Responsive web and CSS
So quite a few frameworks are becoming mobile in how they handle CSS. Responsive design has been taking a mobile first view for a while now, but mobile first CSS at first, to me, seemed a bit strange of a stance to take for web development, namely because of browsers that do not support media queries. The browsers in particular that becomes a worry with approach, is Opera 9 and under, Safari 3.2 and under, Firefox 3 and under, and IE8 and under. In practical terms however, the only ones we really have to concern ourselves with are IE8 and below, since Opera and Firefox users would likely have long been nagged to upgrade their browsers to a more recent release.
Under these circumstances, I’ve started to become more favorable to mobile first CSS, since if you are dealing with IE versions older than IE9, particularly IE7 and IE6, quite a large part of your modern CSS principles will not work, and if you are building for progressive enhancement, you’re main CSS will likely be bogged down with Fallbacks, which with mobile first CSS we can isolate to only IE specific style sheets. Additionally, this gives us the added benefit of allowing our responsive design to function on mobile devices that do not support media queries, though how much of a benefit that is remains to be seen, especially now that the mobile web is largely dependent on touch interaction in its UI patterns. Most mobile websites would struggle with a tab interface like an old Blackberry.
There is also the use of CSS preprocessors like SASS and LESS (SASS being my preferred tool) which will easily allow for compartmentalization of sections of your CSS, which comes in handy for porting sections of code around for various stylesheets or fallback stylesheets. Honestly, I wish that one of my current projects had been built CSS first, as it really would have saved quite a bit of effort in the code, and would have allowed me to more easily support outdated browsers.
Lately I’ve been considering the feasibility of creating consumer products in digital design. Nothing to replace my main streams of income, at least not for the time being, but side experiments that don’t really need to make money but would be nice if they did. Why? Because more often than not client work is boring and doesn’t provide opportunity to experimentation. Not to mention that I already have iOS and Android developers licenses, and I would like to make more use of the former since it is a yearly recurring license.
Similarly, creating themes for Wordpress, Drupal, and Magento would allow me to design and develop freely, while needing to meet certain real world constraints. Plus, I wonder of the profitability of a general theme vs a designed product for a particular client.
I don’t really have anything to announce on that front yet, though there is one project that is sitting on the bubble at the moment.
Mobile revolution: UID and web app synchronization.
Lately I’ve been playing around with the iOS7 beta on my iPod Touch and iPad Mini. I’ve found the experience enjoyable, but what’s really struck me is the addition of Air Drop, essentially Apple’s answer to WiFi Direct, and, with a bit of snark, referred to as the alternative to NFC transfers commonly found on newer Android devices. Like the NFC transfer protocol on Android, Air Drop allows users to send simple data like photos, websites, and data from apps between devices with a tap.
What intrigues me are the possibilities this opens up for web apps. Consider the following circumstance. I have a large album of photos that I want to share to a friend on Dropbox. In the past, if I wanted to send those photos to my friend, I’d either have to send him an email to retrieve the files, or I’d have to have the images on hand on my device, and then cumbersomely transfer them over to his device, upon which he’d have to upload it to his Dropbox. What if, instead, we were to simply provide a unique identifier link that lasts for the session of the connected user that, when shared, would allow for instantaneous transference from one user to another? We don’t require anything for this on the front end, we can build it all into the back end, making it so that we can identify the link to be in reference to the file, and the user, if logged in, will simply have the files added to their directory, or be prompted to log in to do so.
When pretty beats practical
"Wouldn’t it be cool if" is the phrase that is usually the precursor to either an amazing idea or a terrible one. I’ve no idea what the percentages to either is at this point, but I find few exceptions or middle ground in its execution. It’s a statement of blind, raw concept, and as such unfounded in its proposal. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, not all good concepts have a basis in reality, at least not in its conception. However, "wouldn’t it be cool" tends to have a funny way of pushing concepts that should stay concepts, or guiding us in ways that distract from our main goals.
I find that when design flys off the rails at an agency, its because of some sort of feature creep or request. I find that often it doesn’t come from design, necessarily, though from account managers, marketers, sales, or perhaps spinelessness towards directing a client away from an idea because we can exploit it and make more money that way. I do have to wonder about how practical any of that is. Sure, we appease the client’s tastes now, but what happen when the proposed idea no longer is in style, or if leadership changes on the clients end and they decide that they hate the work? What happens when someone higher up on the food chain realizes that the additional services and features we are proposing do not solve the main issues of the client and aren’t all that well thought out to begin with?
Flash Floods & Flood Zone
So, occasionally I hop over to my analytics and see what’s going on with the traffic for my websites, and see spikes in traffic for Flood Zone NYC. Naturally, since Flood Zone is a local site, its traffic is effected heavily by local news and events. Baseline, the site gets about 100 visitors per day, which I find fascinating considering that I really only built the site in case of hurricane related emergencies. On Wednesday, Flood Zone saw a mild spike of 472 visitors.
No, you can’t use that typeface.
I constantly get mock ups that use typefaces that cannot be used on any of the project that we’re working on, and I always have to go back to the visual designer and explain typeface licensing. Once I was told that type licensing “wasn’t a big deal” and that we could just change the name of the font and get away with it. Well, you might not, and I don’t want to open myself up to the same sort of litigious fury NBC faced in 2009 from Font Bureau to the tune of at least $2 million dollars in damages. With that said, here’s your primer in font licensing.
So you want to be social
Perhaps the most groan inducing thing I’ve come to hear attached to damage near everything that I’ve come to work on in the last few months is the want to be social. It seems as though everyone has missed the plot when it comes to the concept of being social. Being social is not just having a twitter account or pushing a feed onto your website or on some monitor. Social is about interaction, it is about feedback, and it is about allowing users to interact with both your service and with one another.
So then, how is a Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter feed social if I cannot contribute to it? What is the point of its existence as a Twitter feed vs as just another content bucket? Are users impressed with the fact that we have a Pinterest account? I doubt it. Right now we have new emerging technologies such as Web sockets which will enable us to easily make real time connections between what we are showing and our users. We can give them control of our monitors and websites in fun, interactive ways and not be afraid that they’re going to write a text wall of profanity. And users will find finally have an organic reason to engage with us, and not because we pester them to follow us on Facebook, or whatever.
Being social was never about having a Facebook or Twitter account, and the fact that we have allowed these services to corrupt our industry speaks I’ll of our ability to innovative, but a revolution is coming, and soon we will come to realize the true meaning of social again, user generated content, not user profiles.