Web

The Slow Web

Reflecting on Hossein Derakhshan’s recent article about how the web has changed since he was incarcerated in an Iranian jail six years ago, Cole Henley draws comparisons with the work of Fernand Braudel:

Despite the seeming irrelevance of a mid-twentieth century scholar’s study on late medieval Europe, I have lately started to see a lot of parallels with Braudel’s views on the study of history; the evolution of the web and this evolution as part of a broader history of publication.

While the rise of blogging in the early 2000s can be seen as enabling true democratisation of publishing, the emergence of social media – within whose walled gardens content is curtailed and controlled – has begun to undermine it. Yet Cole suggests there is another problem with these new communication platforms:

Micro-blogging emphasises short-form over long-form, rapid fire over deliberated. Which brings about the ultimate problem of this ephemeral rhythm of publication: accountability. With everything moving so fast there becomes less and less time to digest and respond. Communication has become of the moment, robbing us of time to collect our thoughts and weigh up our responses.

Taking on board Cole’s advice to comment deliberately and thoughtfully within spaces we own, it seems only right that I should share a few thoughts about his piece here, not least because a few related ideas came to mind, such as Stewart Brand’s shearing layers as described in his book How Buildings Learn.

It also reminded me of Jack Cheng’s essay which shares the same title, but instead describes the ideas behind the Slow Web Movement. This is a set of ideas that value timeliness over real-time, prioritise reliable rhythms over unpredictable randomness, and encourage moderation over excess. That this asks companies to build websites for effectiveness rather than outright growth, is probably why there are still so few examples. Page views and advertising impressions currently dictate business models on the web, but their days seem numbered. It’s encouraging to know that alternative ideas are, perhaps appropriately, simmering away in the background, waiting for their moment to come.

On a more personal level, I have long tried to curtail this overflow of information. I use few social networks (mainly due to their impropriety) and limit most of my activity to Twitter. I aim to keep the number of people I follow below 75 (Dunbar divided by two), and follow a stream composed mainly of friends and former colleagues. I find it surprising (and somewhat annoying) that given this number, ‘hot drama’ still manages to surface. The more I read about our growing reliance on social media, the more I’m given to thinking, that like most things, it’s best enjoyed in moderation.

Cole concludes:

…let us write more enduring things. Let us appreciate the history of our situation; and rather than dismissing fading technologies seeing these in terms of how they have contributed to our present.

I’m certainly trying to achieve this in my own writing, and I’m very glad Cole appears to be doing the same.

Shipped!

In what has become a familiar pattern, having decided to embark on a redesign last February, I then spent the following 18 months iterating and iterating. Now, after many missed deadlines, I have finally launched my new site.

At Indie Web Camp, Playing With Webmentions

I’m attending my second Indie Web Camp this weekend, with the sole aim of implementing webmentions. This has meant prematurely launching my new Jekyll-based website. That this has been in development since last February, many would say this moment is long overdue.

Better CSS with Sass by Cole Henley

For those looking for a quick and succinct introduction to Sass, the popular CSS pre-processor, my friend Cole Henley has written a pocket guide:

Sass is a tool that takes a lot of the legwork out of writing good CSS. This pocket guide will provide an overview of how Sass can dramatically improve your workflow and make your CSS more flexible, robust and reusable.

This guide only takes 30 to 45 minutes to read, but on turning the last page you’ll be up to speed with all the features of Sass, know why you may want to use them and be thinking about building upon these features to take your Sass usage to the next level – careful now! The book is available now from Five Simple Steps for just £3.

UpFront Conference

Earlier this month I attended UpFront Conference, an event organised by Dan Donald and other members of Manchester’s digital community.

The Billionaire’s Typewriter

Matthew Butterick’s scrutiny of Medium reveals it to be “a form of hu­man frack­ing”:

In “Death to Type­writ­ers,” Medium in­sists that the type­writer is its “sworn enemy.” In cer­tain ty­po­graphic de­tails, maybe so. But as a de­vice that im­poses ho­mo­ge­neous de­sign, Medium still has a lot in com­mon with the typewriter.

In fact, its ethics are ac­tu­ally worse than the tra­di­tional type­writer. Why? Be­cause Medium’s ho­mo­ge­neous de­sign has noth­ing to do with lim­i­ta­tions of the un­der­ly­ing tech­nol­ogy (in this case, the web)… it’s a de­lib­er­ate choice that lets Medium ex­tract value from the tal­ent and la­bor of others.

Convenience always has a cost.

(Even More) Responsive Answers

(Even More) Responsive Answers

Each month net Magazine run a section called Exchange, where four industry experts each answer three questions on a particular topic, asked by their readers and followers on Twitter. I was asked to be the responsive expert in their March issue, which is on sale now.

The Pursuit of Laziness: Thoughts from Responsive Day Out

The Pursuit of Laziness: Thoughts from Responsive Day Out

Last Friday I attended Responsive Day Out 2. The format was the same as last year, but the tenor was a little different. Gone were the theoretical presentations, talk of trying to sell responsive web design to clients and fears of embarking on responsive projects. Instead presentations focused on the actual doing; getting into the nitty-gritty.

Landmark Olympic Websites, Where Art Thou?

Landmark Olympic Websites, Where Art Thou?

Whereas the world’s foremost architects, graphic artists, typographers, iconographers and illustrators are asked to create their best work to celebrate each Olympic Games, still we wait for the Olympic movement to give equal consideration to the design of its websites.

net Awards 2014

The net Awards return for their fifteenth year, and I’m more than a little surprised to be nominated for Designer of the Year.

Redesigning 24 ways

Redesigning 24 ways

The tail end of this year has been rather hectic. If moving house and changing jobs weren’t enough to be getting on with, I was also busy redesigning 24 ways.

Visual Design Explorations

Since Mikey joined us in February, the number of designers working at Clearleft is at an all time high. As the company grows, we want to maintain the same level of knowledge sharing and collaboration that happened more spontaneously with a smaller team.

What I Want from a Web Font

Last month I wrote about Bradshaw’s Guide, a project that brings George Bradshaw’s 1866 descriptive railway handbook to the web. Today I’ll cover some of the typographic decisions I made, and how they lead me to believe that we still lack the necessary tools for web typography.

Trimming Even More Fat

The Christmas break provides the time to tie up loose ends and make much needed progress on personal projects. At least, that was the plan. Once again I find myself distracted by the task of making this website just that little bit faster.

A Field of Ponies

Earlier today, 24 Ways published an article in which I outlined five reasons why I believe two current proposed markup patterns for responsive images are largely redundant. Here I provide some follow-up, and hopefully clarification around the points I raised.

Exploring the Causeway Coast

Exploring the Causeway Coast

After attending Build in Belfast last month, Chris Armstrong gave Ethan Marcotte, Chris Shifflet and myself a tour of the Causeway Coast which, as the name suggests, is home to the famed Giant’s Causeway.

Baseline Grids on the Web

Jason Santa Maria:

Ratios and baselines grids can be too rigid for the inherently flexible nature of the web. Just because something works at one size doesn’t mean the same ratio will be appropriate at larger or smaller sizes.

I often design websites to a vertical rhythm, even though maintaining it can be difficult during development. Jason’s arguments made me realise that this practice goes against the grain of the medium; something I discourage in The Web Aesthetic. I need to let go of my baseline grids.

Trimming the Fat

Website optimisation can be a cruel game; everything has a number that begs to be reduced, but doing so requires a lot of experimentation, research and testing. And when you’re playing with the last hundred or so kilobytes, there’s little reward for your effort.

The Web Aesthetic

The Web Aesthetic

At the beginning of this year I was struck by a realisation, prompted in part by the discussions around responsive images but also the artistic ingenuity of the image optimisation techniques being used by Jeremy. How might the visual aesthetic of the web change if we were to acknowledge its nature and embrace its constraints?

Usable yet Useless: Why Every Business Needs Product Discovery

Rian van der Merwe for A List Apart:

A “shiny citadel” from far away, as The Guardian once wrote, up close Brasília has “degraded into a violent, crime-ridden sprawl of cacophonous traffic jams. The real Brazil has spilled into its utopian vision.”

This problem echoes across today’s web landscape as well, where the needs of ordinary users spill constantly into designers’ utopian vision. All around us we see beautiful, empty monuments erected not for their users, but for the people who built them – and the VCs who are scouting them.

‘Digital Brasílias’ is a great term for all the beautiful – yet ultimately useless – products emerging from the Valley. Product discovery can help us not only design things better, but design better things.

Material Thinking

Material Thinking

Earlier this month, Team Clearleft headed up to London for a day of design related exhibitions: Bauhaus: Art as Life at the Barbican and (after a ride across the city on a ‘Boris Bike’) British Design 1948-2012 and Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary at the V&A.

The Slow Web

Jack Cheng:

Timely not real-time. Rhythm not random. Moderation not excess. Knowledge not information. These are a few of the many characteristics of the Slow Web. It’s not so much a checklist as a feeling, one of being at greater ease with the web-enabled products and services in our lives.

I like the sound of the Slow Web.

Sweep the Sleaze

Oliver Reichenstein:

Social media buttons are not a social media strategy, even though they’re often sold that way. Excellent content, serious networking and constant human engagement is the way to build your profile. Adding those sleazy buttons won’t achieve anything.

I approve of this message, which might seem ironic coming from a peddler of social media icons. Perhaps I should include this health warning in the accompanying ‘Read Me’ file.

Highly Optimized Images for the Web in 3 Steps

Pascal Altena:

In this article, I’ll cover the techniques I use to make images load fast on a webpage.

A beautifully succinct yet informative article that begs to printed out and stuck on the wall next to every web developer.

Kiwibank: Standing Up for Something New

Banks aren’t the most likeable organisations, but I’m developing a soft spot for Kiwibank, a New Zealand-based bank competing against larger Australian-based rivals. Their latest advertising campaign suggests they’re willing to stand up for something new “and even a bit crazy”, and in the world of banking, a responsive website is just that.

Barebones

Barebones is an initial directory setup, style guide and pattern primer intended as a starting point for my own web development projects. I’ve made it available on GitHub so that others can use it in their own projects too. Anna has written more about the release here.

Inspiring Nobody

Rather than showcase British interactive design talent, the biggest cultural event of our generation has been represented online by an uninspired mess that flies the flag for the status quo.

Build a Responsive Website in a Week

Since returning from San Francisco, much of my spare time has been spent writing a tutorial for .net magazine. Published as part of their ‘Responsive Week’, this is for developers who want to learn about responsive web design but don’t know where to start.

Nip/Tuck

Following on from last July’s extensive redesign of this site, the last few weeks have seen me revisit the design and implementation. In light of today’s Responsive Summit, and with a few people asking about the changes, I thought I should provide a little more detail.

Responsive Answers

Back in October, Ethan Marcotte asked me some questions about the design of my site. He was writing a round up of his twenty favourite responsive websites for .net Magazine and wanted quotes from each creator. In the spirit of blogging more I thought I’d share my answers here.

New & Improved

Unless you’re viewing this in your RSS reader, you may have noticed a few changes to the site. It’s been well over two years since the last redesign, but I’ve been working on this update on-and-off for the last 12 months. I could probably continue tweaking and refining, but as a wise man once said, ‘real artists ship’.

Two Years

Two years ago I joined Clearleft. Now with the responsive design movement in full swing, I look back over the last two years to see how much my approach to web design has changed.

Flatten up Those T’s

Invaluable advise from Twitter’s Mark Otto:

If you’re a graphic designer, work towards bringing whatever print experience you have to a small single page site. If you’re an interaction designer, start checking out HTML and CSS, and then move on to some basic jQuery. By doing so, you become a much more versatile designer and contributor on any project.

Design Principles

I’ve been thinking about redesigning this website for the last six months, but haven’t been able to find a strategy for making these changes happen. To keep this project on course, I’ve defined a set of design principles.

End Hover Abuse Now

My esteemed colleague, Cennydd Bowles:

Hover states can provide subtle visual cues that help the user understand how something works. A faint glow around a ‘favourite’ star. An underline appearing underneath a link. But they should not be used for anything else. Hovering does not demonstrate user intent.

The Multipack Presents…

Every year the Multipack – a community of web developers based in the Midlands – seems to undergo a renewal, finding confidence to try new things. This year is no different.

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