Quick notes & ramblings

Week notes #9

The reason why a styleguide is an invaluable asset is that it immediately sets up the team’s expectations. The designer must make compromises for the sake of normalising the system programmatically whilst developers are forced to acknowledge that their shitty code just won’t cut it anymore. They have to think beyond whacky hacks and short-term tricks.

Week notes #8

What is it about these letters that overpowers my senses, that makes me stare at each of them longingly? Is it in the flick of the lowercase ‘e’? Or perhaps I’m drawn to the restraint of the design or to the barely perceptible quirks that appear like hushed giggles on the screen. But then why are these large apertures, with their inscriptional characteristics, so attractive to me?

Week notes #7

You have to draw a line at one point or another around your audience and their technical prowess. Do you have to explain how inline images work? Or the peculiarities of the DOM? Where do you begin?

Week notes #6

This week I’ve been messing around with a few side projects after a month of heavy freelance work and subsequently I’ve been trying to play catch up with the backlog of articles, talks and posts about front-end development that I’ve let slip by.

Week notes #5

I shouldn’t feel exhausted all the time and I shouldn’t feel as if, to impress one person, I have to let another down — this small-stakes emotional Ponzi scheme has to end one way or another.

Week Notes #4

“Typography hits us on two different levels: by the look of it, telling us if this is something we may like or should be interested in, and by the necessity to read it. If we have to read this time table, contract or assembling instruction we will do so regardless of its looks.”

Week notes #3

“This was not a day of success, it was the success of many days, the pay-off of effort.”

Week notes #2

On the train out of Devon the carriages are crowded, yet as you watch the countryside pass you by you’ll get the distinct impression of warming your toes in a bath. Foliage and hills glide past the window as if you were being swept across the country in a hot tub that was attached to a magic carpet, but travelling back towards Plymouth the carriages will spew their insides; these journeys are always dark, they are always cold and they are always very lonely.

Week notes #1

This is the beginning of a new side project in which every Friday evening I’ll write for thirty minutes about what I’ve been working on over the past seven days. For a while I’ve been stashing these notes in private but I’ve finally decided to start publishing them because I want to recognise what I’ve accomplished, what I’ve screwed up and what I can do better come Monday morning.

Welcome to the club

Make a note of your favourite writers. Now, read their first names aloud.


For a while now I’ve been toying with a story. It’s a quick thought that stretched into an idea which might, maybe, perhaps, possibly turn into a BIG thing. This idea isn’t so much an elaborate story with an intricate, winding plot – nor is it a sequential tale with a standard beginning, middle and end. Instead this idea is simply a person I made up.

The Great Unbundling

Somehow I’ve found myself in a room bustling with all the languages of Europe—they’re mixing out in the dusty air around me; Dutch and German, Greek and French, others are arguing in Romanian (or perhaps Italian) whilst they nudge past their elderly counterparts, tourists speaking English. Although they all share their incompatible language with a neighbour, everyone around me can somehow communicate quite easily.

Resources for learning how to JavaScript

In recent weeks I’ve been trying to improve my fledging JavaScript skills, which have always bothered me. Sure, for the longest time I’ve been able to hack away in order to get something to work in the browser but parsing all the quirks and eccentricities of the DOM felt entirely beyond me.

You’re not welcome here

But that’s the thing about travelling – in these foreign places you have to make yourself welcome. You have to slide through the airport and navigate bus timetables and crazy southern dialects as if you have all the papers at the ready.

A rendezvous of secrets

Reading is designed to alleviate our curiosity. We all want to know what’s in our neighbors’ pockets, how they style their hair, how much time they spent on the rusty machine in their garage, or how long and serious their last relationship was. So once in a while, if we're lucky, a good novel might begin to soothe our penchant for mischief.

Act in earnest

Whilst you’re writing it’s entirely possible to throw everything away and start again if you don’t like how things are working out. If the tone is too harsh or your voice is too light, a quick adjustment can tighten the bolts. Likewise most of those cheesy phrases or clichés are likely to be cast off during the review process whilst, for those awkward rhymes and alliterative phrases that pass you by without notice, a friendly editor is often there to help tidy your thoughts.


I wanted to impress Chloe because thinking that she might be on the other end of a long series of tubes and wires acknowledging my work and pointing me in the right direction, that’s nothing short of inspiring. Her presence encouraged me to write more eloquently, to sharpen my focus, and to try to return the favour.

Goodbye Erskine

Today I leave Erskine – this small band of designers and developers pushed my latent skills in writing, programming and design but they also challenged my tendencies to avoid humiliation at all costs.

Do justice and let the skies fall

For the longest time I’ve taken the sidelines in most arguments, both online and in daily conversations with strangers. I believed that trying to correct the facts or convince people of my own argument was futile and, in some ways, kind of self righteous. It wasn’t a case of being quietly smug though, I just thought: who needs to hear another white guy shout about civil rights or oppression, institutionalised sexism or the freakishly calm barbarity of a racist slur?

Future of Web Design 2014

Earlier this week I headed off to the Future of Web Design conference in London to give a talk about systems, language and maintainable interface design which was adapted from an essay I wrote back in December called A Visual Lexicon. Overall it was a fantastic event with some wonderful talks about JavaScript performance, non-linear storytelling, masking shapes in CSS and so much more. It was certainly a diverse string of interesting talks.

Deep breaths in St Paul’s cathedral

The weeks leading up to a speaking event my nerves will inevitably begin to shake; I bite my lip uncontrollably, my mood swings from ecstatic to horrified and back again, whilst sleep becomes entirely out of the question. Soothing these nerves just before I step onto the stage and find these strangers staring back at me is difficult work.

Dust jackets and snark

The book jackets flipped by, one after another, up on the projector in front of us. Pitch-perfect typographic settings and allusions to other graphic material presented themselves and struck the balance between describing the story of their contents whilst experimenting and drawing something new to the table.

Setting type with Sass maps

Last week I wrote about a new method for setting type by using Sass maps. In summary I argued that font-size and line-height settings can be tied to specific fonts for ease of use when writing a lot of code.

Our favourite typefaces of 2013

Typographica has published their favourite typefaces from the past year and so I’ll be spending the next couple of days carefully bookmarking and reading each of them in turn. In his now familiar and charming way Stephen summarises the collection:

Empty Libraries

In moving to the next generation of consoles I’ve found that it’s somehow managed to fill me with a deep and bitter sadness. This is mostly thanks to the ‘Library’ menu which is hidden amongst the rest of the interface of the Playstation 4, yet it’s not the questionable typography or arrangement of its icon that bothers me about this feature though

The first floor

I can’t stop thinking about this story from the latest issue of Codex magazine where an upcoming designer visits Herb Lubalin’s studio and began to wonder at all the facets and inner-workings of this celebrated graphic design agency in New York.

Twelve months

This time last year I was a pup. I had never used Sass before, I didn’t know what the shell was and the DOM was a ghostly, nightmarish thing that infiltrated my dreams.


These pages that hijack the scroll might look like slides from shiny keynote presentations but as websites they are the usability equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

The daydreams of a book designer

She spent her days ordering circles, squares and rectangles of color on a page. In her dreams however, in that alternate universe where she might become anything else at a moment’s notice, she believed that similar operations could be performed on breathing, heart-beating patients.


Whenever I watch a movie or a tv show set in the past I like to wonder how the same event might take place but under more technically advanced circumstances.

Notes on public speaking

Here are some quick fire notes I’ve been making over and over again at speaking events and larger conferences. This isn’t a ‘I know better than you’ post – it’s simply a reminder for whenever I do my own talks.

Intrinsic Ratios and SVGs

This week I came across an interesting design problem: how do you make an SVG that’s being used as a background-image respond to the width of its container, yet also scale its height depending on the child elements within?


From cyborgs and toasters with personalities to community infrastructure and feeling the deep, moaning rumbles of an organ's infrasound – the talks were a delicate sequence of heart wrenching delight, mechanical whimsy and straight up nerd love.

Front-end Maintenance and the Ladder of Abstraction

This is a summary of my talk from our first Erskine Breakfast, a new kind of event where we invite two speakers round for a quick chat about web design and development. This week we discussed modularity, both in terms of designing components instead of pages and the best practices behind creating front-end interfaces.

The Comforts of the Siren

During my holiday I went back to the town I grew up in and listened to the sirens from the Blitz that are still operational and are tested once a week.

Quarks, Atoms and Molecules

I wanted to write a little bit about a new process I’ve been working on for developing sites and maintaining large Sass projects, but first I think it’s worth taking a look at how it all came together.

Mistaking the tool for the practice

Lately I’ve been thinking about how we obsess over our tools instead of the general principles they’re built on top of. We pay for these things, we retweet posts about them, but most importantly we idolise them and I think this might hurt us all in the long run.

The Float

As a kid I ignored all of the computers around me, and opportunity after opportunity slipped by where I could have learned more about them. Yet most of my favourite things from my childhood came through those screens, were generated behind that imposing curtain of beige plastic.

Book by Book

An article in the Paris Review forced me to look back at the books that have impacted my work the most over the years and I wonder how much of my reading should be planned and organised in the future.

Between Shelves

After a few months of using Readmill as my primary go-to reading app, I wanted to break down all the reasons why this startup is nailing it in this often miserable and overcrowded space.

The Dream Sponge

A short story of a room I loved as a kid; learning how to communicate and realising that I was going to spend my life in a perpetual state of overactive dream-sharing.

Setting up a default type stylesheet

If we’re serious about designing progressively enhanced then we need to start designing websites without assumptions, starting with the overused argument that we should be thinking type-first.