From Britain With Love: Front-end Style Guides with Anna Debenham
IN BIG WEB SHOW № 113, developer Anna Debenham and I discuss Adventure Time, Code For America, starting a web career at age 14, checking websites in game console browsers, producing 24 Ways, and the delights of Spotted Dick and Victoria Sponge.
Anna is the author of Front-end Style Guides, creator of the Game Console Browsers website for developers, co-producer of 24 Ways, technical editor for A List Apart, and was netmag’s Young Developer of the Year 2013.
This episode is sponsored by Squarespace, the all-in-one platform that makes it fast and easy to create your own professional website or online portfolio. For a free trial and 10% off, go to squarespace.com and use the offer code JEFFREY.
Websites We Mention
- Front-end Style Guides
- Game Console Browsers website for developers
- 24 Ways
- A List Apart
- Code For America Style Guide
- Anna’s writing (http://maban.co.uk/writing/)
- Anna’s portfolio (http://maban.co.uk/portfolio/)
- Anna on Twitter
- Anna’s personal site
They Made Me a Criminal
THE JAIL DOOR SLAMMED and I was left in a women’s holding cell with seven teenage girls. There were no benches so we sat on the floor. I was fifteen but looked twelve. With long hair on my head and not a whisker to my chin, I resembled a homely girl, although the plainclothes officer who frisked me could have verified otherwise. The cops had picked us up in Point State Park after observing us pass a joint. They’d intended to bust a big dealer named Lonnie—a white guy with long red hair. Fortunately for Lonnie but unfortunately for us, a white guy named John also had long red hair, also happened to be in the park, and also happened to possess and publicly share a joint.
I was there after trying to find a summer job selling hot dogs at Three Rivers Stadium. 10,000 other boys my age had had the same idea that day. Possibly a dozen of them landed a job. My friend Mike and I did not. It was a hot day, and after waiting in line for three hours to fill out a job application, we were ready to go home. But first we had to pick up Mike’s friend Donny, who was tripping in Point State Park.
Donny was our age but looked eighteen. His dad was in the Mob. There were guns in his house. Mike looked up to him the way I looked up to Mike.
Mike and I found Donny sitting in a circle with a bunch of teenage girls and a red-haired guy resembling Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. We were tired and they were girls so we sat with them. Someone passed a joint and I pretended to smoke it so nobody would know how uncool I was. Moments later a half-dozen men in suits and dark sunglasses burst from the bushes like clowns from tiny cars and began frisking and collaring us. Nobody tried to run away. It took a while to realize these guys were cops. A man in a hat made me stand up, then felt my balls. I asked if he was gay and he hit me in the face. After that I didn’t say anything.
We rode downtown in the back of a genuine paddy wagon. It must have been more fun, or scarier, for the kids who were actually high.
The officer who separated us by sex put me in the women’s cell, which was good with me. We were the cell’s only occupants; me and the girls hung out playing with matches, learning each other’s names, and wondering what our parents would do to us if we ever saw them again.
A few months before this, I’d been picked up for shoplifting. I hadn’t actually done the shoplifting—my friend Paul had. I didn’t even know he’d taken anything. But the sales girls at G.C. Murphy’s hated Paul and me, and the cops believed their story, so I now had a juvenile record in my parents’ suburb, and was about to get one in Pittsburgh for drug use.
I’d spent the previous year getting beaten up for moving to Pittsburgh from somewhere else, and for being Jewish, and for being small, and for having no facial hair, and for not knowing how to fight, and for not swearing, and for not stealing, and for not smoking, and for sucking at gym, and for raising my hand in class, and for knowing the answers to the teacher’s questions. Now I was a delinquent and almost nobody picked on me. Maybe there was an alternate path out of being the class punching bag, but, if so, nobody had clued me in.
There was a little window in the jail door, just like on TV. After a few hours a lady cop appeared in it and began taking everyone’s information. I was the last one to go to the window. The lady cop asked my religion and I said none. She didn’t like that, although it probably explained things in her mind. She shut the jail door window when she left.
Two minutes later she was back with a male cop—a huge black guy named Tiny, who made me leave the cell and follow him. During the jail door window interview, I’d given my name. I guess somebody had looked twice at it and realized I was a guy. Tiny escorted me to the cell where they were holding John, Mike, and Donnie. I joined them and the door closed. We all watched Donnie come down from his acid trip. It didn’t look like fun.
My father cut my hair short and grounded me for two months. He cut it himself with a hair cutting kit he’d bought at the drugstore in the town we’d lived in before Pittsburgh. The box the kit came in said “Cut Hair At Home And Save!”
We were tried as a group in juvenile court. My parents and Mike’s parents attended. Donny’s dad did not. Before the trial my lawyer instructed me not to deny I’d smoked pot because nobody would believe me. I was to plead emotional instability and request probation on the grounds of being from the suburbs. Right before our trial began, they sentenced a 14-year-old black kid to six months in a juvenile detention center for stealing chewing gum. I stood up. I don’t know what I intended to do. Yell at the judge for being racist, I think. My dad grabbed my hand and pulled me back to my seat. I could see in his eyes that he was afraid for me. My whole life, I’d never seen my dad look afraid. His eyes made everything real.
As part of a plea bargain, my parents agreed to send me to a psychiatrist. I was given a year’s detention and forbidden to enter Point State Park.
I started using drugs the next day. If I had a record, I was going to live up to it.
This is my story from Graphic Content: True Stories From Top Creatives (Print, 2014), curated by Brian Singer, available in hardcover and Kindle editions.
Big Web Show № 112: Responsive Images Get Real with Mat Marquis
THE GOAL of a “responsive images” solution is to deliver images optimized for the end user’s context, rather than serving the largest potentially necessary image to everyone. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been quite so simple in practice as it is in theory.
In Big Web Show № 112, I sit down with Mat Marquis, chair of the W3C Responsive Images Community Group, to discuss guidelines for responsive images in multi-device design. We talk about the history, theory, and multi-leveled challenge of responsive images, the path to standardization, and what browsers will do next.
URLs in this Episode
- Wilto on Github
- Filament Group
- Responsive Images—Cloud Four
- A List Apart
- Mat Marquis articles on A List Apart
- Mar Marquis on The Web Ahead
Big Web Show № 111: Web Design Comes of Age with Andrew Clarke
IN BIG WEB SHOW № 111, Andrew Clarke and I discuss ten years of web design history, approaches to public speaking, running a successful freelance design business, the importance of writing, CSS3 easter eggs, growing your small studio, responsive web design, and more. Enjoy!
Sponsored by Squarespace and Hover.
Filed under: Design
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IN BIG WEB SHOW № 110, Nicole Sullivan and I discuss CSS Conf, building scalable systems that won’t break, designing for speed and performance, learning Ruby, Object Oriented CSS, a CSS Style Guide, Type-o-matic, practical takeaways from stunt CSS, pairing as a work method, sexism and racism tests, and setting aside biases when selecting conference sessions. Enjoy!
Sponsored by Typekit.
The Page, The Stage
EVERY YEAR I give a new talk at An Event Apart. And every year I panic.
After nearly two decades, public speaking no longer frightens me. But deciding what needs to be said gets tougher, and more terrifying, each year.
The following year, when Jim Heid hired me to keynote Web Design World Denver, I intended to do the same thing. But a fellow Web Design World speaker named Jeff Veen (who was also a colleague on The Web Standards Project) persuaded me to throw out my speech and “just tell stories.” I did it, it worked, and I’ve done it ever since.
For all my An Event Apart presentations since starting the conference with Eric Meyer in 2005, I’ve designed slides outlining the parameters of what I intended to talk about, and then spoken off the cuff.
But this year, inspired by the rigorous (and highly effective) speech preparation regimes of my friends Karen McGrane and Mike Monteiro, I’m once again writing a speech out word for word in advance. I will polish it like a manuscript. Only when it is perfect—logically structured, funny, passionate, persuasive—will I design accompanying slides.
I may read the speech out loud, word for word, as Mike sometimes does, or I may revise and practice it so often that I no longer need to see it to say it, like Karen. Either way, my talk this year should be tighter than any I’ve given in the past decade. Hopefully, that’s saying something.
I’m grateful to all my friends for their inspiration, and delighted that the panic and terror I felt at the start of this year, while contemplating creating a new AEA talk, has turned into the inspiration to approach the task a different way.
How do you approach public speaking? And if you don’t speak, what part of you is holding the rest of you back?
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Big Web Show № 109: Bring Me The Head of Tim Berners-Lee
IN BIG WEB SHOW № 109, Robin Berjon and I enjoy a calm, rational conversation about EME, DRM, the MPAA, and the W3C. Enjoy.
The episode was sponsored by Squarespace. Links mentioned:
- “Please Bring Me More of That Yummy DRM Discussion” by Robin Berjon
- About Robin Berjon
- Robin Berjon (@robinberjon) on Twitter
- “We Are Huxleying Ourselves Into The Full Orwell” by Corey Doctorow
- News of the MPAA’s W3C Membership reaches Colonel Kurtz
- Web platform tests on Github
- World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
- Test The Web Forward blog
- Test The Web Forward W3C announcement by Robin Berjon
- The Main Problem With The Invention of the Internet
The joy of content creation (and the hazards of building in someone else’s sandbox)
AN INSPIRING STORY of content creation, which is also, although this particular tale ends happily, a warning about the hazards of building in someone else’s sandbox.
Stampylongnose makes wonderful videos about Minecraft (among other things) and is the first independent content creator in my young daughter’s world. She follows him like you followed your first favorite blogger.
In “1 Million Subscribers Special – From Then To Now,” he shares how he became an independent video producer on the web—how he lost everything when Google arbitrarily pulled the plug—and how the community that loved him, and one great Google admin, fought to restore his work.
“The independent content producer refuses to die.”
It’s 2014. Is Web Design Dead?
IN A RECENT article on his website, Web Standards Killed the HTML Star, designer Jeff Croft laments the passing of the “HTML and CSS ‘guru’” as a viable long-term professional position and urges his fellow web design generalists to “diversify or die.”
The reason the Web Standards Movement mattered was that the browsers sucked. The stated goal of the Movement was to get browser makers on board with web standards such that all of our jobs as developers would be easier.
What we may not have realized is that once the browsers don’t suck, being an HTML and CSS “guru” isn’t really a very marketable skillset. 80% of what made us useful was the way we knew all the quirks and intracries of the browsers. Guess what? Those are all gone. And if they’re not, they will be in the very near future. Then what?
Evangelizing true compliance, not mastering workarounds for compliance failures, was always the point. Evangelizing was key. Browsers weren’t going to stay standards compliant if nobody made use of that compliance; likewise, W3C specifications weren’t going to advance unless designers seized hold of technologies like CSS to push type and layout on the web as far as they could go—and then complain that they didn’t go far enough.
It took a village of passionate browser engineers, designers, front-end developers, and generalists to bring us to the web we have today. Does the movement’s success mean that many of those who led it will become jobless, like Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution?
Jeff Croft is correct when he says “the goal of the Web Standards Movement was for it to not have to exist.” But we should take this a step further. The goal of the web standards movement was to remove needless complexity and absurdity from the process of creating websites so we could focus our attention where it should be: on design, content, and experience. Evangelizing standards to browser makers and our fellow designers was not a career path, and was never intended to be—any more than aiding a wounded buddy turns a soldier into a physician.
HTML “gurudom” was never a career path for anyone, aside, maybe, from a couple of talented authors. Same thing with CSS trickery. Doing black magic with CSS3 can get you a slot on a web design conference stage, but it’s not a career path or proper goal for most web designers.
Fascinatingly, to me, anyway, while many of us prefer to concentrate on design, content, and experience, it continues to be necessary to remind our work comrades (or inform younguns) about web standards, accessibility, and progressive enhancement. When a site like Facebook stops functioning when a script forgets to load, that is a failure of education and understanding on the part of those who created the site; all of us have a stake in reaching out to our fellow developers to make sure that, in addition to the new fancy tricks they’ve mastered, they also learn the basics of web standards, without which our whole shared system implodes.
This doesn’t mean “go be an HTML guru.” It does mean cherish the lessons of the recent past, and share them with those who missed them (or missed the point). Wisdom is not a job, but it is always an asset.
Never fear, web design generalists: many companies and organizations require your services and always will—from universities still seeking “webmasters,” to startups seeking seasoned folks with multiple areas of understanding to direct and coordinate the activities of younger specialists. But if jack-of-all web work is feeling stale, now may be the time to up your game as a graphic designer, or experience designer, or front end developer. “Diversify or die” may be overstating things a bit. But “follow the path you love” will always be good advice.
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The Black Hole of The Valley
STOP ME if you’ve heard this one: Guy goes into a venture capital firm, borrows money. Uses money to turn neat idea into product. Gives away product (or sells well below cost) to build a following and thus a demand.
Customers love product, imbue it with their life energy and creativity. Community grows, but not cashflow, because money was something to be figured out later. More investors throw more money at the product, on the theory that what it needs is fancier offices or fifty designers united behind no vision in particular.
Surprisingly (at least to the participants), several rounds of throwing cash and bodies at what was once a neat idea fail to generate ludicrous return on investment. Capitalists demand that product idea be changed.
Change of idea fails to generate ludicrous return on investment. Customers, no longer sure what product is about (or even that it has a future) become less passionate.
Usage falters, then rapidly hits event horizon.
Guy starts shopping no longer loved or interesting product at fire sale price.
Eventually big internet company sucks product and product team into itself, where both disappear forever.