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Web development news from CatsWhoCode, Smashing Magazine, A List Apart, speckyboy.com, SitePoint.

Inclusive Components: Book Reviews And Accessibility Resources

13 Dec 2019, 11:00 am | Articles on Smashing Magazine — For Web Designers And Developers

Tuesday, December 3, was the official release date for Inclusive Components, and the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. The book is already an essential resource for accessibility experts and developers.You Had Me At “Inclusive!” As the book makes its way to offices, doorsteps, and accessibility meetups all over the world, here are just a few of the mentions we’ve seen so far.332 pages. Quality hardcover with a stitched binding and ribbon page marker.

Making Room for Variation

12 Dec 2019, 2:30 pm | A List Apart: The Full Feed

Making a brand feel unified, cohesive, and harmonious while also leavingroom for experimentation is a tough balancing act. It’s one of the mostchallenging aspects of a design system.

Graphic designer and Pentagram partner Paula Scher faced thischallenge with the visual identity for the Public Theater in New York. As sheexplained in a talk at Beyond Tellerrand:

I began to realize that if you made everything the same, itwas boring after the first year. If you changed it individually for each play,the theater lost recognizability. The thing to do, which I totally got for thefirst time after working there at this point for 17 years, is what they neededto have were seasons.

You could take the typography and the color system for the summer festival, the Shakespeare in the Park Festival, and you could begin to translate it into posters by flopping the colors, but using some of the same motifs, and you could create entire seasons out of the graphics. That would become its own standards manual where I have about six different people making these all year (http://bkaprt.com/eds/04-01/).

Scher’s strategy was to retain the Public Theater’s visual language every year, but to vary some of its elements (Fig 4.1–2). Colors would be swapped. Text would skew in different directions. New visual motifs would be introduced. The result is that each season coheres in its own way, but so does the identity of the Public Theater as a whole.

Sixteen Public Theater posters in black, white, and yellow, with slanted wood type letterforms and high-contrast images of people.
Fig 4.1: The posters for the 2014/15 season featured the wood type style the Public Theater is known for, but the typography was skewed. The color palette was restrained to yellow, black, and white, which led to a dynamic look when coupled with the skewed type (http://bkaprt.com/eds/04-02/).
Twelve Public Theater posters using black, white, and pastel colors with wood type letterforms and softer images of people.
Fig 4.2: For the 2018 season, the wood type letterforms were extended on a field of gradated color. The grayscale cut-out photos we saw in the 2014/15 season persisted, but this time in lower contrast to fit better with the softer color tones (http://bkaprt.com/eds/04-03/).

Even the most robust or thoroughly planned systems will need to account for variation at some point. As soon as you release a design system, people will ask you how to deviate from it, and you’ll want to be armed with persuasive answers. In this chapter, I’m going to talk about what variation means for a design system, how to know when you need it, and how to manage it in a scalable way.

What Is Variation?

We’ve spent most of this book talking about the importance ofunity, cohesion, and harmony in a design system. So why are we talking aboutvariation? Isn’t that at odds with all of the goals we’ve set until now?

Variation is a deviation from established patterns, and it canexist at every level of the system. At the component level, for instance, ateam may discover that they need a component to behave in a slightly differentway; maybe this particular component needs to appear without a photo, forexample. At a design-language level, you may have a team that has a differentaudience, so they want to adjust their brand identity to serve that audiencebetter. You can even have variation at the level of design principles: if ateam is working on a product that is functionally different from your coreproduct, they may need to adjust their principles to suit that context.

There are three kinds of deviations that come up in a designsystem:

  • Unintentional divergence typically happens when designers can’t find the information they’re looking for. They may not know that a certain solution exists within a system, so they create their own style. Clear, easy-to-find documentation and usage guidelines can help your team avoid unintentional variation.
  • Intentional but unnecessary divergence usually results from designers not wanting to feel constrained by the system, or believing they have a better solution. Making sure your team knows how to push back on and contribute to the system can help mitigate this kind of variation.
  • Intentional, meaningful divergence is the goal of an expressive design system. In this case, the divergence is meaningful because it solves a very specific user problem that no existing pattern solves.

We want to enable intentional, meaningful variation. To do this, we need to understand the needs and contexts for variation.

Contexts for Variation

Every variation we add makes our design system more complicated. Therefore, we need to take care to find the right moments for variation. Three big contextual changes are served by variation: brand, audience, and environment.

Brand

If you’re creating a system for multiple brands, each with its ownbrand language, then your system needs to support variations to reflect thosebrands.

The key here is to find the common core elements and then setsome criteria for how you should deviate. When we were creating the designsystem for our websites at Vox Media, we constantly debated which elementsshould feel more expressive. Should a footer be standardized, or should weallow for tons of customization? We went back to our core goals: our users wereultimately visiting our websites to consume editorial content. So thevariations should be in service of the content, writing style, and tone ofvoice for each brand.

The newsletter modules across Vox Media brands were an example of unnecessary variation. They were consistent in functionality and layout, but had variations in type, color, and visual treatments like borders (Fig 4.3). There was quite a bit of custom design within a very small area: Curbed’s newsletter component had a skewed background, for example, while Eater’s had a background image. Because these modules were so consistent in their user goals, we decided to unify their design and create less variation (Fig 4.4).

Fig 4.3: Older versions of Vox Media’s newsletter modules contained lots of unnecessary visual variation.
Three examples of newsletter modules, showing the same colors, fonts, and spacing.
Fig 4.4: The new, unified newsletter modules.

The unified design cleaned up some technical debt. In theprevious design, each newsletter module had CSS overrides to achieve distinctstyling. Some modules even had overrides on the primary button color so itwould work better with the background color. Little CSS overrides like this addup over time. Whenever we released a new change, we’d have to manually updatethe spots containing CSS overrides.

The streamlined design also placed a more appropriate emphasis onthe newsletter module. While important, this module isn’t the star of the page.It doesn’t need loud backgrounds or fancy shapes to command attention,especially since it’s placed around article content. Variation in this modulewasn’t necessary for expressing the brands.

On the other hand, consider the variation in Vox Media’s global header components. When we were redesigning the Verge, its editorial teams were vocal about wanting more latitude to art-direct the page, guide attention toward big features, and showcase custom illustrations. We addressed this by creating a masthead component (Fig 4.5) that sits on top of the global header on homepages. It contains a logo, tagline, date, and customizable background image. Though at the time this was a one-off component, we felt that the variation was valuable because it would strengthen the Verge’s brand voice.

Example of the Verge’s masthead component with magenta and blue abstractions.Example of the Verge’s masthead component with a city skyline in orange tones.Example of the Verge’s masthead component in pixelated black and white.
Fig 4.5: Examples of the Verge's masthead component

The Verge team commissions or makes original art that changes throughout the day. The most exciting part is that they can use the masthead and a one-up hero when they drop a big feature and use these flexible components to art-direct the page (Fig 4.6). Soon after launch, the Verge masthead even got a Twitter fan account (@VergeTaglines) that tweets every time the image changes.

Comparison of the Verge’s homepage, changing based on the masthead design and hero photography.Comparison of the Verge’s homepage, changing based on the masthead design and hero photography.
Fig 4.6: The Verge uses two generic components, the masthead and one-up hero, to art-direct its homepages.

Though this component was built specifically for the Verge, it soon gained broader application with other brands that share Vox’s publishing platform, Chorus. The McElroy Family website, for example, needed to convey its sense of humor and Appalachian roots; the masthead component shines with an original illustration featuring an adorable squirrel (Fig 4.7).

The masthead component for the McElroy Family, showing a blue navigation bar and a pastel illustration of a forest.
Fig 4.7: The McElroy Family site uses the same masthead component as the Verge to display a custom illustration.
The masthead component for the Chicago Sun-Times, showing a white background, stark black text, and a red Subscribe button.
Fig 4.8: The same masthead component on the Chicago Sun-Times site.

The Chicago Sun-Times—another Chorus platform site—is very different in content, tone, and audience from The McElroy Family, but the masthead component is just as valuable in conveying the tone of the organization’s high-quality investigative journalism and breaking news coverage (Fig 4.8).

Why did the masthead variation work well while the newsletter variation didn’t? The variations on the newsletter design were purely visual. When we created them, we didn’t have a strategy for how variation should work; instead, we were looking for any opportunity to make the brands feel distinct. The masthead variation, by contrast, tied directly into the brand strategy. Even though it began as a one-off for the Verge, it was flexible and purposeful enough to migrate to other brands.

Audience

The next contextual variation comes from audience. If yourproducts serve different audiences who all need different things, then yoursystem may need to adapt to fit those needs.

A good example of this is Airbnb’s listing pages. In addition totheir standard listings, they also have Airbnb Plus—one-of-a-kind, high qualityrentals at higher price points. Audiences booking a Plus listing are probablylooking for exceptional quality and attention to detail.

Both Airbnb’s standard listing page and Plus listing page are immediately recognizable as belonging to the same family because they use many consistent elements (Fig 4.9). They both use Airbnb’s custom font, Cereal. They both highlight photography. They both use many of the same components, like the date picker. The iconography is the same.

Screenshot of AirBnB's standard listingScreenshot of AirBnB's Plus listing
Fig 4.9: The same brand elements in Airbnb’s standard listings (above) are used in their Plus listings (below), but with variations that make the listing styles distinct.

However, some of thedesign choices convey a different attitude. Airbnb Plus uses largertypography, airier vertical space, and a lighter weight of Cereal. It has amore understated color palette, with a deeper color on the call to action.These choices make Airbnb Plus feel like a more premium experience. You can seethey’ve adjusted the density, weight, and scale levers to achieve a moreelegant and sophisticated aesthetic.

The standard listing page, on the other hand, is more functional,with the booking module front and center. The Plus design pulls the density andweight levers in a lighter, airier direction. The standard listing page hasless size contrast between elements, making it feel more functional.

Because they use the same core building blocks—the same typography, iconography, and components—both experiences feel like Airbnb. However, the variations in spacing, typographic weights, and color help distinguish the standard listing from the premium listing.

Environment

I’ve mainly been talking about adding variation to a system toallow for a range of content tones, but you may also need your system to scalebased on environmental contexts. “Environment” in this context asks: Where willyour products be used? Will that have an impact on the experience? Environmentsare the various constraints and pressures that surround and inform anexperience. That can include lighting, ambient noise, passive or activeengagement, expected focus level, or devices.

Shopify’s Polaris design system initially grew out of Shopify’s StoreManagement product. When the Shopify Retail team kicked off a project to designthe next generation point-of-sale (POS) system, they realized that thepatterns in Polaris didn’t exactly fit their needs. The POS system needed towork well in a retail space, often under bright lighting. The app needed to beused at arm’s length, twenty-four to thirty-six inches away from the merchant.And unlike the core admin, where the primary interaction is between themerchant and the UI, merchants using the POS system needed to prioritize theirinteractions with their customers instead of the UI. The Retail team wantedmerchants to achieve an “eyes-closed” level of mastery over the UI so theycould maintain eye contact with their customers.

The Retail team decided that the existing color palette, whichonly worked on a light background, would not be clear enough under the brightlights of a retail shop. The type scale was also too small to be used at arm’slength. And in order for merchants to use the POS system without breaking eyecontact with customers, the buttons and other UI elements would need to be muchlarger.

The Retail team recognized that the current design system didn’t support a variety of environmental scenarios. But after talking with the Polaris team, they realized that other teams would benefit from the solutions they created. The Warehouse team, for example, was also developing an app that needed to be used at arm’s length under bright lights. This work inspired the Polaris team to create a dark mode for the system (Fig 4.10).

Comparison of light and dark modes for navigation menus in the Polaris design system.
Fig 4.10: Polaris light mode (left) and dark mode (right).

This feedback loop between product team and design system team isa great example of how to build the right variation into your system. Buildyour system around helping your users navigate your product more clearly and servingcontent needs and you’ll unlock scalable expression.

Should Your Portfolio Site Be A PWA?

12 Dec 2019, 12:00 pm | Articles on Smashing Magazine — For Web Designers And Developers

This is going to seem like an odd thing to suggest, considering how much work is required to build a progressive web app instead of a responsive website. But, for many of you, your portfolio site should be built as a PWA.There are a number of benefits to doing this, which I’ll outline below, but the bottom line is this:If you want to spend less time looking for clients, applying to design gigs and convincing prospects to hire you, a PWA would be a wise investment for your business.

Web Design And Development Advent Roundup For 2019

11 Dec 2019, 8:30 am | Articles on Smashing Magazine — For Web Designers And Developers

In the run-up to Christmas, there is a tradition across the web design and development community to produce advent calendars, typically with a new article or resource for each day of December. Last year, I did a roundup of these calendars, and now that the 2019 season is in full swing, here is this year’s line-up.I’m sure you’ll notice that the majority of the calendars published here are true community efforts, often with the bulk of the work falling to an individual or tiny team, with no budget to pay authors and editors.

Building A CSS Layout: Live Stream With Rachel Andrew

10 Dec 2019, 10:30 am | Articles on Smashing Magazine — For Web Designers And Developers

We’re opening up our Smashing TV webinars to everyone, and today you’re welcome to follow along as Rachel Andrew builds a layout using CSS Grid and Flexbox.In the session, Rachel will be building a component of a layout, talking through her thinking as she does so. Is Flexbox or Grid the right method to use? How will the component respond to different screen sizes? And, what about those old browsers?

Struggling To Get A Handle On Traffic Surges

10 Dec 2019, 10:00 am | Articles on Smashing Magazine — For Web Designers And Developers

(This is a sponsored article.) When a traffic spike hits, you want your website to be able to ride the wave instead of drown beneath it.But how do you do that without constantly overspending on server resources in anticipation of a traffic surge that may or may not happen?Part of it comes down to knowing how to read your data really well so that you can predict upcoming upticks (or slumps) in traffic.

Brand Illustration Systems: Drawing A Strong Visual Identity

9 Dec 2019, 12:30 pm | Articles on Smashing Magazine — For Web Designers And Developers

In the flood of online content, companies live or die by their brand image. A brand image has to express the company’s message and connect with users, who should instantly recognize it across different media, even away from the company’s website and marketing content. A strong brand image is like an anchor, helping ensure user attachment and fix value associations.Brand image is typically built up from different visual elements — logos, color palette, a particular font.

How To Design Profitable Sales Funnels On Mobile

6 Dec 2019, 11:00 am | Articles on Smashing Magazine — For Web Designers And Developers

A sales funnel is a set of invisible steps you lay before visitors that takes them from the point of entry to the desired action. There are three stages in a sales funnel:Top of the funnel (TOF), Middle of the funnel (MOF), Bottom of the funnel (BOF). Why do we call these three stages a funnel? Because, together, they form a funnel-like shape:A sales funnel and its three key stages: top-of-funnel, middle-of-funnel, bottom-of-funnel marketing.

How To Build A Real-Time Multiplayer Virtual Reality Game (Part 2)

5 Dec 2019, 11:00 am | Articles on Smashing Magazine — For Web Designers And Developers

In this tutorial series, we will build a web-based multiplayer virtual reality game, where players will need to collaborate to solve a puzzle. In the first part of this series, we designed the orbs featured in the game. In this part of the series, we will add game mechanics and setup communication protocols between pairs of players.The game description here is excerpted from the first part of the series: Each pair of players is given a ring of orbs.

Get Started With UI Design With These Tips To Speed Up Your Workflow

4 Dec 2019, 10:00 am | Articles on Smashing Magazine — For Web Designers And Developers

This article is about creating limits and rules to follow throughout the entire design process. There is an unlimited number of ways in which you can combine elements in a user interface — and so you’ll need to set some rules and boundaries, or else the design workflow might become an unpleasant chore. You might be struggling with all of the possibilities and trying to pick the best option among many “correct” options.

Meet “Inclusive Components”: Accessible, Bulletproof Front-End Patterns

3 Dec 2019, 12:00 pm | Articles on Smashing Magazine — For Web Designers And Developers

Front-end accessibility is still somewhat mysterious these days. How do we build accessible buttons and dropdowns? What about keyboard-friendly tooltips, tabs and notifications? Or inclusive accordions, sliders, data tables and modals? Let’s figure it out together. Meet Inclusive Components, our new handbook for building fully accessible digital products. Download a free sample PDF (1.1 MB).Heydon Pickering." Print + eBook eBook Print + eBook { "

19 FFmpeg Commands For All Needs

26 Nov 2019, 5:18 am | CatsWhoCode

FFmpeg is a multiplatform, open-source library to record, convert and stream video and audio files. Created in 2000, it is a powerful command-line tool that runs on Linux, Windows and Mac operating systems. FFmpeg is currently used by many websites and programs, including YouTube and VLC Media Player, and is published under the GNU Lesser …

19 FFmpeg Commands For All Needs Read More »

Request with Intent: Caching Strategies in the Age of PWAs

21 Nov 2019, 2:30 pm | A List Apart: The Full Feed

Once upon a time, we relied on browsers to handle caching for us; as developers in those days, we had very little control. But then came Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), Service Workers, and the Cache API—and suddenly we have expansive power over what gets put in the cache and how it gets put there. We can now cache everything we want to… and therein lies a potential problem.

Media files—especially images—make up the bulk of average page weight these days, and it’s getting worse. In order to improve performance, it’s tempting to cache as much of this content as possible, but should we? In most cases, no. Even with all this newfangled technology at our fingertips, great performance still hinges on a simple rule: request only what you need and make each request as small as possible.

To provide the best possible experience for our users without abusing their network connection or their hard drive, it’s time to put a spin on some classic best practices, experiment with media caching strategies, and play around with a few Cache API tricks that Service Workers have hidden up their sleeves.

Best intentions

All those lessons we learned optimizing web pages for dial-up became super-useful again when mobile took off, and they continue to be applicable in the work we do for a global audience today. Unreliable or high latency network connections are still the norm in many parts of the world, reminding us that it’s never safe to assume a technical baseline lifts evenly or in sync with its corresponding cutting edge. And that’s the thing about performance best practices: history has borne out that approaches that are good for performance now will continue being good for performance in the future.

Before the advent of Service Workers, we could provide some instructions to browsers with respect to how long they should cache a particular resource, but that was about it. Documents and assets downloaded to a user’s machine would be dropped into a directory on their hard drive. When the browser assembled a request for a particular document or asset, it would peek in the cache first to see if it already had what it needed to possibly avoid hitting the network.

We have considerably more control over network requests and the cache these days, but that doesn’t excuse us from being thoughtful about the resources on our web pages.

Request only what you need

As I mentioned, the web today is lousy with media. Images and videos have become a dominant means of communication. They may convert well when it comes to sales and marketing, but they are hardly performant when it comes to download and rendering speed. With this in mind, each and every image (and video, etc.) should have to fight for its place on the page. 

A few years back, a recipe of mine was included in a newspaper story on cooking with spirits (alcohol, not ghosts). I don’t subscribe to the print version of that paper, so when the article came out I went to the site to take a look at how it turned out. During a recent redesign, the site had decided to load all articles into a nearly full-screen modal viewbox layered on top of their homepage. This meant requesting the article required requests for all of the assets associated with the article page plus all the contents and assets for the homepage. Oh, and the homepage had video ads—plural. And, yes, they auto-played.

I popped open DevTools and discovered the page had blown past 15 MB in page weight. Tim Kadlec had recently launched What Does My Site Cost?, so I decided to check out the damage. Turns out that the actual cost to view that page for the average US-based user was more than the cost of the print version of that day’s newspaper. That’s just messed up.

Sure, I could blame the folks who built the site for doing their readers such a disservice, but the reality is that none of us go to work with the goal of worsening our users’ experiences. This could happen to any of us. We could spend days scrutinizing the performance of a page only to have some committee decide to set that carefully crafted page atop a Times Square of auto-playing video ads. Imagine how much worse things would be if we were stacking two abysmally-performing pages on top of each other!

Media can be great for drawing attention when competition is high (e.g., on the homepage of a newspaper), but when you want readers to focus on a single task (e.g., reading the actual article), its value can drop from important to “nice to have.” Yes, studies have shown that images excel at drawing eyeballs, but once a visitor is on the article page, no one cares; we’re just making it take longer to download and more expensive to access. The situation only gets worse as we shove more media into the page. 

We must do everything in our power to reduce the weight of our pages, so avoid requests for things that don’t add value. For starters, if you’re writing an article about a data breach, resist the urge to include that ridiculous stock photo of some random dude in a hoodie typing on a computer in a very dark room.

Request the smallest file you can

Now that we’ve taken stock of what we do need to include, we must ask ourselves a critical question: How can we deliver it in the fastest way possible? This can be as simple as choosing the most appropriate image format for the content presented (and optimizing the heck out of it) or as complex as recreating assets entirely (for example, if switching from raster to vector imagery would be more efficient).

Offer alternate formats

When it comes to image formats, we don’t have to choose between performance and reach anymore. We can provide multiple options and let the browser decide which one to use, based on what it can handle.

You can accomplish this by offering multiple sources within a picture or video element. Start by creating multiple formats of the media asset. For example, with WebP and JPG, it’s likely that the WebP will have a smaller file size than the JPG (but check to make sure). With those alternate sources, you can drop them into a picture like this:

<picture>  <source srcset="my.webp" type="image/webp">  <img src="my.jpg" alt="Descriptive text about the picture."></picture>

Browsers that recognize the picture element will check the source element before making a decision about which image to request. If the browser supports the MIME type “image/webp,” it will kick off a request for the WebP format image. If not (or if the browser doesn’t recognize picture), it will request the JPG. 

The nice thing about this approach is that you’re serving the smallest image possible to the user without having to resort to any sort of JavaScript hackery.

You can take the same approach with video files:

<video controls>  <source src="my.webm" type="video/webm">  <source src="my.mp4" type="video/mp4">  <p>Your browser doesn’t support native video playback,    but you can <a href="my.mp4" download>download</a>    this video instead.</p></video>

Browsers that support WebM will request the first source, whereas browsers that don’t—but do understand MP4 videos—will request the second one. Browsers that don’t support the video element will fall back to the paragraph about downloading the file.

The order of your source elements matters. Browsers will choose the first usable source, so if you specify an optimized alternative format after a more widely compatible one, the alternative format may never get picked up.  

Depending on your situation, you might consider bypassing this markup-based approach and handle things on the server instead. For example, if a JPG is being requested and the browser supports WebP (which is indicated in the Accept header), there’s nothing stopping you from replying with a WebP version of the resource. In fact, some CDN services—Cloudinary, for instance—come with this sort of functionality right out of the box.

Offer different sizes

Formats aside, you may want to deliver alternate image sizes optimized for the current size of the browser’s viewport. After all, there’s no point loading an image that’s 3–4 times larger than the screen rendering it; that’s just wasting bandwidth. This is where responsive images come in.

Here’s an example:

<img src="medium.jpg"  srcset="small.jpg 256w,    medium.jpg 512w,    large.jpg 1024w"  sizes="(min-width: 30em) 30em, 100vw"  alt="Descriptive text about the picture.">

There’s a lot going on in this super-charged img element, so I’ll break it down:

  • This img offers three size options for a given JPG: 256 px wide (small.jpg), 512 px wide (medium.jpg), and 1024 px wide (large.jpg). These are provided in the srcset attribute with corresponding width descriptors.
  • The src defines a default image source, which acts as a fallback for browsers that don’t support srcset. Your choice for the default image will likely depend on the context and general usage patterns. Often I’d recommend the smallest image be the default, but if the majority of your traffic is on older desktop browsers, you might want to go with the medium-sized image.
  • The sizes attribute is a presentational hint that informs the browser how the image will be rendered in different scenarios (its extrinsic size) once CSS has been applied. This particular example says that the image will be the full width of the viewport (100vw) until the viewport reaches 30 em in width (min-width: 30em), at which point the image will be 30 em wide. You can make the sizes value as complicated or as simple as you want; omitting it causes browsers to use the default value of 100vw.

You can even combine this approach with alternate formats and crops within a single picture. 🤯

All of this is to say that you have a number of tools at your disposal for delivering fast-loading media, so use them!

Defer requests (when possible)

Years ago, Internet Explorer 11 introduced a new attribute that enabled developers to de-prioritize specific img elements to speed up page rendering: lazyload. That attribute never went anywhere, standards-wise, but it was a solid attempt to defer image loading until images are in view (or close to it) without having to involve JavaScript.

There have been countless JavaScript-based implementations of lazy loading images since then, but recently Google also took a stab at a more declarative approach, using a different attribute: loading.

The loading attribute supports three values (“auto,” “lazy,” and “eager”) to define how a resource should be brought in. For our purposes, the “lazy” value is the most interesting because it defers loading the resource until it reaches a calculated distance from the viewport.

Adding that into the mix…

<img src="medium.jpg"  srcset="small.jpg 256w,    medium.jpg 512w,    large.jpg 1024w"  sizes="(min-width: 30em) 30em, 100vw"  loading="lazy"  alt="Descriptive text about the picture.">

This attribute offers a bit of a performance boost in Chromium-based browsers. Hopefully it will become a standard and get picked up by other browsers in the future, but in the meantime there’s no harm in including it because browsers that don’t understand the attribute will simply ignore it.

This approach complements a media prioritization strategy really well, but before I get to that, I want to take a closer look at Service Workers.

Manipulate requests in a Service Worker

Service Workers are a special type of Web Worker with the ability to intercept, modify, and respond to all network requests via the Fetch API. They also have access to the Cache API, as well as other asynchronous client-side data stores like IndexedDB for resource storage.

When a Service Worker is installed, you can hook into that event and prime the cache with resources you want to use later. Many folks use this opportunity to squirrel away copies of global assets, including styles, scripts, logos, and the like, but you can also use it to cache images for use when network requests fail.

Keep a fallback image in your back pocket

Assuming you want to use a fallback in more than one networking recipe, you can set up a named function that will respond with that resource:

function respondWithFallbackImage() {  return caches.match( "/i/fallbacks/offline.svg" );}

Then, within a fetch event handler, you can use that function to provide that fallback image when requests for images fail at the network:

self.addEventListener( "fetch", event => {  const request = event.request;  if ( request.headers.get("Accept").includes("image") ) {    event.respondWith(      return fetch( request, { mode: 'no-cors' } )        .then( response => {          return response;        })        .catch(          respondWithFallbackImage        );    );  }});

When the network is available, users get the expected behavior:

Screenshot of a component showing a series of user profile images of users who have liked something
Social media avatars are rendered as expected when the network is available.

But when the network is interrupted, images will be swapped automatically for a fallback, and the user experience is still acceptable:

Screenshot showing a series of identical generic user images in place of the individual ones which have not loaded
A generic fallback avatar is rendered when the network is unavailable.

On the surface, this approach may not seem all that helpful in terms of performance since you’ve essentially added an additional image download into the mix. With this system in place, however, some pretty amazing opportunities open up to you.

Respect a user’s choice to save data

Some users reduce their data consumption by entering a “lite” mode or turning on a “data saver” feature. When this happens, browsers will often send a Save-Data header with their network requests. 

Within your Service Worker, you can look for this header and adjust your responses accordingly. First, you look for the header:

let save_data = false;if ( 'connection' in navigator ) {  save_data = navigator.connection.saveData;}

Then, within your fetch handler for images, you might choose to preemptively respond with the fallback image instead of going to the network at all:

self.addEventListener( "fetch", event => {  const request = event.request;  if ( request.headers.get("Accept").includes("image") ) {    event.respondWith(      if ( save_data ) {        return respondWithFallbackImage();      }      // code you saw previously    );  }});

You could even take this a step further and tune respondWithFallbackImage() to provide alternate images based on what the original request was for. To do that you’d define several fallbacks globally in the Service Worker:

const fallback_avatar = "/i/fallbacks/avatar.svg",      fallback_image = "/i/fallbacks/image.svg";

Both of those files should then be cached during the Service Worker install event:

return cache.addAll( [  fallback_avatar,  fallback_image]);

Finally, within respondWithFallbackImage() you could serve up the appropriate image based on the URL being fetched. In my site, the avatars are pulled from Webmention.io, so I test for that.

function respondWithFallbackImage( url ) {  const image = avatars.test( /webmention\.io/ ) ? fallback_avatar                                                 : fallback_image;  return caches.match( image );}

With that change, I’ll need to update the fetch handler to pass in request.url as an argument to respondWithFallbackImage(). Once that’s done, when the network gets interrupted I end up seeing something like this:

Screenshot showing a blog comment with a generic user profile image and image placeholder where the network could not load the actual images
A webmention that contains both an avatar and an embedded image will render with two different fallbacks when the Save-Data header is present.

Next, we need to establish some general guidelines for handling media assets—based on the situation, of course.

The caching strategy: prioritize certain media

In my experience, media—especially images—on the web tend to fall into three categories of necessity. At one end of the spectrum are elements that don’t add meaningful value. At the other end of the spectrum are critical assets that do add value, such as charts and graphs that are essential to understanding the surrounding content. Somewhere in the middle are what I would call “nice-to-have” media. They do add value to the core experience of a page but are not critical to understanding the content.

If you consider your media with this division in mind, you can establish some general guidelines for handling each, based on the situation. In other words, a caching strategy.

Media loading strategy, broken down by how critical an asset is to understanding an interface
Media categoryFast connectionSave-DataSlow connectionNo network
CriticalLoad mediaReplace with placeholder
Nice-to-haveLoad mediaReplace with placeholder
Non-criticalRemove from content entirely

When it comes to disambiguating the critical from the nice-to-have, it’s helpful to have those resources organized into separate directories (or similar). That way we can add some logic into the Service Worker that can help it decide which is which. For example, on my own personal site, critical images are either self-hosted or come from the website for my book. Knowing that, I can write regular expressions that match those domains:

const high_priority = [    /aaron\-gustafson\.com/,    /adaptivewebdesign\.info/  ];

With that high_priority variable defined, I can create a function that will let me know if a given image request (for example) is a high priority request or not:

function isHighPriority( url ) {  // how many high priority links are we dealing with?  let i = high_priority.length;  // loop through each  while ( i-- ) {    // does the request URL match this regular expression?    if ( high_priority[i].test( url ) ) {      // yes, it’s a high priority request      return true;    }  }  // no matches, not high priority  return false;}

Adding support for prioritizing media requests only requires adding a new conditional into the fetch event handler, like we did with Save-Data. Your specific recipe for network and cache handling will likely differ, but here was how I chose to mix in this logic within image requests:

// Check the cache first  // Return the cached image if we have one  // If the image is not in the cache, continue// Is this image high priority?if ( isHighPriority( url ) ) {  // Fetch the image    // If the fetch succeeds, save a copy in the cache    // If not, respond with an "offline" placeholder// Not high priority} else {  // Should I save data?  if ( save_data ) {    // Respond with a "saving data" placeholder  // Not saving data  } else {    // Fetch the image      // If the fetch succeeds, save a copy in the cache      // If not, respond with an "offline" placeholder  }}

We can apply this prioritized approach to many kinds of assets. We could even use it to control which pages are served cache-first vs. network-first.

Keep the cache tidy

The  ability to control which resources are cached to disk is a huge opportunity, but it also carries with it an equally huge responsibility not to abuse it.

Every caching strategy is likely to differ, at least a little bit. If we’re publishing a book online, for instance, it might make sense to cache all of the chapters, images, etc. for offline viewing. There’s a fixed amount of content and—assuming there aren’t a ton of heavy images and videos—users will benefit from not having to download each chapter separately.

On a news site, however, caching every article and photo will quickly fill up our users’ hard drives. If a site offers an indeterminate number of pages and assets, it’s critical to have a caching strategy that puts hard limits on how many resources we’re caching to disk. 

One way to do this is to create several different blocks associated with caching different forms of content. The more ephemeral content caches can have strict limits around how many items can be stored. Sure, we’ll still be bound to the storage limits of the device, but do we really want our website to take up 2 GB of someone’s hard drive?

Here’s an example, again from my own site:

const sw_caches = {  static: {    name: `${version}static`  },  images: {    name: `${version}images`,    limit: 75  },  pages: {    name: `${version}pages`,    limit: 5  },  other: {    name: `${version}other`,    limit: 50  }}

Here I’ve defined several caches, each with a name used for addressing it in the Cache API and a version prefix. The version is defined elsewhere in the Service Worker, and allows me to purge all caches at once if necessary.

With the exception of the static cache, which is used for static assets, every cache has a limit to the number of items that may be stored. I only cache the most recent 5 pages someone has visited, for instance. Images are limited to the most recent 75, and so on. This is an approach that Jeremy Keith outlines in his fantastic book Going Offline (which you should really read if you haven’t already—here’s a sample).

With these cache definitions in place, I can clean up my caches periodically and prune the oldest items. Here’s Jeremy’s recommended code for this approach:

function trimCache(cacheName, maxItems) {  // Open the cache  caches.open(cacheName)  .then( cache => {    // Get the keys and count them    cache.keys()    .then(keys => {      // Do we have more than we should?      if (keys.length > maxItems) {        // Delete the oldest item and run trim again        cache.delete(keys[0])        .then( () => {          trimCache(cacheName, maxItems)        });      }    });  });}

We can trigger this code to run whenever a new page loads. By running it in the Service Worker, it runs in a separate thread and won’t drag down the site’s responsiveness. We trigger it by posting a message (using postMessage()) to the Service Worker from the main JavaScript thread:

// First check to see if you have an active service workerif ( navigator.serviceWorker.controller ) {  // Then add an event listener  window.addEventListener( "load", function(){    // Tell the service worker to clean up    navigator.serviceWorker.controller.postMessage( "clean up" );  });}

The final step in wiring it all up is setting up the Service Worker to receive the message:

addEventListener("message", messageEvent => {  if (messageEvent.data == "clean up") {    // loop though the caches    for ( let key in sw_caches ) {      // if the cache has a limit      if ( sw_caches[key].limit !== undefined ) {        // trim it to that limit        trimCache( sw_caches[key].name, sw_caches[key].limit );      }    }  }});

Here, the Service Worker listens for inbound messages and responds to the “clean up” request by running trimCache() on each of the cache buckets with a defined limit.

This approach is by no means elegant, but it works. It would be far better to make decisions about purging cached responses based on how frequently each item is accessed and/or how much room it takes up on disk. (Removing cached items based purely on when they were cached isn’t nearly as useful.) Sadly, we don’t have that level of detail when it comes to inspecting the caches…yet. I’m actually working to address this limitation in the Cache API right now.

Your users always come first

The technologies underlying Progressive Web Apps are continuing to mature, but even if you aren’t interested in turning your site into a PWA, there’s so much you can do today to improve your users’ experiences when it comes to media. And, as with every other form of inclusive design, it starts with centering on your users who are most at risk of having an awful experience.

Draw distinctions between critical, nice-to-have, and superfluous media. Remove the cruft, then optimize the bejeezus out of each remaining asset. Serve your media in multiple formats and sizes, prioritizing the smallest versions first to make the most of high latency and slow connections. If your users say they want to save data, respect that and have a fallback plan in place. Cache wisely and with the utmost respect for your users’ disk space. And, finally, audit your caching strategies regularly—especially when it comes to large media files.Follow these guidelines, and every one of your users—from folks rocking a JioPhone on a rural mobile network in India to people on a high-end gaming laptop wired to a 10 Gbps fiber line in Silicon Valley—will thank you.

130+ Essential Vim Commands

17 Nov 2019, 6:43 am | CatsWhoCode

Since the 70's, vi and vim are very popular text editors among programmers. 5 years ago, I wrote an article named "100 vim commands every programmer should know" and here is a reworked, updated version. Enjoy!

Responsible JavaScript: Part III

14 Nov 2019, 2:30 pm | A List Apart: The Full Feed

You’ve done everything you thought was possible to address your website’s JavaScript problem. You relied on the web platform where you could. You sidestepped Babel and found smaller framework alternatives. You whittled your application code down to its most streamlined form possible. Yet, things are just not fast enough. When websites fail to perform the way we as designers and developers expect them to, we inevitably turn on ourselves:

“What are we failing to do?” “What can we do with the code we have written?” “Which parts of our architecture are failing us?”

These are valid inquiries, as a fair share of performance woes do originate from our own code. Yet, assigning blame solely to ourselves blinds us to the unvarnished truth that a sizable onslaught of our performance problems comes from the outside.

When the third wheel crashes the party

Convenience always has a price, and the web is wracked by our collective preference for it.  JavaScript, in particular, is employed in a way that suggests a rapidly increasing tendency to outsource whatever it is that We (the first party) don’t want to do. At times, this is a necessary decision; it makes perfect financial and operational sense in many situations.

But make no mistake, third-party JavaScript is never cheap. It’s a devil’s bargain where vendors seduce you with solutions to your problem, yet conveniently fail to remind you that you have little to no control over the side effects that solution introduces. If a third-party provider adds features to their product, you bear the brunt. If they change their infrastructure, you will feel the effects of it. Those who use your site will become frustrated, and they aren’t going to bother grappling with an intolerable user experience. You can mitigate some of the symptoms of third parties, but you can’t cure the ailment unless you remove the solutions altogether—and that’s not always practical or possible.

In this installment of Responsible JavaScript, we’ll take a slightly less technical approach than in the previous installment. We are going to talk more about the human side of third parties. Then, we’ll go down some of the technical avenues for how you might go about tackling the problem.

Hindered by convenience

When we talk about the sorry state of the web today, some of us are quick to point out the role of developer convenience in contributing to the problem. While I share the view that developer convenience has a tendency to harm the user experience, they’re not the only kind of convenience that can turn a website into a sluggish, janky mess.

Operational conveniences can become precursors to a very thorny sort of technical debt. These conveniences are what we reach for when we can’t solve a pervasive problem on our own. They represent third-party solutions that address problems in the absence of architectural flexibility and/or adequate development resources.

Whenever an inconvenience arises, that is the time to have the discussion around how to tackle it in a way that’s comprehensive. So let’s talk about what it looks like to tackle that sort of scenario from a more human angle.

The problem is pain

The reason third parties come into play in the first place is pain. When a decision maker in an organization has felt enough pain around a certain problem, they’re going to do a very human thing, which is to find the fastest way to make that pain go away.

Markets will always find ways to address these pain points, even if the way they do so isn’t sustainable or even remotely helpful. Web accessibility overlays—third-party scripts that purport to automatically fix accessibility issues—are among the worst offenders. First, you fork over your money for a fix that doesn’t fix anything. Then you pay a wholly different sort of price when that “fix” harms the usability of your website. This is not a screed to discredit the usefulness of the tools some third-party vendors provide, but to illustrate how the adoption of third-party solutions happens, even those that are objectively awful

A depiction of a long task in a flame chart from the performance panel in Chrome DevTools.
A Chrome performance trace of a long task kicked off by a third party’s web accessibility overlay script. The task occupies the main thread for roughly 600 ms on a 2017 Retina MacBook.

So when a vendor rolls up and promises to solve the very painful problem we’re having, there’s a good chance someone is going to nibble. If that someone is high enough in the hierarchy, they’ll exert downward pressure on others to buy in—if not circumvent them entirely in the decision-making process. Conversely, adoption of a third-party solution can also occur when those in the trenches are under pressure and lack sufficient resources to create the necessary features themselves.

Whatever the catalyst, it pays to gather your colleagues and collectively form a plan for navigating and mitigating the problems you’re facing.

Create a mitigation plan

Once people in an organization have latched onto a third-party solution, however ill-advised, the difficulty you’ll encounter in forcing a course change will depend on how urgent a need that solution serves. In fact, you shouldn’t try to convince proponents of the solution that their decision was wrong. Such efforts almost always backfire and can make people feel attacked and more resistant to what you’re telling them. Even worse, those efforts could create acrimony where people stop listening to each other completely, and that is a breeding ground for far worse problems to develop.

Grouse and commiserate amongst your peers if you must—as I myself have often done—but put your grievances aside and come up with a mitigation plan to guide your colleagues toward better outcomes. The nooks and crannies of your specific approach will depend on the third parties themselves and the structure of the organization, but the bones of it could look like the following series of questions.

What problem does this solution address?

There’s a reason why a third-party solution was selected, and this question will help you suss out whether the rationale for its adoption is sound. Remember, there are times decisions are made when all the necessary people are not in the room. You might be in a position where you have to react to the aftermath of that decision, but the answer to this question will lead you to a natural follow-up.

How long do we intend to use the solution?

This question will help you identify the solution’s shelf life. Was it introduced as a bandage, with the intent to remove it once the underlying problem has been addressed, such as in the case of an accessibility overlay? Or is the need more long-term, such as the data provided by an A/B testing suite? The other possibility is that the solution can never be effectively removed because it serves a crucial purpose, as in the case of analytics scripts. It’s like throwing a mattress in a swimming pool: it’s easy to throw in, but nigh impossible to drag back out.

In any case, you can’t know if a third-party script is here to stay if you don’t ask. Indeed, if you find out the solution is temporary, you can form a plan to eventually remove it from your site once the underlying problem it addresses has been resolved.

Who’s the point of contact if issues arise?

When a third-party solution is put into place, someone must be the point of contact for when—not if—issues arise.

I’ve seen what happens (far too often) when a third-party script gets out of control. For example, when a tag manager or an A/B testing framework’s JavaScript grows slowly and insidiously because marketers aren’t cleaning out old tags or completed A/B tests. It’s for precisely these reasons that responsibility needs to be attached to a specific person in your organization for third-party solutions currently in use on your site. What that responsibility entails will differ in every situation, but could include:

  • periodic monitoring of the third-party script’s footprint;
  • maintenance to ensure the third-party script doesn’t grow out of control;
  • occasional meetings to discuss the future of that vendor’s relationship with your organization;
  • identification of overlaps of functionality between multiple third parties, and if potential redundancies can be removed;
  • and ongoing research, especially to identify speedier alternatives that may act as better replacements for slow third-party scripts.

The idea of responsibility in this context should never be an onerous, draconian obligation you yoke your teammates with, but rather an exercise in encouraging mindfulness in your colleagues. Because without mindfulness, a third-party script’s ill effects on your website will be overlooked until it becomes a grumbling ogre in the room that can no longer be ignored. Assigning responsibility for third parties can help to prevent that from happening.

Ensuring responsible usage of third-party solutions

If you can put together a mitigation plan and get everyone on board, the work of ensuring the responsible use of third-party solutions can begin. Luckily for you, the actual technical work will be easier than trying to wrangle people. So if you’ve made it this far, all it will take to get results is time and persistence.

Load only what’s necessary

It may seem obvious, but load only what’s necessary. Judging by the amount of unused first-party JavaScript I see loaded—let alone third-party JavaScript—it’s clearly a problem. It’s like trying to clean your house by stuffing clutter into the closets. Regardless of whether they’re actually needed, it’s not uncommon for third-party scripts to be loaded on every single page, so refer to your point of contact to figure out which pages need which third-party scripts.

As an example, one of my past clients used a popular third-party tool across multiple brand sites to get a list of retailers for a given product. It demonstrated clear value, but that script only needed to be on a site’s product detail page. In reality, it was frequently loaded on every page. Culling this script from pages where it didn’t belong significantly boosted performance for non-product pages, which ostensibly reduced the friction on the conversion path.

Figuring out which pages need which third-party scripts requires you to do some decidedly untechnical work. You’ll actually have to get up from your desk and talk to the person who has been assigned responsibility for the third-party solution you’re grappling with. This is very difficult work for me, but it’s rewarding when good-faith collaboration happens, and good outcomes are realized as a result.

Self-host your third-party scripts

This advice isn’t a secret by any stretch. I even touched on it in the previous installment of this series, but it needs to be shouted from the rooftops at every opportunity: you should self-host as many third-party resources as possible. Whether this is feasible depends on the third-party script in question.

Is it some framework you’re grabbing from Google’s hosted libraries, cdnjs, or other similar provider? Self-host that sucker right now.

Casper found a way to self-host their Optimizely script and significantly reduced their start render time for their trouble. It really drives home the point that a major detriment of third-party resources is the fact that their mere existence on other servers is one of the worst performance bottlenecks we encounter.

If you’re looking to self-host an analytics solution or a similar sort of script, there’s a higher level of difficulty to contend with to self-host it. You may find that some third-party scripts simply can’t be self-hosted, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the trouble to find out. If you find that self-hosting isn’t an option for a third-party script, don’t fret. There are other mitigations you can try.

Mask latency of cross-origin connections

If you can’t self-host your third-party scripts, the next best thing is to preconnect to servers that host them. WebPageTest’s Connection View does a fantastic job of showing you which servers your site gathers resources from, as well as the latency involved in establishing connections to them.

A screenshot of WebPageTest's connection view, which visualizes the latency involved with all the servers that serve content for a given page in a waterfall chart.
WebPageTest’s Connection View shows all the different servers a page requests resources from during load.

Preconnections are effective because they establish connections to third-party servers before the browser would otherwise discover them in due course. Parsing HTML takes time, and parsers are often blocked by stylesheets and other scripts. Wherever you can’t self-host third-party scripts, preconnections make perfect sense.

Maybe don’t preload third-party scripts

Preloading resources is one of those things that sounds fantastic at first—until you consider its potential to backfire, as Andy Davies points out. If you’re unfamiliar with preloading, it’s similar to preconnecting but goes a step further by instructing the browser to fetch a particular resource far sooner than it ordinarily would.

The drawback of preloading is that while it’s great for ensuring a resource gets loaded as soon as possible, it changes the discovery order of that resource. Whenever we do this, we’re implicitly saying that other resources are less important—including resources crucial to rendering or even core functionality.

It’s probably a safe bet that most of your third-party code is not as crucial to the functionality of your site as your own code. That said, if you must preload a third-party resource, ensure you’re only doing so for third-party scripts that are critical to page rendering.

If you do find yourself in a position where your site’s initial rendering depends on a third-party script, refer to your mitigation plan to see what you can do to eliminate or ameliorate your dependence on it. Depending on a third party for core functionality is never a good position to be in, as you’re relinquishing a lot of control to others who might not have your best interests in mind.

Lazy load non-essential third-party scripts

The best request is no request. If you have a third-party script that doesn’t need to be loaded right away, consider lazy loading it with an Intersection Observer. Here’s what it might look like to lazy load a Facebook Like button when it’s scrolled into the viewport:

let loadedFbScript = false;const intersectionListener = new IntersectionObserver(entries => {  entries.forEach(entry => {    if ((entry.isIntersecting || entry.intersectionRatio) && !loadedFbScript) {      const scriptEl = document.createElement("script");      scriptEl.defer = true;      scriptEl.crossOrigin = "anonymous";      scriptEl.src = "https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v3.0";      scriptEl.onload = () => {        loadedFbScript = true;      };            document.body.append(scriptEl);    }  });});intersectionListener.observe(document.querySelector(".fb-like"));

In the above snippet, we first set a variable to track whether we’ve loaded the Facebook SDK JavaScript. After that, an IntersectionListener is created that checks whether the observed element is in the viewport, and whether the Facebook SDK has been loaded. If the SDK JavaScript hasn’t been loaded, a reference to it is injected into the DOM, which will kick off a request for it.

You’re not going to be able to lazy load every third-party script. Some of them simply need to do their work at page load time, or otherwise can’t be deferred. Regardless, do the detective work to see if it’s possible to lazy load at least some of your third-party JavaScript.

One of the common concerns I hear from coworkers when I suggest lazy loading third-party scripts is how it can delay whatever interactions the third party provides. That’s a reasonable concern, because when you lazy load anything, a noticeable delay may occur as the resource loads. You can get around this to some extent with resource prefetching. This is different than preloading, which we discussed earlier. Prefetching consumes a comparable amount of data, yes, but prefetched resources are given lower priority and are less likely to contend for bandwidth with critical resources.

Staying on top of the problem

Keeping an eye on your third-party JavaScript requires mindfulness bordering on hypervigilance. When you recognize poor performance for the technical debt that it truly is, you’ll naturally slip into a frame of mind where you’ll recognize and address it as you would any other kind of technical debt.

Staying on top of third parties is refactoring—a sort that requires you to periodically perform tasks such as cleaning up tag managers and A/B tests, consolidating third-party solutions, eliminating any that are no longer needed, and applying the coding techniques discussed above. Moreover, you’ll need to work with your team to address this technical debt on a cyclical basis. This kind of work can’t be automated, so yes, you’ll need to knuckle down and have face-to-face, synchronous conversations with actual people.

If you’re already in the habit of scheduling “cleanup sprints” on some interval, then that is the time and space for you to address performance-related technical debt, regardless of whether it involves third- or first-party code. There’s a time for feature development, but that time should not comprise the whole of your working hours. Development shops that focus only on feature development are destined to be wholly consumed by the technical debt that will inevitably result.

So it will come to pass that in the fourth and final installment of this series we’ll discuss what it means to do the hard work of using JavaScript responsibly in the context of process. Therein, we’ll explore what it takes to unite your organization under the banner of making your website faster and more accessible, and therefore more usable for everyone, everywhere.

Hyper Useful, Ready To Use HTML Snippets

22 Oct 2019, 2:33 pm | CatsWhoCode

HTML is super easy to write, but when creating webpages you often need to do the same repetitive tasks, such as creating forms. In this user guide, I have compiled 10+ ready-to-use HTML snippets to fasten your front-end coding. HTML5 Starter Template When starting a new project, you need a starter template. Here is a …

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Advanced CSS Tricks and Techniques

8 Sep 2019, 6:50 am | CatsWhoCode

As time goes by, CSS is becoming more and more powerful and nowadays it offers lots of possibilities to create visually stunning websites. This article is a compilation of fresh, advanced CSS tips and techniques to master your web design and front-end web development skills. Each technique features sample code snippet, demo, and explanations. Warning: …

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Mastering The HTML <audio> Tag

2 Sep 2019, 2:17 pm | CatsWhoCode

Introduced with HTML5, the <audio> tag defines a sound and is used to embed audio content such as music or other streams in HTML documents. As of 2019, <audio> is widely supported among modern browsers. Internet Explorer 8 doesn’t support it, as well as earlier versions. <audio> can be used to play sound files in …

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CSS Transitions – Tutorial and Examples

27 Aug 2019, 4:28 am | CatsWhoCode

Since the release of the CSS3 specification, transitions are allowing web designers and front-end web developers to create stunning CSS animations in pure CSS, without using JavaScript. This quick CSS reference guide explains how to use transitions properties and provides stunning, ready-to-use examples of what you can do with CSS3 transitions. If you need a …

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Tutorial: Create an editable table with jQuery and Pure CSS

25 Aug 2019, 7:23 am | CatsWhoCode

Using open-source components makes it really easy and quick to build powerful front-end elements for websites or apps. In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to easily create an editable table using PureCSS and jQuery. There’s a demo available for this tutorial, click here to see. Getting Started The very first thing to do, indeed, is …

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The Untapped Power of Vulnerability & Transparency in Content Strategy

22 Aug 2019, 1:30 pm | A List Apart: The Full Feed

In marketing, transparency and vulnerability are unjustly stigmatized. The words conjure illusions of being frightened, imperfect, and powerless. And for companies that shove carefully curated personas in front of users, little is more terrifying than losing control of how people perceive the brand.

Let’s shatter this illusioned stigma. Authentic vulnerability and transparency are strengths masquerading as weaknesses. And companies too scared to embrace both traits in their content forfeit bona fide user-brand connections for often shallow, misleading engagement tactics that create fleeting relationships.

Transparency and vulnerability are closely entwined concepts, but each one engages users in a unique way. Transparency is how much information you share, while vulnerability is the truth and meaning behind your actions and words. Combining these ideas is the trick to creating empowering and meaningful content. You can’t tell true stories of vulnerability without transparency, and to be authentically transparent you must be vulnerable.

To be vulnerable, your brand and its content must be brave, genuine, humble, and open, all of which are traits that promote long-term customer loyalty. And if you’re transparent with users about who you are and about your business practices, you’re courting 94 percent of consumers who say they’re more loyal to brands that offer complete openness and 89 percent of people who say they give transparent companies a second chance after a bad experience.

For many companies, being completely honest and open with their customers—or employees, in some cases—only happens in a crisis. Unfortunately for those businesses, using vulnerability and transparency only as a crisis management strategy diminishes how sincere they appear and can reduce customer satisfaction.

Unlocking the potential of being transparent and vulnerable with users isn’t a one-off tactic or quick-fix emergency response tool—it’s a commitment to intimate storytelling that embraces a user’s emotional and psychological needs, which builds a meaningful connection between the storyteller and the audience.

The three storytelling pillars of vulnerable and transparent content

In her book, Braving the Wilderness, sociologist Brené Brown explains that vulnerability connects us at an emotional level. She says that when we recognize someone is being vulnerable, we invest in their story and begin to develop an emotional bond. This interwoven connection encourages us to experience the storyteller’s joy and pain, and then creates a sense of community and common purpose among the person being vulnerable and the people who acknowledge that vulnerability.

Three pillars in a company’s lifecycle embrace this bond and provide an outline for telling stories worthy of a user’s emotional investment. The pillars are:

  • the origins of a company, product, idea, or situation;
  • intimate narratives about customers’ life experiences;
  • and insights about product success and failure.

Origin stories

An origin story spins a transparent tale about how a company, product, service, or idea is created. It is often told by a founder, CEO, or industry innovator. This pillar is usually used as an authentic way to provide crisis management or as a method to change how users feel about a topic, product, or your brand.

Customers’ life experiences

While vulnerable origin stories do an excellent job of making users trust your brand, telling a customer’s personal life story is arguably the most effective way to use vulnerability to entwine a brand with someone’s personal identity.

Unlike an origin story, the customer experiences pillar is focused on being transparent about who your customers are, what they’ve experienced, and how those journeys align with values that matter to your brand. Through this lens, you’ll empower your customers to tell emotional, meaningful stories that make users feel vulnerable in a positive way. In this situation, your brand is often a storytelling platform where users share their story with the brand and fellow customers.

Product and service insights

Origin stories make your brand trustworthy in a crisis, and customers’ personal stories help users feel an intimate connection with your brand’s persona and mission. The last pillar, product and service insights, combines the psychological principles that make origin and customer stories successful. The outcome is a vulnerable narrative that rallies users’ excitement about, and emotional investment in, what a company sells or the goals it hopes to achieve.

Vulnerability, transparency, and the customer journey

The three storytelling pillars are crucial to embracing transparency and vulnerability in your content strategy because they let you target users at specific points in their journey. By embedding the pillars in each stage of the customer’s journey, you teach users about who you are, what matters to you, and why they should care.

For our purposes, let’s define the user journey as:

  • awareness;
  • interest;
  • consideration;
  • conversion;
  • and retention.

Awareness

People give each other seven seconds to make a good first impression. We’re not so generous with brands and websites. After discovering your content, users determine if it’s trustworthy within one-tenth of a second.

Page design and aesthetics are often the determining factors in these split-second choices, but the information users discover after that decision shapes their long-term opinions about your brand. This snap judgement is why transparency and vulnerability are crucial within awareness content.

When you only get one chance to make a positive first impression with your audience, what content is going to be more memorable?

Typical marketing “fluff” about how your brand was built on a shared vision and commitment to unyielding customer satisfaction and quality products? Or an upfront, authentic, and honest story about the trials and tribulations you went through to get where you are now?

Buffer, a social media management company that helped pioneer the radical transparency movement, chose the latter option. The outcome created awareness content that leaves a positive lasting impression of the brand.

In 2016, Joel Gascoigne, cofounder and CEO of Buffer, used an origin story to discuss the mistakes he and his company made that resulted in laying off 10 employees.

In the blog post “Tough News: We’ve Made 10 Layoffs. How We Got Here, the Financial Details and How We’re Moving Forward,” Gascoigne wrote about Buffer’s over-aggressive growth choices, lack of accountability, misplaced trust in its financial model, explicit risk appetite, and overenthusiastic hiring. He also discussed what he learned from the experience, the changes Buffer made based on these lessons, the consequences of those changes, and next steps for the brand.

Gascoigne writes about each subject with radical honesty and authenticity. Throughout the article, he’s personable and relatable; his tone and voice make it obvious he’s more concerned about the lives he’s irrevocably affected than the public image of his company floundering. Because Gascoigne is so transparent and vulnerable in the blog post, it’s easy to become invested in the narrative he’s telling. The result is an article that feels more like a deep, meaningful conversation over coffee instead of a carefully curated, PR-approved response.

Yes, Buffer used this origin story to confront a PR crisis, but they did so in a way that encouraged users to trust the brand. Buffer chose to show up and be seen when they had no control over the outcome. And because Gascoigne used vulnerability and transparency to share the company’s collective pain, the company reaped positive press coverage and support on social media—further improving brand awareness, user engagement, and customer loyalty.

However, awareness content isn’t always brand focused. Sometimes, smart awareness content uses storytelling to teach users and shape their worldviews. The 2019 State of Science Index is an excellent example.

The annual State of Science Index evaluates how the global public perceives science. The 2019 report shows that 87 percent of people acknowledge that science is necessary to solve the world’s problems, but 33 percent are skeptical of science and believe that scientists cause as many problems as they solve. Furthermore, 57 percent of respondents are skeptical of science because of scientists’ conflicting opinions about topics they don’t understand.

3M, the multinational science conglomerate that publishes the report, says the solution for this anti-science mindset is to promote intimate storytelling among scientists and layfolk.

3M creates an origin story with its awareness content by focusing on the ins and outs of scientific research. The company is open and straightforward with its data and intentions, eliminating any second guesses users might have about the content they’re digesting.

The company kicked off this strategy on three fronts, and each storytelling medium interweaves the benefits of vulnerability and transparency by encouraging researchers to tell stories that lead with how their findings benefit humanity. Every story 3M tells focuses on breaking through barriers the average person faces when they encounter science and encouraging scientists to be vulnerable and authentic with how they share their research.

First, 3M began a podcast series known as Science Champions. In the podcast, 3M Chief Science Advocate Jayshree Seth interviews scientists and educators about the global perception of science and how science and scientists affect our lives. The show is currently in its second season and discusses a range of topics in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Second, the company worked with science educators, journalist Katie Couric, actor Alan Alda, and former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly to develop the free Scientists as Storytellers Guide. The ebook helps STEM researchers improve how and why they communicate their work with other people—with a special emphasis on being empathetic with non-scientists. The guide breaks down how to develop communications skills, overcome common storytelling challenges, and learn to make science more accessible, understandable, and engaging for others.

Last, 3M created a film series called Beyond the Beaker that explores the day-to-day lives of 3M scientists. In the short videos, scientists give the viewer a glimpse into their hobbies and home life. The series showcases how scientists have diverse backgrounds, hobbies, goals, and dreams.

Unlike Buffer, which benefits directly from its awareness content, 3M’s three content mediums are designed to create a long-term strategy that changes how people understand and perceive science, by spreading awareness through third parties. It’s too early to conclude that the strategy will be successful, but it’s off to a good start. Science Champions often tops “best of” podcast lists for science lovers, and the Scientists as Storytellers Guide is a popular resource among public universities.

Interest

How do you court new users when word-of-mouth and organic search dominate how people discover new brands? Target their interests.

Now, you can be like the hundreds of other brands that create a “10 best things” list and hope people stumble onto your content organically and like what they see. Or, you can use content to engage with people who are passionate about your industry and have genuine, open discussions about the topics that matter to you both.

The latter option is a perfect fit for the product and service insights pillar, and the customers’ life experiences pillar.

To succeed in these pillars you must balance discussing the users’ passions and how your brand plays into that topic against appearing disingenuous or becoming too self-promotional.

Nonprofits have an easier time walking this taut line because people are less judgemental when engaging with NGOs, but it’s rare for a for-profit company to achieve this balance. SpaceX and Thinx are among the few brands that are able to walk this tightrope.

Thinx, a women’s clothing brand that sells period-proof underwear, uses its blog to generate awareness, interest, and consideration content via the customers’ life experiences pillar. The blog, aptly named Periodical, relies on transparency and vulnerability as a cornerstone to engage users about reproductive and mental health.

Toni Brannagan, Thinx’s content editor, says the brand embraces transparency and vulnerability by sharing diverse ideas and personal experiences from customers and experts alike, not shying away from sensitive subjects and never misleading users about Thinx or the subjects Periodical discusses.

As a company focused on women’s healthcare, the product Thinx sells is political by nature and entangles the brand with themes of shame, cultural differences, and personal empowerment. Thinx’s strategy is to tackle these subjects head-on by having vulnerable conversations in its branding, social media ads, and Periodical content.

“Vulnerability and transparency play a role because you can’t share authentic diverse ideas and experiences about those things—shame, cultural differences, and empowerment—without it,” Brannagan says.

A significant portion of Thinx’s website traffic is organic, which means Periodical’s interest-driven content may be a user’s first touchpoint with the brand.

“We’ve seen that our most successful organic content is educational, well-researched articles, and also product-focused blogs that answer the questions about our underwear, in a way that’s a little more casual than what’s on our product pages,” Brannagan says. “In contrast, our personal essays and ‘more opinionated’ content performs better on social media and email.”

Thanks in part to the blog’s authenticity and open discussions about hard-hitting topics, readers who find the brand through organic search drive the most direct conversions.

Conversations with users interested in the industry or topic your company is involved in don’t always have to come from the company itself. Sometimes a single person can drive authentic, open conversations and create endearing user loyalty and engagement.

For a company that relies on venture capital investments, NASA funding, and public opinion for its financial future, crossing the line between being too self-promotional and isolating users could spell doom. But SpaceX has never shied away from difficult or vulnerable conversations. Instead, the company’s founder, Elon Musk, embraces engaging with users interests in public forums like Twitter and press conferences.

Twitter thread showing an exchange between Elon Musk and a user

Musk’s tweets about SpaceX are unwaveringly authentic and transparent. He often tweets about his thoughts, concerns, and the challenges his companies face. Plus, Musk frequently engages with his Twitter followers and provides candid answers to questions many CEOs avoid discussing. This authenticity has earned him a cult-like following.

Elon Musk gives an honest, if not flattering, response on Twitter to a user

Musk and SpaceX create conversations that target people’s interests and use vulnerability to equally embrace failure and success. Both the company and its founder give the public and investors an unflinching story of space exploration.

And despite laying off 10 percent of its workforce in January of 2019, SpaceX is flourishing. In May 2019, its valuation had risen to $33.3 billion and reported annual revenue exceeded $2 billion. It also earned global media coverage from launching Musk’s Tesla Roadster into space, recently completed a test flight of its Crew Dragon space vehicle, and cemented multiple new payload contracts.

By engaging with users on social media and through standard storytelling mediums, Thinx and SpaceX bolster customer loyalty and brand engagement.

Consideration

Modern consumers argue that ignorance is not bliss. When users are considering converting with a brand, 86 percent of consumers say transparency is a deciding factor. Transparency remains crucial even after they convert, with 85 percent of users saying they’ll support a transparent brand during a PR crisis.

Your brand must be open, clear, and honest with users; there is no longer another viable option.

So how do you remain transparent while trying to sell someone a product? One solution employed by REI and Everlane is to be openly accountable to your brand and your users via the origin stories and product insights pillars.

REI, a national outdoor equipment retailer, created a stewardship program that behaves as a multifaceted origin story. The program’s content highlights the company’s history and manufacturing policies, and it lets users dive into the nitty-gritty details about its factories, partnerships, product production methods, manufacturing ethics, and carbon footprint.

Screenshot of the Collaborating for Good website

REI also employs a classic content hub strategy to let customers find the program and explore its relevant information. From a single landing page, users can easily find the program through the website’s global navigation and then navigate to every tangential topic the program encompasses.

REI also publishes an annual stewardship report, where users can learn intimate details about how the company makes and spends its money.

Screenshot of REI's stewardship report

Everlane, a clothing company, is equally transparent about its supply chain. The company promotes an insider’s look into its global factories via product insights stories. These glimpses tell the personal narratives of factory employees and owners, and provide insights into the products manufactured and the materials used. Everlane also published details of how they comply with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act to guarantee ethical working conditions throughout its supply chain, including refusing to partner with human traffickers.

Screenshot of Everlane's page about the factory in Lima

The crucial quality that Everlane and REI share is they publicize their transparency and encourage users to explore the shared information. On each website, users can easily find information about the company’s transparency endeavors via the global navigation, social media campaigns, and product pages.

The consumer response to transparent brands like REI and Everlane is overwhelmingly positive. Customers are willing to pay price premiums for the additional transparency, which gives them comfort by knowing they’re purchasing ethical products.

REI’s ownership model has further propelled the success of its transparency by using it to create unwavering customer engagement and loyalty. As a co-op where customers can “own” part of the company for a one-time $20 membership fee, REI is beholden to its members, many of which pay close attention to its supply chain and the brands REI partners with.

After a deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, REI members urged the company to refuse to carry CamelBak products because the brand’s parent company manufactures assault-style weapons. Members argued the partnership violated REI’s supply chain ethics. REI listened and halted orders with CamelBak. Members rejoiced and REI earned a significant amount of positive press coverage.

Conversion

Imagine you’ve started incorporating transparency throughout your company, and promote the results to users. Your brand also begins engaging users by telling vulnerable, meaningful stories via the three pillars. You’re seeing great engagement metrics and customer feedback from these efforts, but not much else. So, how do you get your newly invested users to convert?

Provide users with a full-circle experience.

If you combine the three storytelling pillars with blatant transparency and actively promote your efforts, users often transition from the consideration stage into the conversion state. Best of all, when users convert with a company that already earned their trust on an emotional level, they’re more likely to remain loyal to the brand and emotionally invested in its future.

The crucial step in combining the three pillars is consistency. Your brand’s stories must always be authentic and your content must always be transparent. The outdoor clothing brand Patagonia is among the most popular and successful companies to maintain this consistency and excel with this strategy.

Patagonia is arguably the most vocal and aggressive clothing retailer when it comes to environmental stewardship and ethical manufacturing.

In some cases, the company tells users not to buy its clothing because rampant consumerism harms the environment too much, which they care about more than profits. This level of radical transparency and vulnerability skyrocketed the company’s popularity among environmentally-conscious consumers.

In 2011, Patagonia took out a full-page Black Friday ad in the New York Times with the headline “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” In the ad, Patagonia talks about the environmental toll manufacturing clothes requires.

“Consider the R2 Jacket shown, one of our best sellers. To make it required 135 liters of water, enough to meet the daily needs (three glasses a day) of 45 people. Its journey from its origin as 60 percent recycled polyester to our Reno warehouse generated nearly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, 24 times the weight of the finished product. This jacket left behind, on its way to Reno, two-thirds [of] its weight in waste.”

The ad encourages users to not buy any new Patagonia clothing if their old, ratty clothes can be repaired. To help, Patagonia launched a supplementary subdomain to its e-commerce website to support its Common Thread Initiative, which eventually got rebranded as the Worn Wear program.

Patatgonia’s Worn Wear subdomain gets users to engage with the company about causes each party cares about. Through Worn Wear, Patagonia will repair your old gear for free. If you’d rather have new gear, you can instead sell the worn out clothing to Patagonia, and they’ll repair it and then resell the product at a discount. This interaction encourages loyalty and repeat brand-user engagement.

In addition, the navigation on Patagonia’s main website practically begs users to learn about the brand’s non-profit initiatives and its commitment to ethical manufacturing.

Screenshot of Patagonia's page on environmental responsibility

Today, Patagonia is among the most respected, profitable, and trusted consumer brands in the United States.

Retention

Content strategy expands through nearly every aspect of the marketing stack, including ad campaigns, which take a more controlled approach to vulnerability and transparency. To target users in the retention stage and keep them invested in your brand, your goal is to create content using the customers’ life experiences pillar to amplify the emotional bond and brand loyalty that vulnerability creates.

Always took this approach and ended up with one of its most successful social media campaigns.

An Always ad portraying a determined girl holding a baseball

In June 2014, Always launched its #LikeAGirl campaign to empower adolescent and teenage girls by transforming the phrase “like a girl” from a slur into a meaningful and positive statement.

The campaign is centered on a video in which Always tasked children, teenagers, and adults to behave “like a girl” by running, punching, and throwing while mimicking their perception of how a girl performs the activity. Young girls performed the tasks wholeheartedly and with gusto, while boys and adults performed overly feminine and vain characterizations. The director then challenged the person on their portrayal, breaking down what doing things “like a girl” truly means. The video ends with a powerful, heart-swelling statement:

“If somebody else says that running like a girl, or kicking like a girl, or shooting like a girl is something you shouldn’t be doing, that’s their problem. Because if you’re still scoring, and you’re still getting to the ball in time, and you’re still being first...you’re doing it right. It doesn’t matter what they say.”

This customer story campaign put the vulnerability girls feel during puberty front and center so the topic would resonate with users and give the brand a powerful, relevant, and purposeful role in this connection, according to an Institute for Public Relations campaign analysis.

Consequently, the #LikeAGirl campaign was a rousing success and blew past the KPIs Always established. Initially, Always determined an “impactful launch” for the video meant 2 million video views and 250 million media impressions, the analysis states.

Five years later, the campaign video has more than 66.9 million views and 42,700 comments on YouTube, with more than 85 percent of users reacting positively. Here are a few additional highlights the analysis document points out:

  • Eighty-one percent of women ages 16–24 support Always in creating a movement to reclaim “like a girl” as a positive and inspiring statement.
  • More than 1 million people shared the video.
  • Thirteen percent of users created user-generated content about the campaign.
  • The #LikeAGirl program achieved 4.5 billion global impressions.
  • The campaign received 290 million social impressions, with 133,000 social mentions, and it caused a 195.3 percent increase in the brand’s Twitter followers.

Among the reasons the #LikeAGirl content was so successful is that it aligned with Brené Brown’s concept that experiencing vulnerability creates a connection centered on powerful, shared emotions. Always then amplified the campaign’s effectiveness by using those emotions to encourage specific user behavior on social media.

How do you know if you’re making vulnerable content?

Designing a vulnerability-focused content strategy campaign begins by determining what kind of story you want to tell, why you want to tell it, why that story matters, and how that story helps you or your users achieve a goal.

When you’re brainstorming topics, the most important factor is that you need to care about the stories you’re telling. These tales need to be meaningful because if you’re weaving a narrative that isn’t important to you, it shows. And ultimately, why do you expect your users to care about a subject if you don’t?

Let’s say you’re developing a content campaign for a nonprofit, and you want to use your brand’s emotional identity to connect with users. You have a handful of possible narratives but you’re not sure which one will best unlock the benefits of vulnerability. In a Medium post about telling vulnerable stories, Cayla Vidmar presents a list of seven self-reflective questions that can reveal what narrative to choose and why.

If you can answer each of Vidmar’s questions, you’re on your way to creating a great story that can connect with users on a level unrivaled by other methods. Here’s what you should ask yourself:

  • What meaning is there in my story?
  • Can my story help others?
  • How can it help others?
  • Am I willing to struggle and be vulnerable in that struggle (even with strangers)?
  • How has my story shaped my worldview (what has it made me believe)?
  • What good have I learned from my story?
  • If other people discovered this good from their story, would it change their lives?

While you’re creating narratives within the three pillars, refer back to Vidmar’s list to maintain the proper balance between vulnerability and transparency.

What’s next?

You now know that vulnerability and transparency are an endless fountain of strength, not a weakness. Vulnerable content won’t make you or your brand look weak. Your customers won’t flee at the sight of imperfection. Being human and treating your users like humans isn’t a liability.

It’s time for your brand to embrace its untapped potential. Choose to be vulnerable, have the courage to tell meaningful stories about what matters most to your company and your customers, and overcome the fear of controlling how users will react to your content.

Origin story

Every origin story has six chapters:

  • the discovery of a problem or opportunity;
  • what caused this problem or opportunity;
  • the consequences of this discovery;
  • the solution to these consequences;
  • lessons learned during the process;
  • and next steps.

Customers’ life experiences

Every customer journey narrative has six chapters:

  • plot background to frame the customer’s experiences;
  • the customer’s journey;
  • how the brand plays into that journey (if applicable);
  • how the customer’s experiences changed them;
  • what the customer learned from this journey;
  • and how other people can use this information to improve their lives.

Product and service insights

Narratives about product and service insights have seven chapters:

  • an overview of the product/service;
  • how that product/service affects users;
  • why the product/service is important to the brand’s mission or to users;
  • what about this product/service failed or succeeded;
  • why did that success or failure happen;
  • what lessons did this scenario create;
  • and how are the brand and its users moving forward.

You have the tools and knowledge necessary to be transparent, create vulnerable content, and succeed. And we need to tell vulnerable stories because sharing our experiences and embracing our common connections matters. So go ahead, put yourself out into the open, and see how your customers respond.

Making a Website Responsive in 3 Easy Steps

12 Aug 2019, 2:03 pm | CatsWhoCode

Today, a website must not look good only on a desktop screen, but also on tablets and smartphones. A website is responsive if it is able to adapt to the screen of the client. Responsive web design is extremely important nowadays and is in fact one technique you need to master as a web developer …

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An Essential Tool for Capturing Your Career Accomplishments

8 Aug 2019, 1:45 pm | A List Apart: The Full Feed

Imagine you’re ready to apply for your next job. Like most busy professionals, you probably haven’t updated your résumé or your portfolio since you looked for your current job. 

Now you need to update both, and you can’t remember what work you’ve done over the past few years. (In fact, you can barely remember what you’ve done over the past few months!)

So you scramble to update your résumé with new content. Then you spend all weekend scraping together a new portfolio using screenshots of whatever work evidence you can find on your laptop. You submit the résumé and portfolio with your application, hoping you didn’t forget to include any major career milestones you achieved over the last few years. 

This is the process most of us use to approach our job search. We wait until we’re ready to find a job, panic at our lack of résumé and portfolio, and pull together a “good enough” version of each for the job application. (Trust me, I’ve done this many times myself.)

This is a stressful and ineffective way to approach a job search. There’s a much better approach you can take—and you can start working on it now, even if you’re not on the job market.

The Career Management Document

A Career Management Document (CMD) is a comprehensive collection of your résumé and portfolio content. It’s a document you update regularly, over time, with all the work you’ve done. 

When you’re ready to apply for your next job, you’ll have all the résumé and portfolio pieces available in your CMD. All you need to do is assemble those pieces into résumé and portfolio documents, then send the documents off with your job application.

I update my CMD about once a week. I start by reviewing evidence of my recent work. I review Slack messages, Basecamp posts, emails, and any other current work-related content. I write my accomplishments in the format of résumé bullets, using the framework of responsibilities and accomplishments from this Manager Tools podcast. Then I add those bullets to the CMD. 

Here are some examples from my CMD:

  • Coached a student on writing a stronger portfolio story to showcase their advanced UX skills, resulting in the student getting a job interview.
  • Facilitated an end-of-study analysis in under 90 minutes to help the team synthesize user research data from 12 participants.
  • Led a remote retrospective with teams in two offices, developed actionable takeaways, and ended on time despite a delayed start.

My CMD has several hundred résumé bullets, and it continues to grow. I organize content by year and by project. Within each project are responsibilities and accomplishments.

I add any content to the CMD that might go into my résumé someday. I include everything I can think of, even if it seems insignificant or trivial at the time. 

For example, I sometimes help with social media marketing at Center Centre, the UX design school where I’m a faculty member. I include it in my CMD. I don’t plan to pursue social media marketing as a career, but it may be relevant to a future job. Who knows—I may apply to work for an organization that makes social media marketing software someday. In that case, my social media experience could be relevant.

Include portfolio artifacts with your CMD

In addition to capturing bullets for my résumé, I capture content for my portfolio. Each week, I gather screenshots of my work, photos of me working with the team, and any other artifacts I can find. I store them in an organized system I can reference later. 

I also take brief notes about the work I did and store them with the artifacts. That way, if I look back at these materials a year from now, I’ll have notes about what I did during the project, reminding me of the details.

For example, after I facilitated a user research analysis session late last year, I captured evidence of it for my portfolio. I included photos of the whiteboard where I recorded public notes during the session. I also captured brief notes about who attended the session, the date, and when it took place during the project. 

You can use whatever tools you’d like to gather evidence of your work. I use Google Docs for the résumé portion of my CMD. I use Dropbox to store my portfolio artifacts. I create Dropbox folders with dates and project names that correspond to the contents of my CMD.


Résumé content from my CMD. I wrote about coaching a student on crafting a presentation for her job interview. The highlighted areas are where I left comments reminding me of the details of the work. Note that some of the résumé bullets seem redundant, which is OK. When I create my next résumé, I’ll choose the most appropriate bullets.

I took notes on a whiteboard while coaching the student. I stored a photo of the whiteboard in Dropbox in a folder named with the date of the work and a description of what I did.

The key is to collect the evidence regularly and store it in an accessible, organized way that works for you. To know if you’re storing work evidence effectively, ask yourself, “Will I understand this CMD content a year from now based on how I’m capturing and storing it today?” If the answer is “yes,” you’re in good shape.

Update your CMD regularly

For the CMD to work when you need it, it needs to be comprehensive and up-to-date. As I mentioned before, I update my CMD once a week. I schedule thirty minutes on my calendar each week so I remember to do it. 

Sometimes I have a busy week, and I can’t spend thirty minutes on my CMD. So I spend whatever amount of time I have. Some weeks, I only spend ten minutes. Ten minutes per week is better than zero minutes per week. 

Occasionally, I don’t get a chance to update it because my week is so hectic. That’s OK because I’ll probably get to it the following week. 

I recommend updating your CMD once a week and not once a month or once a quarter. If you wait even a month, you’ll have trouble remembering what you did three and a half weeks ago. Even worse, if you schedule a CMD update once a month and then miss it, you won’t get to it until the next month. That means you have to think back and remember two months of work, which is hard to do. 

Updating your CMD every week, while the work is fresh in your mind, gets the best results.

The CMD benefits you in additional ways

The CMD can help you prepare for your job search beyond your résumé and your portfolio. 

You can use it to prepare for a job interview. Since you’re capturing work evidence from each stage of the process in your CMD, you can use that evidence to remember what you did throughout a project. Then, you can craft a story about your role on that project. 

Hiring managers love to hear stories about your work during job interviews. For instance, if you’re a designer, they want to know the journey you took during your design process, from the start of a project to the end. A detailed CMD will help you remember this process so you can share it in an interview. 

I’ve even used my CMD to write blog posts. I’ve been blogging regularly for the past two years, and I often refer to my CMD to remember work experience I had that’s relevant to what I’m writing. When I wrote the article “How to Tell Compelling Stories During a UX Job Interview,” I used my CMD to remember interview preparation exercises I did with students. 

The CMD can also help you track work accomplishments for your quarterly or annual performance reviews. Additionally, you can use it to write job ads when hiring for related roles on your team.

Lastly, I find it rewarding to peruse my CMD now and then, especially when I look back at work I did over a year ago. The CMD serves as a record of all my professional accomplishments. This record helps me appreciate my professional growth because I see how far my skills have come over time.

Learn more about the CMD from Manager Tools

At Center Centre, we originally learned about the Career Management Document through the Manager Tools podcast series.

Manager Tools’ podcasts explain how to use a CMD for your résumé. We expanded their approach to include portfolio work as well. I recommend listening to their podcasts about creating and maintaining your CMD:

Prepare for your next job search now

We tell our students at Center Centre that preparing for your next job search is a process that starts early. It’s like saving for retirement—the sooner you start saving money, the more likely you are to be prepared when the time comes. 

Similarly, collecting résumé and portfolio content ahead of time will prepare you to find your next job whenever you’re ready to do so. It also prepares you for a sudden job termination like an unexpected layoff. If you lose your job without warning, you’ll likely be under a lot of stress to find a new position. Having a CMD ready will relieve the additional stress of building a résumé and portfolio from scratch. 

If you don’t have a CMD yet, now is a great time to start one. Schedule 30 minutes this week to begin crafting your repository of work accomplishments. You’ll be glad you did when you seek your next job.

How to Create a Simple and Efficient PHP Cache

7 Aug 2019, 1:58 pm | CatsWhoCode

When working on PHP websites made from scratch and without a framework, speed can often be an issue. Caching is extremely useful in order to speed up PHP webpages. In this article, I’ll show you how to make a simple PHP caching system for your web pages. What is Page Caching? Page caching is a …

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Top Programming Blogs to Improve Your Skills

6 Aug 2019, 8:24 am | CatsWhoCode

It’s important to follow trends in your field to ensure you’re staying current on standards and protocols and perhaps more so in the field of coding. Programmers of all specialties can benefit from following industry-leading blogs to stay aware of the latest technologies. If you’re a coder of any sort you’ll want to subscribe to …

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Getting to the Heart of Digital Accessibility

1 Aug 2019, 1:45 pm | A List Apart: The Full Feed

Quick! Think of the word “developer” or “coder” — what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Maybe a whiteish male in his twenties living in a busy metropolis, wearing a nerdy t-shirt and hoodie? Someone a bit like Mark Zuckerberg? Or maybe a younger Bill Gates or Sergey Brin? Any of the dudes from the HBO series Silicon Valley, perhaps? Certainly no one like me.

By tech standards, I’m old. I’m also female and a mother. I live in a midwestern town you’ve never heard of and will never visit — a town where the cows vastly outnumber the people. My hair color is (almost) natural and is no longer part of the ROYGBIV collection, so I have no perceived conference street cred. I own about a thousand geeky T-shirts, but never actually wear them in public, opting for more “girly” attire (or so was pointed out by a male colleague). On the surface, I look more suited to taking notes at a PTA meeting than writing code. I’m a bit of an outsider. A tech misfit.

So when my 11-year-old daughter finished her recent coding camp and excitedly declared, “Now I’m a real developer, Mom, just like you!” there was the usual parent pride, but also a small piece of me that cringed. Because, as much as I support the STEM fields, and want the next generation of girls to be coding wizard-unicorn-ninjas, I really don’t want my own daughter to be a developer. The rationale behind this bold (and maybe controversial) statement comes from a place of protection. The tech world we live in today is far from perfect. I’ve endured my share of misogyny, self-doubt, and sexual harassment. Why wouldn’t I want to protect her from all of that?

The (diversity) elephant in the (computer) room

You’ve heard this story before: there is not enough diversity in tech. This puzzling trend seems to continue year after year, even though numerous studies show that by including more people from underrepresented communities, a company can increase its innovation, employee retention, and bottom line. Even with the recent push and supposed support for diversity and inclusivity from many Fortune 500 companies, women and female-identifying people still only hold 20% of all top tech jobs.

The data from FY 2018 shows that the number of women in technical roles at three of the top tech giants was 24% for Adobe, 26% for Google, and 22% for Facebook. While these numbers show that there is still not enough representation for women, these numbers do reflect a slight increase from the previous year (FY 2017: Adobe 22%, Google 25%, Facebook 15%). But even with this upward trend of hiring women in tech roles, the marginal growth rate has not caught up with the real world. The tech workforce is seriously out of touch with reality if, in 2019, a demographic (women) that represents more than half the global population is still considered a minority.

Sometimes this lack of diversity at the top level is blamed on a “pipeline” issue. The logic being: “If there are not enough girls who learn to code, then there will not be enough women who can code.” However, programs aimed at teaching girls how to code have skyrocketed in the past few years. Girls now make up about half of the enrollment in high-school coding classes and are scoring almost identically to their male classmates on standardized math and science tests, yet, young women make up only 18% of all Computer Science degrees. I have to wonder if this steep drop in interest has more to do with lack of representation in the tech sphere, than with girls and young women simply not being “smart enough” or “not interested” in working with code? At the very least, the lack of representation certainly doesn’t help.

Of course, the diversity picture becomes even more abysmal when you consider other underrepresented groups such as people of color, people from the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities. And while I really don’t like glossing over these deeper diversity issues in tech, because they are abundant and are much more grotesque failings than the male/female ratio, I also don’t feel qualified to speak about these issues. I encourage you to look to and value the voices of others who can speak with higher authority on these deeper diversity issues, such as Ire Aderinokun, Taelur Alexis, Imani Barbarin, Angie Jones, Fatima Khalid, Tatiana Mac, Charlie Owen, Cherry Rae, and so many others. And for those readers who are new to the topic of diversity in tech, watch Tatiana Mac’s recent conference talk How Privilege Defines Performance — it’s well worth the 35 minutes of your life.

The four stages in the digital accessibility journey

However you look at it, the numbers don’t lie. There are some pretty significant diversity issues in tech. So how do we fix this issue before the next wave of young developers join the tech workforce? Simple: teach developers to write accessible code.

This may seem like a joke to some and stretch to others, but hear me out. When we talk about accessible code, what we are really talking about at its core is inclusiveness. The actual process of writing accessible code involves rules and standards, tests and tools; but inclusive development is more abstract than that. It’s a shift in thinking. And when we rethink our approach to development, we go beyond just the base level of simple code functionality. We instead think, how is this code consumed? How can we make it even more intelligible and easier for people to use? Inclusive development means making something valuable, not just accessible, to as many people as we can.

That line of thinking is a bit abstract, so let’s go through an example. Let’s say you are tasked with updating the color contrast between the text on a webpage or app and the background. What happens at each stage in the accessibility journey?

Stage 1: Awareness — You are brand new to digital accessibility and are still trying to understand what it is and how you can implement changes in your daily workflow. You may be aware that there is a set of digital accessibility guidelines that other developers follow, but you are a bit hazy on what it all means in a practical sense.

Stage 2: Knowledge — You know a bit more about digital accessibility and feel comfortable using a few testing tools, so you run an automated accessibility test on your website and it flags a possible issue with the color contrast. Based on your awareness of the guidelines, you know the color contrast ratio between the text and the background needs to be a certain number and that you need a tool to test this.

Stage 3: Practice — Feeling more confident in your knowledge of digital accessibility rules and best practices, you use a tool to measure the color contrast ratio between the text and the background. Then based on the output of the tool, you modify the hex code to meet the color contrast ratio guidelines and retest to confirm you have met the accessibility requirements for this issue.

Stage 4: Understanding — You understand that the accessibility guidelines and tools are created with people in mind, and that code is secondary to all of that. One is the means, and the other is the end. In the color contrast example, you understand that people with low-vision or colorblindness need these color contrast changes in order to actually see the words on your web page.

This is a bit of an oversimplification of the process. But I hope you get the gist — that there are different stages of digital accessibility knowledge and understanding. True beginners may not be to even stage one, but I am finding that group rarer and rarer these days. The word about digital accessibility seems to be out! Which is great; but that’s only the first hurdle. What I’m seeing now is that a lot of people stop at Stage 2: Knowledge or Stage 3: Practice — where you are aware of the digital accessibility guidelines, have some testing tools in your back pocket, and know how to fix some of the issues reported, but haven’t quite connected the dots to the humans they impact.

From the standpoint of getting daily stuff done, stages two and three are okay stopping points. But what happens when the things you need to do are too complex for a quick fix, or you have no buy-in from your peers or management? I feel that once we get to Stage 4: Understanding, and really get why these kinds of changes are needed, people will be more motivated to make those changes regardless of the challenges involved. When you arrive at stage four, you have gone beyond knowing the basic rules, testing, and coding. You recognize that digital accessibility is not just a “nice to have” but a “must have” and it becomes about quality of life for real people. This is digital inclusion. This is something you can’t unsee, you can’t unlearn, and you can’t ignore.

Making digital accessibility a priority — not a requirement

In my role as an accessibility trainer, I like to kick-off each session with the question: “What are you hoping to learn today about digital accessibility?” I ask this question to establish a rapport with the audience and to understand where everyone is in their accessibility journey, but I am also evaluating the level of company and individual buy-in too. There is nothing worse than showing up to teach a group that does not care to be taught. If I hear the words “I am only here because I have to be” — I know it will be an uphill battle to get them anywhere close to Stage 4: Understanding, so I mentally regroup and aim for another stage.

In my experience, when companies and their leaders say “Digital accessibility is a requirement,” nine times out of ten there is a motivating factor behind this sweeping declaration (for example, impending litigation, or at least the fear of it). When changes are framed as mandatory and packaged as directives from on high with little additional context, people can be resistant and will find excuses to fight or challenge the declaration, and any change can become an uphill battle. Calling something “mandatory” only speaks to Stage 1: Awareness.

By swapping out one word from the original declaration and saying “Digital accessibility is a priority,” companies and their leaders have reframed the conversation with their employees. When changes are framed as “working towards a solution” and discussed openly and collaboratively, people feel like they are part of the process and are more open to embracing change. In the long run, embracing change becomes part of a company’s culture and leads to innovation (and, yes, inclusion) on all levels. Calling something a priority speaks to Stage 4: Understanding.

Some of the excuses I often hear from clients for not prioritizing accessibility is that it is too difficult, too costly, and/or too time consuming — but is that really the case? In the same accessibility training, I lead an exercise where we look at a website with an accessibility testing tool and review any issues that came up. With the group’s help we plot out the “impact to user” versus the “remediation effort” on the part of the team. From group to group, while the plots are slightly different, one commonality is that close to 80% of the errors plotted fall into the quadrant of “simple to fix” for the team, but they also fall under “high impact” to the user. Based on this empirical data, I won’t buy the argument from clients who say that accessibility is too difficult and costly and time consuming anymore. It comes down to whether it’s a priority — for each individual and for the company as a whole.

What will your coding legacy be?

The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will eventually type any given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. So by that same logic, a programmer hitting keys at random on a computer for an infinite amount of time will almost surely produce a website that is accessible. But where is the thought process? Where is the human element? While all the things we’ve already talked about — awareness, education, and prioritization of accessibility are important steps in making the digital world more inclusive to all — without intent, we are just going to keep randomly tapping away at our computers, repeating the same mistakes over and over again. The intent behind the code has to be part of the process, otherwise accessibility is just another task that has no meaning.

Maybe I’m naive, but I’d like to think we’ve come to a point in our society where we want our work lives to have meaning. And that we don’t want to just hear about the positive change that is happening, but want to be part of the change. Digital accessibility is a place where this can happen! Not only does understanding and writing purpose-driven code help people with disabilities in the short-run, I believe strongly that is key to solving the overarching diversity issue in tech in the long-run. Developers who reach Stage 4: Understanding, and who prioritize accessible code because they understand it’s fundamentally about people, will also be the ones who help create and cultivate an inclusive environment where people from more diverse backgrounds are also prioritized and accepted in the tech world.

Because when you strip away all the styles, all the mark-up, all the cool features from a website or app — what’s left? People. And honestly, the more I learn about digital accessibility, the more I realize it’s not about the code at all. Digital accessibility is rooted in the user; and, while I (and countless others) can certainly teach you how to write accessible code, and build you tools, patterns, and libraries to use, I realize we can’t teach you to care. That is a choice you have to make yourself. So think for a moment — what are you leaving the next generation of developers with all that inaccessible code you haven’t given much thought to? Is it the coding legacy you really want to leave? I challenge you to do better for my daughter, her peers, and for the countless others who are not fully represented in the tech community today.

Responsible JavaScript: Part II

13 Jun 2019, 1:30 pm | A List Apart: The Full Feed

You and the rest of the dev team lobbied enthusiastically for a total re-architecture of the company’s aging website. Your pleas were heard by management—even up to the C-suite—who gave the green light. Elated, you and the team started working with the design, copy, and IA teams. Before long, you were banging out new code.

It started out innocently enough with an npm install here and an npm install there. Before you knew it, though, you were installing production dependencies like an undergrad doing keg stands without a care for the morning after.

Then you launched.

Unlike the aftermath of most copious boozings, the agony didn’t start the morning after. Oh, no. It came months later in the ghastly form of low-grade nausea and headache of product owners and middle management wondering why conversions and revenue were both down since the launch. It then hit a fever pitch when the CTO came back from a weekend at the cabin and wondered why the site loaded so slowly on their phone—if it indeed ever loaded at all.

Everyone was happy. Now no one is happy. Welcome to your first JavaScript hangover.

It’s not your fault

When you’re grappling with a vicious hangover, “I told you so” would be a well-deserved, if fight-provoking, rebuke—assuming you could even fight in so sorry a state.

When it comes to JavaScript hangovers, there’s plenty of blame to dole out. Pointing fingers is a waste of time, though. The landscape of the web today demands that we iterate faster than our competitors. This kind of pressure means we’re likely to take advantage of any means available to be as productive as possible. That means we’re more likely—but not necessarily doomed—to build apps with more overhead, and possibly use patterns that can hurt performance and accessibility.

Web development isn't easy. It’s a long slog we rarely get right on the first try. The best part of working on the web, however, is that we don’t have to get it perfect at the start. We can make improvements after the fact, and that’s just what the second installment of this series is here for. Perfection is a long ways off. For now, let’s take the edge off of that JavaScript hangover by improving your site’s, er, scriptuation in the short term.

Round up the usual suspects

It might seem rote, but it’s worth going through the list of basic optimizations. It’s not uncommon for large development teams—particularly those that work across many repositories or don’t use optimized boilerplate—to overlook them.

Shake those trees

First, make sure your toolchain is configured to perform tree shaking. If tree shaking is new to you, I wrote a guide on it last year you can consult. The short of it is that tree shaking is a process in which unused exports in your codebase don’t get packaged up in your production bundles.

Tree shaking is available out of the box with modern bundlers such as webpack, Rollup, or Parcel. Grunt or gulp—which are not bundlers, but rather task runners—won’t do this for you. A task runner doesn’t build a dependency graph like a bundler does. Rather, they perform discrete tasks on the files you feed to them with any number of plugins. Task runners can be extended with plugins to use bundlers to process JavaScript. If extending task runners in this way is problematic for you, you’ll likely need to manually audit and remove unused code.

For tree shaking to be effective, the following must be true:

  1. Your app logic and the packages you install in your project must be authored as ES6 modules. Tree shaking CommonJS modules isn’t practically possible.
  2. Your bundler must not transform ES6 modules into another module format at build time. If this happens in a toolchain that uses Babel, @babel/preset-env configuration must specify modules: false to prevent ES6 code from being converted to CommonJS.

On the off chance tree shaking isn’t occurring during your build, getting it to work may help. Of course, its effectiveness varies on a case-by-case basis. It also depends on whether the modules you import introduce side effects, which may influence a bundler’s ability to shake unused exports.

Split that code

Chances are good that you’re employing some form of code splitting, but it’s worth re-evaluating how you’re doing it. No matter how you’re splitting code, there are two questions that are always worth asking yourself:

  1. Are you deduplicating common code between entry points?
  2. Are you lazy loading all the functionality you reasonably can with dynamic import()?

These are important because reducing redundant code is essential to performance. Lazy loading functionality also improves performance by lowering the initial JavaScript footprint on a given page. On the redundancy front, using an analysis tool such as Bundle Buddy can help you find out if you have a problem.

The Bundle Buddy utility demonstrating how much code is shared between bundles of JavaScript.
Bundle Buddy can examine your webpack compilation statistics and determine how much code is shared between your bundles.

Where lazy loading is concerned, it can be a bit difficult to know where to start looking for opportunities. When I look for opportunities in existing projects, I’ll search for user interaction points throughout the codebase, such as click and keyboard events, and similar candidates. Any code that requires a user interaction to run is a potentially good candidate for dynamic import().

Of course, loading scripts on demand brings the possibility that interactivity could be noticeably delayed, as the script necessary for the interaction must be downloaded first. If data usage is not a concern, consider using the rel=prefetch resource hint to load such scripts at a low priority that won’t contend for bandwidth against critical resources. Support for rel=prefetch is good, but nothing will break if it’s unsupported, as such browsers will ignore markup they doesn’t understand.

Externalize third-party hosted code

Ideally, you should self-host as many of your site’s dependencies as possible. If for some reason you must load dependencies from a third party, mark them as externals in your bundler’s configuration. Failing to do so could mean your website’s visitors will download both locally hosted code and the same code from a third party.

Let’s look at a hypothetical situation where this could hurt you: say that your site loads Lodash from a public CDN. You've also installed Lodash in your project for local development. However, if you fail to mark Lodash as external, your production code will end up loading a third party copy of it in addition to the bundled, locally hosted copy.

This may seem like common knowledge if you know your way around bundlers, but I’ve seen it get overlooked. It’s worth your time to check twice.

If you aren’t convinced to self-host your third-party dependencies, then consider adding dns-prefetch, preconnect, or possibly even preload hints for them. Doing so can lower your site’s Time to Interactive and—if JavaScript is critical to rendering content—your site’s Speed Index.

Smaller alternatives for less overhead

Userland JavaScript is like an obscenely massive candy store, and we as developers are awed by the sheer amount of open source offerings. Frameworks and libraries allow us to extend our applications to quickly do all sorts of stuff that would otherwise take loads of time and effort.

While I personally prefer to aggressively minimize the use of client-side frameworks and libraries in my projects, their value is compelling. Yet, we do have a responsibility to be a bit hawkish when it comes to what we install. When we’ve already built and shipped something that depends on a slew of installed code to run, we’ve accepted a baseline cost that only the maintainers of that code can practically address. Right?

Maybe, but then again, maybe not. It depends on the dependencies used. For instance, React is extremely popular, but Preact is an ultra-small alternative that largely shares the same API and retains compatibility with many React add-ons. Luxon and date-fns are much more compact alternatives to moment.js, which is not exactly tiny.

Libraries such as Lodash offer many useful methods. Yet, some of them are easily replaceable with native ES6. Lodash’s compact method, for example, is replaceable with the filter array method. Many more can be replaced without much effort, and without the need for pulling in a large utility library.

Whatever your preferred tools are, the idea is the same: do some research to see if there are smaller alternatives, or if native language features can do the trick. You may be surprised at how little effort it may take you to seriously reduce your app’s overhead.

Differentially serve your scripts

There’s a good chance you’re using Babel in your toolchain to transform your ES6 source into code that can run on older browsers. Does this mean we’re doomed to serve giant bundles even to browsers that don’t need them, until the older browsers disappear altogether? Of course not! Differential serving helps us get around this by generating two different builds of your ES6 source:

  • Bundle one, which contains all the transforms and polyfills required for your site to work on older browsers. You’re probably already serving this bundle right now.
  • Bundle two, which contains little to none of the transforms and polyfills because it targets modern browsers. This is the bundle you’re probably not serving—at least not yet.

Achieving this is a bit involved. I’ve written a guide on one way you can do it, so there’s no need for a deep dive here. The long and short of it is that you can modify your build configuration to generate an additional but smaller version of your site’s JavaScript code, and serve it only to modern browsers. The best part is that these are savings you can achieve without sacrificing any features or functionality you already offer. Depending on your application code, the savings could be quite significant.

A webpack-bundle-analyzer analysis of a project's legacy bundle (left) versus one for a modern bundle (right). View full-sized image.

The simplest pattern for serving these bundles to their respective platforms is brief. It also works a treat in modern browsers:

<!-- Modern browsers load this file: --><script type="module" src="/js/app.mjs"></script><!-- Legacy browsers load this file: --><script defer nomodule src="/js/app.js"></script>

Unfortunately, there’s a caveat with this pattern: legacy browsers like IE 11—and even relatively modern ones such as Edge versions 15 through 18—will download both bundles. If this is an acceptable trade-off for you, then worry no further.

On the other hand, you'll need a workaround if you’re concerned about the performance implications of older browsers downloading both sets of bundles. Here’s one potential solution that uses script injection (instead of the script tags above) to avoid double downloads on affected browsers:

var scriptEl = document.createElement("script");if ("noModule" in scriptEl) {  // Set up modern script  scriptEl.src = "/js/app.mjs";  scriptEl.type = "module";} else {  // Set up legacy script  scriptEl.src = "/js/app.js";  scriptEl.defer = true; // type="module" defers by default, so set it here.}// Inject!document.body.appendChild(scriptEl);

This script infers that if a browser supports the nomodule attribute in the script element, it understands type="module". This ensures that legacy browsers only get legacy scripts and modern browsers only get modern ones. Be warned, though, that dynamically injected scripts load asynchronously by default, so set the async attribute to false if dependency order is crucial.

Transpile less

I’m not here to trash Babel. It’s indispensable, but lordy, it adds a lot of extra stuff without your ever knowing. It pays to peek under the hood to see what it’s up to. Some minor changes in your coding habits can have a positive impact on what Babel spits out.

https://twitter.com/_developit/status/1110229993999777793

To wit: default parameters are a very handy ES6 feature you probably already use:

function logger(message, level = "log") {  console[level](message);}

The thing to pay attention to here is the level parameter, which has a default of “log.” This means if we want to invoke console.log with this wrapper function, we don’t need to specify level. Great, right? Except when Babel transforms this function, the output looks like this:

function logger(message) {  var level = arguments.length > 1 && arguments[1] !== undefined ? arguments[1] : "log";  console[level](message);}

This is an example of how, despite our best intentions, developer conveniences can backfire. What was a handful of bytes in our source has now been transformed into much larger in our production code. Uglification can’t do much about it either, as arguments can’t be reduced. Oh, and if you think rest parameters might be a worthy antidote, Babel’s transforms for them are even bulkier:

// Sourcefunction logger(...args) {  const [level, message] = args;  console[level](message);}// Babel outputfunction logger() {  for (var _len = arguments.length, args = new Array(_len), _key = 0; _key < _len; _key++) {    args[_key] = arguments[_key];  }  const level = args[0],        message = args[1];  console[level](message);}

Worse yet, Babel transforms this code even for projects with a @babel/preset-env configuration targeting modern browsers, meaning the modern bundles in your differentially served JavaScript will be affected too! You could use loose transforms to soften the blow—and that’s a fine idea, as they’re often quite a bit smaller than their more spec-compliant counterparts—but enabling loose transforms can cause issues if you remove Babel from your build pipeline later on.

Regardless of whether you decide to enable loose transforms, here’s one way to cut the cruft of transpiled default parameters:

// Babel won't touch thisfunction logger(message, level) {  console[level || "log"](message);}

Of course, default parameters aren’t the only feature to be wary of. For example, spread syntax gets transformed, as do arrow functions and a whole host of other stuff.

If you don’t want to avoid these features altogether, you have a couple ways of reducing their impact:

  1. If you’re authoring a library, consider using @babel/runtime in concert with @babel/plugin-transform-runtime to deduplicate the helper functions Babel puts into your code.
  2. For polyfilled features in apps, you can include them selectively with @babel/polyfill via @babel/preset-env’s useBuiltIns: "usage" option.

This is solely my opinion, but I believe the best choice is to avoid transpilation altogether in bundles generated for modern browsers. That’s not always possible, especially if you use JSX, which must be transformed for all browsers, or if you’re using bleeding edge language features that aren’t widely supported. In the latter case, it might be worth asking if those features are really necessary to deliver a good user experience (they rarely are). If you arrive at the conclusion that Babel must be a part of your toolchain, then it’s worth peeking under the hood from time to time to catch suboptimal stuff Babel might be doing that you can improve on.

Improvement is not a race

As you massage your temples wondering when this horrid JavaScript hangover is going to lift, understand that it’s precisely when we rush to get something out there as fast as we possibly can that the user experience can suffer. As the web development community obsesses on iterating faster in the name of competition, it’s worth your time to slow down a little bit. You’ll find that by doing so, you may not be iterating as fast as your competitors, but your product will be faster than theirs.

As you take these suggestions and apply them to your codebase, know that progress doesn’t spontaneously happen overnight. Web development is a job. The truly impactful work is done when we’re thoughtful and dedicated to the craft for the long haul. Focus on steady improvements. Measure, test, repeat, and your site’s user experience will improve, and you’ll get faster bit by bit over time.

Special thanks to Jason Miller for tech editing this piece. Jason is the creator and one of the many maintainers of Preact, a vastly smaller alternative to React with the same API. If you use Preact, please consider supporting Preact through Open Collective.

Resilient Management, An Excerpt

6 Jun 2019, 1:30 pm | A List Apart: The Full Feed

In Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development, the Storming stage happens as a group begins to figure out how to work together. Previously, each person had been doing their own thing as individuals, so necessarily a few things need to be ironed out: how to collaborate, how to hit goals, how to determine priorities. Of course there may be some friction here!

But even if your team doesn’t noticeably demonstrate this kind of internal Storming as they begin to gel, there might be some outside factors at play in your work environment that create friction. During times of team scaling and organizational change—the water we in the web industry are often swimming in—managers are responsible for things like strategy-setting, aligning their team’s work to company objectives, and unblocking the team as they ship their work.

In addition to these business-context responsibilities, managers need to be able to help their teammates navigate this storm by helping them grow in their roles and support the team’s overall progress. If you and your teammates don’t adapt and evolve in your roles, it’s unlikely that your team will move out of the Storming stage and into the Norming stage of team dynamics.

To spur this course-correction and growth in your teammates, you’ll end up wearing four different hats:

  • Mentoring: lending advice and helping to problem solve based on your own experience.
  • Coaching: asking open questions to help your teammate reflect and introspect, rather than sharing your own opinions or quickly problem solving.
  • Sponsoring: finding opportunities for your teammate to level up, take on new leadership roles, and get promoted.
  • Delivering feedback: observing behavior that is or isn’t aligned to what the team needs to be doing and sharing those observations, along with praise or suggestions.

Let’s dive in to how to choose, and when to use, each ofthese skills as you grow your teammates, and then talk aboutwhat it looks like when teammates support the overarchingdirection of the team.

Mentoring

When I talk to managers, I find that the vast majority have theirmentor hats on ninety percent of the time when they’re working with theirteammates. It’s natural!

In mentoring mode, we’re doling out advice, sharing our perspective,and helping someone else problem solve based on that information. Our personalexperiences are often what we can talk most confidently about! For this reason,mentorship mode can feel really good and effective for the mentor. Having thatmentor hat on can help the other person overcome a roadblock or know which nextsteps to take, while avoiding drastic errors that they wouldn’t have seencoming otherwise.

As a mentor, it’s your responsibility to give advice that’s current and sensitive to the changing dialog happening in our industry. Advice that might work for one person (“Be louder in meetings!” or “Ask your boss for a raise!”) may undermine someone else, because members of underrepresented groups are unconsciously assessed and treated differently. For example, research has shown that “when women are collaborative and communal, they are not perceived as competent—but when they emphasize their competence, they’re seen as cold and unlikable, in a classic ‘double bind’”.

If you are not a member of a marginalized group, and you have amentee who is, please be a responsible mentor! Try to be aware of theway members of underrepresented groups are perceived, and the unconscious biasthat might be at play in your mentee’s work environment. When you have yourmentor hat on, do lots of gut checking to make sure that your advice is goingto be helpful in practice for your mentee.

Mentoring is ideal when the mentee is new to their role or to theorganization; they need to learn the ropes from someone who has firsthandexperience. It’s also ideal when your teammate is working on a problem and hastried out a few different approaches, but still feels stumped; this is whypractices like pair coding can help folks learn new things.

As mentors, we want our mentees to reach beyond us, because our mentees’ success is ultimately our success. Mentorship relationships evolve over time, because each party is growing. Imaginative, innovative ideas often come from people who have never seen a particular challenge before, so if your mentee comes up with a creative solution on their own that you wouldn’t have thought of, be excited for them—don’t just focus on the ways that you’ve done it or seen it done before.

Managers often default to mentoring mode because it feels like the fastest way to solve a problem, but it falls short in helping your teammate connect their own dots. For that, we’ll look to coaching.

Coaching

In mentoring mode, you’re focused on both the problem and the solution. You’ll share what you as the mentor would do or have done in this situation. This means you’re more focused on yourself, and less on the person who is sitting in front of you.

In coaching mode—an extremely powerful but often underutilized mode—you’re doing two primary things:

  1. Asking open questions to help the other person explore more of the shape of the topic, rather than staying at the surface level.
  2. Reflecting, which is like holding up a mirror for the other person and describing what you see or hear, or asking them to reflect for themselves.

These two tools will help you become your teammate’s fiercest champion.

Open Questions

“Closed” questions can only be answered with yes or no.Open questions often start with who, what, when, where,why, and how. But the best open questions are about theproblem, not the solution. Questions that start with why tend to makethe other person feel judged, and questions that start with how tendto go into problem solving mode—both of which we want to avoid while incoaching mode.

However, what questions can be authentically curious!When someone comes to you with a challenge, try asking questions like:

  • What’s most important to you about it?
  • What’s holding you back?
  • What does success look like?

Let’s say my teammate comes to me and says they’re ready for apromotion. Open questions could help this teammate explore what this promotionmeans and demonstrate to me what introspection they’ve already done around it.Rather than telling them what I think is necessary for them to be promoted, Icould instead open up this conversation by asking them:

  • What would you be able to do in the new levelthat you can’t do in your current one?
  • What skills are required in the new level? Whatare some ways that you’ve honed those skills?
  • Who are the people already at that level thatyou want to emulate? What about them do you want to emulate?

Their answers would give me a place to start coaching. These questions might push my teammate to think more deeply about what this promotion means, rather than allowing them to stay surface level and believe that a promotion is about checking off a lot of boxes on a list. Their answers might also open my eyes to things that I hadn’t seen before, like a piece of work that my teammate had accomplished that made a huge impact. But most important, going into coaching mode would start a two-way conversation with this teammate, which would help make an otherwise tricky conversation feel more like a shared exploration.

Openquestions, asked from a place of genuine curiosity, help people feel seen andheard. However, if the way you ask your questions comes across as judgy or likeyou’ve already made some assumptions, then your questions aren’t truly open(and your teammate can smell this on you!). Practice your intonation to makesure your open questions are actually curious and open.

By the way, forming lots of open questions (instead of problem solving questions, or giving advice) is tremendously hard for most people. Don’t worry if you don’t get the hang of it at first; it takes a lot of practice and intention over time to default to coaching mode rather than mentoring mode. I promise, it’s worth it.

Reflections

Just like open questions, reflections help the other person feelseen and heard, and to explore the topic more deeply.

It’s almost comical how rarely we get the sense that the personwe’re talking to is actively listening to us, or focusing entirely on helpingus connect our own dots. Help your teammates reflect by repeating back to themwhat you hear them say, as in:

  • “What I’m hearing you say is that you’refrustrated with how this project is going. Is that right?”
  • “What I know to be true about you is how deeplyyou care about your teammates’ feelings.”

In each of theseexamples, you are holding up a metaphorical mirror to your teammate, andhelping them look into it. You can coach them to reflect, too:

  • “How does this new architecture project map toyour goals?”
  • “Let’s reflect on where you were this time lastyear and how far you’ve come.”

Occasionally, you might get a reflection wrong; this gives theother person an opportunity to realize something new about their topic, likethe words they’re choosing aren’t quite right, or there’s another underlyingissue that should be explored. So don’t be worried about giving a badreflection; reflecting back what you’re hearing will still help your teammate.

The act of reflecting can help the other person do a gut check tomake sure they’re approaching their topic holistically. Sometimes the act ofreflection forces (encourages?) the other person to do some really hard work: introspection.Introspection creates an opportunity for them to realize new aspects of theproblem, options they can choose from, or deeper meanings that hadn’t occurredto them before—which often ends up being a nice shortcut to the right solution.Or, even better, the right problem statement.

When you have your coaching hat on, you don’t need to have all the answers, or even fully understand the problem that your teammate is wrestling with; you’re just there as a mirror and as a question-asker, to help prompt the other person to think deeply and come to some new, interesting conclusions. Frankly, it may not feel all that effective when you’re in coaching mode, but I promise, coaching can generate way more growth for that other person than just giving them advice or sharing your perspective.

Choose coaching when you’re looking to help someone (especially an emerging leader) hone their strategic thinking skills, grow their leadership aptitude, and craft their own path forward. Coaching mode is all about helping your teammate develop their own brain wrinkles, rather than telling them how you would do something. The introspection and creativity it inspires create deeper and longer-lasting growth.

Sponsoring

While you wear the mentoring and coaching hats around yourteammates, the sponsor hat is more often worn when they’re not around,like when you’re in a 1:1 with your manager, a sprint planning meeting, oranother environment where someone’s work might be recognized. You might hearabout an upcoming project to acquire a new audience and recommend that abudding user researcher take it on, or you’ll suggest to an All Hands meetingorganizer that a junior designer should give a talk about a new pattern they’veintroduced to the style guide.

Sponsorship is all about feeling on the hook for gettingsomeone to the next level. As someone’s sponsor, you’ll put their name in thering for opportunities that will get them the experience and visibilitynecessary to grow in their role and at the organization. You will put yourpersonal reputation on the line on behalf of the person you’re sponsoring, tohelp get them visible and developmental assignments. It’s a powerful tool, andthe one most effective at helping someone get to the next level (way more sothan mentoring or coaching!).

The Center for Talent Innovation routinely measures the career benefits of sponsorship (PDF). Their studies have found that when someone has a sponsor, they are way more likely to have access to career-launching work. They’re also more likely to take actions that lead to even more growth and opportunities, like asking their manager for a stretch assignment or a raise.

When you’re in sponsorship mode, think about the differentopportunities you have to offer up someone’s name. This might look like:

  • giving visible/public recognition (company“shout outs,” having them present a project demo, thanking them in a launchemail, giving someone’s manager feedback about their good work);
  • assigning stretch tasks and projects that are justbeyond their current skill set, to help them grow and have supportingevidence for a future promotion; or
  • opening the door for them to write blog posts,give company or conference talks, or contribute open-source work.

Remember that members of underrepresented groups are typically over-mentored, but under-sponsored. These individuals get lots of advice (often unsolicited), coffee outings, and offers to teach them new skills. But it’s much rarer for them to see support that looks like sponsorship.

This isn’t because sponsors intentionally ignore marginalized folks, but because of in-group bias. Because of how our brains (and social networks) work, the people we’re closest to tend to look mostly like us—and we draw from that same pool when we nominate people for projects, for promotions, and for hires. Until I started learning about bias in the workplace, most of the people I sponsored were white, cisgender women, like myself. Since then, I’ve actively worked to sponsor people of color and nonbinary people. It takes effort and intention to combat our default behaviors—but I know you can do it!

Take a look at the daily communications you participate in: your work chat logs, the conversations you have with others, the process for figuring out who should fix a bug or work on a new project, and the processes for making your teams’ work visible (like an architecture review, code review, launch calendar, etc.). You’ll be surprised how many moments there are to sponsor someone throughout an average day. Please put in the time and intention to ensure that you’re sponsoring members of underrepresented groups, too.

Daily Ethical Design

30 May 2019, 2:30 pm | A List Apart: The Full Feed

Suddenly, I realized that the people next to me might be severely impacted by my work.I was having a quick lunch in the airport. A group of flight attendants sat down at the table next to me and started to prepare for their flight. For a while now, our design team had been working on futuristic concepts for the operations control center of these flight attendants’ airline, pushing ourselves to come up with innovative solutions enabled by the newest technologies. As the control center deals with all activities around flying planes, our concepts touched upon everything and everyone within the airline.How was I to know what the impact of my work would be on the lives of these flight attendants? And what about the lives of all the other people working at the airline?Ideally, we would have talked to all the types of employees in the company and tested our concepts with them. But, of course, there was no budget (or time) allocated to do so, not to mention we faced the hurdle of convincing (internal) stakeholders of the need.Not for the first time, I felt frustrated: practical, real-world constraints prevented me from assessing the impact and quality of my work. They prevented me from properly conducting ethical design.

What is ethical design?

Right, good question. A very comprehensive definition of ethical design can be found at Encyclopedia.com:
Design ethics concerns moral behavior and responsible choices in the practice of design. It guides how designers work with clients, colleagues, and the end users of products, how they conduct the design process, how they determine the features of products, and how they assess the ethical significance or moral worth of the products that result from the activity of designing.
In other words, ethical design is about the “goodness”—in terms of benefit to individuals, society, and the world—of how we collaborate, how we practice our work, and what we create. There’s never a black-and-white answer for whether design is good or bad, yet there are a number of areas for designers to focus on when considering ethics.

Usability

Nowadays usability has conquered a spot as a basic requirement for each interface; unusable products are considered design failures. And rightly so; we have a moral obligation as designers to create products that are intuitive, safe, and free from possibly life-threatening errors. We were all reminded of usability’s importance by last year’s accidental nuclear strike warning in Hawaii. What if, instead of a false-positive, the operator had broadcasted a false-negative?

Accessibility

Like usability, inclusive design has become a standard item in the requirement list of many designers and companies. (I will never forget that time someone tried to use our website with a screen reader—and got absolutely stuck at the cookie message.) Accessible design benefits all, as it attempts to cover as many needs and capabilities as possible. Yet for each design project, there are still a lot of tricky questions to answer. Who gets to benefit from our solutions? Who is (un)intentionally left out? Who falls outside the “target customer segment”?

Privacy

Another day, another Facebook privacy scandal. As we’re progressing into the Data Age, the topic of privacy has become almost synonymous with design ethics. There’s a reason why more and more people use DuckDuckGo as an alternative search engine to Google. Corporations have access to an abundance of personal information about consumers, and as designers we have the privilege—and responsibility—of using this information to shape products and services. We have to consider how much information is strictly necessary and how much people are willing to give up in exchange for services. And how can we make people aware of the potential risks without overloading them?

User involvement

Overlapping largely with privacy, this focus area is about how we deal with our users and what we do with the data that we collect from them. IDEO has recently published The Little Book of Design Research Ethics, which provides a comprehensive overview of the core principles and guidelines we should follow when conducting design research.

Persuasion

Ethics related to persuasion is about to what extent we may influence the behavior and thoughts of our users. It doesn’t take much to bring acceptable, “white hat” persuasion into gray or even dark territories. Conversion optimization, for example, can easily turn into “How do we squeeze out more revenue from our customers by turning their unconsciousness against them?” Prime examples include Netflix, which convinces us to watch, watch, and watch even more, and Booking.com, which barrages our senses with urgency and social pressure.

Focus

The current digital landscape is addictive, distracting, and competing for attention. Designing for focus is about responsibly handling people’s most valuable resource: time. Our challenge is to limit everything that disrupts our users’ attention, lower the addictiveness of products, and create calmness. The Center for Humane Technology has started a useful list of resources for this purpose.

Sustainability

What’s the impact of our work on the world’s environment, resources, and climate? Instead of continuously adding new features in the unrelenting scrum treadmill, how could we design for fewer? We’re in the position to create responsible digital solutions that enable sustainable consumer behavior and prevent overconsumption. For example, apps such as Optimiam and Too Good To Go allow people to order leftover food that would normally be thrashed. Or consider Mutum and Peerby, whose peer-to-peer platforms promote the sharing and reuse of owned products.

Society

The Ledger of Harms of the Center for Human Technology is a work-in-progress collection of the negative impacts that digital technology has on society, including topics such as relationships, mental health, and democracy. Designers who are mindful of society consider the impact of their work on the global economy, communities, politics, and health.
[caption id="attachment_7171650" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Focus areas of ethical design: user involvement, persuasion, focus, sustainability, society, usability, accessibility, privacy The focus areas of design ethics. That’s a lot to consider![/caption]

Ethics as an inconvenience

Ideally, in every design project, we should assess the potential impact in all of the above-mentioned areas and take steps to prevent harm. Yet there are many legitimate, understandable reasons why we often neglect to do so. It’s easy to have moral principles, yet in the real world, with the constraints that our daily life imposes upon us, it’s seldom easy to act according to those principles.We might simply say it’s inconvenient at the moment. That there’s a lack of time or budget to consider all the ethical implications of our work. That there are many more pressing concerns that have priority right now. We might genuinely believe it’s just a small issue, something to consider later, perhaps. Mostly, we are simply unaware of the possible consequences of our work.And then there’s the sheer complexity of it all: it’s simply too much to simultaneously focus on. When short on time, or in the heat of approaching deadlines and impatient stakeholders, how do you incorporate all of design ethics’ focus areas?Where do you even start?

Ethics as a structural practice

For these reasons, I believe we need to elevate design ethics to a more practical level. We need to find ways to make ethics not an afterthought, not something to be considered separately, but rather something that’s so ingrained in our process that not doing it means not doing design at all.The only way to overcome the “inconvenience” of acting ethically is to practice daily ethical design: ethics structurally integrated in our daily work, processes, and tools as designers. No longer will we have to rely on the exceptions among us; those extremely principled who are brave enough to stand up against the system no matter what kind of pressure is put upon them. Because the system will be on our side.By applying ethics daily and structurally in our design process, we’ll be able to identify and neutralize in a very early stage the potential for mistakes and misuse. We’ll increase the quality of our design and our practices simply because we’ll think things through more thoroughly, in a more conscious and structured manner.But perhaps most important is that we’ll establish a new standard for design. A standard that we can sell to our clients as the way design should be done, with ethical design processes and deliverables already included. A standard that can be taught to design students so that the newest generation of designers doesn’t know any better than to apply ethics, always.

How to practice daily ethical design?

At this point we’ve arrived at the question of how we can structurally integrate ethics into our design process. How do we make sure that our daily design decisions will result in a product that’s usable and accessible; protects people’s privacy, agency, and focus; and benefits both society and nature?I want to share with you some best practices that I’ve identified so far, and how I’ve tried to apply them during a recent project at Mirabeau. The goal of the project was to build a web application that provides a shaver manufacturer’s factory workers insight into the real-time availability of production materials.

Connect to your organization’s mission and values

By connecting our designs to the mission and values of the companies we work for, we can structurally use our design skills in a strategic manner, for moral purposes. We can challenge the company to truly live up to its promises and support it in carrying out its mission. This does, however, require you to be aware of the company’s values, and to compare these to your personal values.As I had worked with our example client before, I knew it was a company that takes care of its employees and has a strong focus on creating a better world. During the kick-off phase, we used a strategy pyramid to structure the client’s mission and values, and to agree upon success factors for the project. We translated the company’s customer-facing brand guidelines to employee-focused design principles that maintained the essence of the organization.

Keep track of your assumptions

Throughout our entire design process, we make assumptions for each decision that we take. By structurally keeping track of these assumptions, you’ll never forget about the limitations of your design and where the potential risks lie in terms of (harmful) impact on users, the project, the company, and society.In our example project, we listed our assumptions about user goals, content, and functionalities for each page of the application. If we were not fully sure about the value for end users, or the accuracy of a user goal, we marked it as a value assumption. When we were unsure if data could be made available, we marked this as a data (feasibility) assumption. If we were not sure whether a feature would add to the manufacturer’s business, we marked it as a scope assumption. Every week, we tested our assumptions with end users and business stakeholders through user tests and sprint demos. Each design iteration led to new questions and assumptions to be tested the next week.

Aim to be proven wrong

While our assumptions are the known unknowns, there are always unknown unknowns that we aren’t aware of but could be a huge risk for the quality and impact of our work. The only way we can identify these is by applying the scientific principle of falsifiability: seeking actively to be proven wrong. Only outsiders can point out to us what we miss as an individual or as a team.In our weekly user tests, we included factory workers and stakeholders with different disciplines, from different departments, and working in different contexts, to identify the edge cases that could break our concept. On one occasion, this made us reconsider the entirety of our concept. Still, we could have done better: although scalability to other factories was an important success factor, we were unable to gather input from those other factories during the project. We felt our only option was to mention this as a risk (“limit to scalability”).

Use the power of checklists

Let’s face it: we forget things. (Without scrolling up the page, can you name all the focus areas of design ethics?) This is where checklists help us out: they provide knowledge in the world, so that we don’t have to process it in our easily overwhelmed memory. Simple yet powerful, a checklist is an essential tool to practice daily ethical design.In our example project, we used checklists to maintain an overview of questions and assumptions to user test, checking whether we included our design principles properly, and assessing whether we complied to the client’s values, design principles, and the agreed-upon success factors. In hindsight, we could also have taken a moment during the concept phase to go through the list of focus areas for design ethics, as well as have taken a more structural approach to check accessibility guidelines.

The main challenge for daily ethical design

Most ethics focus areas are quite tangible, where design decisions have immediate, often visible effects. While certainly challenging in their own right, they’re relatively easy to integrate in our daily practice, especially for experienced designers.Society and the environment, however, are more intangible topics; the effects of our work in these areas are distant and uncertain. I’m sure that when Airbnb was first conceived, the founders did not consider the magnitude of its disruptive impact on the housing market. The same goes for Instagram, as its role in creating demand for fast fashion must have been hard to foresee.Hard, but not impossible. So how do we overcome this challenge and make the impact that we have on society and the environment more immediate, more daily?

Conduct Dark Reality sessions

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates used a series of questions to gradually uncover the invalidity of people’s beliefs. In a very similar way, we can uncover the assumptions and potential disastrous consequences of our concepts in a ‘Dark Reality’ session, a form of speculative design that focuses on stress-testing a concept with challenging questions.We have to ask ourselves—or even better, somebody outside our team has to ask us— questions such as, “What is the lifespan of your product? What if the user base will be in the millions? What are the long-term effects on economy, society, and the environment? Who benefits from your design? Who loses? Who is excluded? And perhaps most importantly, how could your design be misused? (For more of these questions, Alan Cooper provided a great list in his keynote at Interaction 18.)The back-and-forth Q&A of the Dark Reality session will help us consider and identify our concept’s weaknesses and potential consequences. As it is a team effort, it will spark discussion and uncover differences in team members’ ethical values. Moreover, the session will result in a list of questions and assumptions that can be tested with potential users and subject matter experts. In the project for the airline control center, it resulted in more consideration for the human role in automatization and how digital interfaces can continue to support human capabilities (instead of replacing them), and reflection on the role of airports in future society.The dark reality session is best conducted during the convergent parts of the double diamond, as these are the design phases in which we narrow down to realistic ideas. It’s vital to have a questioner from outside the team with strong interviewing skills and who doesn’t easily accept an answer as sufficient. There are helpful tools available to help structure the session, such as the Tarot Cards of Tech and these ethical tools.

Take a step back to go forward

As designers, we’re optimists by nature. We see the world as a set of problems that we can solve systematically and creatively if only we try hard enough. We intend well. However, merely having the intention to do good is not going to be enough. Our mindset comes with the pitfall of (dis)missing potential disastrous consequences, especially under pressure of daily constraints. That’s why we need to regularly, systematically take a step back and consider the future impact of our work. My hope is that the practical, structural mindset to ethics introduced in this article will help us agree on a higher standard for design.

Trans-inclusive Design

9 May 2019, 12:45 pm | A List Apart: The Full Feed

Late one night a few years ago, a panicked professor emailed me: “My transgender student’s legal name is showing on our online discussion board. How can I keep him from being outed to his classmates?” Short story: we couldn’t. The professor created an offline workaround with the student. Years later this problem persists not just in campus systems, but in many systems we use every day.

To anyone who’d call that an unusual situation, it’s not. We are all already designing for trans users—1 in 250 people in the US identifies as transgender or gender non-binary (based on current estimates), and the number is rising.

We are web professionals; we can do better than an offline workaround. The choices we make impact the online and offline experiences of real people who are trans, non-binary, or gender-variant—choices that can affirm or exclude, uplift or annoy, help or harm.

The rest of this article assumes you agree with the concept that trans people are human beings who deserve dignity, respect, and care. If you are seeking a primer on trans-related vocabulary and concepts, please read up and come back later.

I’m going to cover issues touching on content, images, forms, databases, IA, privacy, and AI—just enough to get you thinking about the decisions you make every day and some specific ideas to get you started.

“Tried making a Bitmoji again, but I always get disillusioned immediately by their binary gender model from literally step 1 and end up not using it. I don’t feel represented.”

Editorial note: All personal statements quoted in this article have been graciously shared with the express consent of the original authors.

How we can get things right

Gender is expansively misconstrued as some interchangeable term for anatomical features. Unlike the constellation of human biological forms (our sex), gender is culturally constructed and varies depending on where you are in the world. It has its own diversity.

Asking for gender when it is not needed; limiting the gender options users can select; assuming things about users based on gender; or simply excluding folks from our designs are all ways we reify the man-woman gender binary in design decisions.

Names are fundamentally important

If we do nothing else, we must get names right. Names are the difference between past and present, invalidation and affirmation, and sometimes safety and danger.

Yet, many of the systems we use and create don’t offer name flexibility.

Many programmers and designers have a few misconceptions about names, such as assuming people have one moniker that they go by all the time, despite how common it is for names to change over a lifetime. People might update them after a change in marital status, family situation, or gender, or perhaps someone is known by a nickname, westernized name, or variation on a first name.

In most locales, legally changing names is extremely difficult, extremely expensive, requires medical documentation, or is completely out of the question.

Changes to name and gender marker are even more complicated; they tend to be two separate, long-drawn-out processes. To make matters worse, laws vary from state to state within the U.S. and most only recognize two genders—man and woman—rather than allowing non-binary options.Not all trans people change their names, but for those who do, it’s a serious and significant decision that shouldn’t be sabotaged. We can design systems that protect the lives and privacy of our users, respect the fluid nature of personal identity, and act as an electronic curb cut that helps everyone in the process.

Deadnaming

One need only search Twitter for “deadname app” to get an idea of how apps can leave users in the lurch. Some of the most alarming examples involve apps and sites that facilitate real-life interactions (which already involve a measure of risk for everyone).

“Lyft made it completely impossible for me to change my name on its app even when it was legally changed. I reached out to their support multiple times and attempted to delete the account and start over with no result. I was completely dependent on this service for groceries, appointments, and work, and was emotionally exhausted every single time I needed a ride. I ended up redownloading Uber - even though there was a strike against the service - which I felt awful doing. But Uber allowed me to change my name without any hoops to jump through, so for the sake of my mental health, I had to.”

Trans people are more likely to experience financial hardship, so using payment apps to ask for donations is often necessary. Some of these services may reveal private information as a matter of course, leaving them exposed and potentially at risk.

There are also ramifications when linked services rely on our data sources for name information, instigating an unpredictable cascade effect with little or no recourse to prevent the sharing of sensitive details.

These are examples of deadnaming. Deadnaming is what happens when someone’s previous or birth name is used, rather than the name the person uses now. Deadnaming is invalidating at the least, even as a faux pas, but can be psychologically devastating at the other extreme, even putting lives at risk.The experiences of trans, non-binary, or gender-variant folk can vary widely, and they live in disparate conditions throughout the world. Many are thriving and creating new and joyful ways to resist and undo gender norms, despite the common negative narrative around trans lives. Others can face hardship; trans people are more likely to be unstably housed, underemployed, underpaid, and targets of violence in and out of their homes, workplaces, and intimate relationships. The ramifications are amplified for people of color and those with disabilities, as well as those in precarious living/working situations and environments where exposure can put them in harm’s way.

Design for name changes

Heres what we can do:

Design for renaming. Emma Humphries’ talk on renaming covers this nicely. Airbnb has developed policies and procedures for users who’ve transitioned, allowing users to keep their review histories intact with amended names and/or pronouns.

Get rid of “real name” requirements. Allow people to use names they go by rather than their legal first names.

Clarify when you actually need a legal name, and only use that in conjunction with a display name field.

Have a name change process that allows users to change their names without legal documentation. (It’s likely that you have procedures for marriage-related name changes already.)

Ensure users can still change their display names when connecting with other data sources to populate users’ names.

Don’t place onerous restrictions on changes. Once someone creates a username, web address, or profile URL, allow them to change it.

Draft a code of conduct if you’re part of an online community, and make sure to include policies around deadnaming. Twitter banned deadnaming last year.

Allow people to be forgotten. When people delete their accounts for whatever reason, help them make sure that their data is not lingering in your systems or in other places online.

Update the systems users don’t see, too

Identity management systems can be a mess, and name changes can reveal the failures among those systems, including hidden systems that users don’t see.

One Twitter user’s health insurance company kept their ID number between jobs but changed their gender. Another user updated their display name but got an email confirmation addressed to their legal name.

Hidden information can also undermine job opportunities:

“At a university as a student, I transitioned and changed my name and gender to be a woman. TWELVE YEARS later after being hired to work in the Libraries, the Libraries HR coordinator emailed me that I was listed as male still in the database. He changed it on my asking, but I have to wonder how long… was it a factor in my being turned down for jobs I applied to… who had seen that..?”

Emma Humphries details the hidden systems that can carry out-of-date information about users. Her tips for database design include:

  • Don’t use emails as unique IDs.
  • Use an invariant user ID internally, and link the user’s current email and display name to it.

Images

Visuals should allow room for representation and imagination rather than a narrow subset of the usual suspects: figures who appear to be straight, cisgender, able-bodied, and white/Caucasian.

What we can do is feature a variety of gender presentations, as well as not assume someone’s gender identity if they buy certain items.

Some companies, like Wildfang and Thinx, offer a broad array of images representing different races, body sizes, and gender expressions on their websites and in their ads.

Many are also choosing not to hire models, allowing room for imagination and versatility:

“I got a catalog for a ‘classic menswear company’ that features zero photos of any person of any gender. Now if only I could afford an $800 blazer...”

Here's what we can do:

Actively recruit diverse groups of models for photos. And pay them!

If you can’t shoot your own photos, Broadly has recently launched a trans-inclusive stock photo collection free for wide use. Avataaars allows users to create an avatar without selecting a gender.

Information architecture

How we organize information is a political act and a non-neutral decision (librarians have said this for a while). This applies to gender-based classifications.

Many companies that sell consumer goods incorporate gender into their product design and marketing, no matter what. The product itself might be inherently gender-neutral (such as clothing, toys, bikes, or even wine), but these design and marketing decisions can directly impact the information architecture of websites.

Here's what we can do:

Evaluate why any menus, categories, or tags are based on gender, and how it can be done differently:

“Nike has a ‘gender neutral’ clothing category, yet it’s listed under ‘men’ and ‘women’ in the website architecture. 🤔”

Forms

Forms, surveys, and other types of data gathering are surefire ways to include or exclude people. If you ask for information you don’t need or limit the options that people can select, you risk losing them as users.

Here's what we can do:

Critically evaluate why you are asking for personal information, including gender. Will that information be used to help someone, or sell things to your advertisers?

"Why does the @CocaCola site make me select a gender just to make a purchase? Guess my family isn't getting personalized Coke bottles for Christmas."

If you are asking users for their gender, you’d better have a good reason and options that include everyone. A gender field should have more than two options, or should ask for pronouns instead. When including more than binary options, actually record the selections in your databases instead of reclassifying answers as male/female/null, otherwise you risk losing trust when disingenuous design decisions become public.

Honorifics are infrequently used these days, but it takes little work to add gender-inclusive titles to a list. For English-language sites, “Mx.” can go alongside “Mr.” and “Ms.” without fuss. United Airlines debuted this option earlier this year.

Content

Here's what we can do:

Avoid inappropriately gendered language. Your style guide should include singular “they” instead of “he/she” or “s/he,” and exclude frequently used words and phrases that exclude trans folks. Resources such as this transgender style guide are a quick way to check your language and benchmark your own content guidelines.

Check assumptions about gender and biology. Not everyone who can have a period, can get pregnant, or can breastfeed identifies as women or mothers—just as not everyone who identifies as women or mothers can have periods, can get pregnant, or can breastfeed. Thinx, a company that sells period underwear, has an inclusive tagline: “For people with periods.”

Avoid reinforcing the binary. Groups of people aren’t “ladies and gentlemen” or “boys and girls.” They are folks, people, colleagues, “y’all,” or even “all y’all.”

Pronouns aren’t “preferred”—they’re just pronouns. Calling pronouns preferred suggests that they’re optional and are replacing a “true” pronoun.

Avoid reinforcing stereotypes about trans people. Not all trans people are interested in medically transitioning, or in “passing.” They also aren’t fragile or in need of a savior. Gender is separate from sexual orientation. You can’t “tell” someone is trans.

Privacy, surveillance, and nefarious AI

We’ve heard the story of algorithms identifying a pregnant teen before her parents knew. What if an algorithm predicts or reveals information about your gender identity?

Inferences. Users’ genders are assumed based on their purchase/browsing history.

Recommendations. A user bought something before they transitioned and it shows up in “recommended because you bought X.”

Predictions. Users’ genders are not only inferred but used to predict something else based on characteristics of that gender. Even if you don’t tell big websites what your gender is, they assume one for you based on your interests. That kind of reductive essentialism can harm people of all genders. One of this article’s peer readers summed this up:

“Gender markers are a poor proxy for tastes. I like dresses, cute flats, and Raspberry Pis.”

Flashbacks. “On this day” algorithms remind users of the past, sometimes for better (“I’ve come so far”) or for worse (“don’t remind me”).

AI-based discrimination

AI and surveillance software can also reinforce norms about what men’s and women’s bodies should look like, resulting in harrowing airline travel experiences and creating AI-based discrimination for trans people.

So, too, can trans folks’ public data be used for projects that they don’t consent to. Just because we can use AI for something—like determining gender based on a face scan—doesn’t mean we should.

Here's what we can do:

Read up and proactively mitigate bias. AI and algorithms can reflect developers’ biases and perpetuate stereotypes about how people’s bodies should look. Use AI to challenge the gender binary rather than reinforce it. Design for privacy first. Hire more types of people who represent different lived experiences.

Toward a gender-inclusive web

The ideas I’ve offered here are only starting points. How you choose to create space for trans folks is going to be up to you. I don’t have all the solutions here, and there is no singular trans experience. Also, language, definitions, and concepts change rapidly.

We shouldn’t use any of these facts as excuses to keep us from trying.

When we start to think about design impact on trans folks, the ideas we bring into question can benefit everyone. Our designs should go beyond including—they should affirm and validate. Ideally, they will also reflect organizational cultures that support diversity and inclusion.

Here's what we can do:

Keep learning. Learn how to be a good ally. Pay trans user research participants to help validate your design assumptions. Hire trans people on your team and don't hang them out to dry or make them do all the hard work around inclusion and equity. Make it everyone’s job to build a more just web and world for everybody.

Editorial note: All personal statements quoted in this article have been graciously shared with the express consent of the original authors.

This article is stronger and wiser thanks to Mica McPheeters at A List Apart and the following peer readers. Thank you.

Jake Atchison
Katherine Deibel, Ph.D.
Justina F. Hall
Austyn Higgs
Emma Humphries
Tara Robertson
Levi R. Walter