Quick Notes & Ramblings
What the fuck am I doing?
The Smallest Difference
And the art of good table design.
Improving my workflow
An Alfred workflow to help me blog faster.
Stab a Book, the Book Won’t Die
And why our attention is precious.
Start a newsletter
And how you can help your design system today.
Chip on your shoulder
And how to be a terrible writer.
The Dashboard Problem
And why good product design is impossible.
And why data can go to hell.
The Absurdity of the Nobel Prizes in Science
And how science really works.
Getting the easy stuff right
Scott Galloway’s secret to a happy life
Products and platforms
And why a design system is not a product.
Take your broken heart and blog
Or maybe don’t?
Food and Sleep: II
And the art of fucking things up.
And the mystery of Jake’s height.
Resistant to data
And why you can’t measure a design system.
And why maybe you haven’t experienced it either.
And how to keep someone with you forever.
Irony doesn’t scale
Paul Ford on becoming a manager.
The Singularity Already Happened; We Got Corporations
Tim Maly on the devil we fear versus the one we face.
Charlie Lloyd on the vast scale of our shared infrastructure.
And learning to think inside it.
Sticks and Ropes
Dave Rupert on the art of kindness.
Owning the Archive
Making a new home for Adventures.
The web is bigger than Google.
Performance and accessibility are not features.
What do you wish you had known about engineering before getting started?
A question, a rant.
A Vacuum of Courage
And how to build an effective org.
To Move Without Latency
Performance is not a feature.
The Success of Many Days
And the result of 3 years of refactoring.
That Feeling of Rebellion
And the inability to say yes.
Confidence and Berry Glen
I am a tough and confident boy.
The new type family by OhNo Type Co.
Partners in Crime
Software development is all wrong.
A Vacancy Has Been Detected
A story about empathy in software design.
To find Agnes Parrott in Angoon, Alaska...
And how to build common layouts with CSS.
The New Wilderness
The surveillance economy and the environment
Nobody really owns product work
When you work on a big product, people are going to continuously replace your work.
The Rise and Demise of RSS
Where did it all go?
The Careful Work
I want a new kind of work.
The World Wide Work
Ethan Marcotte’s talk at New Adventures is wonderful.
Eleventy and Netlify
This Memorial weekend I updated this very website to use the static site generator Eleventy and Netlify as the publishing process. Oh boy was it a dream.
In Defense of a Difficult Industry
“I’ve made a mistake, a lifelong one, correlating advancements in technology with progress.”
Wait, what is my job again?
Against metrics: how measuring performance by numbers backfires
Measuring people is a really bad idea.
End of an Era
Anna Wiener on Twitter and the legacy of Jack.
To hell, to hell...
Boris Strugatsky’s afterword to his perfect sci-fi novel.
And fighting for the middle ground.
Getting to the bottom of line height in Figma
“The history of web design can be seen as a set of tensions...”
Pairing is the key to evangelizing your design system
It’s perhaps the most underrated aspect of design systems work I’ve read about.
Don’t be sorry. Be angry.
Some Unsolicited Newsletter Advice
Punctuation and grammar be damned.
The Day the Dinosaurs Died
And the oldest murder mystery on the planet.
Performance and Behavior
What would happen if every website was lightning fast?
Delirious in London
Huh? Where am I?
You need front-end engineers
There, I said it.
This One Technology Will Solve All of Your Problems
Kelly Sutton’s argument against following the latest trends is a damn good one.
The Harmony of the System
And the civil war that rages in the codebase.
And gathering momentum.
Building a UI Kit in Figma
A few notes on how we built the UI Kit at Gusto.
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s weird and wonderful novel.
And how to see the inferno.
The Black Triangle
And how to build things the right way.
The hardest thing about design systems
And a note on drop shadows.
The Design System You Already Have
The distinction between “a designed system” and “design systems” is an important one to make.
Type Choice, Political Choice
And the work of monsters.
Good is better than perfect
Especially when it comes to blogs.
Tim Carmody’s newsletter is as charming and brilliant as you might expect.
The Boring Designer
And some half-assed thoughts on Apex Legends.
Consensus in design systems
And learning how difficult this job truly is.
He wants his dang CDs back.
A Thousand Ships
And those big blue eyes.
Talking down instead of talking up.
The Least Harm
And a good reckon.
The Argument against Centrism
And a nation of kindness.
Arguing in Public
Design systems and making things 1% better every day.
And how English deserves our love but not our worry.
20,000 Days on Earth
And a note about the weather.
The Best Debugging Story I’ve Ever Heard
Patience and discipline and coffee.
The Great Divide
And the growing rift in the field of web design.
And all the loves mismanaged.
The Sisters Brothers
This place is in favor of me.
Writing software together
The art of writing software in a group is underrated.
Women and Power
My first book of 2019 is a damn fine start to the year.
Christmas in LA
I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Hate Inc. and the Serial Book
Fiction via email can be a wondrous thing.
You Need a Budget
An app for tracking your finances that actually makes a difference.
Switchin’ to Firefox
Fighting against a Chromium-only world.
Potential and Loss
Some notes on Brexit.
Searching the Creative Internet
An exciting idea for a new type of search engine.
On the web not of the web
Andy Baio’s thoughts on Quora.
One browser to rule them all.
Design Systems is Easy
Hey. Maybe this job is just, like, super easy or whatever.
The Victorian Internet
How the telegraph changed the world.
Front-end development is not a problem to be solved
I think I finally figured out what upsets me when people talk about front-end development.
Cool Gray City of Type
Okay so I have an idea for a book.
Why can’t we use functional and regular CSS at the same time?
Surprise! I blogged about CSS again. Sorry.
The Red Hand Files
In his newsletter, Nick Cave writes about tragedy and wonder.
Hannu Rajaniemi’s latest novel is really something special.
What do you want to do when you grow up, kid?
It’s an everlasting, punk-rock feeling that I hope will never really go away.
And Introducing: The Kickstarter
Jez just announced his Kickstarter campaign for his new book called And Introducing.
Design Systems at Gusto: Part II
“Design is not about learning to think outside the box, it’s about finding the right box to think inside of.”
Areas of Concern
Eric Meyer on what makes a good front-end developer.
Nesting Classes in Sass
Nesting classes in Sass is maybe not such a great idea. There, I said it!
The 2nd Trip to Portland
It’s just the right amount of time for you to admire the romance of flight and the wonder that is unaccosted flight through American airspace without coming to the conclusion that you’re stuck in a floating metal sky prison.
A Rant after a Day
You don’t have to put a dent in the universe. You can just be kind. And put things back where you found them. And make a few people laugh along the way.
My favorite writing app has just been updated.
Songs for a Writer’s Cabin
Pretty much everything I’ve ever published and every line of code I’ve ever written has been typed whilst listening to this playlist.
Break the Browser
In this game there a lot of rules.
“If a legendary quest has no substantial challenge, if it asks nothing of you except that you jump through the hoops it so carefully lays out for you, then the very legend is unworthy of being told, and retold.”
My favorite book from the Boss Fight Books collection so far.
Jez’s new project is going to be great so you ought to sign up for the newsletter immediately.
The History of the Web
This little newsletter reminds me that the web is an exciting, wondrous, unfinished place.
10,000 Original Copies
“We’re taking the planks from masters, and building our own ships. We are making ships in our own image, in our own languages, in our own accents.”
Growing Up Jobs
“For him, I was a blot on a spectacular ascent, as our story did not fit with the narrative of greatness and virtue he might have wanted for himself.”
My Increasing Wariness of Dogmatism
Chris is smart and he writes smart things.
The Late Muscle
I need to try harder with this stuff. A lot harder.
From San Francisco to Los Angeles
You can see the climate crisis everywhere, in everything.
The Vietnam War
It asks that we look deep into the heart of this ugly moment in time, so that we may never make the same mistakes again.
Networks of New York
Thinking about the Internet can be frightening – what with its sheer vastness and globe-trotting scale – but it’s also a miracle.
Jack and the Magic Key
“This very special key opens a very special door...”
The Ends of the World
“Eventually humans will be living in a sustainable way.”
My Life with Bob
“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”
An Archipelago Man
Mitt Romney isn’t blue or red.
I Don’t Believe in Full-Stack Engineering
There, I said it.
How Long Can Our Content Last?
The honest answer? Probably not that long.
Not a chef, barely even a cook, but a damn fine writer.
Zadie Smith’s book, to me, is all about England.
A strange, even dangerous, relationship with alcohol.
Gardens and Systems
Please make me stop.
A note on frameworks and AMP.
A note from the CSS-Tricks newsletter.
Good Writing and Analytics Don’t Mix
I reckon analytics are bad for writers and here’s why.
A new CSS property that looks pretty handy.
How to Take Criticism
Design criticism from a different point of view.
I’m Not Black, I’m Kanye
“...he is a man of no mystery, overexposed...”
Last week I went on a solo road trip and it was unforgettably beautiful.
“Facebook turns a necessary labor of love into a profitable business.”
Email is the Magic Key
It’s a lovely, wondrous, and utterly frustrating thing.
Seven Days in the Life of the Late, Great John McCain
David Foster Wallace on the campaign trail.
A City of Letters
And a place you won’t ever want to leave.
Karin Tidbeck’s collection of stories is a haunting and eerie delight.
The Three Body Problem
Liu Cixin’s book all about contacting an alien civilization is outstanding and weird as all hell.
It’s a lovely book, go read it.
The Triumph Street Triple
A new motorcycle, a new me.
“I am going to a commune in Vermont and will deal with no unit of time shorter than a season.”
Design Systems at Gusto
Whether you’re just starting out building a complicated front-end, or if you’re getting ready to build a style guide at a large organization then hopefully you can learn from some of my mistakes.
Blockchain is not only crappy technology but a bad vision for the future
“A lawless and mistrustful world where self-interest is the only principle and paranoia is the only source of safety is a not a paradise but a crypto-medieval hellhole.”
Advice for a young systems designer
There are no heroes or parades for you in this line of work.
The Internet Got Shrinkwrapped
“It’s over. The notion of having to do the heavy-lifting is gone. Everything is shrinkwrapped.”
A beautiful typeface, or a beautiful book, or a beautiful anything, isn’t a lucky accident. It’s the product of many hours, it’s the success of many days, and I like to keep that in mind whenever I find myself losing concentration.
Jellyfish question everything that we know about life; how they move, how they see, how they eat, how they process information. Everything about them is alien and beyond comprehension and sci-fi as all hell.
Isle of Dogs
All of the parts fit; the graphic design was outstanding, the music was lovely. But most importantly, the characters all had motivations and narrative arcs and all the things that I crave from a film.
The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling
Last night I watched the new documentary about Garry Shandling by Judd Apatow and I hadn’t quite expected to fall in love with it as much as I did. Quite frankly, it swept me off my feet.
The Missing Building Blocks of the Web
“Old-timers might remember when Flash ruled the web, and people made simple games or interactive art pieces that would then get shared on blogs or other media sites. Except for the occasional SoundCloud song on someone’s Tumblr, it’s a grim landscape for anyone that can imagine a web where bits and pieces of different sites are combined together like Legos.”
Words fail to do the sound justice.
We Long to Move the Stars to Pity
“...exaggerated speeches that concealed mediocre affections”
The lake was the darkest of greens.
Stars and Gardens
“The stars align in my garden.”
“Rhythm itself is a kind of form and, regardless of whether it's poetry or prose, it becomes a kind of dwelling place for us. ”
What writers really do when they write
“A guy (Stan) constructs a model railroad town in his basement. Stan acquires a small hobo, places him under a plastic railroad bridge, near that fake campfire, then notices he’s arranged his hobo into a certain posture – the hobo seems to be gazing back at the town. Why is he looking over there?”
We can only chart what we can see
“Is a word academic jargon? Is it the sort of thing you only see in a Pope or Blake poem? What about Doctor Who fanfic? Is this word a slur? Or is this word boring and everywhere, the Wonder Bread of words, remarkable only because it is wholly unremarkable?”
Tools for Thinking and Tools for Systems
...our current tools encourage me to design the finished product first. They beg me to mess with rounded corners, colors, typefaces and stroke styles.
I’ve read this piece about design by Dean Allen multiple times and yet I can’t appear to shake it. Every time I read it I find something new that perfectly summarizes that moment in my career.
How to Read the Internet
A love letter to RSS the community and RSS the technology.
Making the Music of the Mazg
Robin Sloan on machine learning.
Inconsistencies and productivity
Talking with Jules about design systems and how to incentivize good systems work across an organization.
And the little email service that could.
CSS is Awesome
Art at Scale
And the private emails of Alan Kay.
Beyond any work or any technical skills that I’d like to improve this coming year though, I’d like to focus on activism.
Ubiquity and consistency
A note from Jeremy Keith on under/over engineering.
Who Goes Nazi?
“Nazism has nothing to do with race and nationality. It appeals to a certain type of mind.”
Now I Am Going to Write a Book
“And for me, voice is the thing. In a novel, I will forgive any flaw, overlook any omission, if the voice on the page has that sizzling Tesla-coil energy.”
Net Promoter Score Considered Harmful (and What UX Professionals Can Do About It)
China’s Selfie Obsession
“You don’t want to come face-to-face with your god, because it’s frightening to think that you might see a pimple on his chin.”
Why Write Fiction in 2017?
“I think of the angels of the Paradiso, who when asked by Dante for the secret of their happiness, say: ‘We long for what we have.’”
As she moves on from Gusto I’ll be sure to miss Dora dearly but if she has a motto that I can take to heart and apply to my work without her then it ought to be this: care for, and question, everything.
Where the GOP’s Tax Extremism Comes From
“Investments like these build a fair, thriving society…and I think it’s worth it.”
The Elements of Eloquence
“English teaching at school is unfortunately, obsessed with what a poet thought, as though that were of any interest to anyone.”
A Responsive Spreadsheet
A new post for CSS-Tricks all about making a CSS-only responsive spreadsheet UI.
Setting a Typographic Scale with Sass Maps
An old technique for setting type on the web.
The Biodiversity Heritage Library
Two million nature illustrations, now available from the BHL.
How to be both
“It is a feeling thing, to be a painter of things: cause every thing, even an imagined or gone thing or creature or person has essence: paint a rose or a coin or a duck or a brick and you’ll feel it as sure as if a coin had a mouth and told you what it was like to be a coin...”
Find the Beginning
“Tell me about a complicated man.”
How do I become a great designer without becoming a giant asshole?
Songs of San Francisco
There was this sense of history or something, the way that one writer had been influenced by the other. It was funny because each of us came from halfway across the world to find ourselves in this little bar excitedly talking about bundles of paper and how we were all trying to do the same thing, really, even if our work was wildly different.
Green to Me
Helena Fitzgerald on the color green.
Making the Clackity Noise
To treat that “What’s Happening” input as a free and open text editor, to just pour all your energy into it, seems like a waste of time.
Notes on Adventures
If a single intelligible and kind word can be wrenched out of me as I write that particular week’s letter than that’s a good enough of an adventure for me.
Books as Work
We can’t afford to see books as art if we want to make a contribution, whatever size that might be, to the world of bookmaking. Rather, we must see books as work instead.
Ways of Reading
Mandy Brown on reading and writing.
Robin Sloan’s new book is a precious thing.
The Fire Next Time
Rambling notes on the collection of essays by James Baldwin
The Lost Cause Rides Again
“The symbols point to something Confederate’s creators don’t seem to understand—the war is over for them, not for us.”
The Sutro Tower
In my apartment I’ve positioned my desk by the window facing the tower towards the west. In fact I only picked this apartment because of the tower and how it looms above Twin Peaks right next door — as soon as I saw this place I knew that this is where I would write, by this very window. I knew that I would think of the city spinning as I write a million words over the years and that Tower would be my writing compatriot, my audience, and the stick that holds it all together.
You Say Data, I Say System
“Whenever you look at data — as a spreadsheet or database view or a visualization, you are looking at an artifact of such a system. What this diagram doesn’t capture is the immense branching of choice that happens at each step along the way”
Cassandra Plays the Stock Market
An Incomplete List of Mistakes
What’s your favorite website? Which is the one above all the others that you think about from time to time?
With New Browser Tech, Apple Preserves Privacy and Google Preserves Trackers
“Ad quality needs to improve and advertisers must abandon any attempt to hijack our attention with disruptive audio, flashing animation, or screen takeovers. But this alone will not win back the trust of users alienated by an ad system run amok.”
A train. A tunnel. Oakland.
Between Trident Lakes and Technology Drive
“In purpose-built data centers like Facebook’s, it’s for a general public that uses but maybe does not love Facebook. Facebook’s desire to be loved and trusted has always struck me as sort of overcompensating. ”
Nirvanna the Band the Show is my favorite thing.
‘I gave a fifty minute concert in two halves. They poured me a drink in the middle. Dunya asked how I found them. I said I just walked past. She smiled and said, “That’s how I want it.”’
How Google Book Search Got Lost
“Engineering is great, but it’s not the answer to all problems. Sometimes you have to play politics, too — consult stakeholders, line up allies, compromise with rivals.”
Drawing Words and Writing Pictures: An Appreciation of Maira Kalman
Go take a look at your bookshelf: most books are seas of text without pictures. When a book does have imagery, they are marooned onto their own page, or the text tiptoes alongside the image, reticent and scared of contact. Even this little post is guilty. Images and text are frequently described as natural partners, but there is very little intimacy in how they are treated. Like an old married couple, they sleep in separate beds.
“I’m familiar with the re-write. This was more like starting a new book every four months or so. The number of plotlines and their interactions meant a kind of exponential multiplication of possibility. I’d made a maze in my own mind and I kept getting lost in it. The book was smarter than I was.”
Letter from a Drowned Canyon
Rebecca Solnit on the difference between conversationists and environmentalists.
Mighty Fine Content that I am Consuming Online™
I’ve been reading a lot of great things on the web lately and just wanted to quickly jot everything down as best I could. I hope you enjoy reading this lot as much as I did.
How to ride a motorcycle in California
Considering I’m from the UK there were a few peculiar obstacles I had to circumnavigate before I could get back to riding a motorcycle, hence I thought it might be helpful for others if I jotted that whole process down. At the beginning it was pretty complicated and strange because I simply couldn’t find any info out there for me. So hopefully this guide is of use to you, fellow motorcycle enthusiast.
The CSS-Tricks Newsletter
We try pretty hard to make sure there’s something interesting going on and even though we talk about the latest news we hope to deliver something more than just a bundle of links each week. There are stories about how the team has messed up and what we’re working on next.
In Praise of Green Light
I think about pain by separating it into two categories; High and Low.
...in typing there’s a form of escape that doesn’t require me to leave.
Blogging and Atrophy
How do I see my website? Well, it’s complicated.
I’ve been a big fan of David Jonathan Ross’ Gimlet for the past couple of months and from time to time I find myself picking a character at random and poking at it. Look at that capital Q! Or the & symbol! Gimlet tempts us to sit back and zoom in, with each and every character begging to be used in large sizes.
Strawberries and Cheese
The scene opens onto a gloriously dark and grimy café where my father and I have taken refuge from the storm that hovers above; clouds snap and crackle, a gale shudders along the windows whilst trees distort themselves into torturous yoga poses across the street. Inside the café, we’re welcomed with bad coffee and sweaty toast in what must be the guiltiest of Great British pleasures.
The Fire in the Smoke
And my greatest failure as a designer.
One Thousand Days in America
I’m moving to San Francisco. After months of waiting, hoping, with fingers-crossed, the stars in the constellation of American bureaucracy aligned themselves this morning as I stood in the queue at the u.s. Embassy in London. But there was no certificate or handshake once my visa was approved, there were no balloons, and there was certainly not any triumphant, patriotic music to celebrate the affair.
Nothing is where you think it is
On maps and England.
What would happen if we just gave people money?
From Switzerland to the Netherlands to Kenya to Silicon Valley, a mixture of insecurity and curiosity are driving interest in basic income, but its dominant ideology — and appeal — is utopian. The core existential struggle lurking in the debates over basic income centers on what meaning work holds in our lives. Straub, the Swiss referendum organizer, remembers his great-grandfather working 10 hours per day, six days per week. That kind of toil is no longer necessary, nor desirable. The dream of a world where we produce more than we need has come true.
Now Available for Freelance Work
Learning in public
We start off knowing a lot about a little and gradually, as we shake ourselves through the world we begin to make all these connections; we find resources, we find other people and most importantly we learn about how little we knew when we started.
In Defense of Webfonts
A web font, just like any other visual stimulus, has work to accomplish and it has a value and a position in the designer’s toolkit which is one of the most effective ways to display the intent of the text. Perhaps we need to spend more time thinking about web fonts as web designers, we need to think about their goals, about their shortcomings.
A new project for the XOXO folks.
object-fit and object-position
A quick write up of my favourite CSS properties.
On File Formats, Very Briefly
Paul Ford describes the early days of the web...
For the last year I’ve been trying to get my freelance business off the ground and thanks to Cushion it’s been an awful lot less stressful and terrifying than it might have been otherwise.
Putting thought into things
Listening is a masochist endeavor. To do it right you have to put everything down. Not just your phone, even pen and paper. There is nothing to hold on to when you just listen. You have to use your full attention, registering everything that you see and hear. You have to slow down your self-perception and focus on the outside, on what you do not understand. Compared to how we usually operate, listening means focusing on pain, diving into boredom. In order to see the other in slow motion, you need to stop the camera of self-perception that makes you the star, and speed up the camera that records the outside.
I’ve been listening to the interviews on Longform over the past week—in between cleaning, working, heading to the gym—and they’ve been so consistently insightful. Here are my favourites so far...
A New Responsive Font Format for the Web
I think there’s huge potential for a new variable font format to become a key part of the designer’s tool belt. It would greatly improve the reading experience of general users of the web, too. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore the many problems and hurdles that we have to overcome to get a draft spec agreed upon.
Ed Snowden Taught Me To Smuggle Secrets Past Incredible Danger. Now I Teach You.
Micah Lee on his work regarding the Snowden revelations.
Loading fonts with the Web Font Loader
Several years ago the consensus on font loading in the community was that, as a website loads, all fonts should be hidden until the correct resources have been downloaded. Many designers and developers argued that the default font loading method called the “Flash of Unstyled Text”, or FOUT, was an annoyance to users. This is when the fallback web font, say Georgia, is shown on screen first then replaced by a custom font when it loaded. They argued that it would make for a more cohesive browsing experience if users simply waited for everything to download instead of experiencing this flash from one typeface to another.
This year’s Ampersand was a perfect cavalcade of typographic misadventures which has left me buzzing with ideas.
A pointable we
All I know is the more I read digitally, the more this feeling — the strange joy of adding to the corpus6 and seeing where it takes us — grows inside me, and I can't be the only one to feel this. Adding to the corpus — making things pointable — has become habitual, and aspects of it are becoming more and more passive. These habits and expectations aren't going anywhere.
Big data, no thanks
And the machine that can hold you.
It serves me well by reminding me that mass anything is political. If one person is hungry, who knows, but if 50,000 people are hungry, what’s happening is necessarily a question of policy, of how we live together, of “who gets what, when, how”.
On Writing Well
And learning how to delete.
A Book of Sand
A love story by Borges about books.
Food and Sleep
When an alcoholic describes their inexorable lust I realise it's precisely how I would describe my relationship with Food.
I was on a podcast.
It’s the final day of XOXO and I’m sat under a canopy watching the prolonged withdrawal of a beautiful evening — shadows flitter their way across skin left bare by shorts and dresses as everyone has now gathered outside after the talks. They slowly form clusters and talk giddily amongst friends at the open bar. Others can be found on the outer rim of the grounds, huddling around the embers of a little fire whilst the food trucks nearby begin to hunker down, ready for a night of well-earned slumber.
Making charts with CSS
Flotsam, Jetsam, Lagan & Derelict
With teeth of metal and glass
My excitement for a holiday to NYC was of paramount importance then: as someone that comes from a rural area, would I enjoy it? Would I want to emigrate to New York? What would my girlfriend and I find there? Would she move in with me once we came back or would we just throw caution to the wind and move to America and work together?
I’ve been obsessed with blend modes over the past couple of weeks.
Week notes #12
Working on a project with a styleguide for the first time is encouraging me to document my code a lot more than I usually do. It’s also surprising to reveal how little I truly understand about the complexities of CSS and writing code for other developers to work with.
Week notes #11
mix-blend-mode, working with the team at Kind and a new 4K screen
Week notes #10
This week I was recovering from a fever/cold/nightmare illness that left me with an awful lot of email and unfinished tasks ready for next week so unfortunately nothing much happened of note.
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.
Within the code of the game itself lies a world-ending glitch that drives the design team to the brink of insanity; our protagonist must find the glitch before the game ships and save their creation from the quirks and eccentricities of the designer that came before them. It’s a video game murder mystery!
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.
The Glut is Good
“A common refrain in this new age of self-publishing is that there are too many books. The outflow of new material has been likened to all sorts of natural disasters spewing forth and flooding the land.”
The Ground Beneath Her Feet
Salman Rushdie’s musical opus, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, is one of a few select books that I want to slip into my friends’ backpacks, or hide in their bookshelf, or scatter copies under their beds until they must eventually concede.
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.
A crowd of sorrows
“Do you mind if I tell you, while I have your ear? All of this, the funeral, the family, the sudden reminder that life ends, it makes me realize how ignorant I am. I'm so sure I'm clever and sophisticated, a smug little agnostic, but put me face forward with death, and I don't know my right from my north...”
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.
The great future of video games
“In 2006, I was drawn back into video games when Nintendo introduced a new system with intuitive motion controls and a quirky name, Wii. Nintendo projected the message that this new console was for everyone. Commercials featuring the tagline “Wii would like to play” showed families and friends of all ages.”
“...there are very few medieval scenes in which someone is reading but not writing – where books are present but pens are not. In part, this has to do with medieval study practices. Readers would usually have a pen nearby even when they were just reading. After all, remarks and critiques needed to be added to the margin at the spur of the moment.”
An interview with Italo Calvino
“Writers do not necessarily cherish their translators, and I occasionally had the feeling that Calvino would have preferred to translate his books himself...”
Elon Musk interview on Mars colonisation
“...you might begin to long for its mountains and rivers, its flowers and trees, the astonishing array of life forms that roam its rainforests and seas. You might see a network of light sparkling on its dark side, and realise that its nodes were cities, where millions of lives are coming into collision.”
Writing is thinking
“If you’re not sure how to finish a sentence, abandon it halfway through. If you want to write extensively about one particular idea but your mind’s moving too quickly to flesh it all out, paraphrase for now and move on to the next big point.”
Trouble at the Koolaid Point
“It begins with simple threats. You know, rape, dismemberment, the usual. It’s a good place to start, those threats, because you might simply vanish once those threats include your family.”
Scrambled eggs and serifs
“Years ago, I asked one of my mentors what he thought was the hardest part of designing a typeface. I was expecting “the cap S” or “the italic lowercase” or something like that. But he answered without hesitation: the name.”
Here comes everybody
“Television has millions of inbound arrows—viewers watching the screen—and no outbound arrows at all. You can see Oprah; Oprah can’t see you. On the Web, by contrast, the arrows of attention are all potentially reciprocal; anyone can point to anyone else, regardless of geography, infrastructure, or other limits.”
What we talk about when we talk about what we talk about when we talk about making
“The boundaries can be drawn wider or narrower, and with more or less care. But the starting points of those boundaries are necessarily accidents of history, and history is pretty messed up.”
What we see when we read
Unlike the title suggests however, the book is not in any way didactic or scientific, instead it overflows with questions and ideas, each illustrated in a way that lets the reader hover over the pages with glee. I’d rather not spoil the fun, since his book is endlessly quotable in every which way...
Finishing a book in this environment feels so much more of an accomplishment than wrapping up a physical book, although it made for interesting reading because it was not written for upcoming graphic designers or art students (like the majority of typographic resources out there), instead this book’s aim had been calibrated specifically towards writers.
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.
Nicole Fenton has posted her notes of an excellent talk she gave on how to improve copywriting for interfaces. Sadly though I often tend to neglect lots of this advice...
Bird by Bird
Over the weekend I read this great collection of advice for writers by Anne Lammot called Bird by Bird. The goal of this short little book is to help young writers learn more about the design and publication of fiction but, aside from the self-help format, what really caught my attention is this extract about encouraging other writers to join a community of like-minded folks.
Gardens, not graves
“...for years, we’ve neglected the disciplines of stewardship—the invisible and unglamorous work of collecting, restoring, safekeeping, and preservation. Maybe the answer isn’t to post more, to add more and more streams. Let’s return to our existing content and make it more durable and useful.”
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.
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.
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
“Michel Butor says that to travel is to write, because to travel is to read. This can be developed further: To write is to travel, to write is to read, to read is to write, and to read is to travel. But George Steiner says that to translate is also to read, and to translate is to write, as to write is to translate and to read is to translate...”
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?
Letters to a Young Contrarian
“Every day, the New York Times carries a motto in a box on its front page. “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” it says. It’s been saying it for decades, day in and day out.”
Robots and sandwiches
“And that is why I had such a hard time writing that first program. Computers are way dumber than I was prepared for...”
Madness, Rack, and Honey
Madness, Rack and Honey is a collection of lectures by the poet Mary Ruefle in which she contemplates the various struggles surrounding her art, and gosh darn it if this book isn’t *endlessly* quotable.
Death by Black Hole
Lately I’ve finished reading a fabulous string of novels but it’s made me feel guilty about ignoring more science-oriented and fact-driven prose. Thanks to this guilt my first tentative steps into the field of physics is a book by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Future of Web Design 2014
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:
“Gutenberg considered the counter space, letter space, and line space. Every paragraph, whether written or printed, has these white spaces in it. But they don’t have to be thought of in isolation...”
The Library at Night
“We dream of a library of literature created by everyone and belonging to no one, a library that is immortal and will mysteriously lend order to the universe, and yet we know that every orderly choice, every catalogued realm of the imagination, sets up a tyrannical exclusion.”
The Solid Form of Language
... a script occasionally proves to be more like a brand, or indeed like a prison tattoo, re-engraved on the brain with every letter written and every letter read.
Quickness and Detours
In Six Memos for the Next Millennium Italo Calvino outlines all of the attributes and properties of great writing that he believed ought to thrive into the distant future of literature
Trying to keep the number of book recommendations to a minimum is difficult when I keep stumbling over novels by Ellen Ullman. This time it’s The Bug, a story about programming, information theory and obsession.
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.
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.
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.
A small review of Fred Smeijers’ typographic classic on the mostly forgotten and covert practice of punching typefaces. Due to the lack of primary sources he’s forced to take up the old tools and theorise as to how these craftsman performed their work.
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.
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.
How much can web designers learn from the recorded history of old, underground print shops and forgotten typographers? A review of Robin Kinross’ delightful book about the history of typographic practice.
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.