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Tagged “web”

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.

The organisation of work versus the job itself

Here’s a half-formed thought (the sort of thing personal websites that nobody else reads are perfect for). As a web developer, something I’ve noticed when interviewing candidates and hearing how they do things, or when I myself am being assessed in expectations reviews is that our industry seems obsessed with discussing the organisation of work. You know – PR review protocol, agile ceremonies, organising a Trello board, automation, linters. All of which is really important, of course. But the amount of airtime that gets leaves me frustrated. What about the actual job?

Are responsive strategy, web typography, layout, interactive JS components, animation (to name but a few very high-level topics) not interesting, complex and impactful enough as to warrant a higher percentage of the conversation? I want an insight into other folks’ knowledge of and opinions on how best to build things, and feel it gets relegated behind organisational topics.

Or do people just see the nitty-gritty stuff as the domain of enthusiasts on Twitter and personal blogs, or as “implementation details” that are secondary to the organisation of something – anything – that will “get the job done”?

As I say, a half-formed thought and probably just reveals my leanings! But writing it helps me gather my thoughts even if I eventually decide I’m in the wrong.

Safari is getting Web Push! (on the Webventures blog)

Roderick E.J.H. Gadellaa, author of the Webventures blog writes that at their June 2022 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) Apple announced that it will bring Web Push (web-based push notifications) to Safari, including iOS Safari.

MacOS is going to get it first and iOS will receive it in a later iOS 16.x update, sometime in 2023.

This could be a big deal, because…

The lack of the web being able to do push notifications on iOS is probably the biggest reason why web developers see a potential project end up being built as a native app instead of a web app

…and…

Web Push on iOS will change the “we need to build a native app” decision.

I don’t like the idea that native mobile apps are superior to mobile web experiences, nor the notion that by having a native app you can ignore your small-screen web experience. PWAs and native apps can co-exist in harmony and address different use cases. But also web APIs are becoming more powerful all the time, and this announcement by Apple provides fuel for the argument that “you might not need a native app for that!”

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.

GOV.UK introduce an experimental block link component

Here’s an interesting development in the block link saga: GOV.UK have introduced one (named .chevron-card) on their Homepage, citing how it’ll improve accessibility by increasing mobile touch targets. It’s not yet been added to their Design System while they’re monitoring it to see if it is successful. They’ve chosen the approach which starts with a standard, single, non-wrapping anchor then “stretches” it across the whole card via some pseudo elements and absolute positioning magic. I’m slightly surprised at this choice because it breaks the user’s ability to select text within the link. Really interested to see how it pans out!

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.

Collected web accessibility guidelines, tips and tests

At work, I’m sometimes asked accessibility questions or to provide guidelines. I’m with Anna Cook in considering myself an accessibility advocate rather than an expert however I have picked up lots of tips and knowledge over many years of developing websites. So I thought it’d be useful to gather some general web accessibility tips and tests in one place as a useful reference.

Caveats and notes:

  1. this is a living document which I’ll expand over time;
  2. I’m standing on the shoulders of real experts and I list my references at the foot of the article; and
  3. if I’ve got anything wrong, please let me know!

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.

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?

Images on the Web: The Big Picture, Part 1

In modern web development there are a myriad ways to present an image on a web page and it can often feel pretty baffling. In this series I step through the options, moving from basic to flexible images; then from modern responsive images to the new CSS for fitting different sized images into a common shape. By the end I’ll arrive at a flexible, modern boilerplate for images.

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.

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?

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.

Bustle

Here’s a beautiful, magazine style website design for digital publication Bustle. The typography, use of whitespace, responsive layout, menu pattern, colour palette and imagery are all on point!

Accessibility (on adactio.com)

Here’s Jeremy Keith, making the moral case for accessible websites and why we shouldn’t use “you can make more money by not turning people away” as an argument:

I understand how it’s useful to have the stats and numbers to hand should you need to convince a sociopath in your organisation, but when numbers are used as the justification, you’re playing the numbers game from then on. You’ll probably have to field questions like ”Well, how many screen reader users are visiting our site anyway?” (To which the correct answer is “I don’t know and I don’t care” – even if the number is 1, the website should still be accessible because it’s the right thing to do.)

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.

Cassie Evans’s Blog

I love Cassie Evans’s new website design! It’s so full of personality while loaded with technical goodies too. Amazing work!

(via @stugoo)

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.

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”.

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!");
})
})

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.

Jank-free Responsive Images

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

Beyond Automatic Testing (matuzo.at)

Six accessibility tests Viennese Front-end Developer Manuel Matusovic runs on every website he develops, beyond simply running a Lighthouse audit.

Semantic Commit Messages

A fairly rigid commit format (chore, fix, feat etc) which should lead to your git log being an easy-to-skim changelog.

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.

Get Waves

I’ve been admiring the wave effect at the foot of banners on Netlify’s website and had noted that they were achieved using SVG. So this tool which helps you “make waves” is pretty timely!

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.

Intrinsically Responsive CSS Grid with minmax and min

Evan Minto notes that flexible grids created with CSS Grid’s repeat, auto-fill, and minmax are only intrinsically responsive (responsive to their container rather than the viewport) up to a point, because when the container width is narrower than the minimum width specified in minmax the grid children overflow.

GOV.UK Design System

Use this design system to make your service consistent with GOV.UK. Learn from the research and experience of other service teams and avoid repeating work that’s already been done.

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.

Solar Design System by Bulb

It’s a collection of shared patterns and practices that allow our team to build quality user interfaces consistently and quickly.

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.

Image Color

A handy tool for identifying colours – provided in numerous different CSS-ready formats – and creating a complimentary colour palette from an image you upload or provide as a URL.

Small Victories

No CMS, no installation, no server, no coding required.

Namecheap

I’ve heard a couple of people mention that when they buy domain names, they use Namecheap because they are cheap and trustworthy.

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.

Grid by Example

Great resource from CSS Grid expert Rachel Andrew, with the Patterns and Examples sections which provide quick-start grid layouts being particularly handy.

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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