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Tagged “development”

Full disclosure

Whether I’m thinking about inclusive hiding, hamburger menus or web components one UI pattern I keep revisiting is the disclosure widget. Perhaps it’s because you can use this small pattern to bring together so many other wider aspects of good web development. So for future reference, here’s a braindump of my knowledge and resources on the subject.

Saving CSS changes in DevTools without leaving the browser

Scott Jehl recently tweeted:

Browser devtools have made redesigning a site such a pleasure. I love writing and adjusting a CSS file right in the sources panel and seeing design changes happen as I type, and saving it back to the file. (…) Designing against live HTML allows happy accidents and discoveries to happen that I wouldn't think of in an unconstrained design mockup

I feel very late to the party here. I tend to tinker in the DevTools Element Styles panel rather than save changes. So, inspired by Scott, I’ve just tried this out on my personal website. Here’s what I did.

Partnering with Google on web.dev (on adactio.com)

At work in our Design System team, we’ve been doing a lot of content and documentation writing for a new reference website. So it was really timely to read Jeremy Keith of Clearleft’s new post on the process of writing Learn Responsive Design for Google’s web.dev resource. The course is great, very digestible and I highly recommend it to all. But I also love this new post’s insight into how Google provided assistance, provided a Content handbook as “house style” for writing on web.dev and managed the process from docs and spreadsheets to Github. I’m sure there will be things my team can learn from that Content Handbook as we go forward with our technical writing.

Building a toast component (by Adam Argyle)

Great tutorial (with accompanying video) from Adam Argyle which starts with a useful definition of what a Toast is and is not:

Toasts are non-interactive, passive, and asynchronous short messages for users. Generally they are used as an interface feedback pattern for informing the user about the results of an action. Toasts are unlike notifications, alerts and prompts because they're not interactive; they're not meant to be dismissed or persist. Notifications are for more important information, synchronous messaging that requires interaction, or system level messages (as opposed to page level). Toasts are more passive than other notice strategies.

Web animation tips

Warning: this entry is a work-in-progress and incomplete. That said, it's still a useful reference to me which is why I've published it. I’ll flesh it out soon!

There are lots of different strands of web development. You try your best to be good at all of them, but there’s only so much time in the day! Animation is an area where I know a little but would love to know more, and from a practical perspective I’d certainly benefit from having some road-ready solutions to common challenges. As ever I want to favour web standards over libraries where possible, and take an approach that’s lean, accessible, progressively-enhanced and performance-optimised.

Here’s my attempt to break down web animation into bite-sized chunks for ocassional users like myself.

Front-end architecture for a new website (in 2021)

Just taking a moment for some musings on which way the front-end wind is blowing (from my perspective at least) and how that might practically impact my approach on the next small-ish website that I code.

Learn Responsive Design (on web.dev)

Jeremy Keith’s new course for Google’s web.dev learning platform is fantastic and covers a variety of aspects of responsive design including layout (macro and micro), images, icons and typography.

Resources for learning front-end web development

A designer colleague recently asked me what course or resources I would recommend for learning front-end web development. She mentioned React at the beginning but I suggested that it’d be better to start by learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. As for React: it’s a subset or offshoot of JavaScript so it makes sense to understand vanilla JS first.

For future reference, here are my tips.

Collapsible sections, on Inclusive Components

It’s a few years old now, but this tutorial from Heydon Pickering on how to create an accessible, progressively enhanced user interface comprised of multiple collapsible and expandable sections is fantastic. It covers using the appropriate HTML elements (buttons) and ARIA attributes, how best to handle icons (minimal inline SVG), turning it into a web component and plenty more besides.

BBC WebCore Design System

A Storybook UI explorer containing the components and layouts for making the front end of a BBC web experience.

Buttons and links: definitions, differences and tips

On the web buttons and links are fundamentally different materials. However some design and development practices have led to them becoming conceptually “bundled together” and misunderstood. Practitioners can fall into the trap of seeing the surface-level commonality that “you click the thing, then something happens” and mistakenly thinking the two elements are interchangeable. Some might even consider them as a single “button component” without considering the distinctions underneath. However this mentality causes our users problems and is harmful for effective web development. In this post I’ll address why buttons and links are different and exist separately, and when to use each.

Broken Copy, on a11y-101.com

Here’s an accessibility tip that’s new to me. When the content of a heading, anchor, or other semantic HTML element contains smaller “chunks” of span and em (etc), the VoiceOver screen reader on Mac and iOS annoyingly fails to announce the content as a single phrase and instead repeats the parent element’s role for each inner element. We can fix that by adding an inner “wrapper” element inside our parent and giving it role=text.

Testing ES modules with Jest

Here are a few troubleshooting tips to enable Jest, the JavaScript testing framework, to be able to work with ES modules without needing Babel in the mix for transpilation. Let’s get going with a basic set-up.

Harry Roberts says “Get Your Head Straight”

Harry Roberts (who created ITCSS for organising CSS at scale but these days focuses on performance) has just given a presentation about the importance of getting the content, order and optimisation of the <head> element right, including lots of measurement data to back up his claims. Check out the slides: Get your Head Straight

The accessibility of conditionally revealed questions (on GOV.UK)

Here’s something to keep in mind when designing and developing forms. GOV.UK’s accessibility team found last year that there are some accessibility issues with the “conditional reveal” pattern, i.e. when selecting a particular radio button causes more inputs to be revealed.

Accessibility Testing (on adactio.com)

In this journal entry, Jeremy Keith argues that when it comes to accessibility testing it’s not just about finding issues—it’s about finding the issues at the right time.

Practical front-end performance tips

I’ve been really interested in the subject of Web Performance since I read Steve Souders’ book High Performance Websites back in 2007. Although some of the principles in that book are still relevant, it’s also fair to say that a lot has changed since then so I decided to pull together some current tips. Disclaimer: This is a living document which I’ll expand over time. Also: I’m a performance enthusiast but not an expert. If I have anything wrong, please let me know.

Accessible Color Generator

There are many colour contrast checking tools but I like this one from Erik Kennedy (of Learn UI Design) a lot. It features an intuitive UI using simple, human language that mirrors the task I’m there to achieve, and it’s great that if your target colour doesn’t have sufficient contrast to meet accessibility guidelines it will intelligently suggest alternatives that do.

SVG Gobbler

SVG Gobbler is a browser extension that finds the vector content on the page you’re viewing and gives you the option to download, optimize, copy, view the code, or export it as an image.

Progressively enhanced burger menu tutorial by Andy Bell

Here’s a smart and comprehensive tutorial from Andy Bell on how to create a progressively enhanced narrow-screen navigation solution using a custom element. Andy also uses Proxy for “enabled” and “open” state management, ResizeObserver on the custom element’s containing header for a Container Query like solution, and puts some serious effort into accessible focus management.

Should I use the HTML5 section element and if so, where?

Unlike other HTML5 elements such as header, footer and nav, it’s never been particularly clear to me when is appropriate to use section. This is due in large part to many experts having expressed that it doesn’t quite work as intended.

Duet Design System

Here’s a lovely Design System that interestingly uses Eleventy for its reference website and other generated artefacts:

We use Eleventy for both the static documentation and the dynamically generated parts like component playgrounds and design tokens. We don’t currently use a JavaScript framework on the website, except Duet’s own components.

Astro

Astro looks very interesting. It’s in part a static site builder (a bit like Eleventy) but it also comes with a modern (revolutionary?) developer experience which lets you author components as web components or in a JS framework of your choice but then renders those to static HTML for optimal performance. Oh, and as far as I can tell theres no build pipeline!

Astro lets you use any framework you want (or none at all). And if most sites only have islands of interactivity, shouldn’t our tools optimize for that?

Front-of-the-front-end and back-of-the-front-end web development (by Brad Frost)

The Great Divide between so-called front-end developers is real! Here, Brad Frost proposes some modern role definitions.

A front-of-the-front-end developer is a web developer who specializes in writing HTML, CSS, and presentational JavaScript code.

A back-of-the-front-end developer is a web developer who specializes in writing JavaScript code necessary to make a web application function properly.

Issues with Source Code Pro in Firefox appear to be fixed

Last time I tried Source Code Pro as my monospaced typeface for code examples in blog posts, it didn’t work out. When viewed in Firefox it would only render in black meaning that I couldn’t display it in white on black for blocks of code. This led to me conceding defeat and using something simpler.

Vanilla JS List

Here’s Chris Ferdinandi’s curated list of organisations which use vanilla JS to build websites and web apps.

You don’t need a heavyweight JavaScript framework, and vanilla JS does scale.

Use CSS Clamp to create a more flexible wrapper utility (on Piccalilli)

Here’s Andy Bell recommending using CSS clamp() to control your wrapper/container width because it supports setting a preferred value in vw to ensure sensible gutters combined with a maximum tolerance in rem—all in a single line of code.

If we use clamp() to use a viewport unit as the ideal and use what we would previously use as the max-width as the clamp’s maximum value, we get a much more flexible setup.

Accessible interactions (on Adactio)

Jeremy Keith takes us through his thought process regarding the choice of link or button when planning accessible interactive disclosure elements.

Meta Tags - Preview, Edit and Generate

A handy tool which lets you type in a URL then inspects that page’s meta tags and shows you how it will be presented on popular websites.

Comparing Browsers for Responsive Design (on CSS-Tricks)

Chris Coyier checks out Sizzy, Polypane et al and decides which suits him best.

There are a number of these desktop apps where the goal is showing your site at different dimensions all at the same time. So you can, for example, be writing CSS and making sure it’s working across all the viewports in a single glance.

Progressively enhanced JavaScript In Real Life

Over the last couple of days I’ve witnessed a good example of progressive enhancement “In Real Life”. And I think it’s good to log and share these validations of web development best practices when they happen so that their benefits can be seen as real rather than theoretical.

A Utility Class for Covering Elements (on CSS { In Real Life })

Need to overlay one HTML element on top of and fully covering another, such as a heading with translucent background on top of an image? Michelle Barker has us covered with this blog post in which she creates an overlay utility to handle this. She firstly shows how it can be accomplished with positioning, then modernises her code using the inset CSS logical property, before finally demonstrating a neat CSS Grid based approach.

Create an Automatically Responsive Flexbox Gallery (on egghead.io)

Here’s a lovely intrinsically responsive (no media queries) photo gallery solution from Stephanie Eckles. It can accommodate differently sized images and achieves its layout by a combination of flexbox features (flex-wrap, flex-basis) and by applying object-fit: cover to photos to make them fully cover their parent list items.

My DevTools Cheatsheet

Here’s a (work in progress) list of useful (Mac) Browser DevTools tips, tricks and keyboard shortcuts for my reference and yours. This is a work in progress and I’ll update it as I go.

Browser Support Heuristics

In web development it’s useful when we can say “if the browser supports X, then we know it also supports Y”.

My Screen Reader Cheatsheet

Here’s a list of useful Screen Reader commands and tips for my reference and yours. This is a work in progress and I’ll update it as I go.

How-to: Create accessible forms - The A11Y Project

Here are five bite-sized and practical chunks of advice for creating accessible forms.

  1. Always label your inputs.
  2. Highlight input elements on focus.
  3. Break long forms into smaller sections/pages.
  4. Provide error messages (rather than just colour-based indicators)
  5. Avoid horizontal layout forms unless necessary.

Cheating Entropy with Native Web Technologies (on Jim Nielsen’s Weblog)

This is why, over years of building for the web, I have learned that I can significantly cut down on the entropy my future self will have to face by authoring web projects in vanilla HTML, CSS, and JS. I like to ask myself questions like:

  • Could this be done with native ES modules instead of using a bundler?
  • Could I do this with DOM scripting instead of using a JS framework?
  • Could I author this in CSS instead of choosing a preprocessor?

How to hide elements on a web page

In order to code modern component designs we often need to hide then reveal elements. At other times we want to provide content to one type of user but hide it from another because it’s not relevant to their mode of browsing. In all cases accessibility should be front and centre in our thoughts. Here’s my approach, heavily inspired by Scott O’Hara’s definitive guide Inclusively Hidden.

Better Alt Text

I’ve just read The A11Y Project’s page on alt text.

As most of us know, the HTML alt attribute is for providing “alternate text” descriptions of images to help ensure people do not miss out on information conveyed by graphics. This can help people using assistive technology such as screen readers, and in situations where images are slow or fail to load.

The article made some interesting points and even though I’ve been using the alt attribute for years I found three common cases where I could improve how I do things.

itty.bitty

Here’s an interesting tool for creating and sharing small-ish web pages without having to build a website or organise hosting.

itty.bitty takes html (or other data), compresses it into a URL fragment, and provides a link that can be shared. When it is opened, it inflates that data on the receiver’s side.

When there is no content between headings

Hidde de Vries explains why an HTML heading should never be immediately followed by another.

When you use a heading element, you set the expectation of content.

Daniel Post shared a really cool performance-optimisation trick for Eleventy on Twitter the other day. When statically generating your site you can loop through your pages and, for each, use PurgeCSS to find the required CSS, then inline that into the <head>. This way, each page contains only the CSS it needs and no more!

Check out the code.

I’ve just installed this on my personal site. I was already inlining my CSS into the <head> but the promise of only including the minimum CSS that each specific page needs was too good to resist.

Turned out it was a breeze to get working, a nice introduction to Eleventy transforms, and so far it’s working great!

Inclusive Datepicker (by Tommy Feldt)

A human-friendly datepicker. Supports natural language manual input through Chrono.js. Fully accessible with keyboard and screen reader.

Three CSS Alternatives to JavaScript Navigation (on CSS-Tricks)

In general this is a decent article on non-JavaScript-based mobile navigation options, but what I found most interesting is the idea of having a separate page for your navigation menu (at the URL /menu, for example).

Who said navigation has to be in the header of every page? If your front end is extremely lightweight or if you have a long list of menu items to display in your navigation, the most practical method might be to create a separate page to list them all.

Color Theme Switcher (on mxb.dev)

Max shows us how to build a colour theme switcher to let users customise your website. He uses a combination of Eleventy, JSON, Nunjucks with macros, a data attribute on the html element, CSS custom properties and a JavaScript based switcher.

Sass and clamp (on Adactio: Journal)

Given what we can now do with CSS, do we still need Sass?

Sass was the hare. CSS is the tortoise. Sass blazed the trail, but now native CSS can achieve much the same result.

Font Match

A font pairing app that helps you match fonts – useful for pairing a webfont with a suitable fallback. You can place the fonts on top of each other, side by side, or in the same line. You can adjust your fallback font’s size and position to get a great match.

Font style matcher

If you’re using a web font, you're bound to see a flash of unstyled text (or FOUC), between the initial render of your websafe font and the webfont that you’ve chosen. This usually results in a jarring shift in layout, due to sizing discrepancies between the two fonts. To minimize this discrepancy, you can try to match the fallback font and the intended webfont’s x-heights and widths. This tool helps you do exactly that.

Debouncing vs. throttling with vanilla JS (on Go Make Things)

Chris explains how debouncing and throttling are two related but different techniques for improving performance and user experience when working with frequently invoked JavaScript event handlers.

With throttling, you run a function immediately, then wait a specified amount of time before running it again. Any additional attempts to run it before that time period is over are ignored.

With debouncing, after the relevant event fires a specified time period must pass uninterrupted in order for your function to run. When the time period has passed uninterrupted, that last attempt to run the function is the one that runs, with any previous attempts ignored.

Striking a Balance Between Native and Custom Select Elements (on CSS-Tricks)

We’re not going to try to replicate everything that the browser does by default with a native select element. We’re going to literally use a select element when any assistive tech is used. But when a mouse is being used, we’ll show the styled version and make it function as a select element.

How to use npm as a build tool

Kieth Cirkel explains how using npm to run the scripts field of package.json is a great, simple alternative to more complex build tools. The article is now quite old but because it contains so many goodies, and since I’ve been using the approach more and more (for example to easily compile CSS on my personal website), it’s definitely worth bookmarking and sharing.

npm’s scripts directive can do everything that these build tools can, more succinctly, more elegantly, with less package dependencies and less maintenance overhead.

JavaScript Arrow Functions

JavaScript arrow functions are one of those bits of syntax about which I occasionally have a brain freeze. Here’s a quick refresher for those moments.

CSS Section Separator Generator (on wweb.dev)

A handy tool that generates the required HTML and CSS for various section separator effects (including diagonal lines, spikes, and waves) by cleverly manipulating backgrounds and generated content.

I have to reluctanctly agree on this one. I’ve interviewed quite a few candidates for “front-end developer” (or similarly named) positions over recent years and the recurring pattern is that they are strong on JavaScript (though not necessarily the right time to use it) and weak on HTML, CSS and the “bigger picture”.

grep.app

grep.app searches code from over a half million public repositories on GitHub.

Block Links: A tricky UI Problem

You have a “card” component which includes a heading, some text, an image, and a link to the full article, and it’s working great. Then along comes a UX requirement that the full card (not just the button or link) should be clickable. This is where things get complicated.

Fixing Github Command Line Authentication Issues

On at least two ocassions I’ve found myself scratching my head when an attempted push to a newly-created Github repo is met with authentication failures, despite me being sure I’m using the correct credentials.

Here’s the lowdown on the issue and how to resolve it.

My Codepen Cheatsheet

I’m finding Codepen to be more and more valuable not only for testing out new code and ideas, but also – when working on large applications – as a time-saving rapid prototyping environment which sidesteps the overhead of back-end set-up. Here are some tips which I’ve found useful, for future reference.

My VS Code Cheatsheet

Here’s a list of useful (Mac-based) VS Code tips for my reference and yours.

You Don't Need

A nice list of tips and tools on how to use simpler browser standards and APIs to avoid the added weight of unnecessary JavaScript and libraries.

Testing Stimulus Controllers

Stimulus JS is great but doesn’t provide any documentation for testing controllers, so here’s some of my own that I’ve picked up.

Required 3rd-party libraries

Basic Test

// hello_controller.test.js
import { Application as StimulusApp } from "stimulus";
import HelloController from "path/to/js/hello_controller";

describe("HelloController", () => {
beforeEach(() => {
// Insert the HTML and register the controller
document.body.innerHTML = `
<div data-controller="hello">
<input data-target="hello.name" type="text">
<button data-action="click->hello#greet">
Greet
</button>
<span data-target="hello.output">
</span>
</div>
`
;
StimulusApp.start().register('hello', HelloController);
})

it("inserts a greeting using the name given", () => {
const helloOutput = document.querySelector("[data-target='hello.output']");
const nameInput = document.querySelector("[data-target='hello.name']");
const greetButton = document.querySelector("button");
// Change the input value and click the greet button
nameInput.value = "Laurence";
greetButton.click();
// Check we have the correct greeting
expect(helloOutput).toHaveTextContent("Hello, Laurence!");
})
})

Async and Await

My notes and reminders for handling promises with async and await In Real Life.

Modest JS Works

Pascal Laliberté has written a short, free, web-based book which advocates a modest and layered approach to using JavaScript.

I make the case for The JS Gradient, a principle whereby your app can have multiple coexisting modern JS approaches, starting from the global sprinkles to spot view-models to, yes, an SPA if that’s really necessary. At each point in the gradient, you’ll see when it’s a good idea to go a step further toward heavier JavaScript, or not.

My Ruby and Rails Cheatsheet

I’m no Ruby engineer however even as a front-end developer I’m sometimes called upon to work on Rails applications that require me to know my way around. Here are my notes and reminders.

How to manage JavaScript dependencies

Managing JavaScript dependencies is about as much fun as a poke in the eye. However even if—like me—you prefer to keep things lean and dependency-free as far as possible, it’s something you’re going to need to do either in large work projects or as your personal side-project grows. In this post I tackle it head-on to reduce the problem to some simple concepts and practical techniques.

Jank-free Responsive Images

Here’s how to improve performance and prevent layout jank when browsers load responsive images.

Relearn CSS layout: Every Layout

Every now and then something comes along in the world of web design that represents a substantial shift. The launch of Every Layout, a new project from Heydon Pickering and Andy Bell, feels like one such moment.

Native lazy-loading for the web

Now that we have the HTML attribute loading we can set loading="lazy" on our website’s media, and the loading of non-critical, below-the-fold media will be deferred until the user scrolls to them.

Fringe Making

Last Tuesday, 20/8/19 I made the train trip east for a day at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

From dynamic to static

“I’ll just make a few small tweaks to my website…” said I. Cut to three sleep-deprived days later and I’ve rebuilt it, SSG/JAMstack-stylee with Eleventy and Netlify and entirely re-coded the front-end. Silly, but so far so good, and it’s greasy fast!

Real Favicon Generator

Knowing how best to serve, size and format favicons and other icons for the many different device types and operating systems can be a minefield. My current best practice approach is to create a 260px × 260px (or larger) source icon then upload it to Real Favicon Generator.

Katherine Kato’s personal website

Some simple but inspiring work here from Seattle-based web developer Katherine Kato. I really like the use of space, the typography, the colour palette and the use of CSS grid for layout.

CSS pointer-events to the rescue

Sometimes, for reasons unknown, we find that clicking or tapping an element just isn’t working. Here’s a CSS-based approach that might help.

Polypane: The browser for responsive web development and design

Polypane is a browser built specifically for developing responsive websites. It can present typical device resolutions side-by-side (for example iphone SE next to iphone 7 next to iPad) but also has some nice features such as automatically creating views based on your stylesheet’s media query breakpoints.

Using aria-current is a win-win situation

The HTML attribute aria-current allows us to indicate the currently active element in a sequence. It’s not only great for accessibility but also doubles as a hook to style that element individually.

Box Shadow around the full box

Sometimes when coding a UI element you want a shadow around the whole box. However, most CSS box-shadow examples/tutorials tend to show inset box-shadows or ones that otherwise sit off to the side.

Here’s how to apply box-shadow to the whole box for a simple but nice effect.

.box-with-shadow {
box-shadow: 0 0 4px #ccc;
}

And here’s how it looks:

Lorem ipsum

Certbot Troubleshooting

When taking the DIY approach to building a new server, Certbot is a great option for installing secure certificates. However, sometimes you can run into problems. Here, I review the main recurring issues I’ve encountered and how I fixed them.

W3C HTML Element Sampler

In all my years of spinning up “HTML Typographic Elements” lists or pages as a reference for designers, I didn’t realise that the W3C provide the very thing I needed in their HTML Element Sampler. These pages provide comprehensive dummy content covering all the main typographic elements which is really handy when designing a website’s typographic styles and pattern library.

My Git Cheatsheet

I’ve used Git for many years but it can still trip me up. At times I’ve worked primarily in a GUI (like Sourcetree or Fork), and other times directly on the command line. I’ve worked on projects where I’ve been the sole developer and others where I’m part of a large team. Regardless of the tools or context, I’ve learned there are certain need-to-knows. Here’s a list of useful Git concepts and commands for my reference and yours.

Rubadub App

Rubadub have a new mobile app that delivers the RaD crew’s top vinyl recommendations (the best around) direct to your phone.

A Dao of Web Design (on A List Apart)

John Allsopp’s classic article in which he looks at the medium of web design through the prism of the Tao Te Ching, and encourages us to embrace the web’s inherent flexibility and fluidity.

It’s time to throw out the rituals of the printed page, and to engage the medium of the web and its own nature.

It’s choc-full of quotable lines, but here are a few of my favourites:

We must “accept the ebb and flow of things.”

Everything I’ve said so far could be summarized as: make pages which are adaptable.

…and…

The web’s greatest strength, I believe, is often seen as a limitation, as a defect. It is the nature of the web to be flexible, and it should be our role as designers and developers to embrace this flexibility, and produce pages which, by being flexible, are accessible to all. The journey begins by letting go of control, and becoming flexible.

Meet the New Dialog Element

Introducing dialog: a new, easier, standards-based means of rendering a popup or modal dialogue.

The best way to Install Node.js and NPM on a Mac

In modern front-end development, we tend to use a number of JavaScript-based build tools (such as task runners like Gulp) which have been created using Node.js and which we install using NPM. Here’s the best way I’ve found for installing and maintaining Node and NPM on a Mac.

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