Small improvements in the right direction

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There’s a tendency in web design circles to ditch the old in favor of the new: We’ll blow up the archives! We’ll cut loose all the legacy code! With a little bit of effort our work can feel fresh and exciting again! A new year, a clean slate, a whole new thing. Yet the more I work on the web, the more I recognize the benefits of tiny, iterative improvements.

I’ve been thinking about this over the past month or so at Gusto as I’ve been tidying up The Guide — an internal design tool for the company — and in the introduction I describe it like this:

This is where the documentation for Gusto’s design system is archived for safe-keeping; it contains all the assets we need, such as images and illustrations as well as notes on our copywriting style and documentation for our React components. In fact, we like to think of The Guide as a sort of Pokédex.

Small iterations this month include: better URLs, concise documentation, improvements to the typographic hierarchy and copywriting pages, and a prod in the right direction towards a clear navigation that doesn’t confuse and demand too much attention. These improvements don’t warrant a parade or anything, and that’s not why I mention them, instead I’ve been thinking about how this work relates to a lovely post about some improvements to the 24 Ways website. The designer and front-end developer Paul Robert Lloyd wrote that:

Creating something new will always attract attention and admiration, but there’s an under-celebrated nobility in improving what already exists. While not all changes may be visual, they can have just as much impact.

Paul is somewhat of a stickler for improvements like this and in a similar post about another redesign of the 24 Ways website all the way back in 2013, he wrote again in a similar fashion:

I’m a big believer in iteration, and not treating a website as ever being finished.

The reason why I mention this is because I think there’s a wild misunderstanding about the way we ought to build websites in the first place. And it sort of goes all the way back to what we call ourselves here in San Francisco: ”Product Designers.”

I reckon this frames our work as artists and maestros that can paint beautiful pictures — but instead, we should be thinking in terms of maintenance and building on top of what already exists. So the trick then, is this: patience and a healthy dose of restraint but also a constant effort to change the way we work.

Let’s help everyone to contribute small improvements in the right direction.


Letter of the Week

On this note, I think the only letters that I’ve noticed this week have been David Jonathan Ross’ Extraordinaire:

David writes about this new typeface (which was published via his most excellent Font of the Month club that you should sign up for if you haven’t just yet):

Extraordinaire is an adjustable hairline sans serif inspired by single-stroke lettering of the Art Deco period, with particular influences from the diamond-shaped forms found in the center of the city of São Paulo, Brazil.

Although I’m not a big fan of art deco styled letters in general, there is something glamorous, charming and almost playful about these letters: the ampersand and the letter M are tiny wonders in particular.