If you have been working on the web and don’t know who Jeremy Keith (aka Adactio) is, perhaps have a dig through here. Whilst at it, also watch one of my favourite talks of all time… Although, which is basically this book!
If I can remember correctly (this year has been flying), this book Resilient Web Design, by Jeremy Keith came under my attention at the beginning of the year. I was please to realise, that his talk that had great interest to me (because it makes so much sense!), has been put into a book. Like the conference talk, I found it quite entertaining, with a bit of wit. Experience of working on the web and great knowledge of the history is noticeable and makes a good read.
Whilst not a lengthy read at all, it sure convey a very important message and approach. In short:
Websites do not need to look exactly the same in every browser.”
Starting off with a bit of history of the web, following on with looking into how all new technology exist relying on knowledge or something else that already exist.
I thought the following bit added in the book, by writer Steven Johnson sums it up nicely. He has documented the history of invention and innovation. In his book Where Good Ideas Come From, he explores an idea called “the adjacent possible”:
At every moment in the timeline of an expanding biosphere, there are doors that cannot be unlocked yet. In human culture, we like to think of breakthrough ideas as sudden accelerations on the timeline, where a genius jumps ahead fifty years and invents something that normal minds, trapped in the present moment, couldn’t possibly have come up with. But the truth is that technological (and scientific) advances rarely break out of the adjacent possible; the history of cultural progress is, almost without exception, a story of one door leading to another door, exploring the palace one room at a time.”
On the web, through recent history, we have made assumptions which lead to approaching how we work on the web, in a certain why. With the rise of handheld devices of all shapes and sizes, we had to move past these assumptions and to work more ‘free’ or unconstrained.
I like this quote that was added in the book by the former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
There are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns, that is to say we know there are somethings we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
The ratio of the browser window is a good example of this. This is actually a known unknown. The last couple years working on the web has started showing some change in the approach to working. Stephanie and Bryan Rieger encapsulated the mobile‐first responsive design approach:
The lack of a media query is your first media query.”
Echoing A Dao Of Web Design, designer Mark Boulton put this new approach into a historical context:
Embrace the fluidity of the web. Design layouts and systems that can cope to whatever environment they may find themselves in. But the only way we can do any of this is to shed ways of thinking that have been shackles around our necks. They’re holding us back. Start designing from the content out, rather than the canvas in.”
On the twentieth anniversary of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners‐Lee wrote an article for Scientific American in which he reiterated those underlying principles:
The primary design principle underlying the Web’s usefulness and growth is universality. The Web should be usable by people with disabilities. It must work with any form of information, be it a document or a point of data, and information of any quality—from a silly tweet to a scholarly paper. And it should be accessible from any kind of hardware that can connect to the Internet: stationary or mobile, small screen or large.”
On being Resilient
In the chapter going over a few languages we typically use on the web, the insight at the end really stood out for me:
Thinking of the web as a platform is a category error. A platform like Flash, iOS, or Android provides stability and certainty, but only under a very specific set of circumstances—your software must be accessed with the right platform‐specific runtime environment. The web provides no such certainty, but it also doesn’t restrict the possible runtime environments. Platforms are controlled and predictable. The World Wide Web is chaotic and unpredictable.
The web is a hot mess.
Hence the need of resilient web design. For example, if you can see through the layers of your project to get to the skeleton, the primary function or task of the website. Running that process in reverse to apply each layer in turn, is the key principle to resilient web design. Summarising in a 3 step approach:
- Identify core functionality.
- Make that functionality available using the simples possible technology.
This means that not everyone will experience the same visual design. Doing it this way would ensure having a product accessible to everyone. A more in depth read about this approach can be read in Chapter 5.
I would like to end this post of notes about this highly recommended read, by quoting this bit from towards the end of the book:
In the end, the only thing we could be certain of was uncertainty:
Disruption will only accelerate. The quantity and diversity of connected devices—many of which we haven’t imagined yet—will explode, as will the quantity and diversity of the people around the world who use them.”
That isn’t cause for despair; it’s cause for celebration. We could either fight this future or embrace it. Realising that it was impossible to be future‐proof, we instead resolved to be future-friendly:
- Acknowledge and embrace unpredictability.
- Think and behave in a future-friendly way.
- Help others do the same.
That first step is the most important: acknowledging and embracing unpredictability. That is the driving force behind resilient web design. The best way to be future-friendly is to be backwards‐compatible.