A List Apart

Menu

Illustration by Dougal MacPherson

Back to the Future in 2016

A funny thing happened on the way to 2016. We asked some of our smartest friends in the web design and development communities what new skills they planned to master, or what new focuses they intended to bring to their work, in the new year. It being a holiday week, we didn’t expect many folks to contribute. Never underestimate the passion of this community. We got what we asked for—and more. Heaps more.

Article Continues Below

Our friends’ responses fell into four broad categories—design, insight, tools, and work—but one notion cropped up repeatedly: sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back in order to move forward. It gives us great pleasure to share this cornucopia of wisdom with all of you. Happy New Year!

Design

Cennydd Bowles, digital product designer

I’m going to play around with sound design. The beige-box era of computing is long gone, but we’re still paralyzed by that time an autoplaying MIDI made our officemates glare at us. I have a hunch intelligent, relevant blips and swooshes can really make our products better. So expect to find me waist-deep in Max MSP and Andy Farnell’s physics-and-boxes opus Designing Sound.

Josh Clark, principal at Big Medium

I’m digging into a renewed focus on physical interfaces for digital systems. Instead of pulling us ever deeper into our screens, I’m keen on relocating digital interactions to the world where we actually live, breathe, move. In part, this continues the work I detailed in Designing for Touch, giving digital interactions the illusion of physicality via touchscreens. But I also aim to travel in the reverse direction, giving the physical world a digital presence. How might we push the web’s frontier beyond the screen by using new input/output methods? With my retail and medical clients, I’m exploring how apps and web services can use sensors to touch the world (and how the world can touch back). In side projects, I’m experimenting with the Physical Web to see what happens when you can “click” any object or place to spin up a web interface for it. In all of this, the amazing mobile devices we carry in our pockets and handbags are central. The new wrinkle is that instead of distracting us from the world, our mobile gadgets can also light it up with new intelligence.

Nathan Curtis, founder and principal of EightShapes

Living style guides are all the rage. Teams from prominent organizations publish new ones almost weekly, celebrated by an adoring community. Bootstrap, Foundation, Material Design (and its threaded connections to MDL and Polymer), PatternLab, and Lightning offer blueprints for masses to follow. The result? Guides are a predictable and formulaic commodity.

What’s more interesting—and complicated—is how to thread and align this tangible design definition across Many People Making Things. This puts the “living” in style guide: modeling and operationalizing a well-defined system for many teams working concurrently. Design wanted a seat at the table, and this is it.

Salesforce’s Tokens and 18F’s APIs offer hints of how to propagate properties to all these atomic designs. But mostly, we still see the surface: the artifact as the system, not yet how everyone else relies on each part and how to make the system work for them.

The architect in me senses opportunity. How can our profession build more powerful models that thread digital products and platforms (like web to iOS and Android) and beyond (from digital to print and more) to make an entire enterprise systematic?

Meg Dickey-Kurdziolek, freelance UX’er

Way back when, in one of my graduate classes at Virginia Tech, we had a guest lecturer from the Services for Students with Disabilities office. He told us we should think of ourselves as TABs—Temporarily Able-Bodied. We all grow older and will one day develop a disability. Our goal should be to make products that we will still be able to use when that day comes.

At the time, my twenty-something self found it hard to imagine developing a disability. Over a decade later I am still, thankfully, a TAB, but I have met more people and had more experiences that have impressed upon me how fleeting TAB status can be. One of those people is Chris Maury, who a few years ago was diagnosed with Stargardt’s macular degeneration disease. This means Chris is progressively going blind. When Chris started looking into the accessibility tools he would one day have to rely upon, he was deeply disappointed. He took matters into his own hands and started Conversant Labs.

This year I will be working with Chris and the Conversant Labs team to explore what UX designers can do to make more accessible products. I will also try to keep my TAB status in mind, as I sketch, design, and build.

Daniel Ferro, senior interaction designer at Forum One

I feel there is a bit of a flaw in the UX industry. The focus is so much on simply getting a user from point A to point B, about designing just what a user needs, that we can forget to design what a user wants, or what will make their experience even better. It’s like we forgot that the X in UX stands for experience.

In a typical UX document, joy and whimsy are usually nowhere to be found. What’s wrong with adding a little bit of delight? It takes nothing away from the functionality of the website or application—in fact it’s what differentiates a merely functional tool from one that’s fun to use.

That’s what I really want to focus on in 2016: delight in unexpected places. I want the subtle animation when a user clicks on a button, or hovers over a photo, or does something as simple as highlighting text to copy it, to delight the user. I want the simplest of interactions to bring a smile. As an example, check out the subtle social-sharing floating action button (FAB) I implemented into the bottom right of the Farm to School 2015 Census website. It was inspired by Google Material design, since I feel that Google is leading the way in web and interaction design at the moment and will continue to do so through 2016.

Anne Gibson, information architect

In 2016, I want to spend more time learning about Lean UX, especially in enterprise contexts. I want to explore how our designs affect the way our users feel. How can we make it easier for someone to feel less stressed, more relaxed, more in control of their lives? Finally, I want to continue to explore how to communicate design goals through tools like capability strategy sheets.

Cyd Harrell, UX researcher and citizen experience advocate

In 2016, I’m doubling down on exploring how to shift major institutions from the 20th century to the 21st. I work a lot on helping public servants design government to meet user needs, but I’m also fascinated by education. Our current systems of both (and to a certain extent medicine and finance as well) are built around institutional authority and direction. We still need institutions, of course, but as our society grows increasingly complex, diverse, and technological, we need them to use their power differently. We need them to become more flexible, nimble, and responsive to the needs of their clients, and supportive of many kinds of human potential. We have the tools, and visions are relatively easy to come by. But visions are cheap, frankly. Actually doing the work, unlocking the design minds of dedicated people who are experts in those fields—that kind of meta-design problem is my current obsession.

Val Head, designer & consultant

Two things I want to explore more in 2016 are sounds design and data visualization. I picked up Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cinema over the holidays to start getting into sound design. The way sound can be used to inform and tell a story fascinates me. I’m excited to learn more about it and maybe even use it in my design work.

One of my favorite projects of 2015 involved animating small SVG data visualizations for a series of articles. It was a fun project, but it also made me realize how much I don’t know about working with data. I’ve got Nicholas Felton’s Skillshare courses on data visualization queued up as my starting point for improving my data design skills this year.

Getting away from the computer, I’d also like to do more metalsmithing this year. I had a blast learning to make some basic jewelry pieces this past summer. I’ll be taking some weekend workshops at the Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh in the coming months to make more.

Andrew Johnson, designer

I have no idea what’s in store this year, but the design challenges associated with typography’s ubiquity and key role in interfaces fascinate me. The type community is great and I’m really looking forward to continuing to collaborate on/build projects like Typography.supply and Cartography, which, I hope, contribute to the conversation.

In parallel to designing for the web, I’m also planning on venturing into game development. Its affinity for creating immersive and emotional experiences through code deviates interestingly from product design.

On both fronts, Wilson Miner’s talk “When We Build” continues to be an inspiration. Just make stuff.

Jake from Adventure Time Making Bacon Pancakes

Michael Johnson, creative director at Happy Cog

I’ve been looking into how others have used chance to shape an experience, such as how John Cage authored performance parameters and then allowed chance events to determine the outcome. I see a loose correlation in the “performance” between designer/client and client/site, where over the course of a website’s life you have to consider the aesthetics of time. Previously I saw the best-case approach as forestalling inevitable decay, and I’ve looked, mostly unsuccessfully, at ways to encourage a sort of graceful aging. In nearly every case I’ve been thwarted by the unexpected (Well, Client, that’s certainly a new way to use a carousel…) but I’ve seen enough minor successes that make me think leaving a responsible level of ambiguity and opening a closed system to targeted chance operations may help a system grow and evolve rather than just endure a slow decline. Some utopian thinkers in the sixties approached urban planning similarly, concluding that like in nature, random mutations with apparent non-intention, such as the synaptic or fractal-like patterns seen in emerging cities, could give purchase to a purer form once relieved of initial authorial control. And that is the goal for many of us, isn’t it? To design for longevity?

Gerry McGovern, founder of Customer Carewords

The decline of trust in brands, organizations, and experts, and how that impacts digital design, is an area I’ll be exploring in 2016. Concomitantly, there is a rise in trust in peers and “people like me.” One of the implications of this shift in trust is that people distrust complexity and trust simplicity and things that empower them and allow them to connect more. There’s a lot of opportunity here for designs that are empowering and easy to use.

I will be very interested in exploring whether traditional marketing and communication (emotional language, stock images, “beautiful” designs) continue to undermine trust. In the past, I’ve noticed that designs that are fast to load and quick to use increase trust, and I’ll be watching out for research on how speed impacts trust.

What I’m reading:

Cameron Moll, CEO, Authentic Jobs

There are many things I’ll be exploring in 2016, but relevant to this collection are two in particular. First, I’ll be diving into unified design more heavily. I started speaking about this topic at conferences nearly two years ago, and it has become increasingly relevant since then. Two years feels like a decade in our industry, which tells me this isn’t a passing fad. I plan to speak and write even more about unified design in 2016. Second, I’ve become…intrigued, concerned, I don’t know what the right word is…by the toll our work takes on us over the course of a career. Maybe it’s because I’m turning 40 soon, or maybe it’s because I watched the movie Everest over the holiday break and found myself wondering why we go so unreasonably far to accomplish our dreams. At any rate, I’ve had Paul Goldberger’s biography on Frank Gehry, Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry, in my cart on Amazon for a few weeks, and maybe I’ll finally flip the switch and order it to understand how his career has impacted his personal life.

Yesenia Perez-Cruz, senior product designer at Vox Media

In 2016, I’m focusing on being more deliberate with my design decisions. Designers today have to juggle many tasks: making sites that are beautiful, engaging, and delivered quickly across often unreliable networks. It’s not surprising that the current web landscape is full of heavy websites serving dozens of web fonts, images, and complex interactions—or super-minimal sites that lack personality.

Last year, I advocated for finding a balance between speed and aesthetics when designing a website. My process for finding this balance was a bit reactive. I’d remove details of visually rich designs until I met my performance budget. This year, I want to be more proactive.

One way I’ll be more deliberate is with typography. I loved Medium design lead Marcin Wichary’s post on their decision to use system fonts for their user interface. The system fonts feel native to users’ devices and save valuable bytes. This gives us room to be expressive with display text and headings. I’ve already begun to apply some of this thinking to my work, and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned at An Event Apart this year.

Susan Robertson, front-end developer

I spent my “winter break” exploring drawing again, getting very low-tech and taking time away from the screen. It got me excited about things like composition, design, layout, and type as I worked on making sketchbook spreads that worked in the space and made interesting use of color, layout, and my own block lettering (such as it is). So in 2016 I hope to continue down that road. As a developer who is always implementing designs, I hope to dig deeper into visual design and the elements that make it work well at various screen sizes. I’m most interested in the “seams” as Ethan Marcotte called them in his latest book, Responsive Design: Patterns and Principles. Since I spend so much time thinking about the patterns, I want to think more about the whole. I’ll be doing that by going back to design books, taking a look at books such as Visual Grammar, The ABCs of Bauhaus, Comics and Sequential Art, and possibly some books on the history of animation.

Jen Simmons, host and executive producer of The Web Ahead; designer advocate at Mozilla

Once upon a time, we used hacky HTML full of table tags to lay out our web pages. Then we switched to using CSS. And our design patterns changed. Our collective idea of what a website should be changed. And for about five or six years, we made a bazillion fixed-width, header-main-sidebar-footer layout-shaped websites.

Then along came tiny screens and media queries. And Responsive Web Design. We’ve spent the last four or five years getting comfortable with new tools and techniques. And with a new idea of what a webpage should be. We’ve been making our websites squishy, moving those columns around at different breakpoints. And settling into a new idea of how we should lay out the page.

Well… That’s all about to change—again.

Whether designing fixed, fluid, or responsive, we’ve been severely limited by what CSS could do. Turns out, we’ve been creating our page layouts with CSS properties that were actually invented to handle only small bits of a page. We spent years coming up with clever hacks to accomplish a few page designs, and stopped there. Without any real tools for layout in CSS, we didn’t dare think creatively.

It has been a painful decade. We’ve mitigated this pain by inventing and using tools like 960.gs, Bootstrap, and Foundation. Such tools prevented bugs, made development faster, and abstracted away the need for a lot of nasty math. But very soon, we won’t need such tools anymore. We’ll be able to write real CSS, vanilla CSS to create custom page layouts with ease. How? By using new CSS. Better CSS. CSS properties that were invented for page layout.

Flexbox is already here. 2016 is the year CSS Grid will arrive. We can combine these with CSS Shapes, Viewport Units, Multicolumn Layout, Rotation, and more to design some amazing pages. We can finally do real art direction on the world’s biggest digital platform—if we so choose.

Of course, the new CSS will make it faster and easier to implement the same old layouts we’ve been designing for years. Yawn. We’re already completely bored with seeing the same layout over and over. I’m much more intrigued by what will come after that. The real revolution will come when we start designing pages that no one has seen before. When we collectively create new design patterns. When we inject new life into our sites, using layout to truly serve the content at hand, creating a fresh reading/viewing/using experience.

It’s time to let ourselves dream up wild page layouts. It’s time to play around with CSS to see what is, or isn’t, possible. I’m incredibly excited about what’s coming. I’ll be spending all of 2016 experimenting and inventing. I’ll be presenting at a bunch of conferences, including every An Event Apart in 2016. I’ll be posting to CodePen, writing articles (including for A List Apart), creating screencasts, and making more podcast episodes. Follow me on Twitter to keep up.

Rian van der Merwe, product design director at Jive Software

2015 was a year of inward focus for me. I spent a lot of time learning new design skills and tools, and focusing on the intricate details of the products I work on. In 2016, I hope to free up a little more time to study and explore things on the periphery of design—areas that might not have much to do with digital product design on the surface, but that help me expand the way I think about and practice design.

This includes some seemingly strange hobbies. I’ve recently become really interested in the craft of mechanical watches. I’m also (still!) very interested in the intersection of architecture and design. I’m particularly drawn to urban design, so I look forward to reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities. And then, in addition to my design activities at work, I hope to get back to blogging a bit more this year. 2015 was the year of Medium and newsletters, and I guess I have a bit of nostalgia for the humble personal blog—the forgotten front porch of the internet. Follow along if you’d like.

Jeffrey Zeldman, founder of Happy Cog & publisher of A List Apart

In 2016, I’ll roll up my sleeves, teach myself something new, and get back into the hustle and grind of client-facing design.

With wonderful partners, I’ve spent the past few years building, shaping, and solidifying such things as A Book Apart, An Event Apart, and this magazine. There’s a lot to be said for detaching from the day-to-day work of a designer and focusing on design in a different sense: namely, the creation and direction of products. I’ve loved every minute of it. It has resulted in milestones like A Decade Apart, as An Event Apart enters its second decade​...a​nd in books whose insightfulness and relevance for our industry blow me away.

But now, in 2016—while keeping those good things going—it’s time to step back into the ring. 2016 will see the reopening of Happy Cog’s NYC design studio, working in tandem with the great studio in Philly. I’m going to teach myself CSS Grid Layout, and get up to my elbows in the daunting, messy, maddening, exhilarating work of web design.

Insight

Liz Danzico, chair and cofounder of SVA MFA Interaction Design; creative director, NPR

To me, progress always meant motion. If something moved (professionally, geographically, biologically, chronologically, alphabetically), I thought, it was intrinsically better. In this way, “different” and “advancement” were synonymous. For the next year, I’m practicing non-motion. No sudden shifts; no pivots; no renovations. Instead: continuity and flow. I’m up for a year to take stock on what is, not what could be; where everything is only infinitesimally different from what was before. That will be progress.

Brad Frost, web designer

My goal for 2016 is to be positive and productive. I’ve got a lot on my plate this year and I’m excited for it all! Between client work, speaking, consulting, and finishing my Atomic Design book, I’m hoping to release a project that encapsulates the ideas put forth in Death To Bullshit. I’m trying to improve my skills as a developer, designer, teacher, and human being. A key factor in accomplishing this will be to stay away from all the negativity out there and surround myself with positive people and attitudes. Here’s to a positive, productive year for everybody!

Andrew Grimes, user experience consultant

My big ambition for the year is to develop better techniques for avoiding distraction online. Particularly while researching. I just don’t have a great success rate when relying on search or user-generated content streams to find my way to the good stuff. The algorithms aren’t reliable enough, or I’m not doing it right, or both. In any case, time and again, I seem to find the best content in the same curated spaces (like ALA).

And so I plan to bypass the likes of Google, FaceBook, LinkedIn, and Twitter a little more this year—and go directly to trusted sources. Not just the well-known publisher sites. I’m planning to seek out and frequent some lesser-known establishments, too. Like restaurants, I suspect these exciting sorts of places might be easier to find via word-of-mouth.

I’m also keen to learn more about editorial design, having been inspired by Travis Gertz’s brilliant article, “Design Machines”. The idea of treating design systems as a beginning, rather than as a fixed end point, seems particularly important for the web right now. There’s something really exciting about challenging the rigidity of templates and rules, instead aiming to create sites that match design with content, and vary layout as often as magazines do.

Lara Hogan, senior engineering manager at Etsy

I’ve been thinking a lot about how strange an endeavor public speaking can be. Is there anything else that is so hard to practice, where there’s so much at risk? What other kinds of work only happen in a spotlight, where you get just one shot? Unlike with writing or running a race or other kinds of goals we may have in the new year, we can’t exactly practice public speaking in safer, low-risk environments that accurately mirror what it feels like to be onstage, in front of an audience.

We all have fears about public speaking, and these fears run the gamut. I fear tripping and falling onstage. I’ve spoken with others who fear stumbling over their words or forgetting what they want to say, who worry about a wardrobe malfunction, or “being judged” by an audience. I want to spend more time this year thinking through ways that I can help people with these fears by articulating ways that we can more safely prepare ourselves for the spotlight and the stage. At the very least, I’d love to help more people overcome the mental blockers we have about submitting proposals for talks or even picking a topic to talk about. My hope is that, in 2016, we can help tackle these worries so that more diverse voices can share their knowledge in meetups, conferences, and other venues. I think the whole industry would benefit.

Denise Jacobs, founder and CEO of The Creative Dose; speaker + author + creativity evangelist

My mission as a creativity evangelist is to free people from the tyranny of their inner critic so they can allow their creativity to flow. What thrills me most about 2016 is that I’m dedicating time to transform my two most popular talks “Banish Your Inner Critic” and “Hacking the Creative Brain” into books! It’s time to give my content further reach and longevity.

After living out of my suitcase the past few years (in 2015 alone, I did 28 talks around the world), I look forward to holing up in my home office and writing these books people have been asking for—and frankly, that I need too! I’ll be creating a lot of peripheral articles and blog posts around the book content as well. Other 2016 projects include taking on additional professional coaching clients and launching a live online seminar on speaking (which also supports my Rawk The Web initiative).

Over the holiday break, I got clear that I can’t share my work if my own inner critic keeps me from taking care of myself. So my other focus is on fantastic self-care: reviving a regular exercise routine, cooking yummy meals with fresh produce from my organic garden, creating with my hands (handmade herbal soaps and funky earrings), continuing to learn improv, reading plenty of sci-fi and magical realism, reconnecting with friends, and napping with my cats in the sun.

Erin Lynch, writer/designer/founder of shop, and production manager at A List Apart

2016 = growth. I have four functional areas I want to continue extending my skillsets in over the next year. While I work in these areas (design, development, writing, and illustration) on a daily basis, I haven’t done a concentrated, focused study to extend and add to those skills in a quite a while. 2016 is about pushing boundaries for me—focus, engagement, and exploration.

I was greatly inspired by a recent article (which I have since lost track of) about a man who decided he was tired of his career (financial planner, CPA, or something non-arts related like that) and wanted a change. He read an article about the 10,000 hours methodology and decided to give it a try. Fast-forward three years (and a hectic learning curve) and he landed a job as an animator at Aardman. There’s a lot of talk about the validity of the 10,000 hours method, but the one thing it reinforces is that practice = growth, and growth is what we’re all about.

As for reading, I always have a ton of stuff on deck. I’m currently reading The Vignelli Canon, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, and Parting It Out. I’m trying to get to this season’s 24 Ways articles, as well as the two new ABA books Responsive Design: Patterns & Principles and Going Responsive.

Alice Mottola, freelance web developer/writer

The Enneagram personality typing system may not have the peer-reviewed clout of the MBTI (yet), but don’t let that scare you away. In my experience, the Enneagram’s insight and accuracy leave the MBTI in the dust. Every time a friend or colleague of mine discovers their type description, they’re overcome with waves of alternating elation and embarrassment as they recognize patterns of thought and behavior they always knew they had, but never quite put into words. Plus, Enneagram literature provides solid, practical advice that can lead to serious positive developments. For me, discovering my (terrifyingly accurate) Type 4 personality inspired me to start coding creative projects in my spare time, since Type 4s feel their best when they can let their creativity flourish. As the Enneagram predicted, I’m a good deal happier for it. If you’re intrigued, I recommend taking a look at the Enneagram Institute website or checking out the book Discovering Your Personality Type. Even if you don’t end up quite as impressed as I am, you’ll almost certainly find some good advice you can apply to both your career and personal evolution.

Sophie Shepherd, designer at GitHub

The last few years have felt like the web’s adolescence—transitional and rocky at times, yet exciting. Our jobs changed with the introduction of RWD, and we’ve been dealing with the aftershocks ever since. It has been a few years of asking ourselves really hard—sometimes existential—questions. What tools are best? Where does design end and development begin? Should designers code? Do I have to design for watches now? Has web design lost its soul?

Whether we have all the answers or not, the dust is settling. Responsive web design is just web design, design systems and style guides are the norm, and it doesn’t matter whether you design in Photoshop or Sketch or the browser. I think web design is entering a new golden age, one where we can focus less on having the right answers and feeling stifled by constraints. I’m excited to get back to the reason I fell in love with the web the first place: creativity. I’m looking forward to seeing what we all make, and how we push the boundaries of the medium.

Tools

Rachel Andrew, founder of edgeofmyseat.com, the company behind Perch

In 2016, I’m going to be going back to basics and really learning JavaScript. I first learned JavaScript right back in the early days of the web, driven by a desire to add rollover images and popup windows to my websites. At one point I would create Dreamweaver extensions, and ultimately picked up enough knowledge of jQuery to do the things I needed to do. However, I’ve never considered myself a capable JavaScript developer, nor have I ever really liked the language.

In 2016, though, I think JavaScript is vital for any web developer to learn—whether you are mainly a front- or a back-end developer. It’s no longer just a tool for adding trivial and annoying things to websites; our tooling makes use of it, and increasingly it is being used on the server side as well as running in the client.

I like to get back to basics when relearning things. As a developer, it is very easy to not read the manual, to just jump in partway and pick up things as I go along. When I do that, I tend to miss some basic fundamental that comes back to bite me. What I have discovered is that it is still hard to find really great materials for learning JavaScript that don’t assume I want to jump right into some framework, but also don’t spend the entire time discussing basic programming constructs.

I’m enjoying Eloquent JavaScript and have also found the information on the Mozilla Developer Network a good jumping-off point. Speaking JavaScript seems to be aimed at people like me who already have a programming background. I’d be very happy to take suggestions as to what to read next.

Anthony Colangelo, iOS developer, Big Cartel

As a software developer, tinkering with hardware projects is a really great way to push yourself to learn new things, think in new ways, and solve interesting (and fun!) problems. I’ve been experimenting for a while now with Arduino-based projects—my biggest projects yet have been building custom game controllers for Kerbal Space Program and flight simulators. This year I plan to take it more seriously and work with some more interesting pieces of technology, like building voice-controlled devices, or devices that communicate via Bluetooth.

I’m also looking to get started with 3-D printing, thanks to Big Cartel’s Employee Art Grant, which will help me build proper enclosures for the devices I build, rather than hacking them into generic casings.

Getting started with Arduino is incredibly easy, whether you know how to code or not. If you already have a favorite language, I’ll bet you can find something out there that will let you write Arduino programs with it. There are frameworks for JavaScript, Ruby, and just about every other language. There are also some great places like SparkFun and Adafruit that sell components, provide tutorials, and are filled with inspiration.

Garin Evans, developer

As a developer, I’ve had varying success writing cross-platform mobile applications. I’ve used frameworks like PhoneGap and Xamarin, and while these solve some problems, I still haven’t found the silver bullet for cross-platform app development. That’s why I was excited when Facebook announced React Native, their “learn once, write anywhere” framework for building native mobile apps using ReactJS. In the last year I’ve fully embraced ReactJS; it’s a fantastic framework that, for me at least, helps create clean, modular front-end components; what compels me most to dive into React Native in 2016 is the transference of familiar JavaScript and React techniques to mobile application development. React Native is still in its infancy: Android support was only introduced in v0.11.0, released in September 2015, and there still isn’t a major release, but what excites me about React Native is that Facebook has potentially removed the requirement for budding app developers to whom JavaScript is already familiar to learn Objective-C, Swift, Java, or C#—a requirement that is enough to put some off.

Lyza Danger Gardner, CTO, Cloud Four

Last year, I embarked on the great journey of becoming a mentor. In 2016, I’ll continue that growth. But there’s a new flavor, a zesty focus to my goals: I want to help software people learn how to work with objects in the real world. That is, I want to show web developers how to do things with hardware.

2015 brought a surge of boundary-pushing APIs for the Web. I believe that in 2016 we’ll see an increased clamor specifically for standardized web-hardware interfaces. This desire is already starting to manifest. Even now, there are numerous options for controlling hardware with JavaScript, Google is championing the Physical Web project, and cloud services for manipulating the Internet of Things (IoT) continue to proliferate.

The Web has the opportunity to serve as the connective tissue between real-life objects and the data and services that can make them magical. I want to help us get to that future.

Matt Griffin, founder of Bearded

This year I will finally get my head around ARIA! Forms are the messy, bewildering lifeblood of the web. Making them more accessible for everyone is wonderful. Making them more readable by machines is—at this point—common sense. Luckily, they both require the same approach. These are the things I plan to delve into in my quest:

Krystal Higgins, senior interaction designer

In 2016, I’m excited about dusting off my old Arduino kit and tinkering! Although I’m always exposed to the capabilities of physical computing (heck, I work with wearables every day), it was when I did a first-time UX evaluation of Ozobot, a programmable robot toy for students, that inspired me to do more electronics prototyping. Toys like Ozobot illustrate how the medium can be a tool for education and personalization—and I’m keen to explore ways for it to augment new user onboarding. So, my reading list includes the tried-and-true Arduino guide, Charles Platt’s Make: Electronics: Learning Through Discovery, and r/arduino (for inspiration). I’ll also be exploring Open Hybrid, an MIT project that allows anyone with knowledge of HTML to design an interface for controlling objects.

Ryan Irelan, builder of Mijingo

I’m going to continue exploring decoupled content management systems (like we discussed on ALA’s “Love Your CMS” panel). I’ve spent the last decade working with monolithic CMSes and it’s fun to break what I know in pieces and learn and explore. What gets me the most excited about exploring decoupling CMSes is that there’s a very similar discussion happening in software architecture and software development right now. I’ll keep sharing everything I learn over at my training site, Mijingo.

Scott Jehl, designer/developer at Filament Group and author of Responsible Responsive Design

360 kickflips. Definitely. Always wanted to do that. I’ve been skateboarding for, what, like 20 years now and—oh! Right, websites… Okay.

In the past couple of years, I’ve focused a lot of my development attention on page loading performance. 2015 brought us a new standardized version of http (http/2) and support for it is already excellent across browsers and server environments alike. In 2016, I plan to do more experimentation with http/2 to improve my understanding of how best to manage the optimizations that are still helpful for older browsers (which won’t support the new protocol) while taking advantage of http/2 features that make many of those optimizations no longer necessary. I’m also excited to start using Service Workers in production. And skateboarding a lot.

Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist

In 2016, I’m going to put some major effort into installable web apps (which Google now calls progressive web apps for reasons I don’t entirely understand).

The following sketches my ideal, though I’m fairly certain we won’t come this far in 2016: a user goes to a website on a mobile device and wants to bookmark it. Hitting “Bookmark” can have one of two effects:

  1. If the website does not have a manifest file, it simply place the site’s favicon on the user’s home screen. This is a simple link that starts up the browser and loads the site.
  2. If the website has a manifest file, it’s installed locally.

What does installing locally mean? It simply means that all relevant files, with the possible exception of actual data, are installed on the device as one package. Tapping the icon starts up this local version of the site, possibly loads external data (if a connection is available) and displays the site in the browser.

The real trick comes when one user shows a locally installed web app to another, and that other person wants it as well. The user opens a Bluetooth (or NFC or whatever) connection to the other person’s device and just sends over the installed web app. The icon appears on the other person’s home screen, and it can be launched.

Main problem: security. I know. There are some hard nuts to crack here.

Still, this is not some utopian pie-in-the-sky idea. I’ve DONE it. Six years ago, I worked on the W3C Widget installable web apps system, and created a lot of test apps for Symbian. One day I noticed that Windows Mobile supported W3C Widgets as well. I opened a Bluetooth connection, sent over an app from Symbian to Windows Mobile, tapped the icon, AND IT WORKED!

That’s the future of the web on mobile. (And, thinking about it, maybe on any device, but let’s do mobile first.) Ever since, I’ve been patiently waiting for others to get the idea as well. Maybe 2016 will be the year that it finally starts working.

Una Kravets, front-end developer at IBM Design, Austin

2015 was a really exciting year for JavaScript. Increased framework debates led to a growing collection of ideas on how best to streamline production. This gave developers a lot of power, but also further fractured the field of front-end development. I’m hoping to make JavaScript more accessible to designers and UI developers in the coming year, focusing on how we can continue to #artTheWeb while leveraging the advantages of these new tools like componentization (is that a real word?), and performance improvements of the Virtual DOM. How can we best style these components and continue to innovate interfaces as well as architectures?

Not only am I hoping to take a look at JavaScript more in 2016, I’m also going to expand my CSS image-effects work into SVG and image composition and also hope to experiment with offline web apps. Cheers! It’ll be a great year for the web!

Jeff Lembeck, www engineer at npm, Inc.

Since starting at npm, Inc. in June, my web development focal point has moved off of almost exclusively front-end development and into dealing with more backend work. This means server-side code. This means operations. This means a whole heck of a lot of code running in the Node.js runtime.

Understanding the runtime for your JavaScript is important for development. As a client-side developer, understanding how your browser works and the subtle nuances to each engine can save you days of banging your head against the wall when you run into a bizarre bug. In 2016, I plan to extend my knowledge of the inner workings of my runtime to Node.js. Up until this point, I’ve been able to use Node as an abstraction, keeping the gritty details and gears underneath out of my view, but now I want to go deeper and really understand what is happening.

To dig in, I am learning a lot from Thorsten Lorenz and Brendan Gregg’s talks. They both focus fantastically on the internals of Node. I’m also setting aside some time to read through the source code. This might be tough because I’m, at best, a novice at C++.

I hope I’m not biting off more than I can chew over a year, but taking things one step at a time is always a smart bet for learning. Here’s to knowing more in 2016!

Mark Llobrera, technology director, Bluecadet

The new year always feels like choosing just a few pieces from a giant bag of candy. Here’s my short list for the start of 2016:

  • React. I’m diving in with Wes Bos’ React for Beginners. My team at Bluecadet has been building JavaScript-based touchscreen applications for a while now, and I’m excited to use React with something like Electron to build native OS X/Windows applications.
  • Swift. I’m taking Nishant Kothary’s advice to heart on this one. Compared to Objective-C, I’m finding Swift a bit more accessible to web folks like me.
  • Drupal 8. I feel like I’ve been prepping for Drupal 8 for three years, and it’s finally here. Time to get acquainted.
  • Adaptive Web Design, 2nd Ed. by Aaron Gustafson. The first edition is a very important book for me, and one of the first books I give Bluecadet’s web apprentices.
  • Performance and resilience. Scott Jehl’s “Delivering Responsibly” really stuck with me, and I hope to incorporate more from it into my work.

Paul Robert Lloyd, independent graphic designer and web developer

When examining my skillset for areas of weakness, JavaScript usually tops the list. This language has always been a tough one for me to understand, but each year I make small steps. This year, however, I hope to make a giant leap.

As always, the best way to learn is by doing and, with Kyle Simpson’s “You Don’t Know JS” in hand, I hope to rebuild (and complete) a neglected side project: a digitized version of George Bradshaw’s victorian railway guide. I’ll no doubt want to play with Service Workers to enable offline access, and get familiar with browser APIs like geolocation. I’d also like to work out the best way to modularize my scripts; I suspect this will involve navigating a landscape of competing tools, differing approaches, and evolving best practices. Wish me luck!

Sarah Parmenter, designer and founder, You Know Who

Over the Christmas break I started learning Ruby on Rails again. It was strange to go back to a programming language I was fairly good at in 2005 and realizing that many years of user-interface-design thinking and HTML/CSS/JavaScript coding meant that object-orientated programming had been all but wiped from my brain. I’m really interested in being able to get myself to 70 percent of the way there, in any project I want to tackle. Being able to shake off the expensive chains of using another programmer to code my designs is liberating to me.

I’m really excited by Perfect.org and the idea of Swift becoming a much larger programming language than it is today. Programming excites me again; it has become so important in my work as a visual designer. I’m happy to be riding that wave again.

On the flip side, I’ve always been very excited by social media and the new opportunities it affords each of us. I think this year is going to be the year we see companies try to understand how to better position themselves for natural engagement with their audience. Less buzz words, more honesty. I love working on social media campaigns with my clients and seeing the day-to-day shift in public perception of a company or service based on the ever changing creative ebb and flow of our social feeds.

Simon St. Laurent, strategic content director at O’Reilly Media, Inc.

I’m going to spend a lot more time in the borderlands between best practices for app development and site development. While both kinds of projects use the same tools, their approaches are diverging, and I wonder how far this can go. One key conversation I’m watching is the revival of inline styles, a practice that React encourages but CSS has long discouraged. The code smells terrible to me, but others are enjoying the aroma. If the cascade proves unnecessary, what might that mean for website developers? If inline styles tangle, what does that mean for the future of app development?

Ian Vanhoof, technical editor at A List Apart

This is the time of year that I focus on personal growth and I’ve got a little tradition: I craft two lists. The first itemizes all the things I didn’t finish learning last year. The second is packed with things that have recently piqued my interest. Then I combine the two and get started.

While setting up my lists this year, something popped up on my radar that’s simply left me enthralled—and I haven’t felt this fired up by a web technology since CSS came on the scene in 1996. We finally have an update to Hypertext Transfer Protocol.

I am fired up about http/2. This overhaul fixes web performance issues we’ve had to hack around since 1999. (Sure, the hacks were used successfully, but they caused a host of their own problems.) The protocol’s improvement list is too long to go into here, but I’ve got to mention a few things like unique header compression, server push, and client side content prioritization via stream dependencies.

I also love that it’s one binary TCP stream instead of blocked plain text—multiplexing and concurrent resource loading are now possible out of the box!

Aarron Walter, vice president of R&D at MailChimp

In 2016 I’m sharpening my tools. I’m learning new programming languages like Python (oh so elegant and fun), and tightening my development process with Grunt.

I’ll also be looking to history to jump-start my creative thinking. I’m combing through folios of work from industrial designers, painters, photographers, and architects to see how they solved problems and to rekindle my passion for making things. There’s much to be learned from creative thinkers in other media!

These books are currently on my coffee table:

Work

Ida Aalen, UX designer, speaker, and author

This fall, I was going to meet with a client. We had an idea for a very different way of presenting their main sign-up form. I really believed this would be the better option, but because it was so different from what they had, we decided to very quickly put together a usability test before we showed the design to the client.

This worked so well that it ended up being a kind of dogma for this project: never show anything you haven’t tested yet. I’ve always believed testing to be important, but I have to be the first to admit that I haven’t always been able to make the time. But this dogma forced us to be very creative with our testing and also to think about what the success criteria for the different parts of the project really were. (For example: no point in doing a usability test of our long-read article pages—we need to figure out if people will actually want to read them in a more realistic setting.)

It was also very motivating because we seemed to have better discussions with the client: discussing whether stuff worked rather than if the button should be red or blue.

So what I want to do for 2016 is to try to stick to this dogma: to never show a design or an idea that hasn’t been tested in one way or another.

Geri Coady, designer and illustrator

Over the past couple of years I’ve talked a lot about color accessibility on the web. I’ve written a book, published various articles, taught an online course, and spoken at many conferences about the topic. While I’ll continue to promote it and other areas of accessibility, I think 2016 will be a year where I take a step back from the conference scene and put more energy into personal projects and writing. To cut down on noise and distraction in an industry that moves as fast as lightning, I’ll ease off social media. Instead of obsessing over reading every single “must read” article the moment it’s published, I’ll let the most important ones find their way to my screen when they truly do become “must read” pieces. It’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind, but a good web designer doesn’t need to know it all, anyway—nobody does.

As always, I intend to explore more illustration work and how that can bring a more unique aesthetic to a website. There’s nothing I love more than teaming up with other web designers and developers to bring a more personal touch to our clients’ projects.

Derek Featherstone, founder and team lead, Simply Accessible

As many of us progress through our careers, we move from practitioners of our craft to people who create opportunities for other people to succeed. My measure of success is changing over time. For me, it isn’t just about helping others make their digital works more accessible. Now, success is about how effective I am at helping others on my team do the same.

It’s a necessary transition that I bet most of us make at some point: the transition from practitioner to manager. Though I don’t want to think about my role as being a “manager”—my 2016 will be all about getting back to my roots as a teacher and coach. Figuring out how to encourage, inspire, and lead our people to develop into the very best version of themselves as individuals, and as a very effective team. It’ll be a year of transition for me—instead of spending 80 percent of my time doing accessibility work and 20 percent of my time leading the team, it’ll be more like 20 percent doing accessibility and 80 percent leading and helping our team to grow.

I’ve been reading both The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg to help me understand more about human performance. And, I’m hoping to implement OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) as a framework for evaluating our team’s progress. If you’re wondering about OKRs, see Christina Wodtke’s articles and upcoming book, Radical Focus.

Matt Haughey, senior editorial at Slack

This year I’m renewing my commitment to side projects. I recently passed the 20-year mark from when I first started publishing online and I realized looking back that everything came to me from side projects. I was a scientist who did the web on the side, then the web became my job. I started building web apps on the side, and then that became my job. I started writing on the side, and now I’m a writer at Slack. These “hobbies” pay off.

Side gigs are great ways to stretch your capabilities, especially if your day job feels boring or stifling. You’ll get good at what you already do and then stretch your muscles further and expand your skillset, and any new skills you pick up can be applied to future work at your day job.

Whenever I interview possible employees, I always ask them about their side projects. It shows me they are so interested in something they do it in their free time. It shows me they are curious and engaged about a subject, and even if it’s an off-the-wall hobby that has nothing to do with the job, it shows me they are an interesting person with many facets to their personality.

Lifelong learning is a great goal and having active side projects keeps you busy, keeps your mind happy and fulfilled, and can really help you in the workplace. Embrace your hobbies and your free time and make something great out of it.

Molly E. Holzschlag, tech author, speaker, and advocate of Open

Do you suffer these symptoms? Burnout, fatigue, alienation, over-stimulation? If you don’t, count yourself among the webfolk who have found the magic pill of life balance! Our lives as web devs and designers is a seeming do/learn, do/learn more NOW race in which we often feel we just cannot catch up with our own domain areas, much less with topics and technologies that are related! Others may experience increasing symptoms of the well-known “Imposter Syndrome” in which despite being absolutely terrific at the job, you still feel as if you’re faking it to make it. Well, if you feel any of these symptoms, as I do, and want to rekindle your passion and purpose in web dev and design, you are on my mind! In 2016, my professional and personal work will be ramping up, and my first concern is helping us all find our confidence and enthusiasm for the job we all know is so much more than “just a job.” Look for upcoming news and projects at the site I’m dedicating to these concerns, as well as to the health and well-being of the web and its denizens the world over.

Ida Jackson, senior content strategist at Netlife Research

My goal for this year is to draw more comics to communicate complicated ideas to clients and colleagues. I recently read See What I Mean by Kevin Cheng, a book that is just as relevant today as it was when it was published in 2012.

Cheng demonstrates why it’s hard to not read a comic strip—a quality even the most compelling piece of prose can’t compete with. As someone who has to explain editorial procedures, complex metadata structures, and universal accessible web design to clients, comics is such a powerful tool.

If you would like to do the same, I recommend Making Comics by Scott McCloud. I’ve also been inspired by Molly Crabapple’s visual journalism for Vice.

Nishant Kothary, cofounder of Minky and Soon-To-Be-Released-Product

Sometime last year, my wife/cofounder and I started working on bootstrapping a product that we plan to release this year.

Initially, this meant learning native app design and development; if you read my monthly-ish column, you’ll remember my post on Swift. My adventures in native will continue in 2016, and I remain ever thankful to resources like Apple’s Swift book, This Week in Swift, objc.io, countless open source repos, and more.

But there’s far more to building a product—especially one that aspires to become a respectable company—and that’s what I’ll focus on this year. Here’s a sampling:

There’s more, but the need for brevity compels me to stop here. Suffice it to say that all of it will focus on one overarching aspiration: transforming into a healthy, informed, and rounded cofounder.

Dan Mall, director of SuperFriendly

By 2017, computer- and software-related jobs will rise by an average of 10 percent since 2013. STEM-related jobs are projected to add 1 million jobs to the US economy by 2022, with computers being one of the fastest-growing clusters. Many of the 120,000 projected job openings in computing occupations each year will go unfilled.

I’m happy to do my part to help close this gap. 2016 will be the year I double down on SuperFriendly Academy, the apprenticeship I’ve been quietly—and sometimes not-so-quietly—running for the last three years. It’s a nine-month curriculum for people who have little or no experience with design or development to get them ready for entry-level design and dev jobs by the time they’re done. This year, I’ll be way more public about the details of my commitment to creating more diverse and equipped web professionals, so stay tuned for more writing, speaking, and sharing about all of it.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely overqualified for the apprenticeship yourself, but you probably know someone who could use something like this (or at least would like more info about it). If that person is in Philly or willing to be in Philly for nine months, please point them toward [email protected].

Heydon Pickering, freelance design consultant

The end of 2015 saw me writing educational material, consulting a large publisher on advanced accessibility implementation. This got me thinking about culture and communication within and without the web design industry. I have been revisiting research I did over 10 years ago into semiotics and pattern recognition, and I’ll be delivering a talk based around this in 2016. Hegelian dialectical synthesis as compared to reconciliatory “diffing” in a conference talk? Worth a try. The major theme for my 2016, manifested in consultancy work and a new book I’ll be working on, will be inclusive design: designing for both user needs and user preferences, and trying to cater to both simultaneously. So: research into performance, OS settings, automated accessibility QA, and robust design patterns will be ongoing. I’ll be rereading A Web For Everyone by Sarah Horton, for starters—a great introduction to inclusive UX practice. I’ll also be illustrating my book, so I’m looking to hone the squiggly style I developed in the talk I delivered around Europe in 2015 on interactive paper prototyping.

Greg Storey, design practice lead for IBM Design; writer

Last year, IBM Design hired hundreds of designers. I was fortunate to work closely with 40 of them as part of their onboarding. At the end of each cohort, designers asked me for career advice, and my answer was always the same: start writing, and write often. The energy of the new designers at IBM Design is palpable, and I want to do what I can to help them forge meaningful careers. I firmly believe this involves writing regularly—actively participating in the conversations of our community through blogs, platforms like Medium, and publications such as A List Apart. Taking the time to share your thoughts via the written word is incredibly rewarding, and I’ve missed it.

Writing is also a fundamental design skill. You have to do it. I don’t care how many cool prototypes and trendy artboards you have created; if you don’t write, your career is in danger of mediocrity. With that in mind, in 2016, I intend to lead by example whenever and wherever I can. From Airbag to Dear Design Student, from ALA to perhaps something entirely new, I will invest the time to share my thoughts, what I’m feeling and thinking about design.

Khoi Vinh, principal designer at Adobe; writer at Subtraction.com

Creativity on mobile—this is the thing that has fascinated me for the past five years and it’s the reason I joined Adobe last fall. As phones and tablets get more powerful, it’s a foregone conclusion (to me, though admittedly not to everyone) that they will replace our laptops and desktops as work devices. The question is when? And how do we get there? Anyone who has ditched their laptop for an iPad and a keyboard will tell you that there’s a lot more possible today than you’d expect, but there remains a lot to be done, still. With luck, next year at this time this will be much, much closer to reality.

Further reading:

13 Reader Comments

Load Comments