Landing pages and search terms Landing pages are the pages users see first when they visit a website – more often than not via a Google search. Landing pages reveal user goals. If a user landed on a page called ‘Yellow shoes’ their goal may well be to find out about or buy some yellow shoes. It would be great to see all the search terms bringing people to the website but in 2011 Google stopped providing search term data to (rightly!) protect users’ privacy. You can get some search term data from Google Webmaster tools, but we must rely on landing pages as a clue to our users’ goals. The thing to look for is high-traffic landing pages with a high bounce rate. Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors to a website who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page. A high bounce rate (over 50%) isn’t good; above 70% is bad. To get a list of high-traffic landing pages with a high bounce rate install this bespoke report. Google Analytics showing landing pages ordered by popularity and the bounce rate for each. This is the list of pages with high demand and that have real problems as the bounce rate is high. This is the main focus of the UX review. 2. User flows We have the beginnings of the user journey: search terms and initial landing pages. Now we can tap into the really useful bit of Google Analytics. Called behaviour flows, they show the most common order of pages visited. Behaviour flows from Google Analytics, showing the routes users took through the website. Here we can see the second and third (and so on) pages users visited. Importantly, we can also see the drop-outs at each step. If your client has it set up, you can also set goal pages (for example, a post-checkout contact us and thank you page). You can then see a similar view that tracks back from the goal pages. If your client doesn’t have this, suggest they set up goal tracking. It’s easy to do. We now have the remainder of the user journey. A user journey Expect the work in analytics to take up to a day. We may well identify more than one user journey, starting from different landing pages and going to different second- and third-level pages. That’s a good thing and shows we have different user types. Talking of user types, we need to define who our users are. Personas We have some user journeys and now we need to understand more about our users’ motivations and goals. I have a love-hate relationship with personas, but used properly these portraits of users can help bring a human touch to our UX review. I suggest using a very cut-down view of a persona. My old friends Steve Cable and Richard Caddick at cxpartners have a great free template for personas from their book Communicating the User Experience. The first thing to do is find a picture that represents that persona. Don’t use crappy stock photography – it’s sometimes hard to relate to perfect-looking people) – use authentic-looking people. Here’s a good collection of persona photos. An example persona. The personas have three basic attributes: Goals: we can complete these drawing on the analytics data we have (see example). Musts: things we have to do to meet the persona’s needs. Must nots: a list of things we really shouldn’t do. Completing points 2 and 3 can often be done during the writing of the report. Let’s take an example. We know that the search term ‘yellow shoes’ takes the user to the landing page for yellow shoes. We also know this page has a high bounce rate, meaning it doesn’t provide a good experience. With our expert hat on we can review the page. We will find two types of problem: Usability issues: ineffective button placement or incorrect wording, links not looking like links, and so on. Experience issues: for example, if a product is out of stock we have to contact the business to ask them to restock. That link is very small and hard to see. We could identify that the contact button isn’t easy to find (a usability issue) but that’s not the real problem here. That the user has to ask the business to restock the item is a bad user experience. We add this to our personas’ must nots. The big experience problems with the site form the musts and must nots for our personas. We now have a story around our user journey that highlights what is going wrong. If we’ve identified a number of user journeys, multiple landing pages and differing second and third pages visited, we can create more personas to match. A good rule of thumb is no more than three personas. Any more and they lose impact, watering down your results. Expect persona creation to take up to a day to complete. Let’s start the review We take the user journeys and we follow them step by step, working through the website looking for the reasons why users drop out at each step. Using Keynote or PowerPoint, I structure the final report around the user journey with separate sections for each step. For each step we’ll find both usability and experience problems. Split the results into those two groups. Usability problems are fairly easy to fix as they’re often quick design changes. As you go along, note the usability problems in one place: we’ll call this ‘quick wins’. Simple quick fixes are a reassuring thing for a client to see and mean they can get started on stuff right away. You can mark the severity of usability issues. Use a scale from 1 to 3 (if you use 1 to 5 everything ends up being a 3!) where 1 is minor and 3 is serious. Review the website on the device you’d expect your persona to use. Are they using the site on a smartphone? Review it on a smartphone. I allow one page or slide per problem, which allows me to explain what is going wrong. For a usability problem I’ll often make a quick wireframe or sketch to explain how to address it. A UX review slide displaying all the elements to be addressed. These slides may be viewed from across the room on a screen so zoom into areas of discussion. (Quick tip: if you use Google Chrome, try Awesome Screenshot to capture screens.) When it comes to the more severe experience problems – things like an online shop not offering next day delivery, or a business that needs to promise to get back to new customers within a few hours – these will take more than a tweak to the UI to fix. Call these something different. I use the terms like business challenges and customer experience issues as they show that it will take changes to the organisation and its processes to address them. It’s often beyond the remit of a humble UX consultant to recommend how to fix organisational issues, so don’t try. Again, create a page within your document to collect all of the business challenges together. Expect the review to take between one and three days to complete. The final report should follow this structure: The approach Overview of usability quick wins Overview of experience issues Overview of Google Analytics findings The user journeys The personas Detailed page-by-page review (broken down by steps on the user journey) There are two academic theories to help with the review. Heuristic evaluation is a set of criteria to organise the issues you find. They’re great for categorising the usability issues you identify but in practice they can be quite cumbersome to apply. I prefer the more scientific and much simpler cognitive walkthrough that is focused on goals and actions. A workshop to go through the findings The most important part of the UX review process is to talk through the issues with your client and their team. A document can only communicate a certain amount. Conversations about the findings will help the team understand the severity of the issues you’ve uncovered and give them a chance to discuss what to do about them. Expect the workshop to last around three hours. When presenting the report, explain the method you used to conduct the review, the data sources, personas and the reasoning behind the issues you found. Start by going through the usability issues. Often these won’t be contentious and you can build trust and improve your credibility by making simple, easy to implement changes. The most valuable part of the workshop is conversation around each issue, especially the experience problems. The workshop should include time to talk through each experience issue and how the team will address it. I collect actions on index cards throughout the workshop and make a note of who will take what action with each problem. Index cards showing the problem and who is responsible. When talking through the issues, the person who designed the site is probably in the room – they may well feel threatened. So be nice. When I talk through the report I try to have strong ideas, weakly held. At the end of the workshop you’ll have talked through each of the issues and identified who is responsible for addressing them. To close the workshop I hand out the cards to the relevant people, giving them a physical reminder of the next steps they have to take. That’s my process for conducting a review. I’d love to hear any tips you have in the comments. 2015 Joe Leech joeleech 2015-12-03T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/how-to-do-a-ux-review/ ux
70 Bringing Your Code to the Streets — or How to Be a Street VJ Our amazing world of web code is escaping out of the browser at an alarming rate and appearing in every aspect of the environment around us. Over the past few years we’ve already seen JavaScript used server-side, hardware coded with JavaScript, a rise of native style and desktop apps created with HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and even virtual reality (VR) is getting its fair share of front-end goodness. You can go ahead and play with JavaScript-powered hardware such as the Tessel or the Espruino to name a couple. Just check out the Tessel project page to see JavaScript in the world of coffee roasting or sleep tracking your pet. With the rise of the internet of things, JavaScript can be seen collecting information on flooding among other things. And if that’s not enough ‘outside the browser’ implementations, Node.js servers can even be found in aircraft! I previously mentioned VR and with three.js’s extra StereoEffect.js module it’s relatively simple to get browser 3D goodness to be Google Cardboard-ready, and thus set the stage for all things JavaScript and VR. It’s been pretty popular in the art world too, with interactive works such as Seb Lee-Delisle’s Lunar Trails installation, featuring the old arcade game Lunar Lander, which you can now play in your browser while others watch (it is the web after all). The Science Museum in London held Chrome Web Lab, an interactive exhibition featuring five experiments, showcasing the magic of the web. And it’s not even the connectivity of the web that’s being showcased; we can even take things offline and use web code for amazing things, such as fighting Ebola. One thing is for sure, JavaScript is awesome. Hell, if you believe those telly programs (as we all do), JavaScript can even take down the stock market, purely through the witchcraft of canvas! Go JavaScript! Now it’s our turn So I wanted to create a little project influenced by this theme, and as it’s Christmas, take it to the streets for a little bit of party fun! Something that could take code anywhere. Here’s how I made a portable visual projection pack, a piece of video mixing software and created some web-coded street art. Step one: The equipment You will need: One laptop: with HDMI output and a modern browser installed, such as Google Chrome. One battery-powered mini projector: I’ve used a Texas Instruments DLP; for its 120 lumens it was the best cost-to-lumens ratio I could find. One MIDI controller (optional): mine is an ICON iDJ as it suits mixing visuals. However, there is more affordable hardware on the market such as an Akai LPD8 or a Korg nanoPAD2. As you’ll see in the article, this is optional as it can be emulated within the software. A case to carry it all around in. Step two: The software The projected visuals, I imagined, could be anything you can create within a browser, whether that be simple HTML and CSS, images, videos, SVG or canvas. The only requirement I have is that they move or change with sound and that I can mix any one visual into another. You may remember a couple of years ago I created a demo on this very site, allowing audio-triggered visuals from the ambient sounds your device mic was picking up. That was a great starting point – I used that exact method to pick up the audio and thus the first requirement was complete. If you want to see some more examples of visuals I’ve put together for this, there’s a showcase on CodePen. The second requirement took a little more thought. I needed two screens, which could at any point show any of the visuals I had coded, but could be mixed from one into the other and back again. So let’s start with two divs, both absolutely positioned so they’re on top of each other, but at the start the second screen’s opacity is set to zero. Now all we need is a slider, which when moved from one side to the other slowly sets the second screen’s opacity to 1, thereby fading it in. See the Pen Mixing Screens (Software Version) by Rumyra (@Rumyra) on CodePen. Mixing Screens (CodePen) As you saw above, I have a MIDI controller and although the software method works great, I’d quite like to make use of this nifty piece of kit. That’s easily done with the Web MIDI API. All I need to do is call it, and when I move one of the sliders on the controller (I’ve allocated the big cross fader in the middle for this), pick up on the change of value and use that to control the opacity instead. var midi, data; // start talking to MIDI controller if (navigator.requestMIDIAccess) { navigator.requestMIDIAccess({ sysex: false }).then(onMIDISuccess, onMIDIFailure); } else { alert(“No MIDI support in your browser.”); } // on success function onMIDISuccess(midiData) { // this is all our MIDI data midi = midiData; var allInputs = midi.allInputs.values(); // loop over all available inputs and listen for any MIDI input for (var input = allInputs.next(); input && !input.done; input = allInputs.next()) { // when a MIDI value is received call the onMIDIMessage function input.value.onmidimessage = onMIDIMessage; } } function onMIDIMessage(message) { // data comes in the form [command/channel, note, velocity] data = message.data; // Opacity change for screen. The cross fader values are [176, 8, {0-127}] if ( (data[0] === 176) && (data[1] === 8) ) { // this value will change as the fader is moved var opacity = data[2]/127; screenTwo.style.opacity = opacity; } } The final code was slightly more complicated than this, as I decided to switch the two screens based on the frequencies of the sound that was playing, and use the cross fader to depict the frequency threshold value. This meant they flickered in and out of each other, rather than just faded. There’s a very rough-and-ready first version of the software on GitHub. Phew, Great! Now we need to get all this to the streets! Step three: Portable kit Did you notice how I mentioned a case to carry it all around in? I wanted the case to be morphable, so I could use the equipment from it too, a sort of bag-to-usherette-tray-type affair. Well, I had an unused laptop bag… I strengthened it with some MDF, so when I opened the bag it would hold like a tray where the laptop and MIDI controller would sit. The projector was Velcroed to the external pocket of the bag, so when it was a tray it would project from underneath. I added two durable straps, one for my shoulders and one round my waist, both attached to the bag itself. There was a lot of cutting and trimming. As it was a laptop bag it was pretty thick to start and sewing was tricky. However, I only broke one sewing machine needle; I’ve been known to break more working with leather, so I figured I was doing well. By the way, you can actually buy usherette trays, but I just couldn’t resist hacking my own :) Step four: Take to the streets First, make sure everything is charged – everything – a lot! The laptop has to power both the MIDI controller and the projector, and although I have a mobile phone battery booster pack, that’ll only charge the projector should it run out. I estimated I could get a good hour of visual artistry before I needed to worry, though. I had a couple of ideas about time of day and location. Here in the UK at this time of year, it gets dark around half past four, so I could easily head out in a city around 5pm and it would be dark enough for the projections to be seen pretty well. I chose Bristol, around the waterfront, as there were some interesting locations to try it out in. The best was Millennium Square: busy but not crowded and plenty of surfaces to try projecting on to. My first time out with the portable audio/visual pack (PAVP as it will now be named) was brilliant. I played music and projected visuals, like a one-woman band of A/V! You might be thinking what the point of this was, besides, of course, it being a bit of fun. Well, this project got me to look at canvas and SVG more closely. The Web MIDI API was really interesting; MIDI as a data format has some great practical uses. I think without our side projects we may not have all these wonderful uses for our everyday code. Not only do they remind us coding can, and should, be fun, they also help us learn and grow as makers. My favourite part? When I was projecting into a water feature in Millennium Square. For those who are familiar, you’ll know it’s like a wall of water so it produced a superb effect. I drew quite a crowd and a kid came to stand next to me and all I could hear him say with enthusiasm was, ‘Oh wow! That’s so cool!’ Yes… yes, kid, it was cool. Making things with code is cool. Massive thanks to the lovely Drew McLellan for his incredibly well-directed photography, and also Simon Johnson who took a great hand in perfecting the kit while it was attached. 2015 Ruth John ruthjohn 2015-12-06T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/bringing-your-code-to-the-streets/ code
71 Upping Your Web Security Game When I started working in web security fifteen years ago, web development looked very different. The few non-static web applications were built using a waterfall process and shipped quarterly at best, making it possible to add security audits before every release; applications were deployed exclusively on in-house servers, allowing Info Sec to inspect their configuration and setup; and the few third-party components used came from a small set of well-known and trusted providers. And yet, even with these favourable conditions, security teams were quickly overwhelmed and called for developers to build security in. If the web security game was hard to win before, it’s doomed to fail now. In today’s web development, every other page is an application, accepting inputs and private data from users; software is built continuously, designed to eliminate manual gates, including security gates; infrastructure is code, with servers spawned with little effort and even less security scrutiny; and most of the code in a typical application is third-party code, pulled in through open source repositories with rarely a glance at who provided them. Security teams, when they exist at all, cannot solve this problem. They are vastly outnumbered by developers, and cannot keep up with the application’s pace of change. For us to have a shot at making the web secure, we must bring security into the core. We need to give it no less attention than that we give browser compatibility, mobile design or web page load times. More broadly, we should see security as an aspect of quality, expecting both ourselves and our peers to address it, and taking pride when we do it well. Where To Start? Embracing security isn’t something you do overnight. A good place to start is by reviewing things you’re already doing – and trying to make them more secure. Here are three concrete steps you can take to get going. HTTPS Threats begin when your system interacts with the outside world, which often means HTTP. As is, HTTP is painfully insecure, allowing attackers to easily steal and manipulate data going to or from the server. HTTPS adds a layer of crypto that ensures the parties know who they’re talking to, and that the information exchanged can be neither modified nor sniffed. HTTPS is relevant to any site. If your non-HTTPS site holds opinions, reading it may get your users in trouble with employers or governments. If your users believe what you say, attackers can modify your non-HTTPS to take advantage of and abuse that trust. If you want to use new browser technologies like HTTP2 and service workers, your site will need to be HTTPS. And if you want to be discovered on the web, using HTTPS can help your Google ranking. For more details on why I think you should make the switch to HTTPS, check out this post, these slides and this video. Using HTTPS is becoming easier and cheaper. Here are a few free tools that can help: Get free and easy HTTPS delivery from Cloudflare (be sure to use “Full SSL”!) Get a free and automation-friendly certificate from Let’s Encrypt (now in open beta). Test how well your HTTPS is set up using SSLTest. Other vendors and platforms are rapidly simplifying and reducing the cost of their HTTPS offering, as demand and importance grows. Two-Factor Authentication The most sensitive data is usually stored behind a login, and the authentication process is the primary gate in front of this data. Making this process secure has many aspects, including using HTTPS when accepting credentials, having a strong password policy, never storing the password, and more. All of these are important, but the best single step to boost your authentication security is to introduce two-factor authentication (2FA). Adding 2FA usually means prompting users for an additional one-time code when logging in, which they get via SMS or a mobile app (e.g. Google Authenticator). This code is short-lived and is extremely hard for a remote attacker to guess, thus vastly reducing the risk a leaked or easily guessed password presents. The typical algorithm for 2FA is based on an IETF standard called the time-based one-time password (TOTP) algorithm, and it isn’t that hard to implement. Joel Franusic wrote a great post on implementing 2FA; modules like speakeasy make it even easier; and you can swap SMS with Google Authenticator or your own app if you prefer. If you don’t want to build 2FA support yourself, you can purchase two/multi-factor authentication services from vendors such as DuoSecurity, Auth0, Clef, Hypr and others. If implementing 2FA still feels like too much work, you can also choose to offload your entire authentication process to an OAuth-based federated login. Many companies offer this today, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, GitHub and others. These bigger players tend to do authentication well and support 2FA, but you should consider what data you’re sharing with them in the process. Tracking Known Vulnerabilities Most of the code in a modern application was actually written by third parties, and pulled into your app as frameworks, modules and libraries. While using these components makes us much more productive, along with their functionality we also adopt their security flaws. To make things worse, some of these flaws are well-known vulnerabilities, making it easy for hackers to take advantage of them in an attack. This is a real problem and happens on pretty much every platform. Do you develop in Java? In 2014, over 6% of Java modules downloaded from Maven had a known severe security issue, the typical Java applications containing 24 flaws. Are you coding in Node.js? Roughly 14% of npm packages carry a known vulnerability, and over 60% of dev shops find vulnerabilities in their code. 30% of Docker Hub containers include a high priority known security hole, and 60% of the top 100,000 websites use client-side libraries with known security gaps. To find known security issues, take stock of your dependencies and match them against language-specific lists such as Snyk’s vulnerability DB for Node.js, rubysec for Ruby, victims-db for Python and OWASP’s Dependency Check for Java. Once found, you can fix most issues by upgrading the component in question, though that may be tricky for indirect dependencies. This process is still way too painful, which means most teams don’t do it. The Snyk team and I are hoping to change that by making it as easy as possible to find, fix and monitor known vulnerabilities in your dependencies. Snyk’s wizard will help you find and fix these issues through guided upgrades and patches, and adding Snyk’s test to your continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) will help you stay secure as your code evolves. Note that newly disclosed vulnerabilities usually impact old code – the one you’re running in production. This means you have to stay alert when new vulnerabilities are disclosed, so you can fix them before attackers can exploit them. You can do so by subscribing to vulnerability lists like US-CERT, OSVDB and NVD. Snyk’s monitor will proactively let you know about new disclosures relevant to your code, but only for Node.js for now – you can register to get updated when we expand. Securing Yourself In addition to making your application secure, you should make the contributors to that application secure – including you. Earlier this year we’ve seen attackers target mobile app developers with a malicious Xcode. The real target, however, wasn’t these developers, but rather the users of the apps they create. That you create. Securing your own work environment is a key part of keeping your apps secure, and your users from being compromised. There’s no single step that will make you fully secure, but here are a few steps that can make a big impact: Use 2FA on all the services related to the application, notably source control (e.g. GitHub), cloud platform (e.g. AWS), CI/CD, CDN, DNS provider and domain registrar. If an attacker compromises any one of those, they could modify or replace your entire application. I’d recommend using 2FA on all your personal services too. Use a password manager (e.g. 1Password, LastPass) to ensure you have a separate and complex password for each service. Some of these services will get hacked, and passwords will leak. When that happens, don’t let the attackers access your other systems too. Secure your workstation. Be careful what you download, lock your screen when you walk away, change default passwords on services you install, run antivirus software, etc. Malware on your machine can translate to malware in your applications. Be very wary of phishing. Smart attackers use ‘spear phishing’ techniques to gain access to specific systems, and can trick even security savvy users. There are even phishing scams targeting users with 2FA. Be alert to phishy emails. Don’t install things through curl <somewhere-on-the-web> | sudo bash, especially if the URL is on GitHub, meaning someone else controls it. Don’t do it on your machines, and definitely don’t do it in your CI/CD systems. Seriously. Staying secure should be important to you personally, but it’s doubly important when you have privileged access to an application. Such access makes you a way to reach many more users, and therefore a more compelling target for bad actors. A Culture of Security Using HTTPS, enabling two-factor authentication and fixing known vulnerabilities are significant steps in building security at your core. As you implement them, remember that these are just a few steps in a longer journey. The end goal is to embrace security as an aspect of quality, and accept we all share the responsibility of keeping ourselves – and our users – safe. 2015 Guy Podjarny guypodjarny 2015-12-11T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/upping-your-web-security-game/ code
72 Designing with Contrast When an appetite for aesthetics over usability becomes the bellwether of user interface design, it’s time to reconsider who we’re designing for. Over the last few years, we have questioned the signifiers that gave obvious meaning to the function of interface elements. Strong textures, deep shadows, gradients — imitations of physical objects — were discarded. And many, rightfully so. Our audiences are now more comfortable with an experience that feels native to the technology, so we should respond in kind. Yet not all of the changes have benefitted users. Our efforts to simplify brought with them a trend of ultra-minimalism where aesthetics have taken priority over legibility, accessibility and discoverability. The trend shows no sign of losing popularity — and it is harming our experience of digital content. A thin veneer We are in a race to create the most subdued, understated interface. Visual contrast is out. In its place: the thinnest weights of a typeface and white text on bright color backgrounds. Headlines, text, borders, backgrounds, icons, form controls and inputs: all grey. While we can look back over the last decade and see minimalist trends emerging on the web, I think we can place a fair share of the responsibility for the recent shift in priorities on Apple. The release of iOS 7 ushered in a radical change to its user interface. It paired mobile interaction design to the simplicity and eloquence of Apple’s marketing and product design. It was a catalyst. We took what we saw, copied and consumed the aesthetics like pick-and-mix. New technology compounds this trend. Computer monitors and mobile devices are available with screens of unprecedented resolutions. Ultra-light type and subtle hues, difficult to view on older screens, are more legible on these devices. It would be disingenuous to say that designers have always worked on machines representative of their audience’s circumstances, but the gap has never been as large as it is now. We are running the risk of designing VIP lounges where the cost of entry is a Mac with a Retina display. Minimalist expectations Like progressive enhancement in an age of JavaScript, many good and sensible accessibility practices are being overlooked or ignored. We’re driving unilateral design decisions that threaten accessibility. We’ve approached every problem with the same solution, grasping on to the integrity of beauty, focusing on expression over users’ needs and content. Someone once suggested to me that a client’s website should include two states. The first state would be the ideal experience, with low color contrast, light font weights and no differentiation between links and text. It would be the default. The second state would be presented in whatever way was necessary to meet accessibility standards. Users would have to opt out of the default state via a toggle if it wasn’t meeting their needs. A sort of first-class, upper deck cabin equivalent of graceful degradation. That this would divide the user base was irrelevant, as the aesthetics of the brand were absolute. It may seem like an unusual anecdote, but it isn’t uncommon to see this thinking in our industry. Again and again, we place the burden of responsibility to participate in a usable experience on others. We view accessibility and good design as mutually exclusive. Taking for granted what users will tolerate is usually the forte of monopolistic services, but increasingly we apply the same arrogance to our new products and services. Imitation without representation All of us are influenced in one way or another by one another’s work. We are consciously and unconsciously affected by the visual and audible activity around us. This is important and unavoidable. We do not produce work in a vacuum. We respond to technology and culture. We channel language and geography. We absorb the sights and sounds of film, television, news. To mimic and copy is part and parcel of creating something an audience of many can comprehend and respond to. Our clients often look first to their competitors’ products to understand their success. However, problems arise when we focus on style without context; form without function; mimicry as method. Copied and reused without any of the ethos of the original, stripped of deliberate and informed decision-making, the so-called look and feel becomes nothing more than paint on an empty facade. The typographic and color choices so in vogue today with our popular digital products and services have little in common with the brands they are meant to represent. For want of good design, the message was lost The question to ask is: does the interface truly reflect the product? Is it an accurate characterization of the brand and organizational values? Does the delivery of the content match the tone of voice? The answer is: probably not. Because every organization, every app or service, is unique. Each with its own personality, its own values and wonderful quirks. Design is communication. We should do everything in our role as professionals to use design to give voice to the message. Our job is to clearly communicate the benefits of a service and unreservedly allow access to information and content. To do otherwise, by obscuring with fashionable styles and elusive information architecture, does a great disservice to the people who chose to engage with and trust our products. We can achieve hierarchy and visual rhythm without resorting to extreme reduction. We can craft a beautiful experience with fine detail and curiosity while meeting fundamental standards of accessibility (and strive to meet many more). Standards of excellence It isn’t always comfortable to step back and objectively question our design choices. We get lost in the flow of our work, using patterns and preferences we’ve tried and tested before. That our decisions often seem like second nature is a gift of experience, but sometimes it prevents us from finding our blind spots. I was first caught out by my own biases a few years ago, when designing an interface for the Bank of England. After deciding on the colors for the typography and interactive elements, I learned that the site had to meet AAA accessibility standards. My choices quickly fell apart. It was eye-opening. I had to start again with restrictions and use size, weight and placement instead to construct the visual hierarchy. Even now, I make mistakes. On a recent project, I used large photographs on an organization’s website to promote their products. Knowing that our team had control over the art direction, I felt confident that we could compose the photographs to work with text overlays. Despite our best effort, the cropped images weren’t always consistent, undermining the text’s legibility. If I had the chance to do it again, I would separate the text and image. So, what practical things can we consider to give our users the experience they deserve? Put guidelines in place Think about your brand values. Write down keywords and use them as a framework when choosing a typeface. Explore colors that convey the organization’s personality and emotional appeal. Define a color palette that is web-ready and meets minimum accessibility standards. Note which colors are suitable for use with text. Only very dark hues of grey are consistently legible so keep them for non-essential text (for example, as placeholders in form inputs). Find which background colors you can safely use with white text, and consider integrating contrast checks into your workflow. Use roman and medium weights for body copy. Reserve lighter weights of a typeface for very large text. Thin fonts are usually the first to break down because of aliasing differences across platforms and screens. Check that the size, leading and length of your type is always legible and readable. Define lower and upper limits. Small text is best left for captions and words in uppercase. Avoid overlaying text on images unless it’s guaranteed to be legible. If it’s necessary to optimize space in the layout, give the text a container. Scrims aren’t always reliable: the text will inevitably overlap a part of the photograph without a contrasting ground. Test your work Review legibility and contrast on different devices. It’s just as important as testing the layout of a responsive website. If you have a local device lab, pay it a visit. Find a computer monitor near a window when the sun is shining. Step outside the studio and try to read your content on a mobile device with different brightness levels. Ask your friends and family what they use at home and at work. It’s one way of making sure your feedback isn’t always coming from a closed loop. Push your limits You define what the user sees. If you’ve inherited brand guidelines, question them. If you don’t agree with the choices, make the case for why they should change. Experiment with size, weight and color to find contrast. Objects with low contrast appear similar to one another and undermine the visual hierarchy. Weak relationships between figure and ground diminish visual interest. A balanced level of contrast removes ambiguity and creates focal points. It captures and holds our attention. If you’re lost for inspiration, look to graphic design in print. We have a wealth of history, full of examples that excel in using contrast to establish visual hierarchy. Embrace limitations. Use boundaries as an opportunity to explore possibilities. More than just a facade Designing with standards encourages legibility and helps to define a strong visual hierarchy. Design without exclusion (through neither negligence or intent) gets around discussions of demographics, speaks to a larger audience and makes good business sense. Following the latest trends not only weakens usability but also hinders a cohesive and distinctive brand. Users will make means when they need to, by increasing browser font sizes or enabling system features for accessibility. But we can do our part to take as much of that burden off of the user and ask less of those who need it most. In architecture, it isn’t buildings that mimic what is fashionable that stand the test of time. Nor do we admire buildings that tack on separate, poorly constructed extensions to meet a bare minimum of safety regulations. We admire architecture that offers well-considered, remarkable, usable spaces with universal access. Perhaps we can take inspiration from these spaces. Let’s give our buildings a bold voice and make sure the doors are open to everyone. 2015 Mark Mitchell markmitchell 2015-12-13T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/designing-with-contrast/ design
73 How to Make Your Site Look Half-Decent in Half an Hour Programmers like me are often intimidated by design – but a little effort can give a huge return on investment. Here are one coder’s tips for making any site quickly look more professional. I am a programmer. I am not a designer. I have a degree in computer science, and I don’t mind Comic Sans. (It looks cheerful. Move on.) But although I am a programmer, I want to make my sites look attractive. This is partly out of vanity, and partly realism. Vanity because I want people to think my work is good, and realism because the research shows that people won’t think a site is credible unless it also looks attractive. For a very long time after I became a programmer, I was scared of design. Design seemed to consist of complicated rules that weren’t written down anywhere, plus an unlearnable sense of taste, possessed only by a black-clad elite. But a little while ago, I decided to do my best to hack what it took to make my own projects look vaguely attractive. And although this doesn’t come close to the effect a professional designer could achieve, gathering these resources for improving a site’s look and feel has been really helpful. If I hadn’t figured out some basic design shortcuts, it’s unlikely that a weekend hack of mine would have ended up on page three of the Daily Mail. And too often now, I see excellent programming projects that don’t reach the audience they deserve, simply because their design doesn’t match their execution. So, if you are a developer, my Christmas present to you is this: my own collection of hacks that, used rightly, can make your personal programming projects look professional, quickly. None are hard to learn, most are free, and they let you focus on writing code. One thing to note about these tips, though. They are a personal, pragmatic compilation. They are suggestions, not a definitive guide. You will definitely get better results by working with a professional designer, and by studying design more deeply. If you are a designer, I would love to hear your suggestions for the best tools that I’ve missed, and I’d love to know how we programmers can do things better. With that, on to the tools… 1. Use Bootstrap If you’re not already using Bootstrap, start now. I really think that Bootstrap is one of the most significant technical achievements of the last few years: it democratizes the whole process of web design. Essentially, Bootstrap is a a grid system, with a bunch of common elements. So you can lay your site out how you want, drop in simple elements like forms and tables, and get a good-looking, consistent result, without spending hours fiddling with CSS. You just need HTML. Another massive upside is that it makes it easy to make any site responsive, so you don’t have to worry about writing media queries. Go, get Bootstrap and check out the examples. To keep your site lightweight, you can customize your download to include only the elements you want. If you have more time, then Mark Otto’s article on why and how Bootstrap was created at Twitter is well worth a read. 2. Pimp Bootstrap Using Bootstrap is already a significant advance on not using Bootstrap, and massively reduces the tedium of front-end development. But you also run the risk of creating Yet Another Bootstrap Site, or Hack Day Design, as it’s known. If you’re really pressed for time, you could buy a theme from Wrap Bootstrap. These are usually created by professional designers, and will give a polish that we can’t achieve ourselves. Your site won’t be unique, but it will look good quickly. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to make Bootstrap not look too much like Bootstrap – using fonts, CSS effects, background images, colour schemes and so on. Most of the rest of this article covers different ways to achieve this. We are going to customize this Bootstrap example page. This already has some custom CSS in the <head>. We’ll pull it all out, and create a new CSS file, custom.css. Then we add a reference to it in the header. Now we’re ready to start customizing things. 3. Fonts Web fonts are one of the quickest ways to make your site look distinctive, modern, and less Bootstrappy, so we’ll start there. First, we can add some sweet fonts, from Google Web Fonts. The intimidating bit is choosing fonts that look nice together. Luckily, there are plenty of suggestions around the web: we’re going to use one of DesignShack’s suggested free Google Fonts pairings. Our fonts are Corben (for headings) and Nobile (for body copy). Then we add these files to our <head>. <link href="http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Corben:bold" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css"> <link href="http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Nobile" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css"> …and this to custom.css: h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6 { font-family: 'Corben', Georgia, Times, serif; } p, div { font-family: 'Nobile', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; } Now our example looks like this. It’s not going to win any design awards, but it’s immediately better: I also recommend the web font services Fontdeck, or Typekit – these have a wider selection of fonts, and are worth the investment if you regularly need to make sites look good. For more font combinations, Just My Type suggests appealing pairings from Typekit. Finally, you can experiment with type pairing ideas at Type Connection. For the design background on pairing fonts, Typekit’s post is worth a read. 4. Textures An instant way to make a site look classy is to use textures. You know the grey, stripy, indefinably elegant background on 24ways.org? That. If only there was a superb resource listing attractive, free, ready-to-use textures… Oh wait, there’s Atle Mo’s Subtle Patterns. We’re going to use Cream Dust, for an effect that can only be described as subtle. We download the file to a new /img/ directory, then add this to the CSS file: body { background: url(/img/cream_dust.png) repeat 0 0; } Bang: For some design background on patterns, I recommend reading through Smashing Magazine’s guidelines on textures. (TL;DR version: use textures to enhance beauty, and clarify the information architecture of your site; but don’t overdo it, or inadvertently obscure your text.) Still more to do, though. Onwards. 5. Icons Last year’s 24 ways taught us to use icon fonts for our site icons. This is great for the time-pressed coder, because icon fonts don’t just cut down on HTTP requests – they’re a lot quicker to set up than image-based icons, too. Bootstrap ships with an extensive, free for commercial use icon set in the shape of Font Awesome. Its icons are safe for screen readers, and can even be made to work in IE7 if needed (we’re not going to bother here). To start using these icons, just download Font Awesome, and add the /fonts/ directory to your site and the font-awesome.css file into your /css/ directory. Then add a reference to the CSS file in your header: <link rel="stylesheet" href="/css/font-awesome.css"> Finally, we’ll add a truck icon to the main action button, as follows. Why a truck? Why not? <a class="btn btn-large btn-success" href="#"><i class="icon-truck"></i> Sign up today</a> We’ll also tweak our CSS file to stop the icon nudging up against the button text: .jumbotron .btn i { margin-right: 8px; } And this is how it looks: Not the most exciting change ever, but it livens up the page a bit. The licence is CC-BY-3.0, so we also include a mention of Font Awesome and its URL in the source code. If you’d like something a little more distinctive, Shifticons lets you pay a few cents for individual icons, with the bonus that you only have to serve the icons you actually use, which is more efficient. Its icons are also friendly to screen readers, but won’t work in IE7. 6. CSS3 The next thing you could do is add some CSS3 goodness. It can really help the key elements of the site stand out. If you are pressed for time, just adding box-shadow and text-shadow to emphasize headings and standouts can be useful: h1 { text-shadow: 1px 1px 1px #ccc; } .div-that-you want-to-stand-out { box-shadow: 0 0 1em 1em #ccc; } We have a little more time though, so we’re going to do something more subtle. We’ll add a radial gradient behind the main heading, using an online gradient editor. The output is hefty, but you can see it in the CSS. Note that we also need to add the following to our HTML, for IE9 support: <!--[if gte IE 9]> <style type="text/css"> .gradient { filter: none; } </style> <![endif]--> And the effect – I don’t know what a designer would think, but I like the way it makes the heading pop. For a crash course in useful modern CSS effects, I highly recommend CodeSchool’s online course in Functional HTM5 and CSS3. It costs money ($25 a month to subscribe), but it’s worth it for the time you’ll save. As a bonus, you also get access to some excellent JavaScript, Ruby and GitHub courses. (Incidentally, if you find yourself fighting with basic float and display attributes in CSS – and there’s no shame in it, CSS layout is not intuitive – I recommend the CSS Cross-Country course at CodeSchool.) 7. Add a twist We could leave it there, but we’re going to add a background image, and give the site some personality. This is the area of design that I think many programmers find most intimidating. How do we create the graphics and photographs that a designer would use? The answer is iStockPhoto and its competitors – online image libraries where you can find and pay for images. They won’t be unique, but for our purposes, that’s fine. We’re going to use a Christmassy image. For a twist, we’re going to use Backstretch to make it responsive. We must pay for the image, then download it to our /img/ directory. Then, we set it as our <body>’s background-image, by including a JavaScript file with just the following line: $.backstretch("/img/winter.jpg"); We also reset the subtle pattern to become the background for our container image. It would look much better transparent, so we can use this technique in GIMP to make it see-through: .container-narrow { background: url(/img/cream_dust_transparent.png) repeat 0 0; } We also fiddle with the padding on body and .container-narrow a bit, and this is the result: (Aside: If this were a real site, I’d want to buy images in multiple sizes and ensure that Backstretch chose the most appropriately sized image for our screen, perhaps using responsive images.) How to find the effects that make a site interesting? I keep a set of bookmarks for interesting JavaScript and CSS effects I might want to use someday, from realistic shadows to animating grids. The JavaScript Weekly newsletter is a great source of ideas. 8. Colour schemes We’re just about getting there – though we’re probably past half an hour now – but that button and that menu still both look awfully Bootstrappy. Real sites, with real designers, have a colour palette, carefully chosen to harmonize and match the brand profile. For our purposes, we’re just going to borrow some colours from the image. We use Gimp’s colour picker tool to identify the hex values of the blue of the snow. Then we can use Color Scheme Designer to find contrasting, but complementary, colours. Finally, we use those colours for our central button. There are lots of tools to help us do this, such as Bootstrap Buttons. The new HTML is quite long, so I won’t paste it all here, but you can find it in the CSS file. We also reset the colour of the pills in the navigation menu, which is a bit easier: .nav-pills > .active > a, .nav-pills > .active > a:hover { background-color: #FF9473; } I’m not sure if the result is great to be honest, but at least we’ve lost those Bootstrap-blue buttons: Another way to do it, if you didn’t have an image to match, would be to borrow an attractive colour scheme. Colourlovers is a community where people create and share ready-made colour palettes. The key thing is to find a palette with an open licence, so you can legitimately use it. Unfortunately, you can’t search for palettes by licence type, but many do have open licences. Here’s a popular palette with a CC-BY-SA licence that allows reuse with attribution. As above, you can use the hex values from the palette in your custom CSS, and bask in the newly colourful results. 9. Read on With the above techniques, you can make a site that is starting to look slightly more professional, pretty quickly. If you have the time to invest, it’s well worth learning some design principles, if only so that design seems less intimidating and more like fun. As part of my design learning, I read a few introductory design books aimed at coders. The best I found was David Kadavy’s Design for Hackers: Reverse-Engineering Beauty, which explains the basic principles behind choosing colours, fonts, typefaces and layout. In the introduction to his book, David writes: No group stands to gain more from design literacy than hackers do… The one subject that is exceedingly frustrating for hackers to try to learn is design. Hackers know that in order to compete against corporate behemoths with just a few lines of code, they need to have good, clear design, but the resources with which to learn design are simply hard to find. Well said. If you have half a day to invest, rather than half an hour, I recommend getting hold of David’s book. And the journey is over. Perhaps that took slightly more than half an hour, but with practice, using the above techniques can become second nature. What useful tools have I missed? Designers, how would you improve on the above? I would love to know, so please give me your views in the comments. 2012 Anna Powell-Smith annapowellsmith 2012-12-16T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/how-to-make-your-site-look-half-decent/ design
74 Should We Be Reactive? Evolution Looking at the evolution of the web and the devices we use should help remind us that the times we’re adjusting to are just another step on a journey. These times seem to be telling us that we need to embrace flexibility. Imagine an HTML file containing nothing but text. It’s viewable on any web-capable device and reasonably readable: the notion of the universality of the web was very much a founding principle. Right from the beginning, browser vendors understood that we’d want text to reflow (why wouldn’t we?), so I consider the first websites to have been fluid. As we attempted to exert more control through our designs in the early days of the web, debates about whether we should produce fixed or fluid sites raged. We could create fluid designs using tables, but what we didn’t have then was a wide range of web capable devices or the ability to control this fluidity. The biggest changes occurred when stats showed enough people using a different screen resolution we could cater for. To me, the techniques of responsive web design provide the control we were missing. Combining new approaches to layout and images with media queries empowered us to learn how to embrace the inherent flexibility of the web in ways to suit our work and the devices used by our audience. Perhaps another kind of flexibility might be found in how we use context to affect how we present our content; to consider how we might use the information we can access from people, browsers and devices to provide web experiences – effectively creating sites that react to initial or changing circumstances in the relationship between people and our content. Embracing flexibility So what is context? Put simply, you could think of it as a secondary piece of information that helps clarify the meaning of the first. It helps set a scene or describe circumstances. I think that Cennydd Bowles has summed it up really well through talks he’s given recently, in which he’s arrived at the acronym DETAILS (Device, Environment, Time, Activity, Individual, Location, Social) – I encourage you to keep an eye out for his next book due in the new year where he’ll explore this idea much further. This clarity over what context could mean in terms of what we do on the web is fundamental, directing us towards ways we might use it. When you stop to think about it, we’ve been using some basic pieces of this information right from the beginning, like bits of JavaScript or Java applets that serve an appropriate greeting to your site’s visitors, or show their location, or even local weather. But what if we think of this from the beginning of our projects? We should think about our content first. Once we know this and have a direction, perhaps then we can think about what context, or even multiple contexts, might help us to communicate more effectively. The real world There’s always been a disconnect between the real world and the web, which is to be expected. But the world around us is a sea of data; every fundamental building block: people, places, events and things have information waiting to be explored. For sites based around physical objects or locations, this divide is really apparent. We don’t ordinarily take the time to describe in code the properties of a place, or consider whether your relationship to the place in the real world should have any impact on your relationship with a site about it. When I think about local businesses, they have such rich properties to draw on and yet we don’t really explore them in any meaningful way, even through something as simple as opening hours. Now we have data… We’ve long had access to the current time both on server- and client-sides. The use of geolocation is easier than ever, but when we look at the range of information we could glean to help us make some choices, maybe there’s some help on the horizon from projects like the W3C Device APIs Working Group. This might prove useful to help make us aware of network and battery conditions of a device, along with the potential to gain data from other sensors, which could tell us about lighting conditions, ambient noise levels and temperature depending on the capabilities of the device. It may be that our sites have some form of login or access to your profile from another site. Along with data from our devices and browsers, this should give us a sense of how best to talk to our audience in certain situations. We don’t necessarily need to know any personal details, just enough to make decisions about how to present our sites. The reactive web? So why reactive web design? I’m hoping that a name might help us to have a common vocabulary not only about what we mean when we talk about context, but how it could be considered through our projects, right from the early stages. How could this manifest itself? A simple example might be a location-aware panel on your site. Perhaps the space is a little down in your content hierarchy but serves a perfectly valid purpose by default. To visitors outside the country perhaps this works fine, but within your country maybe this panel could be used to communicate more effectively. Further still, if we knew the visitors were in the vicinity, we could talk to them more directly. What if both time and location were relevant? This space could work as before but you could consider how time could intersect with your local audience. If you know they’re local and it’s a certain time of day, you could communicate directly with them. This example isn’t beyond what banner ads often do and uses easily accessible information. There are more unusual combinations we may be able to find, such as movement and presence. Perhaps a site that tells a story, which changes design and content based on whether you’re moving, how long you’ve been on the site and how far you’ve travelled. This isn’t what we typically expect from websites, but we should bear in mind that what websites are now will not be what they become in the future. You could do much of this contextual presentation through native apps, of course. The Silent History, an app novel written and designed for iPad and iPhone, uses an exploration element, providing “hundreds of location-based stories across the U.S. and around the world. These can be read only when your device’s GPS matches the coordinates of the specified location.” But considering the universality of the web, we could redefine what web-based experiences should be like. Not all methods would work well on the web, but that’s a decision that has to be made for a specific project. By thinking more broadly about any web-capable device, we can use what we know to provide relevant experiences for our site’s visitors. We need to be sure what we mean by relevant, of course! Reality bites While there are incredible possibilities, from a simple panel on a site to something bordering on living sites that evolve and change with our circumstances, we need to act with a degree of pragmatism and understand how much of what we could do is based on assumptions and the bias of our own experiences. We could go wild with changing the way our content is presented based on contextual information, but if we’re not careful what we end up with confuses and could provide a very fractured experience. As much as possible we need to think more ethnographically, observe and question people in the situations we think may be relevant, and test our assumptions as early as we can. Even on small projects, there may be ways we can validate our assumptions and test with our audience. The key to applying contextual content or cues is not to break the experience between contextual views (as I think we now wouldn’t when hiding content on a mobile view). It’s another instance of progressive enhancement – as we know certain pieces of information, we can enhance the experience. Also, if you do change content, how can you not make a more cumbersome experience for your visitors? It’s all about communication Content is at the core of what we do, but if we consider context we need to understand the impact on that. The effect could be as subtle as an altered hierarchy, involve swapping out panels of content, or in extreme instances perhaps all of your content might change. In some ways, this extends the notion of adaptive content that Karen McGrane has been talking about, to how we write and store the content we create. Thinking about the the impact of context may require us to re-evaluate our site structure, too. Whatever we decide, we have to be clear what will happen and manage the expectations of our users. The bottom line What I’m proposing isn’t that we go crazy and end up with a confused, disjointed set of experiences across the web. What I hope is that starting right from the beginning of a project, we think about what context is and could be, and see what relevance it might have to what we’re trying to communicate. This strategic process leads us to think about design. We are slowly adapting to what it means to be flexible through responsive and adaptive processes. What does thinking about contextual states mean to us (or designing for state in general)? Does this highlight again how difficult it’ll be for our tools to keep up with our processes and output? In terms of code, the vast majority of this data comes from the client-side through JavaScript. While we can progressively enhance, this could lead to a lot of code bloat through feature or capability detection, and potentially a lot of conditional loading of scripts. It’s a real shame we don’t get much we can rely on from the server-side – we know how unreliable user agents are! We need to understand why we’d do this. Are we trying to communicate well and be useful, or doing it to show off? Underneath it all, what do we base our decisions on? Do we have actual insight or are we proceeding from our assumptions and the bias of our own experiences? Scott Jenson summed it up best for me: (to paraphrase) the pain we put people through has to be greatly outweighed by the value we offer. I see that this could be another potential step in our evolution on the web; continuing this exploration of the flexibility the web allows us. It’s amazing we can do such incredible things from what is essentially a set of disparate, linked documents. 2012 Dan Donald dandonald 2012-12-09T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/should-we-be-reactive/ design
75 A Harder-Working Class Class is only becoming more important. Focusing on its original definition as an attribute for grouping (or classifying) as well as linking HTML to CSS, recent front-end development practices are emphasizing class as a vessel for structured, modularized style packages. These patterns reduce the need for repetitive declarations that can seriously bloat file sizes, and instil human-readable understanding of how the interface, layout, and aesthetics are constructed. In the next handful of paragraphs, we will look at how these emerging practices – such as object-oriented CSS and SMACSS – are pushing the relevance of class. We will also explore how HTML and CSS architecture can be further simplified, performance can be boosted, and CSS utility sharpened by combining class with the attribute selector. A primer on attribute selectors While attribute selectors were introduced in the CSS 2 spec, they are still considered rather exotic. These well-established and well-supported features give us vastly improved flexibility in targeting elements in CSS, and offer us opportunities for smarter markup. With an attribute selector, you can directly style an element based on any of its unique – or uniquely shared – attributes, without the need for an ID or extra classes. Unlike pseudo-classes, pseudo-elements, and other exciting features of CSS3, attribute selectors do not require any browser-specific syntax or prefix, and are even supported in Internet Explorer 7. For example, say we want to target all anchor tags on a page that link to our homepage. Where otherwise we might need to manually identify and add classes to the HTML for these specific links, we could simply write: [href=index.html] { } This selector reads: target every element that has an href attribute of “index.html”. Attribute selectors are more faceted, though, as they also give us some very simple regular expression-like logic that helps further narrow (or widen) a selector’s scope. In our previous example, what if we wanted to also give indicative styles to any anchor tag linking to an external site? With no way to know what the exact href value would be for every external link, we need to use an expression to match a common aspect of those links. In this case, we know that all external links need to start with “http”, so we can use that as a hook: [href^=http] { } The selector here reads: target every element that has an href attribute that begins with “http” (which will also include “https”). The ^= means “starts with”. There are a few other simple expressions that give us a lot of flexibility in targeting elements, and I have found that a deep understanding of these and other selector types to be very useful. The class-attribute selector By matching classes with the attribute selector, CSS can be pushed to accomplish some exciting new feats. What I call a class-attribute selector combines the advantages of classes with attribute selectors by targeting the class attribute, rather than a specific class. Instead of selecting .urgent, you could select [class*=urgent]. The latter may seem like a more verbose way of accomplishing the former, but each would actually match two subtly different groups of elements. Eric Meyer first explored the possibility of using classes with attribute selectors over a decade ago. While his interest in this technique mostly explored the different facets of the syntax, I have found that using class-attribute selectors can have distinct advantages over either using an attribute selector or a straightforward class selector. First, let’s explore some of the subtleties of why we would target class before other attributes: Classes are ubiquitous. They have been supported since the HTML 4 spec was released in 1999. Newer attributes, such as the custom data attribute, have only recently begun to be adopted by browsers. Classes have multiple ways of being targeted. You can use the class selector or attribute selector (.classname or [class=classname]), allowing more flexible specificity than resorting to an ID or !important. Classes are already widely used, so adding more classes will usually require less markup than adding more attributes. Classes were designed to abstractly group and specify elements, making them the most appropriate attribute for styling using object-oriented methods (as we will learn in a moment). Also, as Meyer pointed out, we can use the class-attribute selector to be more strict about class declarations. Of these two elements: <h2 class="very urgent"> <h2 class="urgent"> …only the second h2 would be selected by [class=urgent], while .urgent would select both. The use of = matches any element with the exact class value of “urgent”. Eric explores these nuances further in his series on attribute selectors, but perhaps more dramatic is the added power that class-attribute selectors can bring to our CSS. More object-oriented, more scalable and modular Nicole Sullivan has been pushing abstracted, object-oriented thinking in CSS development for years now. She has shared stacks of knowledge on how behemoth sites have seen impressive gains in maintenance overhead and CSS file sizes by leaning heavier on classes derived from common patterns. Jonathan Snook also speaks, writes and is genuinely passionate about improving our markup by using more stratified and modular class name conventions. With SMACSS, he shows this to be highly useful across sites – both complex and simple – that exhibit repeated design patterns. Sullivan and Snook both push the use of class for styling over other attributes, and many front-end developers are fast advocating such thinking as best practice. With class-attribute selectors, we can further abstract our CSS, pushing its scalability. In his chapter on modules, Snook gives the example of a .pod class that might represent a certain set of styles. A .pod style set might be used in varying contexts, leading to CSS that might normally look like this: .pod { } form .pod { } aside .pod { } According to Snook, we can make these styles more portable by targeting more verbose classes, rather than context: .pod { } .pod-form { } .pod-sidebar { } …resulting in the following HTML: <div class="pod"> <div class="pod pod-form"> <div class="pod pod-sidebar"> This divorces the <div>’s styles from its context, making it applicable to any situation in which it is needed. The markup is clean and portable, and the classes are imbued with meaning as to what module they belong to. Using class-attribute selectors, we can simplify this further: [class*=pod] { } .pod-form { } .pod-sidebar { } The *= tells the browser to look for any element with a class attribute containing “pod”, so it matches “pod”, “pod-form”, “pod-sidebar”, etc. This allows only one class per element, resulting in simpler HTML: <div class="pod"> <div class="pod-form"> <div class="pod-sidebar"> We could further abstract the concept of “form” and “sidebar” adjustments if we knew that each of those alterations would always need the same treatment. /* Modules */ [class*=pod] { } [class*=btn] { } /* Alterations */ [class*=-form] { } [class*=-sidebar] { } In this case, all elements with classes appended “-form” or “-sidebar” would be altered in the same manner, allowing the markup to stay simple: <form> <h2 class="pod-form"> <a class="btn-form" href="#"> <aside> <h2 class="pod-sidebar"> <a class="btn-sidebar" href="#"> 50+ shades of specificity Classes are just powerful enough to override element selectors and default styling, but still leave room to be trumped by IDs and !important styles. This makes them more suitable for object-oriented patterns and helps avoid messy specificity issues that can not only be a pain for developers to maintain, but can also affect a site’s performance. As Sullivan notes, “In almost every case, classes work well and have fewer unintended consequences than either IDs or element selectors”. Proper use of specificity and cascade is crucial in building straightforward, efficient CSS. One interesting aspect of attribute selectors is that they can be compounded for increasing levels of specificity. Attribute selectors are assigned a specificity level of ten, the same as class selectors, but both class and attribute selectors can be chained together, giving them more and more specificity with each link. Some examples: .box { } /* Specificity of 10 */ .box.promo { } /* Specificity of 20 */ [class*=box] { } /* Specificity of 10 */ [class*=box][class*=promo] { } /* Specificity of 20 */ You can chain both types together, too: .box[class*=promo] { } /* Specificity of 20 */ I was amused to find, though, that you can chain the exact same class and attribute selectors for infinite levels of specificity .box { } /* Specificity of 10 */ .box.box { } /* Specificity of 20 */ .box.box.box { } /* Specificity of 30 */ [class*=box] { } /* Specificity of 10 */ [class*=box][class*=box] { } /* Specificity of 20 */ [class*=box][class*=box][class*=box] { } /* Specificity of 30 */ .box[class*=box].box[class*=box] { } /* Specificity of 40 */ To override .box styles for promo, we wouldn’t need to add an ID, change the order of .promo and .box in the CSS, or resort to an !important style. Granted, any issue that might need this fine level of specificity tweaking could probably be better solved with clever cascades, but having options never hurts. Smarter CSS One of the most powerful aspects of the class-attribute selector is its ability to expand the simple logic found in CSS. When developing Gridset (an online tool for building grids and outputting them as CSS), I realized that with the right class name conventions, class-attribute selectors would allow the CSS to be smart enough to automatically adjust for column offsets without the need for extra classes. This imbued the CSS output with logic that other frameworks lacked, and makes a developer’s job much easier. Say you need an element that spans column five (c5) to column six (c6) on your grid, and is preceded by an element spanning column one (c1) to column three (c3). The CSS can anticipate such a scenario: .c1-c3 + .c5-c6 { margin-left: 25%; /* …or the width of column four plus two gutter widths */ } …but to accommodate all of the margin offsets that could span that same gap, we would need to write a rather protracted list for just a six column grid: .c1-c3 + .c5-c6, .c1-c3 + .c5, .c2-c3 + .c5-c6, .c2-c3 + .c5, .c3 + .c5-c6, .c3 + .c5 { margin-left: 25%; } Now imagine how the verbosity compounds when we repeat this type of declaration for every possible margin in a grid. The more columns added to the grid, the longer this selector list would get, too, making the CSS harder for the developer to maintain and slowing the load time. Using class-attribute selectors, though, this can be much simpler: [class*=c3] + [class*=c5] { margin-left: 25%; } I’ve detailed how we extract as much logic as possible from as little CSS as needed on the Gridset blog. More flexible selectors In a recent project, I was working with Drupal-generated classes to change styles for certain special pages on a site. Without being able to change the code base, I was left trying to find some specific aspect of the generated HTML to target. I noticed that every special page was given a prefixed class, unique to the page, resulting in CSS like this: .specialpage-about, .specialpage-contact, .specialpage-info, … …and the list kept growing with each new special page. Such bloat would lead to problems down the line, and add development overhead to editorial decisions, which was a situation we were trying to avoid. I was easily able to fix this, though, with a concise class-attribute selector: [class*=specialpage-] The CSS was now flexible enough to accommodate both the editorial needs of the client, and the development restrictions of the CMS. Selector performance As Snook tells us in his chapter on Selector Performance, selectors are read by the browser from right to left, matching every element that adheres to each rule (or part of the selector). The more specific we can make the right-most rules – and every other part of your selectors – the more performant your CSS will be. So this selector: .home-page .promo .main-header …would be more performant than: .home-page div header …because there are likely many more header and div elements on the page, but not so many elements with those specific classes. Now, the class-attribute selector could be more general than a class selector, but not by much. I ran numerous tests based on the work of Steve Souders (and a few others) to test a class-attribute selector against a normal class selector. Given that Javascript will freeze during style rendering, I created a script that will add, then remove, a stylesheet on a page 5000 times, and measure only the time that elapses during the rendering freeze. The script runs four tests, essentially: one where a class selector and class-attribute Selector match a single element, and one they match multiple elements on the page. After running the test over 100 times and averaging the results, I have not seen a significant difference in rendering times. (As of this writing, the class-attribute selector has been 0.398% slower on average.) View the results here. Given the sheer amount of bytes potentially saved by reducing selector lists, though, I am confident class-attribute selectors could shorten load times on larger sites and, at the very least, save precious development time. Conclusion With its flexibility and broad remit, class has at times been derided as too lenient, allowing CMSes and lazy developers to fill its values with presentational hacks or verbose gibberish. There have even been calls for an early retirement. Class continues, though, to be one of our most crucial tools. Front-end developers are rightfully eager to expand production abilities through innovations such as Sass or LESS, but this should not preclude us from honing the tools we already know as well. Every technique demonstrated in this article was achievable over a decade ago and most of the same thinking could be applied to IDs, rels, or any other attribute (though the reasons listed above give class an edge). The recent advent of methods such as object-oriented CSS and SMACSS shows there is still much room left to expand what simple HTML and CSS can accomplish. Progress may not always be found in the innovation of our tools, but through sharpening our understanding of them. 2012 Nathan Ford nathanford 2012-12-15T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/a-harder-working-class/ code
76 Giving CSS Animations and Transitions Their Place CSS animations and transitions may not sit squarely in the realm of the behaviour layer, but they’re stepping up into this area that used to be pure JavaScript territory. Heck, CSS might even perform better than its JavaScript equivalents in some cases. That’s pretty serious! With CSS’s new tricks blurring the lines between presentation and behaviour, it can start to feel bloated and messy in our CSS files. It’s an uncomfortable feeling. Here are a pair of methods I’ve found to be pretty helpful in keeping the potential bloat and wire-crossing under control when CSS has its hands in both presentation and behaviour. Same eggs, more baskets Structuring your CSS to have separate files for layout, typography, grids, and so on is a fairly common approach these days. But which one do you put your transitions and animations in? The initial answer, as always, is “it depends”. Small effects here and there will likely sit just fine with your other styles. When you move into more involved effects that require multiple animations and some logic support from JavaScript, it’s probably time to choose none of the above, and create a separate CSS file just for them. Putting all your animations in one file is a huge help for code organization. Even if you opt for a name less literal than animations.css, you’ll know exactly where to go for anything CSS animation related. That saves time and effort when it comes to editing and maintenance. Keeping track of which animations are still currently used is easier when they’re all grouped together as well. And as an added bonus, you won’t have to look at all those horribly unattractive and repetitive prefixed @-keyframe rules unless you actually need to. An animations.css file might look something like the snippet below. It defines each animation’s keyframes and defines a class for each variation of that animation you’ll be using. Depending on the situation, you may also want to include transitions here in a similar way. (I’ve found defining transitions as their own class, or mixin, to be a huge help in past projects for me.) // defining the animation @keyframes catFall { from { background-position: center 0;} to {background-position: center 1000px;} } @-webkit-keyframes catFall { from { background-position: center 0;} to {background-position: center 1000px;} } @-moz-keyframes catFall { from { background-position: center 0;} to {background-position: center 1000px;} } @-ms-keyframes catFall { from { background-position: center 0;} to {background-position: center 1000px;} } … // class that assigns the animation .catsBackground { height: 100%; background: transparent url(../endlessKittens.png) 0 0 repeat-y; animation: catFall 1s linear infinite; -webkit-animation: catFall 1s linear infinite; -moz-animation: catFall 1s linear infinite; -ms-animation: catFall 1s linear infinite; } If we don’t need it, why load it? Having all those CSS animations and transitions in one file gives us the added flexibility to load them only when we want to. Loading a whole lot of things that will never be used might seem like a bit of a waste. While CSS has us impressed with its motion chops, it falls flat when it comes to the logic and fine-grained control. JavaScript, on the other hand, is pretty good at both those things. Chances are the content of your animations.css file isn’t acting alone. You’ll likely be adding and removing classes via JavaScript to manage your CSS animations at the very least. If your CSS animations are so entwined with JavaScript, why not let them hang out with the rest of the behaviour layer and only come out to play when JavaScript is supported? Dynamically linking your animations.css file like this means it will be completely ignored if JavaScript is off or not supported. No JavaScript? No additional behaviour, not even the parts handled by CSS. <script> document.write('<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="animations.css">'); </script> This technique comes up in progressive enhancement techniques as well, but it can help here to keep your presentation and behaviour nicely separated when more than one language is involved. The aim in both cases is to avoid loading files we won’t be using. If you happen to be doing something a bit fancier – like 3-D transforms or critical animations that require more nuanced fallbacks – you might need something like modernizr to step in to determine support more specifically. But the general idea is the same. Summing it all up Using a couple of simple techniques like these, we get to pick where to best draw the line between behaviour and presentation based on the situation at hand, not just on what language we’re using. The power of when to separate and how to reassemble the individual pieces can be even greater if you use preprocessors as part of your process. We’ve got a lot of options! The important part is to make forward-thinking choices to save your future self, and even your current self, unnecessary headaches. 2012 Val Head valhead 2012-12-08T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/giving-css-animations-and-transitions-their-place/ code
77 Colour Accessibility Here’s a quote from Josef Albers: In visual perception a colour is almost never seen as it really is[…] This fact makes colour the most relative medium in art.Josef Albers, Interaction of Color, 1963 Albers was a German abstract painter and teacher, and published a very famous course on colour theory in 1963. Colour is very relative — not just in the way that it appears differently across different devices due to screen quality and colour management, but it can also be seen differently by different people — something we really need to be more mindful of when designing. What is colour blindness? Colour blindness very rarely means that you can’t see any colour at all, or that people see things in greyscale. It’s actually a decreased ability to see colour, or a decreased ability to tell colours apart from one another. How does it happen? Inside the typical human retina, there are two types of receptor cells — rods and cones. Rods are the cells that allow us to see dark and light, and shape and movement. Cones are the cells that allow us to perceive colour. There are three types of cones, each responsible for absorbing blue, red, and green wavelengths in the spectrum. Problems with colour vision occur when one or more of these types of cones are defective or absent entirely, and these problems can either be inherited through genetics, or acquired through trauma, exposure to ultraviolet light, degeneration with age, an effect of diabetes, or other factors. Colour blindness is a sex-linked trait and it’s much more common in men than in women. The most common type of colour blindness is called deuteranomaly which occurs in 7% of males, but only 0.5% of females. That’s a pretty significant portion of the population if you really stop and think about it — we can’t ignore this demographic. What does it look like? People with the most common types of colour blindness, like protanopia and deuteranopia, have difficulty discriminating between red and green hues. There are also forms of colour blindness like tritanopia, which affects perception of blue and yellow hues. Below, you can see what a colour wheel might look like to these different people. What can we do? Here are some things you can do to make your websites and apps more accessible to people with all types of colour blindness. Include colour names and show examples One of the most common annoyances I’ve heard from people who are colour-blind is that they often have difficulty purchasing clothing and they will sometimes need to ask another person for a second opinion on what the colour of the clothing might actually be. While it’s easier to shop online than in a physical store, there are still accessibility issues to consider on shopping websites. Let’s say you’ve got a website that sells T-shirts. If you only show a photo of the shirt, it may be impossible for a person to tell what colour the shirt really is. For clarification, be sure to reference the name of the colour in the description of the product. United Pixelworkers does a great job of following this rule. The St. John’s T-shirt has a quirky palette inspired by the unofficial pink, white and green Newfoundland flag, and I can imagine many people not liking it. Another common problem occurs when a colour filter has been added to a product search. Here’s an example from a clothing website with unlabelled colour swatches, and how that might look to someone with deuteranopia-type colour blindness. The colour search filter below, from the H&M website, is much better since it uses names instead. At first glance, Urban Outfitters also uses unlabelled colour swatches on product pages (below), but on closer inspection, the colour name is displayed on hover. This isn’t an ideal solution, because although it’ll work on a desktop browser, it won’t work on a touchscreen device where hovering isn’t an option. Using overly fancy colour names, like the ones you might find labelling high-end interior paint can be just as confusing as not using a colour name at all. Names like grape instead of purple don’t really give the viewer any useful information about what the colour actually is on a colour wheel. Is grape supposed to be purple, or could it refer to red grapes or even green? Stick with hue names as much as possible. Avoid colour-specific instructions When designing forms, avoid labelling required fields only with coloured text. It’s safer to use a symbol cue like the asterisk which is colour-independent. A similar example would be directing a user to click a green button to purchase a product. Label your buttons clearly and reference them in the site copy by function, not colour, to avoid confusion. Don’t rely on colour coding Designing accessible maps and infographics can be much more challenging. Don’t rely on colour coding alone — try to use a combination of colour and texture or pattern, along with precise labels, and reflect this in the key or legend. Combine a blue background with a crosshatched pattern, or a pink background with a stippled dot — your users will always have two pieces of information to work with. The map of the London subway system is an iconic image not just in London, but around the world. Unfortunately, it contains some colours that are indistinguishable from each other to a person with a vision problem. This is true not only for the London underground, but also for any other wayfinding system that relies on colour coding as the only key in a legend. There are printable versions of the map available online in black and white, using patterns and shades of black and grey that are distinguishable, but the point is that there would be no need for such a map if it were designed with accessibility in mind from the beginning. And, if you’re a person who has a physical disability as well as a vision problem, the “Step-Free” guide map which shows stations is based on the original coloured map. Provide alternatives and customization While it’s best to consider these issues and design your app to be accessible by default, sometimes this might not be possible. Providing alternative styles or allowing users to edit their own colours is a feature to keep in mind. The developers of the game Faster Than Light created an alternate colour-blind mode and asked for public feedback to make sure that it passed the test. Not much needed to be done, but you can see they added stripes to the red zones and changed some outlines to blue. iChat is also a good example. Although by default it uses coloured bubbles to indicate a user’s status (available for chat, away or idle, or busy), included in the preferences is a “User Shapes to Indicate Status” option, which changes the shape of the standard circles to green circles, yellow triangles and red squares. Pay attention to contrast Colours that are similar in value but different in hue may be easy to distinguish between for a user with good vision, but a person who suffers from colour blindness may not be able to tell them apart at all. Proofing your work in greyscale is a quick way to tell if there’s enough contrast between the most important information in your design. Check with a simulator There are many tools out there for simulating different types of colour blindness, and it’s worth checking your design to catch any potential problems up front. One is called Sim Daltonism and it’s available for Mac OS X. It’ll show a pop-up preview next to your cursor and you can choose which type of colour blindness you want to test from a drop-down menu. You can also proof for the two most common types of colour blindness right in Photoshop or Illustrator (CS4 and later) while you’re designing. The colour contrast check tool from designer and developer Jonathan Snook gives you the option to enter a colour code for a background, and a colour code for text, and it’ll tell you if the colour contrast ratio meets the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. You can use the built-in sliders to adjust your colours until they meet the compliant contrast ratios. This is a great tool to test your palette before going live. For live websites, you can use the accessibility tool called WAVE, which also has a contrast checker. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that while WAVE can identify contrast errors in text, other things can slip through, so a site that passes the test does not automatically mean it’s accessible in reality. For example, the contrast checker here doesn’t notice that our red link in the introduction isn’t underlined, and therefore could blend into the surrounding paragraph text. I know that once I started getting into the habit of checking my work in a simulator, I became more mindful of any potential problem areas and it was easier to avoid them up front. It’s also made me question everything I see around me and it sends red flags off in my head if I think it’s a serious colour blindness fail. Understanding that colour is relative in the planning stages and following these tips will help us make more accessible design for all. 2012 Geri Coady gericoady 2012-12-04T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/colour-accessibility/ design
78 Fluent Design through Early Prototyping There’s a small problem with wireframes. They’re not good for showing the kind of interactions we now take for granted – transitions and animations on the web, in Android, iOS, and other platforms. There’s a belief that early prototyping requires a large amount of time and effort, and isn’t worth an early investment. But it’s not true! It’s still normal to spend a significant proportion of time working in wireframes. Given that wireframes are high-level and don’t show much detail, it’s tempting to give up control and responsibility for things like transitions and other things sidelined as visual considerations. These things aren’t expressed well, and perhaps not expressed at all, in wireframes, yet they critically influence the quality of a product. Rapid prototyping early helps to bring sidelined but significant design considerations into focus. Speaking fluent design Fluency in a language means being able to speak it confidently and accurately. The Latin root means flow. By design fluency, I mean using a set of skills in order to express or communicate an idea. Prototyping is a kind of fluency. It takes designers beyond the domain of grey and white boxes to consider all the elements that make up really good product design. Designers shouldn’t be afraid of speaking fluent design. They should think thoroughly about product decisions beyond their immediate role — not for the sake of becoming some kind of power-hungry design demigod, but because it will lead to better, more carefully considered product design. Wireframes are incomplete sentences Wireframes, once they’ve served their purpose, are a kind of self-imposed restriction. Mostly made out of grey and white boxes, they deliberately express the minimum. Important details — visuals, nuanced transitions, sounds — are missing. Their appearance bears little resemblance to the final thing. Responsibility for things that traditionally didn’t matter (or exist) is relinquished. Animations and transitions in particular are increasingly relevant to the mobile designer’s methods. And rather than being fanciful and superfluous visual additions to a product, they help to clarify designs and provide information about context. Wireframes are useful in the early stages. As a designer trying to persuade stakeholders, clients, or peers, sometimes it will be in your interests to only tell half the story. They’re ideal for gauging whether a design is taking the right direction, and they’re the right medium for deciding core things, such as the overall structure and information architecture. But spending a long time in wireframes means delaying details to a later stage in the project, or to the end, when the priority is shifted to getting designs out of the door. This leaves little time to test, finesse and perfect things which initially seemed to be less important. I think designers should move away from using wireframes as primary documentation once the design has reached a certain level of maturity. A prototype is multiple complete sentences Paragraphs, even. Unlike a wireframe, a prototype is a persuasive storyteller. It can reveal the depth and range of design decisions, not just the layout, but also motion: animations and transitions. If it’s a super-high-fidelity prototype, it’s a perfect vessel for showing the visual design as well. It’s all of these things that contribute to the impression that a product is good… and useful, and engaging, and something you’d like to use. A prototype is impressive. A good prototype can help to convince stakeholders and persuade clients. With a compelling demo, people can more easily imagine that this thing could actually exist. “Hey”, they’re thinking. “This might actually be pretty good!” How to make a prototype in no time and with no effort Now, it does take time and effort to make a prototype. However, good news! It used to require a lot more effort. There are tools that make prototyping much quicker and easier. If you’re making a mobile prototype (this seems quite likely), you will want to test and show this on the actual device. This sounds like it could be a pain, but there are a few ways to do this that are quite easy. Keynote, Apple’s presentation software, is an unlikely candidate for a prototyping tool, but surprisingly great and easy for creating prototypes with transitions that can be shown on different devices. Keynote enables you to do a few useful, excellent things. You can make each screen in your design a slide, which can be linked together to allow you to click through the prototype. You can add customisable transitions between screens. If you want to show a panel that can slide open or closed on your iPad mockup, for example, transitions can also be added to individual elements on the screen. The design can be shown on tablet and mobile devices, and interacted with like it’s a real app. Another cool feature is that you can export the prototype as a video, which works as another effective format for demoing a design. Overall, Keynote offers a very quick, lightweight way to prototype a design. Once you’ve learned the basics, it shouldn’t take longer than a few hours – at most – to put together a respectable clickable prototype with transitions. Download the interactive MOV example Holly icon by Megan Sheehan from The Noun Project This is a Quicktime movie exported from Keynote. This version is animated for demonstration purposes, but download the interactive original and you can click the screen to move through the prototype. It demonstrates the basic interactivity of an iPhone app. This anonymised example was used on a project at Fjord to create a master example of an app’s transitions. Prototyping drawbacks, and perceived drawbacks If prototyping is so great, then why do we leave it to the end, or not bother with it at all? There are multiple misconceptions about prototyping: they’re too difficult to make; they take too much time; or they’re inaccurate (and dangerous) documentation. A prototype is a preliminary model. There should always be a disclaimer that it’s not the real thing to avoid setting up false expectations. A prototype doesn’t have to be the main deliverable. It can be a key one that’s supported by visual and interaction specifications. And a prototype is a lightweight means of managing and reflecting changes and requirements in a project. An actual drawback of prototyping is that to make one too early could mean being gung-ho with what you thought a client or stakeholder wanted, and delivering something inappropriate. To avoid this, communicate, iterate, and keep things simple until you’re confident that the client or other stakeholders are happy with your chosen direction. The key throughout any design project is iteration. Designers build iterative models, starting simple and becoming increasingly sophisticated. It’s a process of iterative craft and evolution. There’s no perfect methodology, no magic recipe to follow. What to do next Make a prototype! It’s the perfect way to impress your friends. It can help to advance a brilliant idea with a fraction of the effort of complete development. Sketches and wireframes are perfect early on in a project, but once they’ve served their purpose, prototypes enable the design to advance, and push thinking towards clarifying other important details including transitions. For Keynote tutorials, Keynotopia is a great resource. Axure is standard and popular prototyping software many UX designers will already be familiar with; it’s possible to create transitions in Axure. POP is an iPhone app that allows you to design apps on paper, take photos with your phone, and turn them into interactive prototypes. Ratchet is an elegant iPhone prototyping tool aimed at web developers. There are perhaps hundreds of different prototyping tools and methods. My final advice is not to get bogged down in (or limited by) any particular tool, but to remember you’re making quick and iterative models. Experiment and play! Prototyping will push you and your designs to a scary place without limitations. No more grey and white boxes, just possibilities! 2012 Rebecca Cottrell rebeccacottrell 2012-12-10T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/fluent-design-through-early-prototyping/ ux
79 Responsive Images: What We Thought We Needed If you were to read a web designer’s Christmas wish list, it would likely include a solution for displaying images responsively. For those concerned about users downloading unnecessary image data, or serving images that look blurry on high resolution displays, finding a solution has become a frustrating quest. Having experimented with complex and sometimes devilish hacks, consensus is forming around defining new standards that could solve this problem. Two approaches have emerged. The <picture> element markup pattern was proposed by Mat Marquis and is now being developed by the Responsive Images Community Group. By providing a means of declaring multiple sources, authors could use media queries to control which version of an image is displayed and under what conditions: <picture width="500" height="500"> <source media="(min-width: 45em)" src="large.jpg"> <source media="(min-width: 18em)" src="med.jpg"> <source src="small.jpg"> <img src="small.jpg" alt=""> <p>Accessible text</p> </picture> A second proposal put forward by Apple, the srcset attribute, uses a more concise syntax intended for use with the <img> element, although it could be compatible with the <picture> element too. This would allow authors to provide a set of images, but with the decision on which to use left to the browser: <img src="fallback.jpg" alt="" srcset="small.jpg 640w 1x, small-hd.jpg 640w 2x, med.jpg 1x, med-hd.jpg 2x "> Enter Scrooge Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. Ebenezer Scrooge Given the complexity of this issue, there’s a heated debate about which is the best option. Yet code belies a certain truth. That both feature verbose and opaque syntax, I’m not sure either should find its way into the browser – especially as alternative approaches have yet to be fully explored. So, as if to dampen the festive cheer, here are five reasons why I believe both proposals are largely redundant. 1. We need better formats, not more markup As we move away from designs defined with fixed pixel values, bitmap images look increasingly unsuitable. While simple images and iconography can use scalable vector formats like SVG, for detailed photographic imagery, raster formats like GIF, PNG and JPEG remain the only suitable option. There is scope within current formats to account for varying bandwidth but this requires cooperation from browser vendors. Newer formats like JPEG2000 and WebP generate higher quality images with smaller file sizes, but aren’t widely supported. While it’s tempting to try to solve this issue by inventing new markup, the crux of it remains at the file level. Daan Jobsis’s experimentation with image compression strengthens this argument. He discovered that by increasing the dimensions of a JPEG image while simultaneously reducing its quality, a smaller files could be produced, with the resulting image looking just as good on both standard and high-resolution displays. This may be a hack in lieu of a more permanent solution, but it’s applied in the right place. Easy to accomplish with existing tools and without compatibility issues, it has few downsides. Further experimentation in this area should be encouraged, with standardisation efforts more helpful if focused on developing new image formats or, preferably, extending existing ones. 2. Art direction doesn’t belong in markup A desired benefit of the <picture> markup pattern is to allow for greater art direction. For example, rather than scaling down images on smaller displays to the point that their content is hard to discern, we could present closer crops instead: This can be achieved with CSS of course, although with a download penalty for those parts of an image not shown. This point may be negligible, however, since in the context of adaptable layouts, these hidden areas may end up being revealed anyway. Art direction concerns design, not content. If we wish to maintain a separation of concerns, including presentation within our markup seems misguided. 3. The size of a display has little relation to the size of an image By using media queries, the <picture> element allows authors to choose which characteristics of the screen or viewport to query for different images to be displayed. In developing sites at Clearleft, we have noticed that the viewport is essentially arbitrary, with the size of an image’s containing element more important. For example, look at how this grid of images may adapt at different viewport widths: As we build more modular systems, components need to be adaptable in and of themselves. There is a case to be made for developing more contextual methods of querying, rather than those based on attributes of the display. 4. We haven’t lived with the problem long enough A key strength of the web is that the underlying platform can be continually iterated. This can also be problematic if snap judgements are made about what constitutes an improvement. The early history of the web is littered with such examples, be it the perceived need for blinking text or inline typographic styling. To build a platform for the future, additions to it should be carefully considered. And if we want more consistent support across browsers, burdening vendors with an ever increasing list of features seems counterproductive. Only once the need for a new feature is sufficiently proven, should we look to standardise it. Before we could declare hover effects, rounded corners and typographic styling in CSS, we used JavaScript as a polyfill. Sure, doing so was painful, but use cases were fully explored, and the CSS specification better reflected the needs of authors. 5. Images and the web aesthetic The srcset proposal has emerged from a company that markets its phones as being able to browse the real – yet squashed down, tapped and zoomable – web. Perhaps Apple should make its own website responsive before suggesting how the rest of us should do so. Converserly, while the <picture> proposal has the backing of a few respected developers and designers, it was born out of the work Mat Marquis and Filament Group did for the Boston Globe. As the first large-scale responsive design, this was a landmark project that ignited the responsive web design movement and proved its worth. But it was the first. Its design shares a vernacular to that of contemporary newspaper websites, with a columnar, image-laden and densely packed layout. Compared to more recent examples – Quartz, The Next Web and the New York Times Skimmer – it feels out of step with the future direction of news sites. In seeking out a truer aesthetic for the web in which software interfaces have greater influence, we might discover that the need for responsive images isn’t as great as originally thought. Building for the future With responsive design, we’ve accepted the idea that a fully fluid layout, rather than a set of fixed layouts, is best suited to the web’s unpredictable nature. Current responsive image proposals are antithetical to this approach. We need solutions that lack complexity, are device-agnostic and work within existing workflows. Any proposal that requires different versions of the same image to be created, is likely to have to acquiesce under the pressure of reality. While it’s easy to get distracted about the size and quality of an image, and how we might choose to serve it, often the simplest solution is not to include it at all. After years of gluttonous design practice, in which fast connections and expansive display sizes were an accepted norm, we have got use to filling pages with needless images and countless items of page furniture. To design more adaptable experiences, the presence of every element needs to be questioned, for its existence requires additional data to be downloaded or futher complexity within a design system. Conditional loading techniques mean that the inclusion of images is no longer a binary choice, but can instead appear in a progressively enhanced manner. So here is my proposal. Instead of spending the next year worrying about responsive images, let’s embrace the constraints of the medium, and seek out new solutions that can work within them. 2012 Paul Lloyd paulrobertlloyd 2012-12-11T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/responsive-images-what-we-thought-we-needed/ code
80 HTML5 Video Bumpers Video is a bigger part of the web experience than ever before. With native browser support for HTML5 video elements freeing us from the tyranny of plugins, and the availability of faster internet connections to the workplace, home and mobile networks, it’s now pretty straightforward to publish video in a way that can be consumed in all sorts of ways on all sorts of different web devices. I recently worked on a project where the client had shot some dedicated video shorts to publish on their site. They also had some five-second motion graphics produced to top and tail the videos with context and branding. This pretty common requirement is a great idea on the web, where a user might land at your video having followed a link and be viewing a page without much context. Known as bumpers, these short introduction clips help brand a video and make it look a lot more professional. Adding bumpers to a video The simplest way to add bumpers to a video would be to edit them on to the start and end of the video file itself. Cooking the bumpers into the video file is easy, but should you ever want to update them it can become a real headache. If the branding needs updating, for example, you’d need to re-edit and re-encode all your videos. Not a fun task. What if the bumpers could be added dynamically? That would enable you to use the same bumper for multiple videos (decreasing download time for users who might watch more than one) and to update the bumpers whenever you wanted. You could change them seasonally, update them for special promotions, run different advertising slots, perform multivariate testing, or even target different bumpers to different users. The trade-off, of course, is that if you dynamically add your bumpers, there’s a chance that a user in a given circumstance might not see the bumper. For example, if the main video feature was uploaded to YouTube, you’d have no way to control the playback. As always, you need to weigh up the pros and cons and make your choice. HTML5 bumpers If you wanted to dynamically add bumpers to your HTML5 video, how would you go about it? That was the question I found myself needing to answer for this particular client project. My initial thought was to treat it just like an image slideshow. If I were building a slideshow that moved between images, I’d use CSS absolute positioning with z-index to stack the images up on top of each other in a pile, with the first image on top. To transition to the second image, I’d use JavaScript to fade the top image out, revealing the second image beneath it. Now that video is just a native object in the DOM, just like an image, why not do the same? Stack the videos up with the opening bumper on top, listen for the video’s onended event, and fade it out to reveal the main feature behind. Good idea, right? Wrong Remember that this is the web. It’s never going to be that easy. The problem here is that many non-desktop devices use native, dedicated video players. Think about watching a video on a mobile phone – when you play the video, the phone often goes full-screen in its native player, leaving the web page behind. There’s no opportunity to fade or switch z-index, as the video isn’t being viewed in the page. Your page is left powerless. Powerless! So what can we do? What can we control? Those of us with particularly long memories might recall a time before CSS, when we’d have to use JavaScript to perform image rollovers. As CSS background images weren’t a practical reality, we would use lots of <img> elements, and perform a rollover by modifying the src attribute of the image. Turns out, this old trick of modifying the source can help us out with video, too. In most cases, modifying the src attribute of a <video> element, or perhaps more likely the src attribute of a source element, will swap from one video to another. Swappin’ it Let’s take a deliberately simple example of a super-basic video tag: <video src="mycat.webm" controls>no fallback coz i is lame, innit.</video> We could very simply write a script to find all video tags and give them a new src to show our bumper. <script> var videos, i, l; videos = document.getElementsByTagName('video'); for(i=0, l=videos.length; i<l; i++) { videos[i].setAttribute('src', 'bumper-in.webm'); } </script> View the example in a browser with WebM support. You’ll see that the video is swapped out for the opening bumper. Great! Beefing it up Of course, we can’t just publish video in one format. In practical use, you need a <video> element with multiple <source> elements containing your different source formats. <video controls> <source src="mycat.mp4" type="video/mp4" /> <source src="mycat.webm" type="video/webm" /> <source src="mycat.ogv" type="video/ogg" /> </video> This time, our script needs to loop through the sources, not the videos. We’ll use a regular expression replacement to swap out the file name while maintaining the correct file extension. <script> var sources, i, l, orig; sources = document.getElementsByTagName('source'); for(i=0, l=sources.length; i<l; i++) { orig = sources[i].getAttribute('src'); sources[i].setAttribute('src', orig.replace(/(w+).(w+)/, 'bumper-in.$2')); // reload the video sources[i].parentNode.load(); } </script> The difference this time is that when changing the src of a <source> we need to call the .load() method on the video to get it to acknowledge the change. See the code in action, this time in a wider range of browsers. But, my video! I guess we should get the original video playing again. Keeping the same markup, we need to modify the script to do two things: Store the original src in a data- attribute so we can access it later Add an event listener so we can detect the end of the bumper playing, and load the original video back in As we need to loop through the videos this time to add the event listener, I’ve moved the .load() call into that loop. It’s a bit more efficient to call it only once after modifying all the video’s sources. <script> var videos, sources, i, l, orig; sources = document.getElementsByTagName('source'); for(i=0, l=sources.length; i<l; i++) { orig = sources[i].getAttribute('src'); sources[i].setAttribute('data-orig', orig); sources[i].setAttribute('src', orig.replace(/(w+).(w+)/, 'bumper-in.$2')); } videos = document.getElementsByTagName('video'); for(i=0, l=videos.length; i<l; i++) { videos[i].load(); videos[i].addEventListener('ended', function(){ sources = this.getElementsByTagName('source'); for(i=0, l=sources.length; i<l; i++) { orig = sources[i].getAttribute('data-orig'); if (orig) { sources[i].setAttribute('src', orig); } sources[i].setAttribute('data-orig',''); } this.load(); this.play(); }); } </script> Again, view the example to see the bumper play, followed by our spectacular main feature. (That’s my cat, Widget. His interests include sleeping and internet marketing.) Tidying things up The final thing to do is add our closing bumper after the main video has played. This involves the following changes: We need to keep track of whether the src has been changed, so we only play the video if it’s changed. I’ve added the modified variable to track this, and it stops us getting into a situation where the video just loops forever. Add an else to the event listener, for when the orig is false (so the main feature has been playing) to load in the end bumper. We also check that we’re not already playing the end bumper. Because looping. <script> var videos, sources, i, l, orig, current, modified; sources = document.getElementsByTagName('source'); for(i=0, l=sources.length; i<l; i++) { orig = sources[i].getAttribute('src'); sources[i].setAttribute('data-orig', orig); sources[i].setAttribute('src', orig.replace(/(w+).(w+)/, 'bumper-in.$2')); } videos = document.getElementsByTagName('video'); for(i=0, l=videos.length; i<l; i++) { videos[i].load(); modified = false; videos[i].addEventListener('ended', function(){ sources = this.getElementsByTagName('source'); for(i=0, l=sources.length; i<l; i++) { orig = sources[i].getAttribute('data-orig'); if (orig) { sources[i].setAttribute('src', orig); modified = true; }else{ current = sources[i].getAttribute('src'); if (current.indexOf('bumper-out')==-1) { sources[i].setAttribute('src', current.replace(/([w]+).(w+)/, 'bumper-out.$2')); modified = true; }else{ this.pause(); modified = false; } } sources[i].setAttribute('data-orig',''); } if (modified) { this.load(); this.play(); } }); } </script> Yo ho ho, that’s a lot of JavaScript. See it in action – you should get a bumper, the cat video, and an end bumper. Of course, this code works fine for demonstrating the principle, but it’s very procedural. Nothing wrong with that, but to do something similar in production, you’d probably want to make the code more modular to ease maintainability. Besides, you may want to use a framework, rather than basic JavaScript. The end credits One really important principle here is that of progressive enhancement. If the browser doesn’t support JavaScript, the user won’t see your bumper, but they will get the main video. If the browser supports JavaScript but doesn’t allow you to modify the src (as was the case with older versions of iOS), the user won’t see your bumper, but they will get the main video. If a search engine or social media bot grabs your page and looks for content, they won’t see your bumper, but they will get the main video – which is absolutely what you want. This means that if the bumper is absolutely crucial, you may still need to cook it into the video. However, for many applications, running it dynamically can work quite well. As always, it comes down to three things: Measure your audience: know how people access your site Test the solution: make sure it works for your audience Plan for failure: it’s the web and that’s how things work ‘round these parts But most of all play around with it, have fun and build something awesome. 2012 Drew McLellan drewmclellan 2012-12-01T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/html5-video-bumpers/ code
81 Science! Sometimes we want to capture people’s attention at a glance to communicate something fast. At other times we want to have the interface fade away into the background, letting people paint pictures in their minds with our words (if you’ll forgive a little flowery festive flourish). I tend to distinguish between these two broad objectives as designing for impact on the one hand, and designing for immersion on the other. What defines them is interruption. Impact needs an attention-grabbing interruption. Immersion requires us to remove interruption from the interface. Careful design deliberately interrupts but doesn’t accidentally disrupt. If that seems to make sense to you, then you’ll find the following snippets of science as useful as I did. Saccades and fixations As you’re reading this your eyes are skipping along the lines in tiny jumps. During each jump everything is blurred. Each jump ends in a small pause so your brain can take a snapshot of the letters. It arranges them into words, and then parses out the meaning — fast — in around a quarter of a second. The jumps are called saccades. The pauses are called fixations. Sometimes we take regressive saccades, skipping back to reread. There’s a simple example in the excellent little book, Detail in Typography, by Jost Hochuli. If you want to explore the science of reading in much more depth, I recommend the excellent paper, “The Science of Word Recognition”, by Dr Kevin Larson of Microsoft. To design for legibility and readability is to design for saccades and fixations. It’s the craft of making it easy for people’s brains to extract meaning, using techniques like good contrast, font size, spacing and structure, and only interrupting the reading experience deliberately. Scan paths At some point when visiting 24 ways you probably scanned the screen to get orientated. The journey your eyes took is known as a scan path. Scan paths are made up of saccades and fixations. Right now you’re following a scan path as you read, along one line, and down to the next. This is a map of the scan paths found by Olivier Le Meur from observing people looking at Rembrandt’s Leçon d’anatomie: For websites, the scan path is a little different. This is an aggregate scan path of Google from LC Technologies: The average shape of a website scan path becomes clearer in this average scan path taken by forty-six people during research by the Poynter Institute, the Estlow Center for Journalism & New Media, and Eyetools: Just like when we read text arranged left to right in a vertical column, scan paths follow a roughly Z-shaped pattern from the top left to bottom right. Sometimes we skip back to reread a word or sentence, or glance again at a specific element, but the Z-shaped scan path persists. Designing for scan paths is to organise content to help people move through an interface to get orientated, and to read. The elements that are important enough to need impact must interrupt the scan path and clearly call attention to themselves. However, they don’t always need to clip people round the ear from multiple directions at once to get attention. It helps to list elements by importance. That gives us an interruption hierarchy to work with. Elements can then interrupt the design with degrees of contrast to the rest of the content using either positioning, treatment, or both. Ta-da! Impact achieved, but gently. No clips round the ear required. Swinging mood Human beings are resilient. Among the immersion and occasional interruptions, we even like a little disruption, especially if it’s absurd and funny. The Ling’s Cars website proves it. In fact, we’re so resilient that we can work around all kinds of mayhem to get a seemingly simple task done. In one study, “The Aesthetics of Reading” (PDF, 480Kb), Dr Kevin Larson of Microsoft and Dr Rosalind Picard of MIT explored the effect of good typography on mood. Two versions of the New Yorker ePeriodical were created. One was typeset well and the other poorly. They engaged twenty volunteers — half male, half female — and showed the good version to half of the participants. The other half saw the poor version. The good doctors found that, “there are important differences between good and poor typography that appear to have little effect on common performance measures such as reading speed and comprehension.” In short, good typography didn’t help people read faster or comprehend better. Oh. On the face of it that seems to invalidate what we designers do. Hold your horses, though! They also found that “the participants who received the good typography performed better on relative subjective duration and on certain cognitive tasks”, and that “good typography induces a good mood.” This means that even though there were no actual differences in reading speed and comprehension, the people who read the version with good typography thought that it took less time to read, and were induced into a good mood by doing so. Not only that, but by being in a good mood, people were more capable of completing creative tasks faster. That was a revelation to me. It means that the study showed there is a positive, measurable, emotional and perceptual benefit to good typography and design. To paraphrase: time and tasks fly when you’re having fun! Source: Nationaal Archief of the Netherlands: Cheering man after the first goal, Netherlands vs. Belgium, Amsterdam, 1931. So, among all my talk of saccades, fixations, scan paths and typesetting, there is science, and the science helps us qualify our design decisions when we need to, and do our jobs better. The science helps us understand how people will interact with our work, and what the actual benefits are for them, and the products or organisations we serve. Good design equals a subjectively quicker experience, a good mood, objectively faster completion of tasks, and happiness for everyone. Thank you, science! 2012 Jon Tan jontan 2012-12-24T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/science/ design
82 Being Prepared To Contribute “You’ll figure it out.” The advice my dad gives has always been the same, whether addressing my grade school homework or paying bills after college. If I was looking for a shortcut, my dad wasn’t going to be the one to provide it. When I was a kid it infuriated the hell out of me, but what I then perceived to be a lack of understanding turned out to be a keystone in my upbringing. As an adult, I realize the value in not receiving outright solutions, but being forced to figure things out. Even today, when presented with a roadblock while building for the web, I am temped to get by with the help of the latest grid system, framework, polyfill, or plugin. In and of themselves these resources are harmless, but before I can drop them in, those damn words still echo in the back of my mind: “You’ll figure it out.” I know that if I blindly implement these tools as drag and drop solutions I fail to understand the intricacies behind how and why they were built; repeatedly using them as shortcuts handicaps my skill set. When I solely rely on the tools of others, my work is at their mercy, leaving me less creative and resourceful, and, thus, less able to contribute to the advancement of our industry and community. One of my favorite things about this community is how generous and collaborative it can be. I’ve loved seeing FitVids used all over the web and regularly improved upon at Github. I bet we can all think of a time where implementing a shared resource has benefitted our own work and sanity. Because these resources are so valuable, it’s important that we continue to be a part of the conversation in order to further develop solutions and ideas. It’s easy to assume there’s someone smarter or more up-to-date in any one area, but with a degree of understanding and perspective, we can all participate. This open form of collaboration is in our web DNA. After all, its primary purpose was to promote the exchange and development of new ideas. Tim Berners-Lee proposed a global hypertext project, to be known as the World Wide Web. Based on the earlier “Enquire” work, it was designed to allow people to work together by combining their knowledge in a web of hypertext documents. I’m delighted to find that this spirit of collaborative ingenuity is alive and well on the web today. Take the story of Off Canvas as an example. I was at an ATX Dribbble meet up where I met Jason Weaver and chatted to him about his recent work on the responsive layout prototype, Off Canvas. Jason said he came across a post by Luke Wroblewski outlining the idea and saw this: If anyone is interested in building a complete example of this approach using responsive Web design techniques, let me know! From there Luke recounts: We went back and forth on email, with me laying out ideas and Jason doing all the hard work to see if they can be done and improving them bit by bit! Once we got to something we both liked, I wrote up an article explaining things and he hosted the examples. Luke took the time to clearly outline and diagram his ideas, and Jason responded with a solid proof of concept that has evolved into a tool we all have at our disposal. Victory! I have also benefitted from comrades who have taken an idea of mine into development. After blogging about some concerns in regards to maintaining hierarchy as media queries are used to shift layouts, Jordan Moore rebounded with some responsive demos where he used flexbox to (re)order content as viewport sizing changes. Similar stories can be found behind the development of things like FitVids, FitText, and Molten Leading. I love this pattern of collaboration because it involves a fairly specific process: Initial idea or prototype is outlined or built, then shared Discuss Someone develops or improves it, then shares it Discuss Someone else develops or improves it, then shares it. Infinity. This is what the web looks like when we build it together, and I’d argue that steps 2+ are absolutely crucial. A web where everyone develops their own ideas and tools independent of one another is like a room full of people talking and no one listening. The pattern itself mimics a literal web structure, and ideally we’d be able to follow a strand from one idea to the next and so on. Blessed are the curators Sometimes those lines aren’t easy to find or follow. Thankfully, there are people who painstakingly log each experiment and index much of what’s out there. Chris Coyier does this with CSS in general, and Brad Frost is doing this for responsive and multi-device design with his Pattern Library. Seriously, take a look at this page and imagine what it would take to find, track and organize the progression of each of these resources yourself. I’d argue that ongoing collections like these are more valuable than the sum of their parts when they are updated regularly as opposed to a top ten tips blog post format. Here’s my soapbox Here are a few things I appreciate about how things are shared and contributed online. And yes, I could do way better at all of them myself. Concise write-ups: honor others’ time by getting to the point. Not every idea or solution needs two thousand words to convey fully. I love long-form posts, but there’s a time and a place for them. Visual aids: if a quick illustration, screenshot, or graphic helps illustrate your point or problem, yes please. By the way, Luke Wroblewski rules the school on both of these. Demo it: host it yourself, or put it on CodePen or JS Bin for others to see. Put it on Github: share and improve with the rest of the community. Consider, however, that because someone puts something on Github doesn’t mean they’re forever bound to provide support or instruction. This isn’t a call for everyone to learn everything all the time, but if you’re curious or interested in something, skip the shortcut and get your hands dirty: sketch, prototype, question, debate, fork, and share. Figuring these things out on our own makes us valuable contributors to the web – the thing that ultimately we’re all trying to figure out together. 2012 Trent Walton trentwalton 2012-12-03T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/being-prepared-to-contribute/ process
83 Cut Copy Paste Long before I got into this design thing, I was heavily into making my own music inspired by the likes of Coldcut and Steinski. I would scour local second-hand record shops in search of obscure beats, loops and bits of dialogue in the hope of finding that killer sample I could then splice together with other things to make a huge hit that everyone would love. While it did eventually lead to a record contract and getting to release a few 12″ singles, ultimately I knew I’d have to look for something else to pay the bills. I may not make my own records any more, but the approach I took back then – finding (even stealing) things, cutting and pasting them into interesting combinations – is still at the centre of how I work, only these days it’s pretty much bits of code rather than bits of vinyl. Over the years I’ve stored these little bits of code (some I’ve found, some I’ve created myself) in Evernote, ready to be dialled up whenever I need them. So when Drew got in touch and asked if I’d like to do something for this year’s 24 ways I thought it might be kind of cool to share with you a few of these snippets that I find really useful. Think of these as a kind of coding mix tape; but remember – don’t just copy as is: play around, combine and remix them into other wonderful things. Some of this stuff is dirty; some of it will make hardcore programmers feel ill. For those people, remember this – while you were complaining about the syntax, I made something. Create unique colours Let’s start right away with something I stole. Well, actually it was given away at the time by Matt Biddulph who was then at Dopplr before Nokia destroyed it. Imagine you have thousands of words and you want to assign each one a unique colour. Well, Matt came up with a crazily simple but effective way to do that using an MD5 hash. Just encode said word using an MD5 hash, then take the first six characters of the string you get back to create a hexadecimal colour representation. I can’t guarantee that it will be a harmonious colour palette, but it’s still really useful. The thing I love the most about this technique is the left-field thinking of using an encryption system to create colours! Here’s an example using JavaScript: // requires the MD5 library available at http://pajhome.org.uk/crypt/md5 function MD5Hex(str){ result = MD5.hex(str).substring(0, 6); return result; } Make something breathe using a sine wave I never paid attention in school, especially during double maths. As a matter of fact, the only time I received corporal punishment – several strokes of the ruler – was in maths class. Anyway, if they had shown me then how beautiful mathematics actually is, I might have paid more attention. Here’s a little example of how a sine wave can be used to make something appear to breathe. I recently used this on an Arduino project where an LED ring surrounding a button would gently breathe. Because of that it felt much more inviting. I love mathematics. for(int i = 0; i<360; i++){ float rad = DEG_TO_RAD * i; int sinOut = constrain((sin(rad) * 128) + 128, 0, 255); analogWrite(LED, sinOut); delay(10); } Snap position to grid This is so elegant I love it, and it was shown to me by Gary Burgess, or Boom Boom as myself and others like to call him. It snaps a position, in this case the X-position, to a grid. Just define your grid size (say, twenty pixels) and you’re good. snappedXpos = floor( xPos / gridSize) * gridSize; Calculate the distance between two objects For me, interaction design is about the relationship between two objects: you and another object; you and another person; or simply one object to another. How close these two things are to each other can be a handy thing to know, allowing you to react to that information within your design. Here’s how to calculate the distance between two objects in a 2-D plane: deltaX = round(p2.x-p1.x); deltaY = round(p2.y-p1.y); diff = round(sqrt((deltaX*deltaX)+(deltaY*deltaY))); Find the X- and Y-position between two objects What if you have two objects and you want to place something in-between them? A little bit of interruption and disruption can be a good thing. This small piece of code will allow you to place an object in-between two other objects: // set the position: 0.5 = half-way float position = 0.5; float x = x1 + (x2 - x1) *position; float y = y1 + (y2 - y1) *position; Distribute objects equally around a circle More fun with maths, this time adding cosine to our friend sine. Let’s say you want to create a circular navigation of arbitrary elements (yeah, Jakob, you heard), or you want to place images around a circle. Well, this piece of code will do just that. You can adjust the size of the circle by changing the distance variable and alter the number of objects with the numberOfObjects variable. Example below is for use in Processing. // Example for Processing available for free download at processing.org void setup() { size(800,800); int numberOfObjects = 12; int distance = 100; float inc = (TWO_PI)/numberOfObjects; float x,y; float a = 0; for (int i=0; i < numberOfObjects; i++) { x = (width/2) + sin(a)*distance; y = (height/2) + cos(a)*distance; ellipse(x,y,10,10); a += inc; } } Use modulus to make a grid The modulus operator, represented by %, returns the remainder of a division. Fallen into a coma yet? Hold on a minute – this seemingly simple function is very powerful in lots of ways. At a simple level, you can use it to determine if a number is odd or even, great for creating alternate row colours in a table for instance: boolean checkForEven(numberToCheck) { if (numberToCheck % 2 == 0) return true; } else { return false; } } That’s all well and good, but here’s a use of modulus that might very well blow your mind. Construct a grid with only a few lines of code. Again the example is in Processing but can easily be ported to any other language. void setup() { size(600,600); int numItems = 120; int numOfColumns = 12; int xSpacing = 40; int ySpacing = 40; int totalWidth = xSpacing*numOfColumns; for (int i=0; i < numItems; i++) { ellipse(floor((i*xSpacing)%totalWidth),floor((i*xSpacing)/totalWidth)*ySpacing,10,10); } } Not all the bits of code I keep around are for actual graphical output. I also have things that are very utilitarian, but which I still consider part of the design process. Here’s a couple of things that I’ve found really handy lately in my design workflow. They may be a little specific, but I hope they demonstrate that it’s not about working harder, it’s about working smarter. Merge CSV files into one file Recently, I’ve had to work with huge – about 1GB – CSV text files that I then needed to combine into one master CSV file so I could then process the data. Opening up each text file and then copying and pasting just seemed really dumb, not to mention slow, so I thought there must be a better way. After some Googling I found this command line script that would combine .txt files into one file and add a new line after each: awk 1 *.txt > finalfile.txt But that wasn’t what I was ideally after. I wanted to merge the CSV files, keeping the first row of the first file (the column headings) and then ignore the first row of subsequent files. Sure enough I found the answer after some Googling and it worked like a charm. Apologies to the original author but I can’t remember where I found it, but you, sir or madam, are awesome. Save this as a shell script: FIRST= for FILE in *.csv do exec 5<"$FILE" # Open file read LINE <&5 # Read first line [ -z "$FIRST" ] && echo "$LINE" # Print it only from first file FIRST="no" cat <&5 # Print the rest directly to standard output exec 5<&- # Close file # Redirect stdout for this section into file.out done > file.out Create a symbolic link to another file or folder Oftentimes, I’ll find myself hunting through a load of directories to load a file to be processed, like a CSV file. Use a symbolic link (in the Terminal) to place a link on your desktop or wherever is most convenient and it’ll save you loads of time. Especially great if you’re going through a Java file dialogue box in Processing or something that doesn’t allow the normal Mac dialog box or aliases. cd /DirectoryYouWantShortcutToLiveIn ln -s /Directory/You/Want/ShortcutTo/ TheShortcut You can do it, in the mix I hope you’ve found some of the above useful and that they’ve inspired a few ideas here and there. Feel free to tell me better ways of doing things or offer up any other handy pieces of code. Most of all though, collect, remix and combine the things you discover to make lovely new things. 2012 Brendan Dawes brendandawes 2012-12-17T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/cut-copy-paste/ code
84 Responsive Responsive Design Now more than ever, we’re designing work meant to be viewed along a gradient of different experiences. Responsive web design offers us a way forward, finally allowing us to “design for the ebb and flow of things.” With those two sentences, Ethan closed the article that introduced the web to responsive design. Since then, responsive design has taken the web by storm. Seemingly every day, some company is touting their new responsive redesign. Large brands such as Microsoft, Time and Disney are getting in on the action, blowing away the once common criticism that responsive design was a technique only fit for small blogs. Certainly, this is a good thing. As Ethan and John Allsopp before him, were right to point out, the inherent flexibility of the web is a feature, not a bug. The web’s unique ability to be consumed and interacted with on any number of devices, with any number of input methods is something to be embraced. But there’s one part of the web’s inherent flexibility that seems to be increasingly overlooked: the ability for the web to be interacted with on any number of networks, with a gradient of bandwidth constraints and latency costs, on devices with varying degrees of hardware power. A few months back, Stephanie Rieger tweeted “Shoot me now…responsive design has seemingly become confused with an opportunity to reduce performance rather than improve it.” I would love to disagree, but unfortunately the evidence is damning. Consider the size and number of requests for four highly touted responsive sites that were launched this year: 74 requests, 1,511kb 114 requests, 1,200kb 99 requests, 1,298kb 105 requests, 5,942kb And those numbers were for the small screen versions of each site! These sites were praised for their visual design and responsive nature, and rightfully so. They’re very easy on the eyes and a lot of thought went into their appearance. But the numbers above tell an inconvenient truth: for all the time spent ensuring the visual design was airtight, seemingly very little (if any) attention was given to their performance. It would be one thing if these were the exceptions, but unfortunately they’re not. Guy Podjarny, who has done a lot of research around responsive performance, discovered that 86% of the responsive sites he tested were either the same size or larger on the small screen as they were on the desktop. The reality is that high performance should be a requirement on any web project, not an afterthought. Poor performance has been tied to a decrease in revenue, traffic, conversions, and overall user satisfaction. Case study after case study shows that improving performance, even marginally, will impact the bottom line. The situation is no different on mobile where 71% of people say they expect sites to load as quickly or faster on their phone when compared to the desktop. The bottom line: performance is a fundamental component of the user experience. So, given it’s extreme importance in the success of any web project, why is it that we’re seeing so many bloated responsive sites? First, I adamantly disagree with the belief that poor performance is inherent to responsive design. That’s not a rule – it’s a cop-out. It’s an example of blaming the technique when we should be blaming the implementation. This argument also falls flat because it ignores the fact that the trend of fat sites is increasing on the web in general. While some responsive sites are the worst offenders, it’s hardly an issue resigned to one technique. To fix the issue, we need to stop making excuses and start making improvements instead. Here, then, are some things we can do to start improving the state of responsive performance, and performance in general, right now. Create a culture of performance If you understand just how important performance is to the success of a project, the natural next step is to start creating a culture where high performance is a key consideration. One of the things you can do is set a baseline. Determine the maximum size and number of requests you are going to allow, and don’t let a page go live if either of those numbers is exceeded. The BBC does this with its responsive mobile site. A variation of that, which Steve Souders discussed in a recent podcast is to create a performance budget based on those numbers. Once you have that baseline set, if someone comes along and wants to add a something to the page, they have to make sure the page remains under budget. If it exceeds the budget, you have three options: Optimize an existing feature or asset on the page Remove an existing feature or asset from the page Don’t add the new feature or asset The idea here is that you make performance part of the process instead of something that may or may not get tacked on at the end. Embrace the pain This troubling trend of web bloat can be blamed in part on the lack of pain associated with poor performance. Most of us work on high-speed connections with low latency. When we fire up a 4Mb site, it doesn’t feel so bad. When I tested the previously mentioned 5,942kb site on a 3G network, it took over 93 seconds to load. A minute and a half just staring at a white screen. Had anyone working on that project experienced that, you can bet the site wouldn’t have launched in that state. Don’t just crunch numbers. Fire up your site on a slower network and see what it feels like to wait. If you don’t have access to a slow network, simulate one using a tool like Slowy, Throttle or the Network Conditioner found in Mac OS X 10.7. Watch for low-hanging fruit There are a bunch of general performance improvements that apply to any site (responsive or not) but often aren’t made. A great starting point is to refer to Yahoo!‘s list of rules. Some of this might sound complicated or intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. You can grab an .htaccess file from HTML 5 Boilerplate or use Sergey Chernyshev’s drop-in .htaccess file. You can use tools like SpriteMe to simplify the creation of sprites, and ImageOptim to compress images. Just by implementing these simple optimizations you will achieve a noticeable improvement in terms of weight and page load time. Be careful with images The most common offender for poor responsive performance is downloading unnecessarily large images, or worse yet, multiple sizes of the same image. For background images, simply being careful with where and how you include the image can ensure you don’t get caught in the trap of multiple background images being downloaded without being used. Don’t count on display:none to help. While it may hide elements from displaying on screen, those images will still be requested and downloaded. Content images can be a little trickier. Whatever you do, don’t serve a large image that works on a large screen display to small screens. It’s wasteful, not only in terms of adding weight to the page, but also in wasting precious memory. Instead, use a tool like Adaptive Images or src.sencha.io to make sure only appropriately sized images are being downloaded. The new <picture> element that has been so often discussed is another excellent solution if you’re feeling particularly future-oriented. A picture polyfill exists so that you can start using the element now without any worries about support. Conditional loading Don’t load any more than you absolutely need to. If a script isn’t needed at certain sizes, use the matchMedia polyfill to ensure it only loads when needed. Use eCSSential to do the same for unnecessary CSS files. Last year on 24 ways, Jeremy Keith wrote an article about conditional loading of content in a responsive design based on the screen width. The technique was later refined by the Filament Group into what they dubbed the Ajax-Include Pattern. It’s a powerful and simple way to lighten the load on small screens as well as reduce clutter. Go vanilla? If you take a look at the HTTP Archive you’ll see that other than image size, JavaScript is the heaviest asset on a page weighing in at 215kb on average. It also boasts the fifth highest correlation to load time as well as the second highest correlation to render time. Much of the weight can be attributed to our industry’s increasing reliance on frameworks. This is especially a concern on mobile devices. PPK recently exclaimed that current JavaScript libraries are just “too heavy for mobile”. “Research from Stoyan Stefanov on parse times supports this. On some Android and iOS devices, it can take as long as 200-300ms just to parse jQuery. There’s nothing wrong about using a framework, but the problem is that they’ve become the default. Before dropping another framework or plugin into a page, we should stop to consider the value it adds and whether we could accomplish what we need to do using a combination of vanilla JavaScript and CSS instead. (This is a great example of a scenario where a performance budget could help.) Start thinking beyond visual aesthetics We love to tout the web’s universality when discussing the need for responsive design. But that universality is not limited simply to screen size. Networks and hardware capabilities must factor in as well. The web is an incredibly dynamic and interactive medium, and designing for it demands that we consider more than just visual aesthetics. Let’s not forget to give those other qualities the attention they deserve. 2012 Tim Kadlec timkadlec 2012-12-05T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/responsive-responsive-design/ design
85 Starting Your Project on the Right Foot (and Keeping It There) I’m not sure if anything is as terrifying as beginning a new design project. I often spend hours trying to find the best initial footing in a design, so I’ve been working hard to improve my process, particularly for the earliest stages of a project. I want to smooth out the bumps that disrupt my creative momentum and focus on the emotional highs and lows I experience, and then try to minimize the lows and ride the highs as long as possible. Design is often a struggle broken up by blissful moments of creative clarity that provide valuable force to move your work forward. Momentum is a powerful tool in creative work, and it’s something we don’t always maximize when we’re working because of the hectic nature of our field. Obviously, every designer is going to have a different process, but I thought I’d share some of the methods I’ve begun to adopt. I hope this will spark a conversation among designers who are interested in looking at process in a new way. Jump-starting a project I cannot overstate the importance of immersing yourself in design and collecting ample amounts of inspiration when beginning a project. I make it a daily practice to visit a handful of sites (Dribbble, Graphic Exchange, Web Creme, siteInspire, Designspiration, and others) and save any examples of design that I like. I then sort them into general categories (publication design, illustration, typography, web design, and so on). Enjoying a bit of fresh design every day helps me absorb it and analyze why it’s effective instead of just imitating it.  Many designers are afraid to look at too much design for fear that they’ll be tempted to copy it, but I feel a steady influx of design inspiration reduces that possibility. You’re much more likely to take the easy way out and rip off a design if you’re scrambling for inspiration after getting stuck. If you are immersed in design from a variety of mediums, you’ll engage your creative brain on multiple levels and have an easier time creating something unique for your project. Looking at good design will not make you a good designer but it will make you a better designer. Design is design Try not to limit your visual research to the medium you’re working in. Websites, books, posters and packaging all have their own unique limitations and challenges, and any one of those characteristics could be useful to you. Posters need to grab the viewer and pass on a small tidbit of information; packaging needs to encourage physical interaction; and websites need to encourage exploration. If you know the challenges you’ll be facing, you will know where to look for design that tackles those same problems. I find it refreshing to look at design from the turn of the nineteenth century, when type was laid out on objects without thought to aesthetics. Many vintage packages break all sorts of modern design rules, and looking at that kind of work is a great way to spark your creativity. Pulling yourself out of the box and away from the rules of what you’re working on can reveal solutions that are innovative and unique. After a little finessing, the warning label text from a 1940s hazardous chemical box from could have the exact type and icon arrangement you need for your project. There’s a massive pool of design to pull from that doesn’t have the limitations the web has, and exploring those design worlds will help you grow your own repertoire. If all else fails, start with the footer The very beginning of a project is the most frustrating point in a project for me. I’m trying to figure out typeface combinations, colors and the overall voice of the design, and until I find the right solutions, I’m a wreck. I’ve found often that my frustration stems from trying to solve too many problems at once. The beginning of a project has a lot of moving targets, nearly endless possible solutions, and constantly changing variables. You’ll knock out one problem only to discover your solution doesn’t jive with something you worked out earlier — you end up designing in circles. If you find yourself getting stuck at the beginning of a website design, try working out one specific element of the site and see what emerges. I’m going to recommend the footer. Why? Footers can easily be ignored in a design or become a dumping ground for items that couldn’t be worked into the main layout. But, at the start of most projects, the minimum content requirements for the footer are usually established. There needs to be a certain number of links, social media buttons, copyright details, a search bar, and so on. It’s a self-contained item within the design that has a specific purpose, and that’s a great element to focus on when you’re stuck in a design. Colors, typefaces, link styles, input fields and buttons can all be sketched out from just the footer. It’s a very flexible element that can be as prominent or subtle as you want, and it’s a solid starting point for setting the tone and style of a site. Save the details Designers love details. I love details. But don’t let nitpicking early on in your process kill your creative momentum. Design is an emotional process, and being frustrated or defeated by a tricky problem or a graphical detail you just can’t nail down can deflate your creative energies. If you hit a roadblock, set it aside and tackle another piece of the project. As you spend time engaged in a design, the style you develop will evolve according to the needs of the content, and you might arrive naturally at a solution that will work perfectly for the problem that had you stuck before.  If I find myself working on one particular element for more than a half an hour without any clear movement, I shelve it. Designers often wear their obsessive detail-oriented tendencies as a badge of honor, but there’s a difference between making the design better and wasting time. If you’ve spent hours nudging elements around pixel by pixel and can’t settle on something, it probably means what you’re doing isn’t making a huge improvement on the design. Don’t be afraid to let it lie and come at it again with fresh eyes. You will be better equipped to tackle the finer points of a project once you’ve got the broad strokes defined. Have a plan when you start and stop designing We all know that creativity isn’t something you can turn on effortlessly, and it’s easy to forget the emotional process that goes along with design. If you leave a project in a place of frustration, it’s going to stay with you in your free time and affect you negatively, like a dark cloud of impending disaster. Try to end each design session with a victory, a small bit of definable progress that you can take with you in your downtime. Even something as small as finding the right opacity for the interior shadow on the search bar in the header of the site is a win. Likewise, when you return to a project after a break, it can be difficult to get the ball rolling on the design again if you set it down without a clear path for the next steps. I find that I work on details best when I’m returning from downtime, when I’m fresh and re-energized and ready to dig in again. Try to pick out at least one element you’d like to fine-tune when you are winding down in a design session and use it to kick-start your next session. Content is king I would argue there is nothing more crucial to the success of a design than having the content defined from the outset. Designing without content is similar to designing without an audience, and designing with vague ideas of content types and character limits is going to result in a muted design that doesn’t reach its full potential. Images and language go hand in hand with design, and can take a design from functional to outstanding if you have them available from the outset. We don’t always have the luxury of having content to build a design around, but fight for it whenever you can. For example, if the site you are designing is full of technical jargon, your paragraphs might need a longer line length to accommodate the longer words being used.  Often, working with content will lead to design solutions you wouldn’t have come to otherwise. Design speaks to content, and content speaks to design. Lorem ipsum doesn’t speak to anyone (unless you know Latin, in which case, congratulations!). Every project has its own set of needs, and every designer has his or her own method of working. There’s obviously no perfect process to design, and being dogmatic about process can be just as harmful as not having one. Exposing yourself to new design and new ways of designing is an easy way to test your skills and grow. When things are hard and you can’t get any momentum going on a design, this is when your skill set is truly challenged. We all hope to get wonderful projects with great assets and ample creative possibilities, but you won’t always be so blessed, and this is when the quality of your process is really going to shine. 2012 Bethany Heck bethanyheck 2012-12-02T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/starting-your-project-on-the-right-foot/ process
86 Flashless Animation Animation in a Flashless world When I splashed down in web design four years ago, the first thing I wanted to do was animate a cartoon in the browser. I’d been drawing comics for years, and I’ve wanted to see them come to life for nearly as long. Flash animation was still riding high, but I didn’t want to learn Flash. I wanted to learn JavaScript! Sadly, animating with JavaScript was limiting and resource-intensive. My initial foray into an infinitely looping background did more to burn a hole in my CPU than amaze my friends (although it still looks pretty cool). And there was still no simple way to incorporate audio. The browser technology just wasn’t there. Things are different now. CSS3 transitions and animations can do most of the heavy lifting and HTML5 audio can serve up the music and audio clips. You can do a lot without leaning on JavaScript at all, and when you lean on JavaScript, you can do so much more! In this project, I’m going to show you how to animate a simple walk cycle with looping audio. I hope this will inspire you to do something really cool and impress your friends. I’d love to see what you come up with, so please send your creations my way at rachelnabors.com! Note: Because every browser wants to use its own prefixes with CSS3 animations, and I have neither the time nor the space to write all of them out, I will use the W3C standard syntaxes; that is, going prefix-less. You can implement them out of the box with something like Prefixfree, or you can add prefixes on your own. If you take the latter route, I recommend using Sass and Compass so you can focus on your animations, not copying and pasting. The walk cycle Walk cycles are the “Hello world” of animation. One of the first projects of animation students is to spend hours drawing dozens of frames to complete a simple loopable animation of a character walking. Most animators don’t have to draw every frame themselves, though. They draw a few key frames and send those on to production animators to work on the between frames (or tween frames). This is meticulous, grueling work requiring an eye for detail and natural movement. This is also why so much production animation gets shipped overseas where labor is cheaper. Luckily, we don’t have to worry about our frame count because we can set our own frames-per-second rate on the fly in CSS3. Since we’re trying to impress friends, not animation directors, the inconsistency shouldn’t be a problem. (Unless your friend is an animation director.) This is a simple walk cycle I made of my comic character Tuna for my CSS animation talk at CSS Dev Conference this year: The magic lies here: animation: walk-cycle 1s steps(12) infinite; Breaking those properties down: animation: <name> <duration> <timing-function> <iteration-count>; walk-cycle is a simple @keyframes block that moves the background sprite on .tuna around: @keyframes walk-cycle { 0% {background-position: 0 0; } 100% {background-position: 0 -2391px;} } The background sprite has exactly twelve images of Tuna that complete a full walk cycle. We’re setting it to cycle through the entire sprite every second, infinitely. So why isn’t the background image scrolling down the .tuna container? It’s all down to the timing function steps(). Using steps() let us tell the CSS to make jumps instead of the smooth transitions you’d get from something like linear. Chris Mills at dev.opera wrote in his excellent intro to CSS3 animation : Instead of giving a smooth animation throughout, [steps()] causes the animation to jump between a set number of steps placed equally along the duration. For example, steps(10) would make the animation jump along in ten equal steps. There’s also an optional second parameter that takes a value of start or end. steps(10, start) would specify that the change in property value should happen at the start of each step, while steps(10, end) means the change would come at the end. (Seriously, go read his full article. I’m not going to touch on half the stuff he does because I cannot improve on the basics any more than he already has.) The background A cat walking in a void is hardly an impressive animation and certainly your buddy one cube over could do it if he chopped up some of those cat GIFs he keeps using in group chat. So let’s add a parallax background! Yes, yes, all web designers signed a peace treaty to not abuse parallax anymore, but this is its true calling—treaty be damned. And to think we used to need JavaScript to do this! It’s still pretty CPU intensive but much less complicated. We start by splitting up the page into different layers, .foreground, .midground, and .background. We put .tuna in the .midground. .background has multiple background images, all set to repeat horizontally: background-image: url(background_mountain5.png), url(background_mountain4.png), url(background_mountain3.png), url(background_mountain2.png), url(background_mountain1.png); background-repeat: repeat-x; With parallax, things in the foreground move faster than those in the background. Next time you’re driving, notice how the things closer to you move out of your field of vision faster than something in the distance, like a mountain or a large building. We can imitate that here by making the background images on top (in the foreground, closer to us) wider than those on the bottom of the stack (in the distance). The different lengths let us use one animation to move all the background images at different rates in the same interval of time: animation: parallax_bg linear 40s infinite; The shorter images have less distance to cover in the same amount of time as the longer images, so they move slower. Let’s have a look at the background’s animation: @keyframes parallax_bg { 0% { background-position: -2400px 100%, -2000px 100%, -1800px 100%, -1600px 100%, -1200px 100%; } 100% { background-position: 0 100%, 0 100%, 0 100%, 0 100%, 0 100%; } } At 0%, all the background images are positioned at the negative value of their own widths. Then they start moving toward background-position: 0 100%. If we wanted to move them in the reverse direction, we’d remove the negative values at 0% (so they would start at 2400px 100%, 2000px 100%, etc.). Try changing the values in the codepen above or changing background-repeat to none to see how the images play together. .foreground and .midground operate on the same principles, only they use single background images. The music After finishing the first draft of my original walk cycle, I made a GIF with it and posted it on YTMND with some music from the movie Paprika, specifically the track “The Girl in Byakkoya.” After showing it to some colleagues in my community, it became clear that this was a winning combination sure to drive away dresscode blues. So let’s use HTML5 to get a clip of that music looping in there! Warning, there is sound. Please adjust your volume or apply headphones as needed. We’re using HTML5 audio’s loop and autoplay abilities to automatically play and loop a sound file on page load: <audio loop autoplay> <source src="http://music.com/clip.mp3" /> </audio> Unfortunately, you may notice there is a small pause between loops. HTML5 audio, thou art half-baked still. Let’s hope one day the Web Audio API will be able to help us out, but until things improve, we’ll have to hack our way around these shortcomings. Turns out there’s a handy little script called seamlessLoop.js which we can use to patch this. Mind you, if we were really getting crazy with the Cheese Whiz, we’d want to get out big guns like sound.js. But that’d be overkill for a mere loop (and explaining the Web Audio API might bore, rather than impress your friends)! Installing seamlessLoop.js will get rid of the pause, and now our walk cycle is complete. (I’ve done some very rough sniffing to see if the browser can play MP3 files. If not, we fall back to using .ogg formatted clips (Opera and Firefox users, you’re welcome).) Really impress your friends by adding a run cycle So we have music, we have a walk cycle, we have parallax. It will be a snap to bring them all together and have a simple, endless animation. But let’s go one step further and knock the socks off our viewers by adding a run cycle. The run cycle Tacking a run cycle on to our walk cycle will require a third animation sequence: a transitional animation of Tuna switching from walking to running. I have added all these to the sprite: Let’s work on getting that transition down. We’re going to use multiple animations on the same .tuna div, but we’re going to kick them off at different intervals using animation-delay—no JavaScript required! Isn’t that magical? It requires a wee bit of math (not much, it doesn’t hurt) to line them up. We want to: Loop the walk animation twice Play the transitional cycle once (it has a finite beginning and end perfectly drawn to pick up between the last frame of the walk cycle and the first frame of the run cycle—no looping this baby) RUN FOREVER. Using the pattern animation: <name> <duration> <timing-function> <delay> <iteration-count>, here’s what that looks like: animation: walk-cycle 1s steps(12) 2, walk-to-run .75s steps(12) 2s 1, run-cycle .75s steps(13) 2.75s infinite; I played with the times to get make the movement more realistic. You may notice that the running animation looks smoother than the walking animation. That’s because it has 13 keyframes running over .75 second instead of 12 running in one second. Remember, professional animation studios use super-high frame counts. This little animation isn’t even up to PBS’s standards! The music: extended play with HTML5 audio sprites My favorite part in the The Girl in Byakkoya is when the calm opening builds and transitions into a bouncy motif. I want to start with Tuna walking during the opening, and then loop the running and bounciness together for infinity. The intro lasts for 24 seconds, so we set our 1 second walk cycle to run for 24 repetitions: walk-cycle 1s steps(12) 24 We delay walk-to-run by 24 seconds so it runs for .75 seconds before… We play run-cycle at 24.75 seconds and loop it infinitely For the music, we need to think of it as two parts: the intro and the bouncy loop. We can do this quite nicely with audio sprites: using one HTML5 audio element and using JavaScript to change the play head location, like skipping tracks with a CD player. Although this technique will result in a small gap in music shifts, I think it’s worth using here to give you some ideas. // Get the audio element var byakkoya = document.querySelector('audio'); // create function to play and loop audio function song(a){ //start playing at 0 a.currentTime = 0; a.play(); //when we hit 64 seconds... setTimeout(function(){ // skip back to 24.5 seconds and keep playing... a.currentTime = 24.55; // then loop back when we hit 64 again, or every 59.5 seconds. setInterval(function(){ a.currentTime = 24.55; },39450); },64000); } The load screen I’ve put it off as long as I can, but now that the music and the CSS are both running on their own separate clocks, it’s imperative that both images and music be fully downloaded and ready to run when we kick this thing off. So we need a load screen (also, it’s nice to give people a heads-up that you’re about to blast them with music, no matter how wonderful that music may be). Since the two timers are so closely linked, we’d best not run the animations until we run the music: * { animation-play-state: paused; } animation-play-state can be set to paused or running, and it’s the most useful thing you will learn today. First we use an event listener to see when the browser thinks we can play through from the beginning to end of the music without pause for buffering: byakkoya.addEventListener("canplaythrough", function () { }); (More on HTML5 audio’s media events at HTML5doctor.com) Inside our event listener, I use a bit of jQuery to add class of .playable to the body when we’re ready to enable the play button: $("body").addClass("playable"); $("#play-me").html("Play me.").click(function(){ song(byakkoya); $("body").addClass("playing"); }); That .playing class is special because it turns on the animations at the same time we start playing the song: .playing * { animation-play-state: running; } The background We’re almost done here! When we add the background, it needs to speed up at the same time that Tuna starts running. The music picks up speed around 24.75 seconds in, and so we’re going to use animation-delay on those backgrounds, too. This will require some math. If you try to simply shorten the animation’s duration at the 24.75s mark, the backgrounds will, mid-scroll, jump back to their initial background positions to start the new animation! Argh! So let’s make a new @keyframe and calculate where the background position would be just before we speed up the animation. Here’s the formula: new 0% value = delay ÷ old duration × length of image new 100% value = new 0% value + length of image Here’s the formula put to work on a smaller scale: Voilà! The finished animation! I’ve always wanted to bring my illustrations to life. Then I woke up one morning and realized that I had all the tools to do so in my browser and in my head. Now I have fallen in love with Flashless animation. I’m sure there will be detractors who say HTML wasn’t meant for this and it’s a gross abuse of the DOM! But I say that these explorations help us expand what we expect from devices and software and challenge us in good ways as artists and programmers. The browser might not be the most appropriate place for animation, but is certainly a fun place to start. There is so much you can do with the spec implemented today, and so much of the territory is still unexplored. I have not yet begun to show you everything. In eight months I expect this demo will represent the norm, not the bleeding edge. I look forward to seeing the wonderful things you create. (Also, someone, please, do something about that gappy HTML5 audio looping. It’s a crying shame!) 2012 Rachel Nabors rachelnabors 2012-12-06T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/flashless-animation/ code
87 Content Planning Demystified The first thing you learn as a junior editor is that you can’t do everything yourself. You must rely on someone else to do at least part of what must be done: the long-range planning, the initial drafting or shooting or recording, the editing, the production, the final polish. All of those pieces of work that belong to someone else take quite a lot of time — days, weeks, sometimes months. If you’re the sort of person who wrote college term papers the night before they were due, this can come as a bit of a shock. To my twenty-two-year-old self, it certainly did. It turns out that the only real way to avoid a trainwreck with editorial work is to get ahead of the trouble, line everything up carefully, and leave oodles of room for all the pieces to connect on time. The same is true of content strategy, content planning, and just about everything to do with content on the web, except for the writing itself — and that, too, usually takes far longer than anyone expects. If you’re not a professional editor and you suddenly find yourself dealing with content creation, you’re almost certainly going to underestimate the time and effort involved, or to skip something important in the planning process that pops up to bite you later. Without good content, it doesn’t matter how well designed or coded your web project is, because it won’t be doing the thing it’s meant to do. And even if content is far from your specialty, you may well end up being the only one willing to coordinate it far enough in advance to avoid a chaotic ending. Whether you’re hiring writers and editors for a big project, working with a small client, or coaxing some editorial help out of a co-worker, getting the planning work done correctly — and ahead of time — will allow you to orchestrate a glorious ballet of togetherness, instead of feverishly scraping together something to put on your site when the deadline looms. So get out the graph paper and the pocket protector, because we’re going to go Full Nerd on this problem. Know your poison Anyone who’s seen a project delayed for six months by content trouble, or derailed by content that’s bland and unhelpful, knows this stuff can make you feel like a dead sock. To get ahead of the problem, you’re going to have to learn to spot common problems and plan your way around them. On web projects without a dedicated editorial lead, you’re likely to encounter content that is: Useless – Content that doesn’t serve your readers’ needs in some way is pointless. And because it takes up your time and crowds out genuinely helpful things, it’s actually damaging. The logic is simple: you can make content that’s all about you, and that serves your stated messaging goals, but if no one is motivated to read it, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Badly written – When you publish articles or instructions or other content that is too stiffly formal, overly wordy, hard to understand, offensive, unintentionally cheesy, or otherwise off in tone or style, you’re doing two things. First, you’re weakening the information you’re trying to convey by making it obscure or annoying. Second — and this one is even more damaging — you’re demonstrating bad taste. When you get the cultural elements of publishing wrong, you encourage your readers to believe that you either don’t understand them or don’t care about getting it wrong. Gooey – Content strategists have been talking about structured content (that’s chunks versus blobs) for years. If you’re publishing more than a few dozen pages without thinking through the structure of your content, you’re probably missing a chance to improve your long-term efficiency. If you’re publishing more than a couple of thousand pages without taking care of your content structure, you’re probably doing a lot more manual wrangling (or cumbersome CMS work) than you need to be, especially when it comes to cross-platform publishing. Unregulated – If you’re not tracking what works and what doesn’t — and especially if you don’t know what “works” means for your project or organization — you’re almost certainly getting worse results than you should be, for more work. Overabundant – As demonstrated by the cinnamon challenge, too much of a delicious thing can be a giant and publicly embarrassing disaster. For most projects and organizations, if you’re making more stuff than your readers can handle, or if you’re spreading your creative and editorial resources too thinly, that’s bad. Spammers, content farms, and barrel-bottom tabloids have their own special math, the side effects of which include insomnia, irritability, and crying in traffic while silently mouthing Wilson Phillips lyrics. Prevent all preventable damage Once you know what kind of trouble to look for, you can prevent a lot of it by doing some smart planning well before someone starts writing (or recording or shooting video). To prevent uselessness: Know your readers and decide what you’re trying to accomplish — with your website as a whole, and with each piece of content, always. Once you know what you’re trying to achieve, you can evaluate your work as you go to make sure that it’s actually doing the right thing. (I’ve written a lot more about this for A List Apart and in The Elements of Content Strategy.) To prevent bad writing: Establish a consistent and appropriate style using examples (and a style guide if you need one), designate an editor, hire good writers, and make time for quality control. Kate Kiefer’s style guide for MailChimp is a superb example of style-wrangling that everyone can use. To prevent repulsive goo: Give your content as much structure as possible, and know how structure relates to your entire publishing ecosystem, including all those mobile devices. Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s Content Everywhere and Karen McGrane’s Content Strategy for Mobile offer brilliant yet friendly introductions to the wide world of structured content. To prevent unregulated chaos: Measure everything that matters to your project, your client, your organization, and especially your readers — not generic measures of someone else’s success. Measure it all regularly. Be disciplined. Adjust at regular intervals. Rick Allen’s series on content strategy analytics is an excellent place to begin (part one; part two). To prevent overabundance: Stop trying to do everything and focus on giving your readers just a few things they want and genuinely need. Don’t establish a schedule your writers might not be able to keep, and focus on differentiating yourself with quality, not quantity. (And while you’re at it, scratch the auto-posting to social networks and the cross-posting between them. It’s about as engaging as an automated phone system.) At a slightly higher level, pick the right content person (or team) for the work. If you really only need a few pages of copy, find a smart writer who does good work for multi-platform readers. If you’re slinging tens of thousands of pages of content, get someone with field experience in high-level editorial planning and the ability to turn blobs into chunks and melted goo into Legos. If you’re starting a project that involves making a lot of content over time, bring in someone with journalism experience (or get your client to do so). “But wait!” you may say. “I’m not hiring anyone. I have to do this all myself.” That’s not uncommon at all. The bad news is, you have to learn a bunch of stuff. The good news is, you get to learn a bunch of awesome stuff. Figure out what the project needs, just as though you were going to hire someone, and then give yourself time to get up to speed. If it’s a really complicated project, you’re probably going to have trouble unless you eventually get professional help. But if it’s small and you can do it in steps, you can certainly do much better by giving yourself a plan and working on the things that matter most. Plan for the marathon, not the sprint Launching with awesome content is a tiny fraction of a victory, which is why it’s so important that your content not be gooey or unregulated. It also means that if you don’t plan for a realistic publication schedule, you are going to slam into reality in a really unpleasant way not too long after you’ve begun. If you’re asking people to make words (or videos or whatever) for you, they’re going to have to do less of something else, so plan for that beforehand. And while you’re at it, unless publishing is your core business, ditch the feed-the-beast plan that leads to fluffy blog posts and spiritless, unhelpful social media content. It’s antisocial for your reading community, offers short-term gains at best, and will burn you out or lower your standards until you don’t even know you’re doing lousy work. Good content is expensive, no matter how you do it, but spreading yourself too thin is a much worse investment than doing a smaller thing well and gradually building up a body of superb content that people want to share and keep and return to. 2012 Erin Kissane erinkissane 2012-12-20T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/content-planning-demystified/ content
88 Think First, Code Later This is a story that’s best told from the end, and it’s probably one you’re all familiar with. You, or someone just like you, have been building a website, probably as part of a skilled and capable team. You’re a front-end developer, focusing on JavaScript – it’s either your sole responsibility or shared around. It’s quite a big job, been going on for months, and at last it feels like you’re reaching the end of it. But, in a brief moment of downtime, you step back and take a look at the code as a whole. You notice that the folder called “jQuery plugins” suddenly looks rather full, and maybe there’s evidence of several methods of doing the same thing; there are loads of little niggly fixes in the bug tracker; and every place you use Ajax the structure of the data is slightly different. You sigh, and your shoulders droop slightly, and you think “Yeah, we’ll do that more cleanly next time.” The thing is, you probably already know how to rewrite the start of this story to make the ending work better. This situation is not really anyone’s fault – it’s just an accumulation of all the things you decided along the way, all the things you agreed you’d fix later that have disappeared into the black hole of technical debt, and accomodating all the “can we just…?” requests from around the team and the client. So, the solution to this is easy, right? More interminable planning meetings, more tightly controlled and documented specifications, less freedom to innovate, to try out new ideas and enjoy what you’re doing. Wait, that sounds even less fun than the old way. Minimum viable planning Actually, planning and specifications are exactly what you need, but the way you go about them can make a real difference, both to the quality of your code, and the quality of your life as a developer. It can be as simple as being a little more thoughtful before starting on any new piece of functionality. Involve your whole team if possible, or at least those working on what you’re doing. Canvass opinions and work out what the solution to the problem might look like first, rather than coding speculatively to find out. There are easy ways you can get into this habit of putting the thought and design up front, and it doesn’t have to mean spending more time on the project as a whole. It also doesn’t have to result in reams of functional specifications. Instead, let the code itself form the specification. As JavaScript applications become more complex, unit testing is becoming ever more important. So embrace it, whether you prefer QUnit, or Mocha, or any of the other JavaScript testing frameworks out there. The TDD (or test-driven development) pattern is all about writing the tests first and then writing functional code to pass those tests; or, if you prefer, code that meets the specification given by the tests. Sounds like a hassle at first, but once you get into the rhythm of it you should find that the time spent writing tests up front is no greater, and often significantly less, than the time you would have spent fixing bugs afterwards. If what you’re working on requires an API between client and server (usually Ajax but this can apply to any method of sending or receiving data) then spend a bit of time with the back-end developer to design the data contracts, before either of you cut any code. Work out what the API endpoints are going to be, and what the data structure you’ll get back from a certain endpoint looks like. A mock JSON object documented on a wiki is enough and it can be atomic. Don’t worry about planning the entire project at once, just plan enough to get on with your current tasks. Definition in this way doesn’t have to make your API immutable – change is still fine – but if you know roughly where you’re heading, then not only can your team’s efforts become more parallel, but you’re far more likely to have an easier time making it all work. And again, you have a specification – the shape of the data – to write your JavaScript against. Putting everything together, you end up with a logical flow of development, from the specification agreed with the client (your backlog), to the specification agreed with your team (the API contract design), to the specification agreed with your code (your unit tests). Hopefully, there will be ample clues in all of this to inform your front-end library choices, because by then you should have a better picture of what you’re going to need. What the framework? As a JavaScript developer predominantly, these are the choices I’m particularly interested in – how and why you use JavaScript libraries and frameworks, both what you expect from them and what you actually get. If we look back at how web development, and specifically JavaScript development has progressed – from the earliest days of using lines and lines of Dreamweaver code-barf to make an image rollover effect, to today’s large frameworks that handle working with the DOM, Ajax communication and visual effects all in one hit – the purpose of it is clear: to smooth over the inconsistent bumps between browsers and give a solid, reliable, predictable base on which to put our desired functionality. Understanding what we expect the language as a specification to do, and matching that to what we observe browsers actually doing, and then smoothing out the differences, is a big job. Since the language and the implementations are also changing as we go along, it also feels like a never-ending job. So make full use of this valuable effort. Use jQuery or YUI or anything else you’re comfortable with, but it still pays to think early on about what you need your library to do and what the best choice is to meet that need. I’ve come in to projects as a fixer and found, to take a recent example, that jQuery UI was being used just to provide a date picker and a modal effect. That’s a lot of code weight to provide two fairly simple pieces of functionality that could easily be covered by smaller plugins. Which isn’t to say that jQuery UI itself is a bad choice, but I could see that it had been included late on just to do those things, whereas a more considered approach would have been to put the library in early and use it more universally. There are other choices, too. If you automatically throw in jQuery (or whatever your favourite main library is) to a small site with limited functionality, you might only touch a tiny fraction of its scope. In my own development I started looking at what I actually needed from a JavaScript library. For a simple project like What the Framework?, all jQuery needed to do was listen for .ready() and then perform some light DOM selection before handing over to a client-side MVC framework. So perhaps there was another way to go about this while still avoiding the cross-browser headaches. Deleting jQuery But the jQuery pattern is compelling and familiar. And once you’re comfortable with something, it’s a bit of an effort to force yourself out of that comfort zone and learn. But looking back at my whole career, I realised that I’ve relearned pretty much everything I do, probably several times, since I started out. So it’s worth keeping in mind that learning and trying new things is how development has advanced to where it is now, and how it will keep advancing in the future. In the end this lead me to Ender, which is billed as an NPM-style package manager for the browser, letting you search for and manage small, loosely coupled modules and their dependencies, and compile them to one file with a common API. For What the Framework I ended up with a set of DOM tools, Underscore and Knockout, all minified into 25kb of JavaScript. This compares really well with 32kb minified for jQuery on its own, and Ender’s use of the dollar variable and the jQuery-like syntax in many modules makes switching over a low-friction experience. On more complex projects, where you’re really going to use all the features of something like jQuery, but want to minimise the loading of other dependencies when you don’t need them, I’ve recently started looking at Jam. This uses the RequireJS pattern to compile commonly used code into a library file and then manage dependencies and bring in others on a per-page basis depending on how you need it. Again, it all comes down to thinking about what you need and using it only when you need it. And the configurability of tools like Ender or Jam allow you to be responsive to changing requirements as your project grows. There is no right answer That’s not to say this way of working automatically makes things easier. It doesn’t. On a large, long-running project or one where future functionality is unknown, it’s still hard to predict and plan for everything – at least until crystal balls as a service come about. But by including strong engineering practices in your front-end, and trying to minimise technical debt, you’re at least giving yourself a decent safety net to guard against the “can we just…?” tendencies that are a fact of life. So, really, this is not an advocation of using a particular technology or framework, because I can’t tell you what works for you or your team. But what I can tell you is that working this way round has done wonders for my productivity and enthusiasm, both for code quality and for trying out new libraries. Give it a go, you might like it! 2012 Stephen Fulljames stephenfulljames 2012-12-07T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/think-first-code-later/ process
89 Direction, Distance and Destinations With all these new smartphones in the hands of lost and confused owners, we need a better way to represent distances and directions to destinations. The immediate examples that jump to mind are augmented reality apps which let you see another world through your phone’s camera. While this is interesting, there is a simpler way: letting people know how far away they are and if they are getting warmer or colder. In the app world, you can easily tap into the phone’s array of sensors such as the GPS and compass, but what people rarely know is that you can do the same with HTML. The native versus web app debate will never subside, but at least we can show you how to replicate some of the functionality progressively in HTML and JavaScript. In this tutorial, we’ll walk through how to create a simple webpage listing distances and directions of a few popular locations around the world. We’ll use JavaScript to access the device’s geolocation API and also attempt to access the compass to get a heading. Both of these APIs are documented, to be included in the W3C geolocation API specification, and can be used on both desktop and mobile devices today. To get started, we need a list of a few locations around the world. I have chosen the highest mountain peak on each continent so you can see a diverse set of distances and directions. Mountain °Latitude °Longitude Kilimanjaro -3.075833 37.353333 Vinson Massif -78.525483 -85.617147 Puncak Jaya -4.078889 137.158333 Everest 27.988056 86.925278 Elbrus 43.355 42.439167 Mount McKinley 63.0695 -151.0074 Aconcagua -32.653431 -70.011083 Source: Wikipedia We can put those into an HTML list to be styled and accessed by JavaScript to create some distance and directions calculations. The next thing we need to do is check to see if the browser and operating system have geolocation support. To do this we test to see if the function is available or not using a single JavaScript if statement. <script> // If this is true, then the method is supported and we can try to access the location if (navigator.geolocation) { navigator.geolocation.getCurrentPosition(geo_success, geo_error); } </script> The if statement will be false if geolocation support is not present, and then it is up to you to do something else instead as a fallback. For this example, we’ll do nothing since our page should work as is and only get progressively better if more functionality is available. The if statement will be true if there is support and therefore will continue inside the curly brackets to try to get the location. This should prompt the reader to accept or deny the request to get their location. If they say no, the second function callback is processed, in this case a function called geo_error; whereas if the location is available, it fires the geo_success function callback. The function geo_error(){ } isn’t that exciting. You can handle this in any way you see fit. The success function is more interesting. We get a position object passed into the function which contains a series of exciting attributes, namely the latitude and longitude of the device’s current location. function geo_success(position){ gLat = position.coords.latitude; gLon = position.coords.longitude; } Now, in the variables gLat and gLon we have the user’s approximate geographical position. We can use this information to start to calculate some distances between where they are and all the destinations. At the time of writing, you can also get position.coords.heading, but on Windows and iOS devices this returned NULL. In the future, if and when this is supported, this is also where you can easily grab the compass information. Inside the geo_success function, we want to loop through the HTML to get all of the mountain peaks’ latitudes and longitudes and compute the distance. ... $('.geo').each(function(){ // Get the lat/lon from the HTML tLat = $(this).find('.lat').html() tLon = $(this).find('.lon').html() // compute the distances between the current location and this points location dist = distance(tLat,tLon,gLat,gLon); // set the return values into something useful d = parseInt(dist[0]*10)/10; a = parseFloat(dist[1]); // display the value in the HTML and style the arrow $(this).find('.distance').html(d+' km away'); $(this).find('.direction').css('-webkit-transform','rotate(-' + a + 'deg)'); // store the arc for later use if compass is available $(this).attr('data-arc',a); } In the variable d we have the distance between the current location and the location of the mountain peak based on the Haversine Formula. The variable a is the arc, which has a value from 0 to 359.99. This will be useful later if we have compass support. Given these two values we have a distance and a heading to style the HTML. The next thing we want to do is check to see if the device has a compass and then get access to the the current heading. As we’ll see, there are several ways to do this, some of which work on certain devices but not others. The W3C geolocation spec says that, along with the coordinates, there are several other attributes: accuracy; altitude; and heading. Heading is the direction to true north, which is different than magnetic north! WebKit and Windows return NULL for the heading value, but WebKit has an experimental method to fetch the heading. If you get into accessing these sensors, you’ll have to try to catch a few of these methods to finally get a value. Assuming you do, we can move on to the more interesting display opportunities. In an ideal world, this would succeed and set a variable we’ll call compassHeading to get a value between 0 and 359.99 degrees. Now we know which direction north is, we also know the direction relative to north of the path to our destination, so we can can subtract the two values to get an arrow to display on the screen. But we’re not finished yet: we also need to get the device’s orientation (landscape or portrait) and subtract the correct amount from the angle for the arrow. Once we have a value, we can use CSS to rotate the arrow the correct number of degrees. -webkit-transform: rotate(-180deg) Not all devices support a standard way to access compass information, so in the meantime we need to use a work around. On iOS, you can use the experimental event method e.webkitCompassHeading. We want the compass to update in real time as the device is moved around, so we’ll put this inside an event listener. window.addEventListener('deviceorientation', function(e) { // Loop through all the locations on the page $('.geo').each(function(){ // get the arc value from north we computed and stored earlier destination_arc = parseInt($(this).attr('data-arc')) compassHeading = e.webkitCompassHeading + window.orientation + destination_arc; // find the arrow element and rotate it accordingly $(this).find('.direction').css('-webkit-transform','rotate(-' + compassHeading + 'deg)'); } } As the device is rotated, the compass arrow will constantly be updated. If you want to see an example, you can have a look at this page which shows the distances to all the peaks on each continent. With progressive enhancement, we slowly layer on additional functionality as we go. The reader will first see the list of locations with a latitude and longitude. If the device is capable and permissions allow, it will then compute the distance. If a compass is available, with the correct permissions it will then add the final layer which is direction. You should consider this code a stub for your projects. If you are making a hyperlocal webpage with restaurant locations, for example, then consider adding these features. Knowing not only how far away a place is, but also the direction can be hugely important, and since the compass is always active, it acts as a guide to the location. Future developments Improvements to this could include setting a timer and recalling the navigator.geolocation.getCurrentPosition() function and updating the distances. I chose very distant mountains so kilometres made sense, but you can divide again by 1,000 to convert to metres if you are dealing with much nearer places. Walking or driving would change the distances so the ability to refresh would be important. It is outside the scope of this article, but if you manage to get this HTML to work offline, then you can make a nice web app which sits on your devices’ homescreens and works even without an internet connection. This could be ideal for travellers in an unknown city looking for your destination. Just with offline storage, base64 encoding and data URIs, it is possible to embed plenty of design and functionality into a small offline webpage. Now you know how to use JavaScript to look up a destination’s location and figure out the distance and direction – never get lost again. 2012 Brian Suda briansuda 2012-12-19T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/direction-distance-and-destinations/ code
90 Monkey Business “Too expensive.” “Over-priced.” “A bit rich.” They all mean the same thing. When you say that something’s too expensive, you’re doing much more than commenting on a price. You’re questioning the explicit or implicit value of a product or a service. You’re asking, “Will I get out of it what you want me to pay for it?” You’re questioning the competency, judgement and possibly even integrity of the individual or company that gave you that price, even though you don’t realise it. You might not be saying it explicitly, but what you’re implying is, “Have you made a mistake?”, “Am I getting the best deal?”, “Are you being honest with me?”, “Could I get this cheaper?” Finally, you’re being dishonest, because deep down you know all too well that there’s no such thing as too expensive. Why? It doesn’t matter what you’re questioning the price of. It could be a product, a service or the cost of an hour, day or week of someone’s time. Whatever you’re buying, too expensive is always an excuse. Saying it shifts acceptability of a price back to the person who gave it. What you should say, but are too afraid to admit, is: “It’s more money than I wanted to pay.” “It’s more than I estimated it would cost.” “It’s more than I can afford.” Everyone who’s given a price for a product or service will have been told at some point that it’s too expensive. It’s never comfortable to hear that. Thoughts come thick and fast: “What do I do?” “How do I react?” “Do I really want the business?” “Am I prepared to negotiate?” “How much am I willing to compromise?” It’s easy to be defensive when someone questions a price, but before you react, stay calm and remember that if someone says what you’re offering is too expensive, they’re saying more about themselves and their situation than they are about your price. Learn to read that situation and how to follow up with the right questions. Imagine you’ve quoted someone for a week of your time. “That’s too expensive,” they respond. How should you handle that? Think about what they might otherwise be saying. “It’s more money than I want to pay” may mean that they don’t understand the value of your service. How could you respond? Start by asking what similar projects they’ve worked on and the type of people they worked with. Find out what they paid and what they got for their money, because it’s possible what you offer is different from what they had before. Ask if they saw a return on that previous investment. Maybe their problem isn’t with your headline price, but the value they think they’ll receive. Put the emphasis on value and shift the conversation to what they’ll gain, rather than what they’ll spend. It’s also possible they can’t distinguish your service from those of your competitors, so now would be a great time to explain the differences. Do you work faster? Explain how that could help them launch faster, get customers faster, make money faster. Do you include more? Emphasise that, and how unique the experience of working with you will be. “It’s more than I estimated it would cost” could mean that your customer hasn’t done their research properly. You’d never suggest that to them, of course, but you should ask how they’ve arrived at their estimate. Did they base it on work they’ve purchased previously? How long ago was that? Does it come from comparable work or from a different sector? Help your customer by explaining how you arrived at your estimate. Break down each element and while you’re doing that, emphasise the parts of your process that you know will appeal to them. If you know that they’ve had difficulty with something in the past, explain how your approach will benefit them. People almost always value a positive experience more than the money they’ll save. “It’s more than I can afford” could mean they can’t afford what you offer at all, but it could also mean they can’t afford it right now or all at once. So ask if they could afford what you’re asking if they spread payment over a longer period? Ask, “Would that mean you’ll give me the business?” It’s possible they’re asking for too much for what they can afford to pay. Will they compromise? Can you reach an agreement on something less? Ask, “If we can agree what’s in and what’s out, will you give me the business?” What can they afford? When you know, you’re in a good position to decide if the deal makes good business sense, for both of you. Ask, “If I can match that price, will you give me the business?” There’s no such thing as “a bit rich”, only ways for you to get to know your customer better. There’s no such thing as “over-priced”, only opportunities for you to explain yourself better. You should relish those opportunities. There’s really also no such thing as “too expensive”, just ways to set the tone for your relationship and help you develop that relationship to a point where money will be less of a deciding factor. Unfinished Business Join me and my co-host Anna Debenham next year for Unfinished Business, a new discussion show about the business end of working in web, design and creative industries. 2012 Andy Clarke andyclarke 2012-12-23T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/monkey-business/ business
91 Infinite Canvas: Moving Beyond the Page Remember Web 2.0? I do. In fact, that phrase neatly bifurcates my life on the internet. Pre-2.0, I was occupied by chatting on AOL and eventually by learning HTML so I could build sites on Geocities. Around 2002, however, I saw a WYSIWYG demo in Dreamweaver. The instructor was dragging boxes and images around a canvas. With a few clicks he was able to build a dynamic, single-page interface. Coming from the world of tables and inline HTML styles, I was stunned. As I entered college the next year, the web was blossoming: broadband, Wi-Fi, mobile (proud PDA owner, right here), CSS, Ajax, Bloglines, Gmail and, soon, Google Maps. I was a technology fanatic and a hobbyist web developer. For me, the web had long been informational. It was now rapidly becoming something else, something more: sophisticated, presentational, actionable. In 2003 we watched as the internet changed. The predominant theme of those early Web 2.0 years was the withering of Internet Explorer 6 and the triumph of web standards. Upon cresting that mountain, we looked around and collectively breathed the rarefied air of pristine HMTL and CSS, uncontaminated by toxic hacks and forks – only to immediately begin hurtling down the other side at what is, frankly, terrifying speed. Ten years later, we are still riding that rocket. Our days (and nights) are spent cramming for exams on CSS3 and RWD and Sass and RESS. We are the proud, frazzled owners of tiny pocket computers that annihilate the best laptops we could have imagined, and the architects of websites that are no longer restricted to big screens nor even segregated by device. We dragoon our sites into working any time, anywhere. At this point, we can hardly ask the spec developers to slow down to allow us to catch our breath, nor should we. It is, without a doubt, a most wonderful time to be a web developer. But despite the newfound luxury of rounded corners, gradients, embeddable fonts, low-level graphics APIs, and, glory be, shadows, the canyon between HTML and native appears to be as wide as ever. The improvements in HTML and CSS have, for the most part, been conveniences rather than fundamental shifts. What I’d like to do now, if you’ll allow me, is outline just a few of the remaining gaps that continue to separate web sites and applications from their native companions. What I’d like for Christmas There is one irritant which is the grandfather of them all, the one from which all others flow and have their being, and it is, simply, the page refresh. That’s right, the foundational principle of the web is our single greatest foe. To paraphrase a patron saint of designers everywhere, if you see a page refresh, we blew it. The page refresh brings with it, of course, many noble and lovely benefits: addressability, for one; and pagination, for another. (See also caching, r