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Issue № 388

  • A List Together

    by Mat Marquis · · 21 Comments

    A List Apart gets back to its roots: building community, giving a platform to new voices, and getting people excited about the web. We’re making changes to the way we work—starting with our decision to open-source the code that powers alistapart.com itself—and we want you to participate. Our Mat Marquis invites you to contribute code and concepts via GitHub, get to know our acquisition scouts, and use ALA and its editors to share your ideas and insights with the whole web design and development community.

  • Writing Is Thinking

    by Sally Kerrigan · · 26 Comments

    When you write about your work, it makes all of us smarter for the effort, including you. Done well, this kind of sharing means you’re contributing signal, instead of noise. But writers are made, not born. We often hear from people who say they’d love to write for A List Apart or start blogging, but don’t know where to start. They feel unfocused and overwhelmed by the task. If this is beginning to sound like you, read on, as Sally Kerrigan walks you through how writing works, and how you can get better at it.

Issue № 387

  • A Moment to Breathe

    by Nick Cox · · 28 Comments

    Burning both ends of the candle night after night, weekend after weekend, has long been part of web design and development culture. Especially in the startup subculture, we pride ourselves on working long hours with little sleep. It’s part of a new generation’s favorite myth—the one where we get in early in a company destined for an enormous IPO, work our little hearts out for a year or two, and end up rich and happy. The truth is rather less glamorous: the way we are working starves our prefrontal cortex, hurting not only our precious health, but also our productivity. Nick Cox shares the science behind the high cost of constant crisis mode, and explains how to strike a better balance.

Issue № 386

  • Surveying the Big Screen

    by Mike Pick · · 23 Comments

    We’ve been designing responsively for more than three years, now, and have the small-screen pattern libraries and portfolios to prove it. But what about larger screens? While we commonly use liquid design for smaller breakpoints, allowing our content to expand and contract as needed, few of us consider what happens beyond a maximum width of 960 pixels or so—which can leave a heap of unused pixels on a contemporary desktop display. Mike Pick explores how to use negative space, scale, density, and layout devices such as grids, modules, and columns to break through the 1024-pixel layout barrier.

  • Designing Offline-First Web Apps

    by Alex Feyerke ·

    We assume our users are like us—with the latest devices, the most recent software, and the fastest connections. And while we may maintain a veritable zoo of older devices and browsers for testing, we spend most of our time building from the comfort of our modern, always-online desktop devices. But what happens when our users descend into the subway, board a plane, go to live in the country, or just happen to find themselves in the wrong corner of the room? The truth is, offline is a fact of life—but there are ways to design for it. Alex Feyerke tells all.

Issue № 385

  • Why Sass?

    by Dan Cederholm · · 64 Comments

    “I was a reluctant believer in Sass. I write stylesheets by hand! I don’t need help! And I certainly don’t want to add extra complexity to my workflow. Go away!” So says designer, CSS wizard, and Dribbble co-founder Dan Cederholm at the beginning of his new book Sass For Web Designers, released today by A Book Apart. Yet the reluctant convert soon discovers that the popular CSS pre-processor can be a powerful ally to even the hand-craftiest front-end designer/developer. Dan has never learned a thing about CSS he wasn’t willing to share (and great at teaching). And in this exclusive excerpt from Chapter 1 of Sass For Web Designers, you’ll get a taste of how Dan learned to quit worrying and use Sass to take better control of his stylesheets and websites.

Issue № 384

  • Flat UI and Forms

    by Jessica Enders · · 74 Comments

    Though some decry flat user interfaces as pure fashion, or as the obvious response to skeuomorphic trends, many designers have embraced the flat approach because the reduction in visual styling (such as gradients, drop shadows, and borders) creates interfaces that feel simpler and cleaner. Trouble is, most flat UIs are built with a focus on the provision of content, with transactional components (i.e., forms) receiving very little attention. So what happens when flat UIs and forms collide? User experiences can, and often do, suffer. Keep your flat forms from failing by using controlled redundancy to communicate difference.

  • Mastering Digital Project Momentum

    by Perry Hewitt · · 12 Comments

    Digital projects begin in high spirits and tip quickly into miscommunication and crisis. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Extend your early kickoff meeting harmony throughout the life of your projects. By understanding your client’s organizational drivers and key players before the sticky note sessions even begin, you can establish the momentum needed to keep the extended team focused on goals. And by managing stakeholder communications throughout the job, you can avoid land mines, save time and effort in the long run, and deliver a project that satisfies stakeholders, agency, and users alike.

Issue № 383

  • Sustainable Web Design

    by James Christie · · 45 Comments

    Do you know your website’s carbon footprint? Or how to lower it? Emissions standards have been set for the automotive, construction, and telecommunications industries, yet the internet’s carbon footprint is growing out of control: a whopping 830 million tons of CO2 annually—larger than that of the entire aviation industry. At least 40 percent of that falls partially under the responsibility of people who make websites. It’s time for web designers to do our part. James Christie explains how to slim our obese websites and simultaneously attack our industry’s carbon footprint, using methods that conveniently dovetail with good business practice and future-friendly design.

  • The Web Runs on Electricity and We’re Running Out

    by Dorian Peters · · 20 Comments

    It’s a humbling thought, but as web professionals, nothing we create actually exists when the power goes out. As we increase the number of devices in our world, planning for a connected web of things in hopes that the poor will be liberated, education will be free, and our fridges will tell us we’re out of lettuce, we fail to acknowledge that we scarcely have enough fossil fuels to maintain the current state for long. Web designers need to be part of the solution—and the situation is more hopeful than you may think. Dorian Peters shows how we can exercise the surprising power that lies in seemingly small designerly decisions to help our industry not only survive, but create positive impact worldwide.

Issue № 382

  • Interviewing Humans

    by Erika Hall · · 6 Comments

    The humble one-on-one interview is the basic unit of ethnographic research. The price is right for even the most cash-strapped team, and with practice (plus a few principles) you can gain the knack for it—even if “researcher” is the one title that doesn’t appear on your business card. The great myth is that you need to be a good talker. But conducting a good interview is actually about shutting up. Learn to coax good data from willing humans in our excerpt from Erika Hall’s new book, Just Enough Research.

Issue № 381

  • Connected UX

    by Aarron Walter · · 26 Comments

    Your inbox overflows with customer emails suggesting features and improvements. Instead of benefiting, you feel overwhelmed by an unmanageable deluge. You conduct usability tests, user interviews, and competitive analyses, creating and sharing key insights. Yet within months, what you learned has been lost, forgotten, or ignored by someone in a different department. What if you could sift, store, and share all your customer learning in a way that breaks down silos, preserves and amplifies insights, and turns everyone in your organization into a researcher? MailChimp’s user experience director Aarron Walter tells how his team did it. You can, too.

  • Seeing the Elephant: Defragmenting User Research

    by Lou Rosenfeld · · 10 Comments

    Silos: good for grain, awful for understanding customer behavior. Just as we favor the research tools that we find familiar and comfortable, large organizations often use research methods that reflect their own internal selection biases. As a result, they miss out on detecting (and confirming) interesting patterns that emerge concurrently from different research silos. And they likely won’t learn something new and important. IA thought leader Lou Rosenfeld explains how balance, cadence, conversation, and perspective provide a framework enabling your research teams to think across silos and achieve powerful insights even senior leadership can understand.

Issue № 380

  • Getting to Flow

    by Breandán Knowlton · · 5 Comments

    When design and client cultures truly come together, magical and memorable projects emerge. These magic projects aren’t random, though—they happen when you reach a state of flow. The beautiful part is, you can get both yourself and your client into a flow state more often by doing three things: enabling immediate feedback, balancing capability and challenge, and setting clear goals with visible progress. Breandán Knowlton shows you how.

  • Defining a Vision: Making Sure Your Work Matters

    by Russ Starke · · 2 Comments

    When an architect designs a structure, he or she can be fairly sure the work will endure for decades, maybe even centuries. Here on the web, we’re not so lucky. Knowing how temporary digital creations can be, how can we ensure our work matters? By defining the organization's vision. This isn’t just about solidifying a mission statement, though. Russ Starke shows you how to help organizations create a detailed story of their future success—and how that story can serve as a compass for both the company and its customers.

Issue № 379

  • Following Through with Post-Launch Strategy

    by Aaron Mentele · · 18 Comments

    Design studios have traditionally worked on a “launch and dash” model: we study a client’s business problem; address it in design, UX, and content strategy; inject templates into a CMS; take the money, and run. But while we’ve spent years refining our web and UX practices, we’ve never paid much attention to what happens months after we deliver a site. If we truly want to help the client whose conversions are going flat, it’s time to embrace post-launch strategy—and stop thinking of it as a bundle of shameful SEO tricks that are disconnected from our work. Aaron Mentele shares how his small boutique studio hired a digital strategist, and the benefits that have accrued to the studio as well as its clients.

  • Client Relationships and the Multi-Device Web

    by Matt Griffin · · 40 Comments

    When you step into the room with a client, you are a visitor from the future. You, web professional, spend your days immersed in the new paradigms of the multi-device web. Yet even for you, the constant change and adjustments that come with living on the internet can feel overwhelming. So how do you think your clients feel? It’s time to shed the vestigial mindsets we’ve inherited from the advertising world—the closed communications and drama of the “big reveal”—and build new systems based on honesty, inclusion, and genuine communication, says Matt Griffin. In this way, our clients will become true partners—rather than confused, anxious bystanders—as we learn to better navigate this strange, evolving digital universe together.

Recent Columns

Laura Kalbag on Freelance Design

I Don’t Like It

The most dreaded of all design feedback is the peremptory, “I don’t like it.” Rather than slinking back to the drawing board, it’s important to get clarity on what the client is reacting to. Guiding this conversation can turn a show-stopper into a mutual win.

Nishant Kothary on the Human Web

In Pursuit of Facebook Happiness

Our level of happiness and satisfaction on social networks is largely determined by the same things that make us happy in the rest of our lives. You can let your timeline be a perpetual reunion of your dullest second cousins or get out there and join some clubs.

Recent Blog posts

Longform Content with Craft Matrix

Jason Santa Maria recently shared some thoughts about pacing content, and my developer brain couldn’t help but think about how I’d go about building the examples he talked about. The one fool-proof way to achieve heavily art-directed layouts like those is to write the HTML by hand. The problem is that content managers are not always developers, and the code can get complex pretty quickly. That’s why we use content management systems—to give content managers easier and more powerful control over content.

Ten Years Ago in ALA: Dynamic Text Replacement

Ten years ago this month in Issue 183, A List Apart published Stewart Rosenberger’s “Dynamic Text Replacement.” Stewart lamented text styling as a “dull headache of web design” with “only a handful of fonts that are universally available, and sophisticated graphical effects are next to impossible using only standard CSS and HTML.” To help ease these pains, Stewart presented a technique for styling typography by dynamically replacing text with an image.

Apple and Responsive Design

Apple has always had a funny relationship with responsive design. They’ve only sparingly used media queries to make minor visual tweaks on important pages, like their current homepage. Though a “handcrafted for all devices” approach seems like the “Apple way,” it’s almost as if they’ve avoided it because of the iPhone’s original pitch—giving users the ability to pinch and zoom their way through the “full” web, as opposed to being shuttled off to the mobile web.

Testing Responsive Images

At long last, the native picture element isn’t just coming: it’s here. The picture element has landed in Canary—Google’s “beta” channel for upcoming Chrome releases—and we can try it out for ourselves right now. Now, we need to test it out, look for bugs, and file issues.