Explore My Notes

Inclusive tabbed interfaces | Heydon Pickering

I've been digging into tabbed interfaces ("tabs") recently. As usual, Heydon's Inclusive Components has one of the best overviews and write-ups of the techniques used. I particularly love how Heydon breaks down ideas into logical progressive enhancement flows; in this case, that means thinking about a set of tabs as a linked table of contents followed by "sections" of content:

For my money, an embryonic tabbed interface is just a table of content with same-page links pointing at different sections of the page.

That allows a good baseline on which we can build a more "expected" visual interface for the tabs with CSS, and augment the functionality with JavaScript. The end result can be seen in this CodePen:

I have also cross-referenced with Adrian Roselli's older post (which now links to Heydon's early work on this subject) and see that the two are broadly similar: ARIA Tabs

The main takeaway here is that you should use a list of links as the tab controls, followed by a number of content sections. These are then bound together using a combination of ARIA roles, ARIA labels, and other assistive/semantic attributes (note that the inclusion of aria-controls is not consistent across implementations and should be tested):

<ul role="tablist">
    <li role="presentation">
        <a id="tab1" href="#panel1" role="tab" aria-selected="true" aria-controls="panel1">Section 1</a>
        <a id="tab2" href="#panel2" role="tab" aria-selected="false" aria-controls="panel2">Section 2</a>

<section id="panel1" role="tabpanel" tabindex="-1" aria-labelledby="tab1">
    <h2>Section 1</h2>

<section id="panel2" role="tabpanel" tabindex="-1" aria-labelledby="tab2" hidden>
    <h2>Section 2</h2>

On using CSS to visually hide content, even without needing a visually "tabbed" interface:

What if I used some CSS to make just the chosen section from my table of contents visible? This is certainly possible using the :target pseudo-class.
section:not(:target) {  display: none; }

On how a basic table of contents may be the better approach:

I have encountered innumerable JavaScript-driven and ARIA-adorned, fully-fledged tabbed interfaces where simple tables of content atop page sections would have done just as well. Better even, since they are more robust and efficient. But for goodness' sake make them look like tables of content. Meet the expectations you set in visual design with your semantics and behaviors.

On why you shouldn't allow the tabs to be "tabbed" using the tab key, and that left/right arrow keys are a better alternative:

This problem is solved by delegating tab selection to arrow keys. The user is able to select and activate tabs using the arrow keys, while the Tab key is preserved for focusing contents within and below the active tab panel. To put it another way: Tab is not for tabs, which I concede is a bit confusing.
It's equally important that pressing Shift + Tab returns the user to the selected tab.

On ensuring non-visual users aren't forgotten. If we're altering tab order for keyboard users to be able to go from a tab selection directly to the content of that tab, then we should do the same for non-visual users as well by ensuring the common use of the down arrow is handled correctly:

Instead, we can intercept the down arrow key press and move focus programmatically to the open panel itself, making sure it isn't missed.
Although sighted keyboard users are less likely to use the down arrow key, it's important the focused tab panel has a focus style to indicate a change of focus location.

On dealing with tabbed interfaces on narrow viewports (responsive design):

A tabbed interface needs a breakpoint where there is insufficient room to lay out all the tabs horizontally. The quickest way to deal with this is to reconfigure the content into a single column.

On why switching to an accordion is probably not the best idea (though I'd argue that completely swapping out one component for another here would be a logical solution, and could provide a better UX, so long as it's well tested to ensure that the way the component is used is similar for all navigation methods):

Some have made noble attempts to reconfigure tabbed interfaces into accordion interfaces for small viewports. Given that accordions are structured, attributed, and operated completely differently to tabs, I would recommend against this.

📆 25 May 2023  | 🔗

Optimising for INP | web.dev

Google have recently announced a change to their Core Web Vitals metrics. The existing FID stat is being sunset, and replaced with a new way of measuring responsiveness: Interaction to Next Paint, or INP. Overall, it seems like a solid upgrade, with a better focus on real-world experiences (though I'd be lying if I said I fully understood the complex analysis being done to derive the final value).

Looking over the optimisations guide, there are definitely going to be some interesting new use cases for some of the performance-related additions to CSS and HTML, such as content-visibility, but the big hits look like they're going to come to some of my "favourite" negative trends of modern web dev (insert maniacal grin emoji here):

  • Large DOMs will be hit, which means there's now hopefully a strong(er) incentive to use semantic elements and avoid <div>-itis (and, by extension, UI frameworks that utilise dozens of wrapping elements or verbose class-name-to-element transformations);
  • SPAs will be hit, with Google openly stating that there's not much that can be done here;
  • Interestingly, I'd predict hydration could be hit even worse, as part of the metric measures how often a user clicks on an interactive element that isn't yet interactive, which feels more likely where hydration is being used. Though good use of loading states may alleviate that;

Some of the other suggestions around minimising "layout thrashing" and using timeouts to postpone non-visual updates on event listeners are interesting, but a bit beyond my level of JS optimisations.

📆 11 May 2023  | 🔗

  • Frontend
  • INP
  • core web vitals
  • web performance
  • Google 

How to view a website as Googlebot | Moz

A very thorough article discussing how to convert a Chrome browser into an SEO testing environment, through a combination of browser settings and third-party add-ons. I personally like the idea of setting this up as a Chrome "profile", so you can load it and just begin testing, without resetting everything each time. Alternatively, the article suggests using Chrome Canary for the test bench.

In brief, this works by using the following steps:

  • Install the User-Agent Switcher extension
  • Grab the latest Googlebot user-agent string from the Chrome dev tools (Menu -> More Tools -> Network Conditions -> User Agent -> Uncheck "use browser default" -> Select "Googlebot" (or similar) from the dropdown -> Copy the string shown
  • Add that string to User Agent Switcher as a new User Agent (Googlebot, paste string, Bots & Spiders, Replace, GB <-- these are the settings I used, can differ) and then select it from the plugin
  • Disable service workers in the Chrome dev tools (Applications tab -> Service Workers -> Check "Bypass for Network")
  • Disable local cache (Dev tools menu -> More Tools -> Network Conditions -> Check "Disable Cache")
  • Disable all cookies (chrome://settings/cookies) and privacy-infringing APIs (chrome://settings/content) i.e. Location, Camera, Microphone, Notifications, and Background Sync
  • Disable JavaScript (suggestion is to use the Web Developer extension)

They also suggest using a VPN to test from the US, as that is where Googlebot comes from. Similarly, the NoJS Side-by-Side bookmarklet is suggested as a good way to quickly test the site with JS running or not (seeing as Googlebot can now use JavaScript in some scenarios).

📆 26 Apr 2023  | 🔗

  • Nuts & Bolts
  • Chrome
  • web crawler
  • spider
  • testing
  • SEO
  • Google
  • user-agent 

Keep stuff linkable | Crash Lime

The bulk of the article is about a kind of pseudo-scraper for populating links and references whilst writing a blog post or article. But the broader conversation piece here is whether linking in an age of LLM-driven content is still needed, to which I and the author agree: it is. Now more than ever. Not because linking serves any specific purpose in terms of differentiating humans from machines (LLMs are just as capable of generating linked Markdown etc.), but because, as Crash Lime writes, doing so should help build a "Web of Trust"; a web of verified information, which is known to be at least relevant. That is something LLMs (and, indeed, search engines) stand less hope of pulling off... for now.

On the ending of an Age (and just a really fun way of describing the situation):

Perhaps we’re at the end of the old-web, now a corner relegated to hobbyists, as all text ever written is absorbed in a single differentiable scream.

On the concept of a "web of trust":

Remember that you are not just linking, but building a Web of Trust. Links need to be a signal that cuts through the noise, not vice-versa.

A brief history of the digital garden | Maggie Appleton

Maggie's writing is always fantastic, and their thoughts on digital gardens are always worth reading. The history here is nothing new to me personally, but does present it in an ideal manner. I also found myself thoroughly agreeing with their "patterns" of digital gardening. Just a great article, full of quote-worthy comments, on a topic that continues to intrigue.

On where the concept of digital gardening originated:

If anyone should be considered the original source of digital gardening, it's Caufield. They are the first to lay out this whole idea in poetic, coherent words.

On the benefit of a true web of information, sprawling as it is:

You get to actively choose which curiosity trail to follow, rather than defaulting to the algorithmically-filtered ephemeral stream.

On the way digital gardens tend to form bi-directional links and rabbit warrens of interconnected information:

Gardens don't consider publication dates the most important detail of a piece of writing. Dates might be included on posts, but they aren't the structural basis of how you navigate around the garden. Posts are connected to other by posts through related themes, topics, and shared context.
One of the best ways to do this is through Bi-Directional Links – links that make both the destination page and the source page visible to the reader. This makes it easy to move between related content.

On the shift that occurred in blogs, as they morphed from personal (yet public) journals into reverse-chronological personal branding exercises:

We act like tiny magazines, sending our writing off to the printer.

On the difference with a garden:

Gardens are designed to evolve alongside your thoughts. When you first have an idea, it's fuzzy and unrefined.

On how we use social media differently (I'd never really considered this, but it feels very true):

We seem to reserve all our imperfect declarations and poorly-worded announcements for platforms that other people own and control.

And I adore the concept of a chaos stream within that same context:

Things we dump into private WhatsApp group chats, DMs, and cavalier Tweet threads are part of our chaos streams - a continuous flow of high noise / low signal ideas.

One final, clever analogy between digital spaces and agriculture, specifically discussing how digital gardens should use multiple mediums, not just rely on text and links like a Wiki:

Historically, monocropping has been the quickest route to starvation, pests, and famine. Don't be a lumper potato farmer while everyone else is sustainably intercropping.

SVG crop | Steve Dennett

An absolutely fantastic little utility site that takes pretty much any SVG and removes all of the white space. You can drag'n'drop, upload image files, or just paste markup directly into a text input, and it has worked on everything I've thrown at it so far. Occasionally the preview image is a little odd (it seems to always have a 1:1 aspect ratio), but the generated output code normally preserves the logical aspect ratio. Just super helpful, all around 👍

The Fediverse is already dead | Leonora Tindall

A wonderfully well-written look at the state of the "Fediverse", and whether or not that term has any value left in it. There's a lot of interesting history and some slightly spicy takes in here, but for me the most useful part is the framing of the distributed social graph that the Fediverse creates as a "Social Archipelago". That's just a nice term that helps visualise the reality of it all a bit better:

“The Fediverse” needs to end, and I don’t think anything should replace it. Speak instead about communities, and prioritize the strength of those communities. Speak about the way those communities interact, and don’t; the way they form strands and islands and gulfs. I’ve taken to calling this the Social Archipelago.

I will fucking dropkick you if you use that spreadsheet | Ludicity

One of the most entertaining rants I've read in some years! And whilst it may no longer be that pertinent to my current career, having been the person in charge of developing a nested, tangled mess of VBA macros and Excel sheets to partially-automate several workflows, I can also deeply sympathise 😂

On the issue of "but we're only doing this for now":

Do you know how many times I've written a script that was really only run once? Never. It has never happened across my entire career. Every single thing I've ever written has been fucking welded into the soul of every organisation I've ever worked at.

On what happens once you've opened the door to Excel:

Beyond this lies naught but trying to work out why all the numbers are wrong, only to realize that Excel thought those IDs were integers and dropped all the leading zeroes.
I've seen a multi-million dollar analytics platform that is dynamically constructed from Excel spreadsheets. Do you think that was the intention when the damn thing was being assembled? Do you think any sane person would ever want to do that? No, of course not. One script got written that could parse a spreadsheet, and next thing you know, you're running a greedy search algorithm every sprint, and it never quite makes sense to spend the time removing them.

📆 02 Mar 2023  | 🔗

The great gaslighting of the JavaScript era | Jared White

I'm not sure I agree fully with everything Jared has written here – and there's a strong feeling of bias-tinted vision to some of the claims – but I enjoyed the overall trend of the argument and felt there were a few nuggets worth saving. In particular, I do think that the heavy focus on React is churning out a generation of developers that will be underskilled once React is no longer as popular. And that the way the React community has behaved for the better part of the last decade is appalling. But I'm not quite so sure that the nostalgia towards other web frameworks is truly warranted; nor do I think the framing of front-end development as particularly useful. Like it or not, React provides a suite of APIs and tools that solve otherwise tricky problems easily. And whilst I agree with Jared's inferences that not all of the solutions it provides are actually solving for genuine user needs, some of them definitely are. So I think there's a little more grey painted into the view before me, than the black and white imagined in this piece 😉

On the disparity between the bulk majority of web development work and the online discourse around it:

There has been a small but mighty ecosystem of “influencers” peddling a sort of “pop culture developer abstractions” ethos on the web whether it’s about React, or CSS-in-JS, or Tailwind CSS, or “serverless”, or “microservices”, or (fill in the blank really)—and they’re continuing to gaslight and obfuscate the actual debates that matter.

On the role of JavaScript on the web, and in particular the issue with learning it as a foundational part of the web stack (or even worse, learning its abstractions instead of the underlying technologies like HTML and CSS):

JavaScript is not required to build a simple web site. JavaScript is an “add-on” technology if you will, the third pillar of the web frontend alongside HTML and CSS. HTML, CSS, and (eventually) JavaScript. Not JavaScript, JavaScript, and JavaScript.

On how we've wound up in a situation where we have "trends" of technology that fail to become foundations of future tools:

The problem is an industry rife with faulty thinking that assumes (a) popular technology is popular because it’s good, and (b) the web platform itself is somehow severely lacking even in 2023, so heavily abstracted frontend frameworks remain a necessity for programmer happiness.

Screen readers don't convey emphasis | Matthias Ott

Like Matthias, I had always assumed that assistive tech (e.g. screen readers) would have some method of translating <strong> and <em> HTML elements into emphasised content. A change in voice inflexion; a user hint; something. Apparently, they don't, and the one time NVDA added the feature, it was so universally despised that they subsequently removed it. Not hid it behind a settings flag; full-on deleted it entirely. Useful to be aware of!

On why you should still use these semantic elements anyway (not least of all, they're a better DX than arbitrary styled <span> wrappers, and sighted users do benefit from visual emphasis):

Does this mean that you don’t need to use semantic elements to convey emphasis? Of course not. You never know where the semantics still matter. And it is also just the right way to indicate emphasis in HTML for the majority of users. But it is nevertheless interesting and important to know that screen readers don’t care by default.

📆 17 Feb 2023  | 🔗

  • Inclusion
  • NVDA
  • assistive technology
  • screenreaders
  • strong
  • em
  • emphasis
  • a11y 

Everything is about to change | Tom Scott

There's nothing too exceptional about this video from Tom Scott. I've seen similar arguments made before – I've made them myself – but I think Tom does a very good job of outlining my precise concerns about the current state of machine learning software, and the "soft AI" that seems to be proliferating rapidly. I've felt for a while that ChatGPT, in particular, has felt a little different, and the Napster analogy in this video perfectly nails where that feeling is coming from. And, as much as I am enjoying the current Bing-powered memes about the populations of Mars or how search engines are now gaslighting people about the current year, I remain very concerned that we're on the brink of making a lot of the mistakes of the Napster era all over again.

So, whilst it will be fascinating to find out where on that sigmoid curve we actually are... I also really don't want to know 😅

📆 14 Feb 2023  | 🔗

  • Technology
  • ChatGPT
  • machine learning
  • AI
  • technology
  • disruption
  • Napster 

Lost in translation | Manuel Matuzović

A wonderful talk from Manuel on the hidden complexities of HTML. There's a huge amount of interesting stuff going on here in terms of writing accessible, semantic websites, but I particularly liked the way various issues were framed. I think Manuel is completely correct in their assertion that HTML is surprisingly hard – it's very easy to explain the syntax, but incredibly complex to learn how it actually works – and that this secret learning curve is the root cause of many performance and accessibility issues on the web today.

We're wrongfully downplaying the complexity of HTML due to the simplicity of its syntax.

On one common concern with a lot of accessibility issues:

All of these issues have one thing in common, and that is that they should be in the document, but are not visible in the design.

👆 This is a fantastic framing method. So many accessibility concerns arise from developers translating a design file into code, and forgetting the extra bits. Missing alternative text, form labels, buttons and links with no visible text (icon buttons etc.), all likely match the design files, but fail to match the document needs.

On making icon buttons and close buttons:

Make sure you are using a <button> element, add ARIA attributes (such as aria-controls, aria-expanded, aria-hidden on the icon, etc.) as needed.

Watch out for using strange glyphs as labels (e.g. the multiplication icon as an "x" for a close button). If you do use them, hide them from assistive tech so that they aren't announced (e.g. "Close multiplication icon" doesn't sound great 😂).

On how heading levels should be used to create a contents table for your website:

On the web, we can use headings to create the same structure [as a contents page in a book]. If you create a nice heading structure on the website, sighted users can scan the page and see the structure and get an idea of what it's about. And especially screenreader users, they get an additional way of navigation. They can use shortcuts and jump from heading to heading. This is really useful!

Try to ensure that every logical "section" of the page has a heading. You can do this by:

  • Having visible headings (the best option);
  • Using heading elements that are visually hidden (e.g. an .sr-only class);
  • Or using the <section> element and giving it an ARIA label.

That last one is a bit weird. It won't surface the section within a heading index, so if users are trying to navigate that way it's not great. But it will convert the otherwise semantically meaningless <section> element into a landmark within the page, so anyone navigating that way can find it. It's probably the worst option for heading order, but a great tip for creating additional, easy-access sections (the example given here was Smashing Magazine's summary section at the top of all their articles).

On the HTML lang attribute:

I hadn't realised that this actively impacts the rendering of text nodes (things like quotation marks, hyphenation, even formatting will change based on the language), nor did I know Chrome will use it to determine translation settings.

    📆 02 Feb 2023  | 🔗

    • HTML & CSS
    • Inclusion
    • HTML
    • a11y
    • button
    • ARIA
    • screenreaders
    • heading order
    • landmarks
    • semantics
    • section
    • bug 

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