summing up 75

i am trying to build a jigsaw puzzle which has no lid and is missing half of the pieces. i am unable to show you what it will be, but i can show you some of the pieces and why they matter to me. if you are building a different puzzle, it is possible that these pieces won't mean much to you, maybe they won't fit or they won't fit yet. then again, these might just be the pieces you're looking for. this is summing up, please find previous editions here.

Pernicious Computer Traditions, by Ted Nelson

The computer world is not yet finished, but everyone is behaving as though everything was known. This is not true. In fact, the computer world as we know it is based upon one tradition that has been waddling along for the last fifty years, growing in size and ungainliness, and is essentially defining the way we do everything. My view is that today’s computer world is based on techie misunderstandings of human thought and human life. And the imposition of inappropriate structures through the computer and through the files and the applications is the imposition of inappropriate structures on the things we want to do in the human world.

ted nelson is one of the founding fathers of personal computing and the man who invented hypertext. recently, i've been reading and watching a lot of his stuff and his rebellious view on the current state of computing is particularly interesting. technology is shining back on us and the abstractions we created hurt and limit us. this view is actually quite similar with marshall mcluhan's basic premise "we shape our tools, and our tools shape us".

The Physical Web, by Scott Jenson

You can see this pattern over and over again, we kind of have the old, we slowly work our way into the future, revolve it and then something comes along and scares us and pulls us back to the beginning. So there are two critical psychological points to this shape of innovation, two lessons I think we have to learn. The one is the fact that we have this familiarity, we will always borrow from the past and we have to somehow transcend it. And we just need to appreciate that and talk about that a little bit more to see what we're borrowing. But the other one, I think is also important, is this idea of maturity, because it forms a form of intellectual gravity well. It's like we worked so damn hard to get here, we're not leaving. It kinda forms this local maximum and people just don't want to give it up. We feel like we had somehow gotten to this magical point and it was done. It was like here forever and we can kind of rest. And you can never rest in this business. I think it's important for us to realize both of these two extremes and how we want to break out of this loop.

the two lessons here, that we'll always borrow from the past, and that maturity is an intellectual gravity well that is hard to escape from are very important to grasp and understand. it kinda explains and goes very well together with ted nelson's view above. we get comfortable with what we have and won't give it up lightly. but we have to reconsider our mature designs in order to be able to innovate.

The Web's Grain, by Frank Chimero

We often think making things for the web is a process of simplifying–the hub, the dashboard, the control panel are all dreams of technology that coalesces–but things have a tendency to diverge into a multiplicity of options. We pile on more tools and technology, each one increasingly nuanced and minor in its critical differences. Clearly, convergence and simplicity make for poor goals. Instead, we must aim for clarity. You can’t contain or reduce the torrent of technology, but you can channel it in a positive direction through proper framing and clear articulation.

this inspirational reflection takes us back to reinvestigate how we see and use the web and what our role in creating innovating experiences across the web should be. what would happen if we stopped treating the web like a blank canvas to paint on and instead like a material to build with?

summing up 74

i am trying to build a jigsaw puzzle which has no lid and is missing half of the pieces. i am unable to show you what it will be, but i can show you some of the pieces and why they matter to me. if you are building a different puzzle, it is possible that these pieces won't mean much to you, maybe they won't fit or they won't fit yet. then again, these might just be the pieces you're looking for. this is summing up, please find previous editions here.

Douglas Engelbart Interviewed by John Markoff

Q: Let's talk about the future and what got lost. There were some ideas that got taken away and turned into commercial products, whole industries. But i think i've come to understand that your feeling is that some things didn't get taken away. Tell me about what still needs to be done.

I think the focus needs to be on capabilities that you can drive. Take the business of cost of learning and set it aside until you assess the values of the higher capabilities you can go after. It seemed like there was some level that got set in the early seventies around "it has to be easy to learn". And with all due respect to all the human computer interface guys that's just to me as we'd all still be riding tricycles.

A big part of that is the paradigms we use. One example is the "book paradigm" that's just built into everybody's sort of pragmatical outlook. That's the way you read and study. And you say well no wait, that is just a way an artifact that they call printing and such produced things that would help you do that. We got brand new sets of artifacts now, so let's change our paradigms, let's see what we can do. And that is what I started doing in the sixties.

today's ubiquitous graphical user interface has its roots in doug engelbart's groundshattering research in the sixties. many of the concepts he invented were further developed at xerox parc and successfully commercialized in the apple macintosh, whereupon they essentially froze. twenty years later, despite thousand-fold improvements along every technological dimension, the concepts behind today's interfaces are almost identical to those in the initial mac. this is a very interesting interview with one of the fathers of personal computing which touches on many points of this development.

Moving from Critical Review to Critique, by Jared Spool

I ask teams whether they do critiques. “Oh, yes. All the time,” they tell me. However, when I ask them what it is they do, it’s basically a meeting where someone’s work is criticized for what it’s missing. It’s a meeting where people who haven’t given the design problem or solution much thought, until that moment, rip apart the work of someone who has. These critical design reviews are miserable experiences. Everyone completely dreads them. The experience makes them feel like crap. And then it’s time to schedule another one.

What makes a critique different from a critical design review is we are not there to find flaws. We’re there to learn from the design and to explore where it works well and where it could be improved. In a well-run critique, we explicitly separate out the discussion of “What are we trying to do with this design?” from the discussion of “Does this rendition accomplish it?”

this article has made a tremendous impact on my understanding of what makes a critique worthwhile, particularly at engagements at my clients. to me there is still the notion that between many teams, be it design, product and development, there seems to be mismatch in understanding, and a lot of headaches coming out of it. critique however is an important part of any design process and the feedback you get through a well-run critique is tremendously helpful to create a better product, make better decisions and work together more efficiently.

The Internet of NO Things, by Roope Mokka

As technology keeps developing faster and faster, all the technologies that are now in a smartphone will become the size of a piece of paper and be available for the price of a piece of paper as well. What we have to understand is that when technology gets developed enough it disappears, it ceases to be understood as technology; it becomes part of the general man-made ambience of our life. Look around you, there are amazing technologies already around us that have vanished. This house is a very typical example of disruptive technology, not to mention this collection of houses and streets and other infrastructure, know as the city, invented some thousands of years ago. Houses and cities are technologies. Our clothing is a technology, the food on the tables is the end product of masses of technologies. These are all technologies that have in practice disappeared: they are on the background and nobody (outside of dedicated professionals) thinks of them as technologies.

with all this buzz about the internet of things, i find it refreshing to talk about what comes after the internet of things. arthur c. clarke once famously remarked that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. i really like this idea of how technology disappears after it has been established.

summing up 73

i am trying to build a jigsaw puzzle which has no lid and is missing half of the pieces. i am unable to show you what it will be, but i can show you some of the pieces and why they matter to me. if you are building a different puzzle, it is possible that these pieces won't mean much to you, maybe they won't fit or they won't fit yet. then again, these might just be the pieces you're looking for. this is summing up, please find previous editions here.

How the internet flips elections and alters our thoughts, by Robert Epstein

We have also learned something very disturbing – that search engines are influencing far more than what people buy and whom they vote for. We now have evidence suggesting that on virtually all issues where people are initially undecided, search rankings are impacting almost every decision that people make. They are having an impact on the opinions, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours of internet users worldwide – entirely without people’s knowledge that this is occurring. This is happening with or without deliberate intervention by company officials; even so-called ‘organic’ search processes regularly generate search results that favour one point of view, and that in turn has the potential to tip the opinions of millions of people who are undecided on an issue.

we all run interesting experiments in and with our products in order to make them more usable, behave more efficiently and make them better. this is a chilling essay based on proven research and featuring some really interesting experiments and examples in which big players such as google and facebook are creating massive influence over people’s behaviors and opinions – without any of us really being able to detect that it’s happening. the issue of invisible algorithms is a very important one. it is important in order to know how we are being affected ourselves as well as how we can use these strategies responsibly for our products & services.

Responsive Web Design: Relying Too Much on Screen Size, by Luke Wroblewski

Don’t assume screen adaptation is a complete answer for multi-device Web design. Responsive Web design has given us a powerful toolset for managing a critical part of the multi-device world. But assuming too much based on screen size can ultimately paint you into a corner.

It’s not that adapting to screen size doesn’t matter, as I pointed out numerous times, it really does. But if you put too much stock in screen size or don’t consider other factors, you may end up with incomplete or frankly inappropriate solutions. How people interact with the Web across screens continues to evolve rapidly and our multi-device design methods need to be robust enough to evolve alongside.

this is what i preach my clients for years. everybody seems to be always hyping this new technology or this new feature or that new paradigm. but in the end this only goes so far. what is important is that your product or service runs well in the ecosystem it will be used in, not the one it was designed for, be it a website, an application or a mobile app.

The Web of Alexandria, by Bret Victor

Whenever the ephemerality of the web is mentioned, two opposing responses tend to surface. Some people see the web as a conversational medium, and consider ephemerality to be a virtue. And some people see the web as a publication medium, and want to build a "permanent web" where nothing can ever disappear. Neither position is mine. If anything, I see the web as a bad medium, at least partly because it invites exactly that conflict, with disastrous effects on both sides. For people who have grown up with HTTP and URLs, it can be hard to see anything wrong with them. The tendency is to blame individual behavior – "You should have mirrored that data!" "You shouldn't have put those photos online!" But the technical properties of a medium shape social practice, and if the resulting social practice is harmful, it's the medium that is at fault.

how can you call the web a publishing medium when your bookshelf can just vanish? on the other hand, how can it be that deleted content still emerges from the deep sea of the web? the web is a single, increasingly complex infrastructure which has been adopted for mutually incompatible purposes. more importantly however bret victor made me realize that there’s so many ways we limit ourselves with technology.

summing up 72

i am trying to build a jigsaw puzzle which has no lid and is missing half of the pieces. i am unable to show you what it will be, but i can show you some of the pieces and why they matter to me. if you are building a different puzzle, it is possible that these pieces won't mean much to you, maybe they won't fit or they won't fit yet. then again, these might just be the pieces you're looking for. this is summing up, please find previous editions here.

When We Build, by Wilson Miner

When we design this new generation of digital tools for this ecosystem's screen, we have a longer horizon ahead of us than just the next software platform or the next version of a technology. We have a longer lineage behind us than just the web or software design or even computers. Steve Jobs said the thing that separates us from the high primates is that we're tool builders. We make things, we make things that change our lives and we make things that changed the world. This is a long and long lasting tradition. We shape our tools, and our tools shape us. We're a product of our world and our world is made of things. Things we use, things we love, things we carry with us and the things we make. We're the product of our world but we're also its designer. Design is the choices we make about the world we want to live in.

this is an exceptional talk on media and human perceptions. as more of the tools we live with every day become digital instead of physical, our opportunity – and responsibility – as designers is increasing. currently we are in a unique position to shape the tools we will use in the next century, and to define how those tools will shape us, create and dictate our behavior. the gist is extremely relevant for us right now, as our way of thinking, our opportunities and our technology are highly dependent on the quality and potential of our tools. highly recommended

Why I can’t convince executives to invest in UX (and neither can you), by Jared Spool

I’ve been pitching our services for 23 years and I’ve never once successfully convinced an executive of anything.

Our success has always come from projects where the client team, including the senior management, already understood the value of great user experiences. I haven’t convinced them because they didn’t need convincing.

You can’t convince a smoker to quit smoking. They need to just decide they’ll do it. On their own. When they are ready. It’s the same with executives. Neither I, you, nor anybody else can convince an executive to invest in user experience.

this article hits very close to home for me as i often had similar experiences. in all successful pitches i rarely pushed for ux, but almost always took a step back and found out what executives were already convinced of. at large they have something they want to improve, be it related to revenues, reducing costs, increasing the number of customers, increasing sales or making their team more effective. good user experience can help with each of those things. but there is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution for any of these. however, once you start talking about what executives are already convinced of, things get much more easy. how can you argue with a customer who is struggling checking out a product on your website or one not being able to use the app you provide? once you are no longer trying to change their focus, you're playing directly into their main field of attention.

on ditching css frameworks and preprocessors, by yours truly

What if I were to tell you...CSS is already a framework for styling HTML, and that by actually taking the time to learn it, one can make significantly less shitty websites that are actually responsive, don’t require a quad-core with 8GB of ram just to render, and that another front-end-developer who isn’t hip on whatever flavor-of-the-month bullshit framework can actually be able to maintain it?

in this short post i try to make a point on how ditching existing css frameworks and preprocessors is the first step towards a modern, bloat free web. in my opinion you will save time and money in the long run by reducing abstraction, being able to update it easily and avoiding extra cruft, and of course the latest css modules specification will make those frameworks and preprocessors superfluous in the medium term. i'd be very interested to hear about your comments and experiences on this topic!

on ditching css frameworks and preprocessors

alex papadimoulis:

What if I were to tell you...CSS is already a framework for styling HTML, and that by actually taking the time to learn it, one can make significantly less shitty websites that are actually responsive, don’t require a quad-core with 8GB of ram just to render, and that another front-end-developer who isn’t hip on whatever flavor-of-the-month bullshit framework can actually be able to maintain it?

it amused me that the above is actually not too far away from what i tell my clients on css frameworks and preprocessors. for most projects i always felt i can write less and cleaner code that is appropriate for the specific use case. sure, it may take you some more knowledge and a bit longer to get up and running, but you will save time and money in the long run by reducing abstraction, being able to update it easily and avoiding extra cruft. i strongly believe that css frameworks and preprocessors are partly responsible for the slow loading and rendering times of many modern websites. most of my critique is focused around the following issues:

  • they can add a lot of bloat and unused code to your website, which results in a heavier and slower website
  • they promote opinionated thinking around mobile- or desktop-first strategies, structure of your project and force you to think around breakpoints of mobile, tablet and desktop instead of actually focusing on the content and modular building blocks
  • they often add a hard requirement to structure your html layout around css, but css should actually be a layer above html
  • they can make your build process more complex and slow it down massively
  • they force you to adopt styling and naming conventions, even if they don't fit the current use case

cole peters has written an excellent piece on this issue:

Pre-processors like Sass and Less are too abstracted from production CSS; this blinds us to detrimental effects of our actions during development, locks us into vendor-specific syntax and features, and ultimately puts too much distance between the code we write and the code that is delivered to our users. Post-processors like PostCSS and plugins like cssnext offer some forward-looking alternatives to this.

i especially like what the latest css module specifications bring to the table, be it variables, custom media queries, a grid system, color manipulations, custom selectors - all coming soon to a browser near you. as such it definitely makes sense to at least consider ditching existing frameworks and preprocessors and move to a bright future.

summing up 71

not too long ago, i announced the last edition of summing up. but i also announced that this series will live on, as there was a lot of positive feedback over the years, encouraging me to continue and to look out for different formats. today, after lots of experimentation, i'll continue summing up. it will be a bit shorter, a bit more unsteady and will feature less unicorns (sorry!). thanks a lot for your support and your feedback, it was heavily appreciated. you're very welcome to subscribe to this little series and get it directly in your inbox along with some cool stuff that you won't find anywhere else on the site. now, without further ado...

i am trying to build a jigsaw puzzle which has no lid and is missing half of the pieces. i am unable to show you what it will be, but i can show you some of the pieces and why they matter to me. if you are building a different puzzle, it is possible that these pieces won't mean much to you, maybe they won't fit or they won't fit yet. then again, these might just be the pieces you're looking for. this is summing up, please find previous editions here.

The Website Obesity Crisis, by Maciej Cegłowski

These comically huge homepages for projects designed to make the web faster are the equivalent of watching a fitness video where the presenter is just standing there, eating pizza and cookies.

The world's greatest tech companies can't even make these tiny text sites, describing their flagship projects to reduce page bloat, lightweight and fast on mobile.

I can't think of a more complete admission of defeat.

amen. macej cegłowski is one of my favourite speakers, his talks are always very insightful, charming and funny. but most importantly he hits the nail on the head. every single time. his talk is about why the modern web is so bloated and slow, and why it matters. i've found this true with my own clients, many of them come to me with ridiculous large websites and few results to show for it all. i've found though, that along with relevant content, the speed of websites is one of the most important factors of success. once, a client told me - after we've finished the project - that their website was the only one which came up when she entered the metro. i liked that.

5 Steps To Re-create Xerox PARC's Design Magic, by Alan Kay & John Pavlus

We live in a world full of hype. When I look at most of the Silicon Valley companies claiming to do invention research, they're really selling pop culture. Pop culture is very incremental and is about creating things other than high impact. Being able to do things that change what business means is going to have a huge impact - more than something that changes what social interaction means in pop culture.

to me, xerox parc is still one of the greatest legends and success stories in computing of all time. so many concepts, like the graphical user interface, the mouse, the laser printer, object oriented programming and ethernet were invented and incubated there. along that, great minds like doug engelbart or alan kay had their heyday there. on the other hand, there are so many companies out there trying to do "innovation", be it r&d labs, startup incubators and similar. this article is a great summary on how you can implement the main points in your organization as well. after all, if your business does not evolve, it'll die.

1,000 True Fans, by Kevin Kelly

Young artists starting out in this digitally mediated world have another path other than stardom, a path made possible by the very technology that creates the long tail. Instead of trying to reach the narrow and unlikely peaks of platinum hits, bestseller blockbusters, and celebrity status, they can aim for direct connection with 1,000 True Fans. It's a much saner destination to hope for. You make a living instead of a fortune. You are surrounded not by fad and fashionable infatuation, but by True Fans. And you are much more likely to actually arrive there.

this article has been around for quite some time and it is certainly famous in certain circles. with good reason. if you're an artist, an entrepreneur or think about launching your own product, it is a must-read. but it also applies to small to medium businesses. the kernel is this: to be successful you don't have to be hugely famous. it is in fact much easier to be important to a selected group of people.

we really don't know how to compute

gerald jay sussman compares the adaptability and robustness of biology with the fragility of our engineered technology:

I'm only pushing this idea, not because I think it's the right answer. I'm trying to twist us, so we say, "This is a different way to think". We have to think fifty-two different ways to fix this problem. I don't know how to make a machine that builds a person out of a cell. But I think the problem is that we've been stuck for too long diddling with our details. We've been sitting here worrying about our type system, when we should be worrying about how to get flexible machines and flexible programming.

now take alan kay:

Knowing more than your own field is really helpful in thinking creatively. I've always thought that one of the reasons the 1960s was so interesting is that nobody was a computer scientist back then. Everybody who came into it came into it with lots of other knowledge and interests. Then they tried to figure out what computers were, and the only place they could use for analogies were other areas. So we got some extremely interesting ideas from that.

And of course, the reason being educated is important is simply because you don't have any orthogonal contexts if you don't have any other kinds of knowledge to think with. Engineering is one of the hardest fields to be creative in, just because it's all about optimizing, and you don't optimize without being very firmly anchored to the context you're in. What we're talking about here is something that is not about optimization, but actually about rotating the point of view.

and finally steve jobs:

Ultimately it comes down to taste. It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best things that humans have done and then try to bring those things in to what you're doing. I mean Picasso had a saying he said good artists copy great artists steal. And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas and I think part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians and poets and artists and zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world.

i think there might be something to it...


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