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Blog of Front-End Developer/UX Engineer Ivan Wilson

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  • The Long Game

    The past is the beginning of the beginning and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn.
    – H. G. Wells

    I’m marking a special anniversary today.

    And all this started because I loved Vancouver.

    After my first visit in August 2008, I decided to plan another trip. Somehow, I found a conference that I hadn’t heard about called IxDA Interaction 09. Never knew anything about interaction design nor was it my first concern. All wanted was to get back to the city again. But instead, I learned from all the talks and people about interaction design.

    That was not only an introduction to interaction design. It was a gateway to me learning about user experience design and later information architecture.

    I decided to return the following year for Interaction 10 in Savannah, Georgia. At that conference, I attended the lecture Designing for the Web in the World by designer Timo Arnall.

    That and his film Wireless in the World a year earlier really influenced me. This is where re-evaluated my work as a front-end developer, viewing my work as dealing with information and not just coding.

    And after years of conferences, events, reading and self-study, I ended up working with an excellent UX team at CQ Roll Call and now the growing team at FiscalNote.

    And all this because I want another trip to Vancouver… 🙂

  • A Brief Note on Responsive Design and Constraints

    (In response to Adam Silver’s Stop using device breakpoints)

    There are two points that I like to add –

    The relationship between Constraints, Content, and Context

    Content

    Content will always affect Constraints (i.e. breakpoints) and vice versa.

    What I do is a) use the familiar set of breakpoints as initial guesses and b) treat them as assumptions that need to be tested and verified.

    If you’re getting more breakpoints, maybe you need to reconsider your initial ones. Some may just need to be:

    1. Moved or
    2. Removed completely

    Experience

    This is probably more a developer than designer problem(?) but depends on your background. It comes down to hands-on knowledge of various devices.

    1. Don’t assume the device you have on hand is the one [definite] solutions. Just because you have an iPhone doesn’t mean everyone else does…sounds sensible but you’ll be surprised how many people don’t follow that advice. I have experience because most of my work involved non-American clients (more likely to see a Samsung than an iPhone).
    2. Comes back to testing on multiple devices – using BrowserStack (or other simulators) helps testing for both iOS/Android devices or just get a few old/borrowed devices on hand.

    The idea here is to get use to the idea of breakpoints as initial guides, not fixed points.

  • Future Imperfect

    As I’m writing this, it’s a rainy morning in Vancouver, Canada. Nothing new. Spending time with friends that I don’t see but once a year near my birthday. In this case, I’m here to attend the IA Summit conference this week. This is my first non-US conference since IxDA Interaction 13 in Toronto.

    Looking back at that conference there were a number of things that stood out. A number of them became influential years later. One of them was a short lecture by a designer named Nate Archer called “Beyond Responsive”.

    Nate Archer: Beyond Responsive from Interaction Design Association on Vimeo.

    Well, four years later, those words seem prescient right now. The world has been filled with all sorts of devices that we access the web. More than just the trio of phone/tablet/desktop. Basically, any device that has access to the web is an access point – from watches to 4000K TVs. But there is another way of looking at this. Instead of “devices”, let us consider going in the direction of “inputs”. Responsive design appeared not just with mobile devices but devices which are also touch-enabled. Now, mobile devices are as ubiquitous as any household device, front-end developers like myself have to deal with coding for interactions that take place on touchpad as much (or even more) than mouse/keyboard. (Though we could be doing a better job at the keyboard then we are currently doing.)

    [Note: touch-enabled devices are not necessary phones/tables and doing feature support for touch is still a bit tricky]

    In some respects, the beautiful lie of responsive design is that the constraints are visual, via breakpoints and media queries? But what if those constraints aren’t visual. CSS has hidden artifacts describing inputs – media types. If one would look at the specs (https://www.w3.org/TR/CSS21/media.html#media-types), the following types are supported:

    screen, print, speech/aural, handheld, tty, etc.

    Screen is the most familiar with print/speech following. But there’s tty? From the spec, tty refers to devices like terminals and teletypes. The later was a telecommunication device that has long since disappeared with the advent of email. But back in the day, it was considered important enough to be considered in the W3C CSS spec. Now think about the future. Someday, will we may consider mouse/keyboard interactions as obsolete as teletype?

    Now, we are seeing the advent of AI interfaces – sophisticated interfaces that allow access to the same information like we do with mouse/keyboard and touch.

    Which comes back to the conference I’m attending, IA Summit. This year’s topic is artificial intelligence and information architecture. The main job of a front-end developer is building interfaces for acquiring information. Obviously, things will change in the next couple of years. But change into what?

  • Thinking About Responsive Design, Part I

    In finally starting to write about responsive design, I realize that there’s a trap. I’ve known about RWD since 2010 with An List Apart’s article Responsive Web Design. So by now, it’s something that should be commonplace and a regular process.

    Then again, if that was true, I wouldn’t have written the blog post that this new lecture is based on.

    The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.
    Socrates

    In the next couple of months, I will know more about RWD than I did before as a front-end developer. And from that, more questions about it. But it’s an interesting trip just to see what else can be found along the way :-).

    That said, a couple of months ago, I was looking a PBS/American Masters biography on architect Eero Saarinen. I followed up with a few lectures on him and his work on YouTube. There was a quote that stood out:

    Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.
    Eero Saarinen

    Sounds like a way to think about responsive design.