Stickers, Eclipses and Lighthouses [#35]

Today is a day for another round-up of interesting pieces from across the web. Nothing too special, but hopefully a little intriguing.

First up is Google Lighthouse, one of the many branches of the Alphabet behemoth and a pretty interesting little project. I haven’t actually managed to get it up and running, but I’ll definitely be trying it out on theAdhocracy some time soon (and probably weeping at the result). I don’t need to test it, though, to see it will be a very useful tool in battling the increasingly problematic issue of internet lag.

Second is the article which led me to Lighthouse in the first place: AMPersan, by Ethan Marcotte. Not much to add to this one, just another voice adding weight to my uneasiness with the idea of AMP and similar projects. Well worth a read if you’re interested in the open web.

In third place is a collection of ‘achievement’ stickers doing the rounds of the blogosphere right now. Originally designed by Jeremy Nguyen, published on The New Yorker and personally discovered via TheLogoSmith, the stickers are a humorous look at the pitfalls of being self employed. They’re specifically designed for freelance designers, but I feel a lot of them are applicable across disciplines. If you work from home, you’ll probably find yourself smiling and nodding.

Fourth on the list is a simple article from Martian Craft outlining “The Importance of Routine“. The post is aimed at remote works and is far from news to me, but it is a well written example of how to apply this kind of thinking. I’m saving it here more to try and force myself into setting something like this up for my own free time.

Finally, I was blown away by the “Lifetime Eclipse Predictor” visualisation created for The Washington Post (discovered via Source). In the wake of the recent total eclipse in the US, along with reading various posts on the rarity of such events, I’ve been left with a real urge to try and make sure at my path eventually coincides with a path of totality. It is a ridiculously awesome coincidence that our moon’s diameter and planet’s solar distance align so accurately. I mean, even if there are other life-hosting planets out there, we’re certainly one of an incredibly small number that can witness this phenomenon. That makes it practically a responsibility to see a total eclipse, at least once.

Interneting is (Apparently) Hard [#6]

Visual representation of the HTML DOM model

Visual respresentation of the DOM

Reddit has once again directed me towards a very interesting online resource: Interneting is Hard!

The website is beautifully illustrated and boasts a very elegant design structure. There are a couple of cross-platform inconsistencies but the quality of the content and layout is excellent. A quick overview of some of the sections has highlighted the knowledge on display is equally well thought through. Overall, a very impressive find that I look forward to diving deeper into in the future and a great introduction to web design.

Cards Against Clarity

The concept of “card based” web design has been around for at least three years now. So why is it that the following quote from Khoi Vinh, written back in 2014, still appears to be a fundamental truth:

it hasn’t gotten much easier to explain to the uninitiated what, exactly, a card is.

Because here’s the thing: as much as I love reading about web design, I am still very much a member of the “uninitiated”. I can tell because I still have absolutely no idea what a “card” is.

I realised this (yet again) thanks to a recent article that cropped up in my RSS feed. I’ve been singing their praises recently, so hopefully Zurb won’t mind too much if I point to 5 Common Mistakes Designers Make When Using Cards in Design as a prime example of 1 Common Mistake Web Designers Make When Talking about Cards, chiefly, that what a card is fails to be defined anywhere.

Perhaps this whole situation is just down to me. Maybe I’ve fallen so far behind web trends that my outdated ways of attempting to understand “cards” are just not up-to-scratch. But, frankly, there doesn’t seem to be much help out there.

Early articles on using “cards” in design tend to paint a picture of API driven, cross-platform data sharing. A sort of standardised method of pushing/pulling content from/to various web apps; an ecosystem of information, if you will. That all sounds interesting and pretty great, yet presents a concept that is simultaneously vague and highly technical, creating a perfect mixture for people to be excited about yet confused over.

Yet “cards” are also used to describe certain design styles. In that linked Awwwards article a number of examples of “good card-based web design” are cited. Some, such as Dribbble and Pinterest, appear to be examples of the information ecosystem mentioned above. But then you have websites like White Frontier, which whilst being a great example of web design do not appear to have any form of content interaction or applicable data extraction methods. Yet these designs are, apparently, just as “card based” in their makeup.

As far as I can tell from Googling around the subject, “cards” are just rectangular content areas situated on a website. They might pull in information from a third party, they might just be a stock photo and a strapline. The article I initially quoted comes to a similar conclusion, that cards either fit into the “design” or “third-party” camps, which doesn’t seem particularly useful to me. If they’re just a design style then, really, they’re just a particular way of presenting content; a way which, ultimately, seems pretty much identical to how most people have always done it. If they’re only to be used when pulling third-party data then we need a tighter definition, because I don’t feel anyone would be happy suggesting iframes are all cards.

Currently, their only unifying factors appear to include being responsive, rectangular and online. So perhaps that’s all there actually is to them, which would be rather neat. If that is the case, then I can happily claim to have been making card-based websites since 2007, putting my well ahead of the trend!

Doth the Bell Toll for Zurb?

Today’s lunch started no differently to any other. Grab some food, open Internet Explorer (I know, it’s not by choice…) and fire up theOldReader to chip away at the ever mounting pile in my inbox. I dipped into the Oatmeal and realised I have, once again, missed a Kickstarter for a product that I genuinely want. Read some interesting thoughts from Adactio, Dan Mall and UNSTOPPABLE ROBOT NINJA (now, sadly it seems, going by the far less awe inspiring Ethan Marcotte). And then I looked at my inbox and wondered if it was about time that I started removing some of the feeds which I’m no longer excited to read. Feeds like the one Zurb publishes.

Although I’ve been subscribed to Zurb’s RSS for years now (possibly a decade) I struggle to think of a single article over the past six months that made me sit up and think: aha! Updates have been flowing as routinely as ever, but mostly they have focused on their internal business. Posts about new product updates or team members have been, seemingly, the core output for quite some time and whilst these do occasionally feature interesting anecdotes or clever imagery, ultimately they don’t feel particularly relevant. So then, I thought, today I will catch up on what I haven’t read and if nothing jumps out it’s bye-bye Zurb.

I am, admittedly, a little behind on Zurb’s feed so it was back to mid-October for a post titled The End of the Black Turtleneck, featuring a prominent image of Steve Jobs. As someone who laments the grasp Apple has on most of the industries I admire, a review of their glorious leader’s preferential attire didn’t exactly fill me with excitement. However, the old adages are true: you really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

Far from being a humorous or anecdote laden parade of fanboyism or irrelevant commentary on how Zurb have learnt to design the ‘Jobsian Way’ (which is hopefully something I just made up, though I can believe somewhere out there a design agency has it engraved into the ceiling…), The End of the Black Turtleneck is filled with genuinely interesting incite and actually takes several shots across Apple’s bow. In other words: things just got interesting!

I’m not going to say too much more on that article or the subsequent follow ups that were just as enjoyable and arguably more useful, except to highly recommend you go and read them yourself. If you’re in any way interested in the struggles that the design industry faces or even just the issues inherent with casting false messiahs or getting engrained in past zeitgeists, they’re definitely worth a read. I can’t say everything I’ve caught up on so far has been riveting, vital content but The End of the Black Turtleneck and The Perversion of Beautiful Design, both written by Zurb’s head honcho Bryan Zmijewski, are some of the most intriguing and thought provoking blogs I’ve read in a while. They’re clear, well written and have valid criticisms at their core. Most importantly, they gel well with my own belief that design should be as much about aesthetics as it is functionality; that function = form and vice versa, with neither greater than the other.

Plus, I learnt that the term ‘pixel’ was coined to describe the picture elements of videos shot by probes around the Moon and Mars. That titbit came from The Mighty Pixel, which is also well worth a read. I guess there was a reason to stay subscribed to Zurb’s feed* after all. In fact, it looks likely that there might be several.

* I wanted to link directly to Zurb’s RSS feed here but I can’t seem to find it anywhere. It clearly still works, but they obviously don’t feel it’s a feature any visitors want. So, I guess, there’s at least one aspect of Zurb that I disagree with. Either that or I’m a moron…

Time Sinks and Indie Thoughts

I’ve just noticed that it’s been over a week since my last post. In and of itself, that isn’t an issue. There are no schedules here; I have no binding commitments to theAdhocracy. Entire months or years could pass between posts and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid (though, I hope, I would feel a little sad). Instead, the lack of a post is noteworthy because I’ve actually been writing content consistently for the last four days, as well as a couple of days last week. That content isn’t still stuck in draft form, it’s all fully edited and ready to ship (so to speak). In my mind it’s actually finished, archived and filed away as a completed job well done. So the reality that no one else can see these posts genuinely struck me as a little odd. This scenario is not one I had really considered when I started my monthly media roundups, but I guess, in hindsight, it can’t really be avoided. One large post a month may have to substitute for more regular content – right now I don’t have a solution, except to make sure my posted content is more varied.

One clear way to increase the throughput to the visible side of theAdhocracy would be to utilise micropublishing, effectively pulling in any facebook posts, RSS likes, instagram/Flickr photos etc. and cataloguing them all here. But, oh no! Once again I’ve stumbled into the indie web without any preparation. I wrote about my headaches with the learning curve associated with the indie web before. What I didn’t realise then was that the very person I’d “called out” in that post had already created what I was asking for: a more simplified, step-by-step guide to getting started on the indie web. So that’s awesome (and, once again, thank you Jeremy Keith!). Now to just find some time to play around with the suggestions. Oh and get my back end in shape first. Plus, maybe tidy up how my current categories work. I mean I’m not stalling at all…

Micropubawhoozits! Am I right?!

I’d really love to get micropublishing up and running on theAdhocracy. I’ve recently started dabbling in Flickr and it would be great to upload here and automatically have my photo’s fired over there; I’d also definitely get way more out of Twitter if I felt like small “thoughts” thrown up here could just get flung out as a tweet. I love the core concept as well, keeping control of your content and protecting against potential future service outages or (god forbid) full on closures.

So every time I read about the an Indiewebcamp or someone like Jeremy Keith throws up another interesting insight into their own methodologies and progress, I get excited. I want to start trying stuff out, so I start Googling. I pretty much always end up back here, at the main site for Indiewebcamp itself. And then I hit a wall.

Reading through the wiki page regarding Micropub is equivalent to reading through the pilots manual for the Millenium Falcon. I understand that the ultimate end result of my grasping this knowledge can only lead to awesome future adventures, but honestly it may as well be written in Xhosa. I get a headache, I close the tab and I go do something else, defeated once again.

One day I will actually spend a weekend getting my head around this. Much like learning to fly the Falcon (I wish), this is something I will continue to get excited for and, ultimately, that excitement will result in learning actually happening. But I do feel my frustration is warranted, and I feel that’s a great shame. The idea of the indie web is, to use Jeremy Keith’s own words:

about having your own place on the web so that you have control over what you put out in the world.

It’s just a shame that understanding the how is quite so buried under a whole raft of new terminology, much of which is needlessly obfuscated in its naming (I mean, what exactly is an h-card? What does that actually mean?). Maybe, in the future, once I’ve bent my own understanding around all the h-names, microgizmos and selfdogtreats out there I’ll find the time to right down some plainer, simpler instructions for others in the same situation. Then again, maybe there is some internal logic and once it “clicks” I’ll never think twice about it again. Only time will tell.

The Anxiety Problem

Chances are that if, like me, you are interested in web design (or just design work in general) you probably already know about A List Apart, the amazing blog that has been a source of industry leading/changing ideas for well over a decade. If, somehow, you don’t then stop reading this and start reading that.

If you need a good “jumping in” point, then I cannot recommend the article Defeating Workplace Drama with Emotional Intelligence enough. I realise I’m a little late to this particular post, given that it’s over a month old, but ALA articles are definitely long form, so tend to build up in my feed reader between actual outings. Still, Brandon Gregory has hit the nail on the proverbial head in this instance. It may not be your standard A List Apart read (HTML, CSS or the ilk are barely mentioned… in fact I don’t think they are at all!) but I imagine the advice contained would benefit anyone, no matter what industry you work in. I’ll definitely be coming back to certain paragraphs for years to come.

Make Me Pulse

Screengrab of Make Me Pulse's 2016 Microsite with text reading "Make Me ..." followed by empty box and surrounded by geometric shapes

Occasionally, Stumbleupon delivers something totally unexpected and awesome. It’s why I still get the service’s weekly emails years after ever actively using the… app? Extension? Whatever, today it brought me Make Me Pulse, a fantastic design studio (well, at least a fantastic website for a design studio, though a brief review of their work means I’m relatively confident giving them the thumbs up as well) with some very clever interactivity on their site. I’d recommend checking out their homepage purely for the geometric, virtual “drum skin” you can play with, but tucked away in a semi-hidden corner is a very fun, quirky and captivating little ‘happy new year’ microsite. Definitely worth a check out.