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289 Front-End Developers Are Information Architects Too The theme of this year’s World IA Day was “Information Everywhere, Architects Everywhere”. This article isn’t about what you may consider an information architect to be: someone in the user-experience field, who maybe studied library science, and who talks about taxonomies. This is about a realisation I had a couple of years ago when I started to run an increasing amount of usability-testing sessions with people who have disabilities: that the structure, labelling, and connections that can be made in front-end code is information architecture. People’s ability to be successful online is unequivocally connected to the quality of the code that is written. Places made of information In information architecture we talk about creating places made of information. These places are made of ones and zeros, but we talk about them as physical structures. We talk about going onto a social media platform, posting in blogs, getting locked out of an environment, and building applications. In 2002, Andrew Hinton stated: People live and work in these structures, just as they live and work in their homes, offices, factories and malls. These places are not virtual: they are as real as our own minds. 25 Theses We’re creating structures which people rely on for significant parts of their lives, so it’s critical that we carry out our work responsibly. This means we must use our construction materials correctly. Luckily, our most important material, HTML, has a well-documented specification which tells us how to build robust and accessible places. What is most important, I believe, is to understand the semantics of HTML. Semantics The word “semantic” has its origin in Greek words meaning “significant”, “signify”, and “sign”. In the physical world, a structure can have semantic qualities that tell us something about it. For example, the stunning Westminster Abbey inspires awe and signifies much about the intent and purpose of the structure. The building’s size; the quality of the stone work; the massive, detailed stained glass: these … 2016 Francis Storr francisstorr 2016-12-17T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/front-end-developers-are-information-architects-too/ code
290 Creating a Weekly Research Cadence Working on a product team, it’s easy to get hyper-focused on building features and lose sight of your users and their daily challenges. User research can be time-consuming to set up, so it often becomes ad-hoc and irregular, only performed in response to a particular question or concern. But without frequent touch points and opportunities for discovery, your product will stagnate and become less and less relevant. Setting up an efficient cadence of weekly research conversations will re-focus your team on user problems and provide a steady stream of insights for product development. As my team transitioned into a Lean process earlier this year, we needed a way to get more feedback from users in a short amount of time. Our users are internet marketers—always busy and often difficult to reach. Scheduling research took days of emailing back and forth to find mutually agreeable times, and juggling one-off conversations made it difficult to connect with more than one or two people per week. The slow pace of research was allowing additional risk to creep into our product development. I wanted to find a way for our team to test ideas and validate assumptions sooner and more often—but without increasing the administrative burden of scheduling. The solution: creating a regular cadence of research and testing that required a minimum of effort to coordinate. Setting up a weekly user research cadence accelerated our learning and built momentum behind strategic experiments. By dedicating time every week to talk to a few users, we made ongoing research a painless part of every weekly sprint. But increasing the frequency of our research had other benefits as well. With only five working days between sessions, a weekly cadence forced us to keep our work small and iterative. Committing to testing something every week meant showing work earlier and more often than we might have preferred—pushing us out of your comfort zone into a process of more rapid experimentation. Best of all, frequent conversations with users helped us become… 2016 Wren Lanier wrenlanier 2016-12-02T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/creating-a-weekly-research-cadence/ ux
291 Information Literacy Is a Design Problem Information literacy, wrote Dr. Carol Kulthau in her 1987 paper “Information Skills for an Information Society,” is “the ability to read and to use information essential for everyday life”—that is, to effectively navigate a world built on “complex masses of information generated by computers and mass media.” Nearly thirty years later, those “complex masses of information” have only grown wilder, thornier, and more constant. We call the internet a firehose, yet we’re loathe to turn it off (or even down). The amount of information we consume daily is staggering—and yet our ability to fully understand it all remains frustratingly insufficient. This should hit a very particular chord for those of us working on the web. We may be developers, designers, or strategists—we may not always be responsible for the words themselves—but we all know that communication is much more than just words. From fonts to form fields, every design decision that we make changes the way information is perceived—for better or for worse. What’s more, the design decisions that we make feed into larger patterns. They don’t just affect the perception of a single piece of information on a single site; they start to shape reader expectations of information anywhere. Users develop cumulative mental models of how websites should be: where to find a search bar, where to look at contact information, how to filter a product list. And yet: our models fail us. Fundamentally, we’re not good at parsing information, and that’s troubling. Our experience of an “information society” may have evolved, but the skills Dr. Kuhlthau spoke of are even more critical now: our lives depend on information literacy. Patterns from words Let’s start at the beginning: with the words. Our choice of words can drastically alter a message, from its emotional resonance to its context to its literal meaning. Sometimes we can use word choice for good, to reinvigorate old, forgotten, or unfairly besmirched ideas. One time at a wedding bbq we labeled the coleslaw BRASSICA MIXTA so… 2016 Lisa Maria Martin lisamariamartin 2016-12-14T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/information-literacy-is-a-design-problem/ content
292 Watch Your Language! I’m bilingual. My first language is French. I learned English in my early 20s. Learning a new language later in life meant that I was able to observe my thought processes changing over time. It made me realize that some concepts can’t be expressed in some languages, while other languages express these concepts with ease. It also helped me understand the way we label languages. English: business. French: romance. Here’s an example of how words, or the absence thereof, can affect the way we think: In French we love everything. There’s no straightforward way to say we like something, so we just end up loving everything. I love my sisters, I love broccoli, I love programming, I love my partner, I love doing laundry (this is a lie), I love my mom (this is not a lie). I love, I love, I love. It’s no wonder French is considered romantic. When I first learned English I used the word love rather than like because I hadn’t grasped the difference. Needless to say, I’ve scared away plenty of first dates! Learning another language made me realize the limitations of my native language and revealed concepts I didn’t know existed. Without the nuances a given language provides, we fail to express what we really think. The absence of words in our vocabulary gets in the way of effectively communicating and considering ideas. When I lived in Montréal, most people in my circle spoke both French and English. I could switch between them when I could more easily express an idea in one language or the other. I liked (or should I say loved?) those conversations. They were meaningful. They were efficient. I’m quadrilingual. I code in Ruby, HTML/CSS, JavaScript, Python. In the past couple of years I have been lucky enough to write code in these languages at a massive scale. In learning Ruby, much like learning English, I discovered the strengths and limitations of not only the languages I knew but the language I was learning. It taught me to choose the right tool for the job. When I started working at Shopify, making a change to a view inv… 2016 Annie-Claude Côté annieclaudecote 2016-12-10T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/watch-your-language/ code
293 A Favor for Your Future Self We tend to think about the future when we build things. What might we want to be able to add later? How can we refactor this down the road? Will this be easy to maintain in six months, a year, two years? As best we can, we try to think about the what-ifs, and build our websites, systems, and applications with this lens. We comment our code to explain what we knew at the time and how that impacted how we built something. We add to-dos to the things we want to change. These are all great things! Whether or not we come back to those to-dos, refactor that one thing, or add new features, we put in a bit of effort up front just in case to give us a bit of safety later. I want to talk about a situation that Past Alicia and Team couldn’t even foresee or plan for. Recently, the startup I was a part of had to remove large sections of our website. Not just content, but entire pages and functionality. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience, not only for the reason why we had to remove so much of what we had built, but also because it’s the ultimate “I really hope this doesn’t break something else” situation. It was a stressful and tedious effort of triple checking that the things we were removing weren’t dependencies elsewhere. To be honest, we wouldn’t have been able to do this with any amount of success or confidence without our test suite. Writing tests for code is one of those things that developers really, really don’t want to do. It’s one of the easiest things to cut in the development process, and there’s often a struggle to have developers start writing tests in the first place. One of the best lessons the web has taught us is that we can’t, in good faith, trust the happy path. We must make sure ourselves, and our users, aren’t in a tough spot later on because we only thought of the best case scenarios. JavaScript Regardless of your opinion on whether or not everything needs to be built primarily with JavaScript, if you’re choosing to build a JavaScript heavy app, you absolutely should be writing some combination of u… 2016 Alicia Sedlock aliciasedlock 2016-12-03T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/a-favor-for-your-future-self/ code
294 New Tricks for an Old Dog Much of my year has been spent helping new team members find their way around the expansive and complex codebase that is the TweetDeck front-end, trying to build a happy and productive group of people around a substantial codebase with many layers of legacy. I’ve loved doing this. Everything from writing new documentation, drawing diagrams, and holding technical architecture sessions teaches you something you didn’t know or exposes an area of uncertainty that you can go work on. In this article, I hope to share some experiences and techniques that will prove useful in your own situation and that you can impress your friends in some new and exciting ways! How do you do, fellow kids? To start with I’d like to introduce you to our JavaScript framework, Flight. Right now it’s used by twitter.com and TweetDeck although, as a company, Twitter is largely moving to React. Over time, as we used Flight for more complex interfaces, we found it wasn’t scaling with us. Composing components into trees was fiddly and often only applied for a specific parent-child pairing. It seems like an obvious feature with hindsight, but it didn’t come built-in to Flight, and it made reusing components a real challenge. There was no standard way to manage the state of a component; they all did it slightly differently, and the technique often varied by who was writing the code. This cost us in maintainability as you just couldn’t predict how a component would be built until you opened it. Making matters worse, Flight relied on events to move data around the application. Unfortunately, events aren’t good for giving structure to complex logic. They jump around in a way that’s hard to understand and debug, and force you to search your code for a specific string — the event name‚ to figure out what’s going on. To find fixes for these problems, we looked around at other frameworks. We like React for it’s simple, predictable state management and reactive re-render flow, and Elm for bringing strict functional programming to everyone. But when you ha… 2016 Tom Ashworth tomashworth 2016-12-18T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/new-tricks-for-an-old-dog/ code
295 Internet of Stranger Things This year I’ve been running a workshop about using JavaScript and Node.js to work with all different kinds of electronics on the Raspberry Pi. So especially for 24 ways I’m going to show you how I made a very special Raspberry Pi based internet connected project! And nothing says Christmas quite like a set of fairy lights connected to another dimension1. What you’ll see You can rig up the fairy lights in your home, with the scrawly letters written under each one. The people from the other side (i.e. the internet) will be able to write messages to you from their browser in real time. In fact why not try it now; check this web page. When you click the lights in your browser, my lights (and yours) will turn on and off in real life! (There may be a queue if there are lots of people accessing it, hit the “Send a message” button and wait your turn.) It’s all done with JavaScript, using Node.js running on both the Raspberry Pi and on the server. I’m using WebSockets to communicate in real time between the browser, server and Raspberry Pi. What you’ll need Raspberry Pi any of the following models: Zero (will need straight male header pins soldered2 and Micro USB OTG adaptor), A+, B+, 2, or 3 Micro SD card at least 4Gb Class 10 speed3 Micro USB power supply at least 2A USB Wifi dongle (unless you have a Pi 3 - that has wifi built in). Addressable fairy lights Logic level shifter (with pins soldered unless you want to do it!) Breadboard Jumper wires (3x male to male and 4x female to male) Optional but recommended Base board to hold the Pi and Breadboard (often comes with a breadboard!) Find links for where to buy all of these items that goes along with this tutorial. The total price should be around $1004. Setting up the Raspberry Pi You’ll need to install the SD card for the Raspberry Pi. You’ll find a link to download a disk image on the support document, ready-made with the Raspbian version of Linux, along with Node.js and all the files you need. Download it and write it to the SD card using the fantastic free … 2016 Seb Lee-Delisle sebleedelisle 2016-12-01T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/internet-of-stranger-things/ code
296 Animation in Design Systems Our modern front-end workflow has matured over time to include design systems and component libraries that help us stay organized, improve workflows, and simplify maintenance. These systems, when executed well, ensure proper documentation of the code available and enable our systems to scale with reduced communication conflicts. But while most of these systems take a critical stance on fonts, colors, and general building blocks, their treatment of animation remains disorganized and ad-hoc. Let’s leverage existing structures and workflows to reduce friction when it comes to animation and create cohesive and performant user experiences. Understand the importance of animation Part of the reason we treat animation like a second-class citizen is that we don’t really consider its power. When users are scanning a website (or any environment or photo), they are attempting to build a spatial map of their surroundings. During this process, nothing quite commands attention like something in motion. We are biologically trained to notice motion: evolutionarily speaking, our survival depends on it. For this reason, animation when done well can guide your users. It can aid and reinforce these maps, and give us a sense that we understand the UX more deeply. We retrieve information and put it back where it came from instead of something popping in and out of place. “Where did that menu go? Oh it’s in there.” For a deeper dive into how animation can connect disparate states, I wrote about the Importance of Context-Shifting in UX Patterns for CSS-Tricks. An animation flow on mobile. Animation also aids in perceived performance. Viget conducted a study where they measured user engagement with a standard loading GIF versus a custom animation. Customers were willing to wait almost twice as long for the custom loader, even though it wasn’t anything very fancy or crazy. Just by showing their users that they cared about them, they stuck around, and the bounce rates dropped. 14 second generic loading screen.22 second custom loadin… 2016 Sarah Drasner sarahdrasner 2016-12-16T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/animation-in-design-systems/ code
297 Public Speaking with a Buddy My book Demystifying Public Speaking focuses on the variety of fears we each have about giving a talk. From presenting to a client, to leading a team standup, to standing on a conference stage, there are lots of things we can do to prepare ourselves for the spotlight and reduce those fears. Though it didn’t make it into the final draft, I wanted to highlight how helpful it can be to share that public speaking spotlight with another person, or a few more people. If you have fears about not knowing the answer to a question, fumbling your words, or making a mistake in the spotlight, then buddying up may be for you! To some, adding more people to a presentation sounds like a recipe for on-stage disaster. To others, having a friendly face nearby—a partner who can step in if you fumble—is incredibly reassuring. As design director Yesenia Perez-Cruz writes, “While public speaking is a deeply personal activity, you don’t have to go it alone. Nothing has helped my speaking career more than turning it into a group effort.” Co-presenting can level up a talk in two ways: an additional brain and presentation skill set can improve the content of the talk itself, and you may feel safer with the on-stage safety net of your buddy. For example, when I started giving lengthy workshops about building mobile device labs with my co-worker Destiny Montague, we brought different experience to the table. I was able to talk about the user experience of our lab, and the importance of testing across different screen sizes. Destiny spoke about the hardware aspects of the lab, like power consumption and networking. Our audience benefitted from the spectrum of insight we included in the talk. Moreover, Destiny and I kept each other energized and engaging while teaching our audience, having way more fun onstage. Partnering up alleviated the risk (and fear!) of fumbling; where one person makes a mistake, the other person is right there to help. Buddy presentations can be helpful if you fear saying “I don’t know” to a question, as there are oth… 2016 Lara Hogan larahogan 2016-12-06T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/public-speaking-with-a-buddy/ process
298 First Steps in VR The web is all around us. As web folk, it is our responsibility to consider the impact our work can have. Part of this includes thinking about the future; the web changes lives and if we are building the web then we are the ones making decisions that affect people in every corner of the world. I find myself often torn between wanting to make the right decisions, and just wanting to have fun. To fiddle and play. We all know how important it is to sometimes just try ideas, whether they will amount to much or not. I think of these two mindsets as production and prototyping, though of course there are lots of overlap and phases in between. I mention this because virtual reality is currently seen as a toy for rich people, and in some ways at the moment it is. But with WebVR we are able to create interesting experiences with a relatively low entry point. I want us to have open minds, play around with things, and then see how we can use the tools we have at our disposal to make things that will help people. Every year we see articles saying it will be the “year of virtual reality”, that was especially prevalent this year. 2016 has been a year of progress, VR isn’t quite mainstream but with efforts like Playstation VR and Google Cardboard, we are definitely seeing much more of it. This year also saw the consumer editions of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. So it does seem to be a good time for an overview of how to get involved with creating virtual reality on the web. WebVR is an API for connecting to devices and retrieving continuous data such as the position and orientation. Unlike the Web Audio API and some other APIs, WebVR does not feel like a framework. You use it however you want, taking the data and using it as you wish. To make it easier, there are plenty of resources such as Three.js, A-Frame and ReactVR that help to make the heavy lifting a bit easier. Getting Started with A-Frame I like taking the opportunity to learn new things whenever I can. So while planning this article I thought that instead of trying to… 2016 Shane Hudson shanehudson 2016-12-11T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/first-steps-in-vr/ code
299 What the Heck Is Inclusive Design? Naming things is hard. And I don’t just mean CSS class names and JSON properties. Finding the right term for what we do with the time we spend awake and out of bed turns out to be really hard too. I’ve variously gone by “front-end developer”, “user experience designer”, and “accessibility engineer”, all clumsy and incomplete terms for labeling what I do as an… erm… see, there’s the problem again. It’s tempting to give up entirely on trying to find the right words for things, but this risks summarily dispensing with thousands of years spent trying to qualify the world around us. So here we are again. Recently, I’ve been using the term “inclusive design” and calling myself an “inclusive designer” a lot. I’m not sure where I first heard it or who came up with it, but the terminology feels like a good fit for the kind of stuff I care to do when I’m not at a pub or asleep. This article is about what I think “inclusive design” means and why I think you might like it as an idea. Isn’t ‘inclusive design’ just ‘accessibility’ by another name? No, I don’t think so. But that’s not to say the two concepts aren’t related. Note the ‘design’ part in ‘inclusive design’ — that’s not just there by accident. Inclusive design describes a design activity; a way of designing things. This sets it apart from accessibility — or at least our expectations of what ‘accessibility’ entails. Despite every single accessibility expert I know (and I know a lot) recommending that accessibility should be integrated into design process, it is rarely ever done. Instead, it is relegated to an afterthought, limiting its effect. The term ‘accessibility’ therefore lacks the power to connote design process. It’s not that we haven’t tried to salvage the term, but it’s beginning to look like a lost cause. So maybe let’s use a new term, because new things take new names. People get that. The ‘access’ part of accessibility is also problematic. Before we get ahead of ourselves, I don’t mean access is a problem — access is good, and the more accessible somethin… 2016 Heydon Pickering heydonpickering 2016-12-07T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/what-the-heck-is-inclusive-design/ process
300 Taking Device Orientation for a Spin When The Police sang “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” they weren’t talking about using a smartphone to view a panoramic image on Facebook, but they could have been. For years, technology has driven relentlessly towards devices we can carry around in our pockets, and now that we’re there, we’re expected to take the thing out of our pocket and wave it around in front of our faces like a psychotic donkey in search of its own dangly carrot. But if you can’t beat them, join them. A brave new world A couple of years back all sorts of specs for new HTML5 APIs sprang up much to our collective glee. Emboldened, we ran a few tests and found they basically didn’t work in anything and went off disheartened into the corner for a bit of a sob. Turns out, while we were all busy boohooing, those browser boffins have actually being doing some work, and lo and behold, some of these APIs are even half usable. Mostly literally half usable—we’re still talking about browsers, after all. Now, of course they’re all a bit JavaScripty and are going to involve complex methods and maths and science and probably about a thousand dependancies from Github that will fall out of fashion while we’re still trying to locate the documentation, right? Well, no! So what if we actually wanted to use one of these APIs, say to impress our friends with our ability to make them wave their phones in front of their faces (because no one enjoys looking hapless more than the easily-technologically-impressed), how could we do something like that? Let’s find out. The Device Orientation API The phone-wavy API is more formally known as the DeviceOrientation Event Specification. It does a bunch of stuff that basically doesn’t work, but also gives us three values that represent orientation of a device (a phone, a tablet, probably not a desktop computer) around its x, y and z axes. You might think of it as pitch, roll and yaw if you like to spend your weekends wearing goggles and a leather hat. The main way we access these values is through an event listener, which can … 2016 Drew McLellan drewmclellan 2016-12-24T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/taking-device-orientation-for-a-spin/ code
301 Stretching Time Time is valuable. It’s a precious commodity that, if we’re not too careful, can slip effortlessly through our fingers. When we think about the resources at our disposal we’re often guilty of forgetting the most valuable resource we have to hand: time. We are all given an allocation of time from the time bank. 86,400 seconds a day to be precise, not a second more, not a second less. It doesn’t matter if we’re rich or we’re poor, no one can buy more time (and no one can save it). We are all, in this regard, equals. We all have the same opportunity to spend our time and use it to maximum effect. As such, we need to use our time wisely. I believe we can ‘stretch’ time, ensuring we make the most of every second and maximising the opportunities that time affords us. Through a combination of ‘Structured Procrastination’ and ‘Focused Finishing’ we can open our eyes to all of the opportunities in the world around us, whilst ensuring that we deliver our best work precisely when it’s required. A win win, I’m sure you’ll agree. Structured Procrastination I’m a terrible procrastinator. I used to think that was a curse – “Why didn’t I just get started earlier?” – over time, however, I’ve started to see procrastination as a valuable tool if it is used in a structured manner. Don Norman refers to procrastination as ‘late binding’ (a term I’ve happily hijacked). As he argues, in Why Procrastination Is Good, late binding (delay, or procrastination) offers many benefits: Delaying decisions until the time for action is beneficial… it provides the maximum amount of time to think, plan, and determine alternatives. We live in a world that is constantly changing and evolving, as such the best time to execute is often ‘just in time’. By delaying decisions until the last possible moment we can arrive at solutions that address the current reality more effectively, resulting in better outcomes. Procrastination isn’t just useful from a project management perspective, however. It can also be useful for allowing your mind the space to wande… 2016 Christopher Murphy christophermurphy 2016-12-21T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/stretching-time/ process
302 Flexible Project Management in Inflexible Environments Handling unforeseen circumstances is an inevitable part of any project. It’s also often the most uncomfortable, and there is no amount of skill or planning that will fully eradicate the need to adapt to change. The ability to be flexible, responsive, and unafraid of facing not only problems, but also potentially positive scope changes and new ideas, isn’t an easy one to master. I am by no means saying that I have, but what I have learned is that there is often the temptation to shut out anything that might derail your plan, even sometimes at the cost of the quality you’re committed to. The reality is that as someone leading a project you know there will be challenges, but, in general, it’s a hassle to try keep the landscape open. Problems are bridges we should cross when we come to them, but intentional changes to the plan, and adapting for the sake of improving your first idea, is harder. There are tight schedules, resource is planned miles ahead, and you’re already juggling twenty other things. If you’re passionate about the quality of work you deliver and are working somewhere that considers itself expert within the field of digital, then having an attitude of flexibility is extremely important. It’s important when you’re overcoming a challenge or problem, but it’s also important for allowing ideas to evolve and be refined as much as they can be throughout the course of a project. Where theory falls short The premise of any Agile methodology, Scrum for example, is based around being able to work efficiently, react quickly and deliver relevant chunks of a product in manageable increments. It’s often hailed as king of flexible management and it can work really well, especially for in-house software products developed over a long or even an indefinite period of time. It holds off defining scope too far ahead and lets teams focus on smaller amounts of work, and allows them to regularly reprioritise. Unfortunately though, not all environments lend themselves as easily to a fully Agile setup. Even the ones that do m… 2016 Gillian Sibthorpe gilliansibthorpe 2016-12-04T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/flexible-project-management/ process
303 We Need to Talk About Technical Debt In my work with clients, a lot of time is spent assessing old, legacy, sprawling systems and identifying good code, bad code, and technical debt. One thing that constantly strikes me is the frequency with which bad code and technical debt are conflated, so let me start by saying this: Not all technical debt is bad code, and not all bad code is technical debt. Sometimes your bad code is just that: bad code. Calling it technical debt often feels like a more forgiving and friendly way of referring to what may have just been a poor implementation or a substandard piece of work. It is an oft-misunderstood phrase, and when mistaken for meaning ‘anything legacy or old hacky or nasty or bad’, technical debt is swept under the carpet along with all of the other parts of the codebase we’d rather not talk about, and therein lies the problem. We need to talk about technical debt. What We Talk About When We Talk About Technical Debt The thing that separates technical debt from the rest of the hacky code in our project is the fact that technical debt, by definition, is something that we knowingly and strategically entered into. Debt doesn’t happen by accident: debt happens when we choose to gain something otherwise-unattainable immediately in return for paying it back (with interest) later on. An Example You’re a front-end developer working on a SaaS product, and your sales team is courting a large customer – a customer so large that you can’t really afford to lose them. The customer tells you that as long as you can allow them to theme your SaaS application according to their branding, they are willing to sign on the dotted line… the problem being that your CSS architecture was never designed to incorporate theming at all, and there isn’t currently a nice, clean way to incorporate a theme into the codebase. You and the business make the decision that you will hack a theme into the product in two days. It’s going to be messy, it’s going to be ugly, but you can’t afford to lose a huge customer just because your CSS isn’t quite … 2016 Harry Roberts harryroberts 2016-12-05T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/we-need-to-talk-about-technical-debt/ code
304 Five Lessons From My First 18 Months as a Dev I recently moved from Sydney to London to start a dream job with Twitter as a software engineer. A software engineer! Who would have thought. Having started my career as a journalist, the title ‘engineer’ is very strange to me. The notion of writing in first person is also very strange. Journalists are taught to be objective, invisible, to keep yourself out of the story. And here I am writing about myself on a public platform. Cringe. Since I started learning to code I’ve often felt compelled to write about my experience. I want to share my excitement and struggles with the world! But as a junior I’ve been held back by thoughts like ‘whatever you have to say won’t be technical enough’, ‘any time spent writing a blog would be better spent writing code’, ‘blogging is narcissistic’, etc.  Well, I’ve been told that your thirties are the years where you stop caring so much about what other people think. And I’m almost 30. So here goes! These are five key lessons from my first year and a half in tech: Deployments should delight, not dread Lesson #1: Making your deployment process as simple as possible is worth the investment. In my first dev job, I dreaded deployments. We would deploy every Sunday night at 8pm. Preparation would begin the Friday before. A nominated deployment manager would spend half a day tagging master, generating scripts, writing documentation and raising JIRAs. The only fun part was choosing a train gif to post in HipChat: ‘All aboard! The deployment train leaves in 3, 2, 1…” When Sunday night came around, at least one person from every squad would need to be online to conduct smoke tests. Most times, the deployments would succeed. Other times they would fail. Regardless, deployments ate into people’s weekend time — and they were intense. Devs would rush to have their code approved before the Friday cutoff. Deployment managers who were new to the process would fear making a mistake.  The team knew deployments were a problem. They were constantly striving to improve them. And what I’ve learnt fr… 2016 Amy Simmons amysimmons 2016-12-20T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/my-first-18-months-as-a-dev/ process
305 CSS Writing Modes Since you may not have a lot of time, I’m going to start at the end, with the dessert. You can use a little-known, yet important and powerful CSS property to make text run vertically. Like this. Or instead of running text vertically, you can layout a set of icons or interface buttons in this way. Or, of course, with anything on your page. The CSS I’ve applied makes the browser rethink the orientation of the world, and flow the layout of this element at a 90° angle to “normal”. Check out the live demo, highlight the headline, and see how the cursor is now sideways. See the Pen Writing Mode Demo — Headline by Jen Simmons (@jensimmons) on CodePen. The code for accomplishing this is pretty simple. h1 { writing-mode: vertical-rl; } That’s all it takes to switch the writing mode from the web’s default horizontal top-to-bottom mode to a vertical right-to-left mode. If you apply such code to the html element, the entire page is switched, affecting the scroll direction, too. In my example above, I’m telling the browser that only the h1 will be in this vertical-rl mode, while the rest of my page stays in the default of horizontal-tb. So now the dessert course is over. Let me serve up this whole meal, and explain the the CSS Writing Mode Specification. Why learn about writing modes? There are three reasons I’m teaching writing modes to everyone—including western audiences—and explaining the whole system, instead of quickly showing you a simple trick. We live in a big, diverse world, and learning about other languages is fascinating. Many of you lay out pages in languages like Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Or you might be inspired to in the future. Using writing-mode to turn bits sideways is cool. This CSS can be used in all kinds of creative ways, even if you are working only in English. Most importantly, I’ve found understanding Writing Modes incredibly helpful when understanding Flexbox and CSS Grid. Before I learned Writing Mode, I felt like there was still a big hole in my knowledge, something I just didn’… 2016 Jen Simmons jensimmons 2016-12-23T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/css-writing-modes/ code
306 What next for CSS Grid Layout? In 2012 I wrote an article for 24 ways detailing a new CSS Specification that had caught my eye, at the time with an implementation only in Internet Explorer. What I didn’t realise at the time was that CSS Grid Layout was to become a theme on which I would base the next four years of research, experimentation, writing and speaking. As I write this article in December 2016, we are looking forward to CSS Grid Layout being shipped in Chrome and Firefox. What will ship early next year in those browsers is expanded and improved from the early implementation I explored in 2012. Over the last four years the spec has been developed as part of the CSS Working Group process, and has had input from browser engineers, specification writers and web developers. Use cases have been discussed, and features added. The CSS Grid Layout specification is now a Candidate Recommendation. This status means the spec is to all intents and purposes, finished. The discussions now happening are on fine implementation details, and not new feature ideas. It makes sense to draw a line under a specification in order that browser vendors can ship complete, interoperable implementations. That approach is good for all of us, it makes development far easier if we know that a browser supports all of the features of a specification, rather than working out which bits are supported. However it doesn’t mean that works stops here, and that new use cases and features can’t be proposed for future levels of Grid Layout. Therefore, in this article I’m going to take a look at some of the things I think grid layout could do in the future. I would love for these thoughts to prompt you to think about how Grid - or any CSS specification - could better suit the use cases you have. Subgrid - the missing feature of Level 1 The implementation of CSS Grid Layout in Chrome, Firefox and Webkit is comparable and very feature complete. There is however one standout feature that has not been implemented in any browser as yet - subgrid. Once you set the value of the displa… 2016 Rachel Andrew rachelandrew 2016-12-12T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/what-next-for-css-grid-layout/ code
307 Get the Balance Right: Responsive Display Text Last year in 24 ways I urged you to Get Expressive with Your Typography. I made the case for grabbing your readers’ attention by setting text at display sizes, that is to say big. You should consider very large text in the same way you might a hero image: a picture that creates an atmosphere and anchors your layout. When setting text to be read, it is best practice to choose body and subheading sizes from a pre-defined scale appropriate to the viewport dimensions. We set those sizes using rems, locking the text sizes together so they all scale according to the page default and your reader’s preferences. You can take the same approach with display text by choosing larger sizes from the same scale. However, display text, as defined by its purpose and relative size, is text to be seen first, and read second. In other words a picture of text. When it comes to pictures, you are likely to scale all scene-setting imagery - cover photos, hero images, and so on - relative to the viewport. Take the same approach with display text: lock the size and shape of the text to the screen or browser window. Introducing viewport units With CSS3 came a new set of units which are locked to the viewport. You can use these viewport units wherever you might otherwise use any other unit of length such as pixels, ems or percentage. There are four viewport units, and in each case a value of 1 is equal to 1% of either the viewport width or height as reported in reference1 pixels: vw - viewport width, vh - viewport height, vmin - viewport height or width, whichever is smaller vmax - viewport height or width, whichever is larger In one fell swoop you can set the size of a display heading to be proportional to the screen or browser width, rather than choosing from a scale in a series of media queries. The following makes the heading font size 13% of the viewport width: h1 { font-size: 13 vw; } So for a selection of widths, the rendered font size would be: Rendered font size (px) Viewport width 13 vw 320 42 768 100 1024 133 1280 166 1920 … 2016 Richard Rutter richardrutter 2016-12-09T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/responsive-display-text/ code
308 How to Make a Chrome Extension to Delight (or Troll) Your Friends If you’re like me, you grew up drawing mustaches on celebrities. Every photograph was subject to your doodling wrath, and your brilliance was taken to a whole new level with computer programs like Microsoft Paint. The advent of digital cameras meant that no one was safe from your handiwork, especially not your friends. And when you finally got your hands on Photoshop, you spent hours maniacally giggling at your artistic genius. But today is different. You’re a serious adult with important things to do and a reputation to uphold. You keep up with modern web techniques and trends, and have little time for fun other than a random Giphy on Slack… right? Nope. If there’s one thing 2016 has taught me, it’s that we—the self-serious, world-changing tech movers and shakers of the universe—haven’t changed one bit from our younger, more delightable selves. How do I know? This year I created a Chrome extension called Tabby Cat and watched hundreds of thousands of people ditch productivity for randomly generated cats. Tabby Cat replaces your new tab page with an SVG cat featuring a silly name like “Stinky Dinosaur” or “Tiny Potato”. Over time, the cats collect goodies that vary in absurdity from fishbones to lawn flamingos to Raybans. Kids and adults alike use this extension, and analytics show the majority of use happens Monday through Friday from 9-5. The popularity of Tabby Cat has convinced me there’s still plenty of room in our big, grown-up hearts for fun. Today, we’re going to combine the formula behind Tabby Cat with your intrinsic desire to delight (or troll) your friends, and create a web app that generates your friends with random objects and environments of your choosing. You can publish it as a Chrome extension to replace your new tab, or simply host it as a website and point to it with the New Tab Redirect extension. Here’s a sneak peek at my final result featuring my partner, my cat, and I in cheerfully weird accessories. Your result will look however you want it to. Along the way, we’ll cover how to bui… 2016 Leslie Zacharkow lesliezacharkow 2016-12-08T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/how-to-make-a-chrome-extension/ code
309 HTTP/2 Server Push and Service Workers: The Perfect Partnership Being a web developer today is exciting! The web has come a long way since its early days and there are so many great technologies that enable us to build faster, better experiences for our users. One of these technologies is HTTP/2 which has a killer feature known as HTTP/2 Server Push. During this year’s Chrome Developer Summit, I watched a really informative talk by Sam Saccone, a Software Engineer on the Google Chrome team. He gave a talk entitled Planning for Performance, and one of the topics that he covered immediately piqued my interest; the idea that HTTP/2 Server Push and Service Workers were the perfect web performance combination. If you’ve never heard of HTTP/2 Server Push before, fear not - it’s not as scary as it sounds. HTTP/2 Server Push simply allows the server to send data to the browser without having to wait for the browser to explicitly request it first. In this article, I am going to run through the basics of HTTP/2 Server Push and show you how, when combined with Service Workers, you can deliver the ultimate in web performance to your users. What is HTTP/2 Server Push? When a user navigates to a URL, a browser will make an HTTP request for the underlying web page. The browser will then scan the contents of the HTML document for any assets that it may need to retrieve such as CSS, JavaScript or images. Once it finds any assets that it needs, it will then make multiple HTTP requests for each resource that it needs and begin downloading one by one. While this approach works well, the problem is that each HTTP request means more round trips to the server before any data arrives at the browser. These extra round trips take time and can make your web pages load slower. Before we go any further, let’s see what this might look like when your browser makes a request for a web page. If you were to view this in the developer tools of your browser, it might look a little something like this: As you can see from the image above, once the HTML file has been downloaded and parsed, the browser then mak… 2016 Dean Hume deanhume 2016-12-15T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/http2-server-push-and-service-workers/ code
310 Fairytale of new Promise There are only four good Christmas songs. I know, yeah, JavaScript or whatever. We’ll get to that in a minute, I promise. First—and I cannot stress this enough— there are four good Christmas songs. You’re free to disagree with me here, of course, but please try to understand that you will be wrong. They don’t all have the most safe-for-work titles; I can’t list all of them here, but if you choose to let your fingers do the walkin’ to your nearest search engine, I will say that one was released by the band FEAR way back in 1982 and one was on Run the Jewels’ self-titled debut album. The lyrics are a hell of a lot worse than the titles, so maybe wait until you get home from work before you queue them up. Wear headphones, if you’ve got thin walls. For my money, though, the two I can reference by name are the top of that small heap: Tom Waits’ Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis, and The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York. The former once held the honor of being the only good Christmas song—about which which I was also unequivocally correct, right up until I changed my mind. It’s not the song up for discussion today, but feel free to familiarize yourself just the same—I’ll wait. Fairytale of New York—the top of the list—starts out by hinting at some pretty standard holiday fare; dreams and cheer and whatnot. Typical seasonal stuff, so long as you ignore that the story seems to be recounted as a drunken flashback in a jail cell. You can probably make a few guesses at the underlying spirit of the song based on that framing: following a lucky break, our bright-eyed protagonists move to New York in search of fame and fortune, only to quickly descend into bad decisions, name-calling, and vaguely festive chaos. This song speaks to me on a couple of levels, not the least of which is as a retelling of my day-to-day interactions with JavaScript. Each day’s melody might vary a little bit, granted, but the lyrics almost always follow a pretty clear arc toward “PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT CONTENT.” You might have heard a simi… 2016 Mat Marquis matmarquis 2016-12-19T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/fairytale-of-new-promise/ code
311 Designing Imaginative Style Guides (Living) style guides and (atomic) patterns libraries are “all the rage,” as my dear old Nana would’ve said. If articles and conference talks are to be believed, making and using them has become incredibly popular. I think there are plenty of ways we can improve how style guides look and make them better at communicating design information to creatives without it getting in the way of information that technical people need. Guides to libraries of patterns Most of my consulting work and a good deal of my creative projects now involve designing style guides. I’ve amassed a huge collection of brand guidelines and identity manuals as well as, more recently, guides to libraries of patterns intended to help designers and developers make digital products and websites. Two pages from one of my Purposeful style guide packs. Designs © Stuff & Nonsense. “Style guide” is an umbrella term for several types of design documentation. Sometimes we’re referring to static style or visual identity guides, other times voice and tone. We might mean front-end code guidelines or component/pattern libraries. These all offer something different but more often than not they have something in common. They look ugly enough to have been designed by someone who enjoys configuring a router. OK, that was mean, not everyone’s going to think an unimaginative style guide design is a problem. After all, as long as a style guide contains information people need, how it looks shouldn’t matter, should it? Inspiring not encyclopaedic Well here’s the thing. Not everyone needs to take the same information away from a style guide. If you’re looking for markup and styles to code a ‘media’ component, you’re probably going to be the technical type, whereas if you need to understand the balance of sizes across a typographic hierarchy, you’re more likely to be a creative. What you need from a style guide is different. Sure, some people1 need rules: “Do this (responsive pattern)” or “don’t do that (auto-playing video.)” Those people probably also want facts: … 2016 Andy Clarke andyclarke 2016-12-13T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/designing-imaginative-style-guides/ design
312 Preparing to Be Badass Next Year Once we’ve eaten our way through the holiday season, people will start to think about new year’s resolutions. We tend to focus on things that we want to change… and often things that we don’t like about ourselves to “fix”. We set rules for ourselves, or try to start new habits or stop bad ones. We focus in on things we will or won’t do. For many of us the list of things we “ought” to be spending time on is just plain overwhelming – family, charity/community, career, money, health, relationships, personal development. It’s kinda scary even just listing it out, isn’t it? I want to encourage you to think differently about next year. The ever-brilliant Kathy Sierra articulates a better approach really well when talking about the attitude we should have to building great products. She tells us to think not about what the user will do with our product, but about what they are trying to achieve in the real world and how our product helps them to be badass1. When we help the user be badass, then we are really making a difference. I suppose this is one way of saying: focus not on what you will do, focus on what it will help you achieve. How will it help you be awesome? In what ways do you want to be more badass next year? A professional lens Though of course you might want to focus in on health or family or charity or community or another area next year, many people will want to become more badass in their chosen career. So let’s talk about a scaffold to help you figure out your professional / career development next year. First up, an assumption: everyone wants to be awesome. Nobody gets up in the morning aiming to be crap at their job. Nobody thinks to themselves “Today I am aiming for just south of mediocre, and if I can mess up everybody else’s ability to do good work then that will be just perfect2”. Ergo, you want to be awesome. So what does awesome look like? Danger! The big trap that people fall into when think about their professional development is to immediately focus on the things that they aren’t good … 2016 Meri Williams meriwilliams 2016-12-22T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/preparing-to-be-badass-next-year/ business

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