15 years ago this month, a plucky ALA staffer wrote “Much Ado About 5K,” an article on a contest created by Stewart Butterfield that challenged web designers and developers to build a complete website using less than five kilobytes of images and code. Hundreds did, and their work far exceeded what any web professional could have reasonably expected:
Having learned once again the importance of constraint and the empowering creative influence it can have on design, our community high-fived itself…and promptly forgot everything it had learned as we started building heavier and heavier sites.
And still the little article memorializing the little 5K contest sat online, its lessons forgotten in an arms race wherein the average home page now weighs over 2MB. Put that in your Edge network and smoke it.
Ah, but what goes around (performance) comes around (performance). Beginning in 2013, conversations about responsive web design “shifted from issues of layout to performance” as leading web designers and data sifters came to realize that, even on speed and bandwidth-limited networks, users expected sites to render as fast on phones as they do on the desktop—if not faster. That if your site didn’t render as quickly as users expect, they would abandon it, perhaps forever. That a traditional, desktop-first approach to responsive web design guaranteed user disappointment and site abandonment; that, performance-and-bandwidth-wise, at least, a “mobile first” approach made far more sense—and not just for mobile users. That you could no longer give high design marks to a site (however innovative, however visually arresting) if it took forever to load over constrained mobile networks. Because performance was part of design, and always had been.
As one group of web makers embraces performance budgets and the eternal principles of progressive enhancement, while another (the majority) worships at the altar of bigger, fatter, slower, the 5K contest reminds us that a byte saved is a follower earned.
For more on performance:
- Designing for Performance: Can We Have It All? A List Apart: On Air video archive
- “More Weight Doesn’t Mean More Wait,” by Filament Group
- “How to Make a Performance Budget,” by Daniel Mall
- “Performance Budget Metrics,” by Tim Kadlec
- Designing For Performance: Weighing Aesthetics and Speed, by Lara Hogan
- “Planning for Performance,” an excerpt from Scott Jehl’s Responsible Responsive Design
- “Rules for Mobile Performance Optimization,” an overview of techniques to speed page loading by Tammy Everts
- “Performance Matters,” by the W3C Web Performance Group
- And, for your pleasure, Stewart’s original 5K contest ℅ the Wayback Machine