Vasilis van Gemert asked me to curate a list of classic articles, but what constitutes a classic? In an industry as fast moving as ours, to choose articles of a certain vintage would mean excluding thought provoking articles published in more recent — and possibly more enlightened — years.
My selection mixes articles whose timelessness has been proven with those whose status has yet to be determined. In time they may not be thought of as classics, but they will inform the classics that have yet to be written.
Armin Vit also wondered what constitutes a classic when he asked where the landmark works of our profession could be found. He feared the ephemeral nature of the web would prevent any website from achieving such status.
A Dao of Web Design (2000)
Perhaps landmark sites could only be created once we acknowledged the true nature of the web. This nature has come into sharp focus in recent years, largely thanks to John Allsopp’s earlier description of it. I consider his words to be a manifesto for modern web development, and this the classic article about web design.
Responsive Web Design (2010)
John’s words were later reprised by Ethan Marcotte, who looked to the permanence of architecture to find a path across an unpredictable landscape faced by web designers. By combining fluid grids, flexible images and media queries, we could build websites that adapted to whatever device they appeared on.
Designing with context (2013)
There used to be a clear understanding about how users experienced the web — where, when, how — but the proliferation of web-enabled devices revealed these assumptions to be false. Here, Cennydd Bowles considers the real complexities of context.
Universal Design IRL (2012)
Much has been written about the universality of the web, yet this isn’t always reflected in own communities and organisations. If you think inclusivity has little to do with design, Sara Wachter-Boettcher will set you straight.
Web Design is 95% Typography (2006)
With designers making their work ever more adaptive, its become clearer that the most fluid format is text, further elevating the importance of typography. When this was highlighted by Oliver Reichenstein, his words were met with controversy; if published today I doubt anyone would disagree.
Upping Your Type Game (2013)
Jessica Hische’s thorough and highly practical overview is a good place to start if you need to improve your understanding of typography. Unsure how to choose a typeface, what to look for or where to find good fonts? Jessica has it covered.
Written prior to Oliver’s article (as if to further stress the importance of typography), Mark Boulton wrote a series of posts covering the basics, from measure to typographic hierarchy — providing a scale I’ve referenced many times since. This post was also a precursor to the independent publishing company later set up by Mark.
Baseline Grids on the Web (2012)
Having learnt the underpinnings of typography, the next step is to recognise which aspects are relevant to the web. Having long tried to align type to a baseline, Jason Santa Maria’s post made me realise that this was not only a thankless task, but one that fails to acknowledge the underlying technology; CSS does not require us to manipulate pieces of lead, after all.
Beyond reappraising our practice, we also need to look at our tools. Jason Santa Maria’s wish list described what an application for web design might look like. While nothing matches these requirements yet, we’re getting close.
Front-end development is undergoing a revolution, perhaps the biggest since the move from table-based layout. Terms such as DRY, modular and agile have become part of our vernacular. Nicole Sullivan was the first to realise that we needed to change our practices to meet the demands inherent in building large, complex systems.
The need for more componentised markup has introduced class names that were previously seen as unsemantic. I found these changes unsettling, but Nicolas Gallagher put my mind at rest by describing what we actually mean by the word semantics.
Performance As Design (2013)
Web designers need to think about how an interface feels as much as how it looks. The speed of a website can adversely effect the overall experience if not considered from the start, a case brilliantly made by Brad Frost.
Mark Perkins provides some practical advice on how to involve a whole design team in thinking about performance; setting a page size budget makes designing speedy websites a shared goal.
If you’re looking for an introduction to front-end performance, Harry Roberts provides a detailed guide; not so much an article, but a manual!
So, that’s my selection. I’ve undoubtedly missed many other seminal works — articles covering content strategy and accessibility are notable by their absence. What articles would you choose?