Articles by
Robin Rendle

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

Tracking Uncertainty of Work

Ryan Singer writes about project and time management issues that I’ve been experiencing lately. He describes two states of every project: uncertainty and certainty, or “figuring things out” and “making it happen.”

Ryan describes it like this:

Work is like a hill with two sides. There's an uphill phase of figuring out what to do and how to approach the problem. That’s the climb. After you reach the top, there aren’t anybody [sic] ruinous unknowns. You can see down to the other side and finish executing. It's straightforward to estimate and finish the work from that point.

As far as I see it, the hardest thing about the first half of every project is making sure that everyone on a team is communicating constantly as tiny design decisions can have enormous, cascading effects on an engineer. I think that’s something I’ve always struggled with since I just want to get to the "making it happen" part as soon as humanly possible. It also goes back to something Geoff wrote a little while back about setting good expectations before and during the project process.

Vue Design System

We talk a lot about Vue around here, including some practical applications of it, but haven't gotten deep into designing for it. In this post, Viljami Salminen describes his Vue design process and the thinking that led him to build the Vue Design System:

A design system can help establish a common vocabulary between everyone in an organization and ease the collabo­ration between different disciplines. I’ve seen it go the other way around too when important decisions have been made in a rush. To avoid that, Vue Design System introduces the following framework for naming that I’ve found working well in the past...

Viljami lists Design Principles, Tokens, Elements, Patterns, and Templates as the way in which he structures a system and I think it’s a pretty interesting approach and a parallel to Lucas Lemonnier's post on creating design systems in Sketch, using Atomic Design as the structure. I particularly like how Viljami fits everything together in the example style guide that’s provided.

React’s New Context API Explained

In this video tutorial, Wes Bos looks into the new context API and the problem that it’s trying to solve:

React 16.3 has a new Context API which makes accessing data and functions anywhere in your application a snap. If you ever find yourself passing data down via props 4-5 levels deep, context might be what you are looking for.

Don’t forget about Neal Fennimore’s recent post on putting things into context. It covers the concept in great detail and provides some workarounds for the quirks you might encounter when using it.

Compressive Images Revisited

Tim Kadlec returns to the topic of how to make images on the web as performant as possible and looks at the technique called “Compressive Images” which is now not recommended for a bunch of reasons. Tim summarizes his point here:

By now the trade-off is pretty clear. Compressive images give us a reduced file size, but it greatly increases the memory footprint. Thanks to the standards that have been developed around responsive images, it’s a trade-off we no longer need to make.

If you’re interested in learning more then it’s hard not to recommend Jason Grigsby’s masterclass called Responsive Images 101, too.

Figma Web API

Figma launched their Web Platform API which allows developers to build on top of and extend the features of their web-based design tool. They also published a quick post about the release that showcases how design teams at Uber and GitHub are starting to use the API but they also dig into a few public extensions that are available to use today.

AirBnB is also all over it. No surprise as they seem to be leading the industry in creating, extending, and integrating design tooling.

Our friends at Figma recently opened up the first layer of their API to the public. Their cloud-based, multiplayer-by-default design tool is the perfect environment for considering Design Intelligence as an agent that, much like a colleague, could truly exist alongside us.

We’ve been having fun playing with it for the past few months, building workflow tools we once only dreamed of.

A simple resource for finding and trying variable fonts

This is a website designed to showcase fonts that support OpenType Variations and let you drag a whole bunch of sliders around to manipulate a typeface’s width, height, and any other settings that the type designer might’ve added to the design.

I think the striking thing about this project is that I had no idea just how many variable fonts were out there in the wild until now.

A Better Sketch File, a Better Designer, a Better You

I’ve been thinking about this post by Isabel Lee for the last couple of weeks — it’s all about how we should be more considerate when making designs in Sketch. They argue that we’re more likely to see real efficiency and organizational improvements in our work if we name our layers, artboards, and pages properly. Isabel writes:

Keeping a super organized Sketch file has helped me smooth out my design process and saved me time when I was trying to find a specific component or understand an archived design. For instance, I was looking for an icon that I used six months ago and it was (relatively) easy to find because all my artboards and layers were well-named and grouped reverse-chronologically. I was also able to cross-reference it with my meeting notes from around that time. If I hadn’t done any of that work (thanks Past Isabel!), I probably would’ve had to dig through all my old designs and look at each layer. Or worse — I would’ve had to recreate that icon.

Since I read this I’ve been doing the same thing and effectively making “daily commits” with the naming of my pages and it’s been genuinely helpful when looking back through work that I’ve forgotten about. But what I really like about this tidy-up process is how Isabel describes the way in which they could easily look back on their work, identify weaknesses in their design process, and how to become a better designer:

Aside from making it easier to find things, it’s also helped me cultivate good documentation habits when I want to analyze my old work and see where I could’ve made improvements. I revisited one of my old Sketch files and realized that I didn’t do enough research before diving into a million iterations for an initial idea I had.

Vox Accessibility Guidelines

I remember seeing these accessibility guidelines from Vox a while ago but it’s still interesting to go over them again today and see if there’s anything missing from my own process when it comes to improving accessibility.

And there’s an awful lot to remember! Color contrast, alt-text, keyboard navigation, focus states, and ARIA attributes are only a small snippet of the total number of things we ought to be mindful of when designing websites and so this checklist is certainly helpful for giving us all a good nudge from time to time.

Plus, it's worth remembering that there are small tweaks we can make and ways to advocate for improved accessibility in our projects.

V6: Color

This is a lovely little post by Rob Weychert about color theory, hierarchy and how to implement those colors in a design system. It’s particularly interesting hearing what Rob has to say on HSL, which is an alternative way of setting the color of an element in CSS:

For color adjustment, HSL brings a level of granular control to the process that other color systems lack. And for implementation, Sass lets me assign color values to variables, which make system-wide iteration quick and painless.

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…)

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