Articles by
Robin Rendle

Technical writer, CEO of staring blankly at a screen full of CSS, pro-blogger

The Red Reveal: Illusions on the Web

In part one of a series of posts about optical illusions on the web, Dan Wilson looks at how to create the “Red Reveal” that he happens to describe like this:

Growing up, my family played a lot of board games. Several games such as Outburst, Password, and Clue Jr. included something that amazed me at the time — a red lens and cards with some light blue text that was obscured by a myriad of red lines. When you put the red lens over the card, the text would magically appear.

Here’s one example of that effect from a nifty Pen (more…)

Web-Powered Augmented Reality: a Hands-On Tutorial

Uri Shaked has written about his journey in AR on the web from the very early days of Google’s Project Tango to the recent A-Frame experiments from Mozilla. Front-end devs might be interested in A-Frame because of how you work with it - it's a declarative language like HTML! I particularly like this section where Uri describes how it felt to first play around with AR:

The ability to place virtual objects in the real space, and have them stick in place even when you move around, seemed to me like we were diving down the uncanny valley, where the boundaries between the physical world and the game were beginning to blur. This was the first time I experienced AR without the need for markers or special props — it just worked out of the box, everywhere.

Sketching in the Browser

Mark Dalgleish details how his team at seek tried to build a library of React components that could then be translated into Sketch documents. Why is that important though? Well, Mark describes the problems that his team faced like this:

...most design systems still have a fundamental flaw. Designers and developers continue to work in entirely different mediums. As a result, without constant, manual effort to keep them in sync, our code and design assets are constantly drifting further and further apart.

For companies working with design systems, it seems our industry is stuck with design tools that are essentially built for the wrong medium—completely unable to feed our development work back into the next round of design.

Mark then describes how his team went ahead and open-sourced html-sketchapp-cli, a command line tool for converting HTML documents into Sketch components. The idea is that this will ultimately save everyone from having to effectively copy and paste styles from the React components back to Sketch and vice-versa.

Looks like this is the second major stab at the React to Sketch. The last one that went around was AirBnB's React We normally think of the end result of design tooling being the code, so it's fascinating to see people finding newfound value in moving the other direction.

Recreating the GitHub Contribution Graph with CSS Grid Layout

Ire Aderinokun sets out to build the GitHub contribution graph — that’s the table with lots of green squares indicating how much you’ve contributed to a project – with CSS Grid:

As I always find while working with CSS Grid Layout, I end up with far less CSS than I would have using almost any other method. In this case, the layout-related part of my CSS ended up being less than 30 lines, with only 15 declarations!

I’m so excited about posts like this because it shows just how much fun CSS Grid can be. Likewise, Jules Forrest has been making a number of brilliant experiments on this front where she reimagines complex print layouts or even peculiar menu designs.

How to use variable fonts in the real world

Yesterday Richard Rutter posted a great piece that explores how the team at Clearleft built the new Ampersand conference website using variable fonts (that’s the technology that allows us to bundle multiple widths and weights into a single font file). Here’s the really exciting part though:

Two months ago browser support for variable fonts was only 7%, but as of this morning, support was at over 60%. This means font variations is a usable technology right now.

And the nifty thing is that there’s a relatively large number of variable fonts to experiment with, not only in browsers but also in desktop design apps, too:

Variable font capable software is already more pervasive than you might think. For example, the latest versions of Photoshop and Illustrator support them, and if you’re using macOS 10.13+ or iOS 11+ the system font San Francisco uses font variations extensively. That said, the availability of variable fonts for use is extremely limited. At the time of writing there are not really any commercial variable webfonts available, but there is a growing number of free and experimental variable webfonts, as showcased in the Axis Praxis playground.

Adobe also made a bunch of variable fonts available a while back, if you’re looking for more typefaces.

Tools for Thinking and Tools for Systems

I’ve been obsessed with design tools the past two years, with apps like as Sketch, Figma and Photoshop perhaps being the most prolific of the bunch. We use these tools to make high fidelity mockups and ensure high quality user experiences. These tools (and others) are awesome and are generally upping our game as designers and developers, but I believe that the way they’ve changed the way we produce work and define UX will soon produce yet another new wave of tools.

In the future, I predict two separate categories of design applications: tools for thinking and tools for systems.

Let me explain.


Meet the New Dialog Element

Keith Grant discusses how HTML 5.2 has introduced a peculiar new element: <dialog>. This is an absolutely positioned and horizontally centered modal that appears on top of other content on a page. Keith looks at how to style this new element, the basic opening/closing functionality in JavaScript and, of course, the polyfills that we’ll need to get cross-browser support right.

Also, I had never heard of the ::backdrop pseudo element before. Thankfully the MDN documentation for this pseudo element digs into it a little bit more.