Finding My Way

Published 9 years, 5 months past

With presentations of “Designing for Crisis” at AEA Orlando and World Usability Day Cleveland now behind me, I’m getting into the process of reviewing and refining the talk for 2015.  This will be my talk at An Event Apart all throughout this year, making me one of the rare AEA speakers who won’t have a brand-new talk in 2015.  (We’ll have a mix of new and familiar faces, as we always try to do, and they’ll all be bringing new material to the stage.)

Even “Designing for Crisis” will have some new aspects to it, as I discover ways to strengthen it and loop in some new thoughts and discoveries.  As an example, I just recently had a great chat with Amy Cueva, who gave me some really sharp insights into how I can share the message even more effectively.  I expect that kind of iterative improvement to continue throughout the year, given how new the topic is to me, and possibly to everyone.  It’s been something of a surprise to have many people tell me it’s caused them to see their own work in a whole new light — even people working in fields where you might think they would already be on top of this.  I’m really excited to bring this talk to people at AEA, and elsewhere as opportunities arise.  I hope it will do some good in the world.

In parallel with that ongoing effort, I’m getting back to writing more than just the occasional blog post.  I’ve restarted work on the fourth edition of CSS: The Definitive Guide — details on that will be forthcoming just after the holidays.  I’m also starting to write down some of the thoughts and approaches in “Designing for Crisis”, as well as some nascent thoughts on network effects, responsibility, community, and guidance.  I’m also trying to teach myself git so I can push out public repositories of my CSS tests and some bits of code I’d like to release into the wild, but honestly that’s pretty slow going, because it’s always a fifth or sixth priority behind my family, working on AEA, refining and rehearsing the new talk, and writing.

(“Bits of code”.  SEE WHAT I DID THERE?)

Given everything that’s coming together, I really am looking forward to 2015 and a return to speaking and writing.  For painfully obvious reasons, I was pretty out of the loop for nearly all of 2014, not to mention the last half of 2013.  I tried to stay up to date, but it’s one thing to be in the middle of things, and quite another to observe things from a distance.  (The mosh pit never looks like it feels, you know?)  So in addition to all the other stuff, I’m working overtime to catch up, and that’s where I could really use some help from the community.

So, tell me: what did I miss?  What’s emerging that I should be (or should already have been) paying attention to, and what am I already behind the curve on?  What has you excited, and what sounds so awesome that you’re hungering to know more about it?  And maybe most important of all, where should I be going to get caught up?

All input welcome, whether here in the comments, or out there on les médias sociaux.  And thank you!

Comments (19)

  1. Eric, I saw your excellent talk at World Usability Day here in CLE and keep musing about how relevant the topic of design for crisis is for enterprise as well. I wonder if you’ve thought about creating a new flavor of your presentation for enterprise designers. Many of the scenarios we design for at Rockwell Automation involve high-pressure, high-risk situations — power generation, water purification, heavy manufacturing — but you provided a new and pragmatic lens on ways to empathize with the end-user.

  2. Having just come from #smashingcomf last week I am super excited about dynamically loading everything that is not critical to your content like they do on the Guardian site ( and learning motion design (

    And if you’re not caught up on the picture element and srcset you should probably brush up on that too.

    Also, some people are doing this crazy thing where they load half their CSS
    inline in the head of their files. (

    There’s also a lot of talk about web components, though, I’m waiting for the space to stabilize a little bit before digging in.

  3. What I’d like to learn in regard to CSS is a clean way to responsive images If that’s possible right now. There’s a lot of different hack methods I’ve seen that just seem like fads.

    Also, learning Git is great, I started learning it about a year ago and it made me wish I’d been using it years ago. has a really great video series on it which really helped me.

  4. Hi Eric! :)

    Git will definitely be worth the learning investment, I think.

    I’m excited to learn more about newer CSS techniques that will finally (hopefully) end all the hacks for layouts/columns. I’m excited by how well supported much of the CSS spec is now across the board, especially with IE8 (and even IE9) numbers being so low.

    If I had to pick just one single important development in the web industry that I think needs your attention, that thing would be JavaScript MVC libraries/platforms. Examples of these would be Angular, Ember, Backbone, React, etc. This might not immediately seem like your wheelhouse (well, this is an assumption, but I don’t think you claim to be a JS expert) but hear me out…

    These JavaScript libraries/platforms are shifting the very fabric and character of the web. Web servers are beginning to serve up basically nothing other than a large, obfuscated JavaScript file… an executable payload if you will. That runtime code then takes over entirely all handling of sending HTML/CSS to the browser on the client side. This is substantially different than the many-pages model of the past, or the idea that a web server should serve up a web page that is consumable without JavaScript or without a custom JS client. It’s even starting to change the very nature of the idea of a URL. It has certainly changed the nature of View Source already.

    Eric, the quickest way you can start to see for yourself the impact of these libraries would be to go to Check out the Angular, Ember, and React examples in particular. View HTML source. Inspect the DOM. You are going to notice some things that are probably quite surprising. If you’d like, you could also view the JavaScript source code, but the usefulness of that will depend on your personal relationship to JavaScript.

    These JavaScript MVC libraries have also led to a large influx of web developers who come from a backend or systems programming background. Tools like Angular are very familiar and comforting to folks who have little web experience but a lot of .NET server programming experience, just as an example. (Not meant as a slight towards .NET!) On the one hand, this is a good thing. It is making web publishing and development more accessible to a wider range of people. That’s great! On the other hand, some of these folks are not familiar with web standards or the web standards movement. Many are used to a monolithic, single-corporate-authority coding platform. Some are not familiar with the idea or history of open standards.

    Some of this is simply a product of people being new to web dev. There’s nothing wrong with being new. However, this situation is also somewhat novel because many of these new JavaScript MVC developers are NOT new to programming in general. Also, somebody new to web design is likely to join a community with many mentors and will learn common and best practices through that lens. Whereas somebody coming to JavaScript MVC programming from a career of systems programming is less likely to join a community with mentors experienced in the history and culture of the web.

    In hopes of being clear, I’m not saying any of these changes or technologies are in themselves bad. And, I have much faith in my fellow web developers to gradually migrate towards the best solutions. And of course progress demands that the web change with changing needs. In fact, I believe these JavaScript tools have a lot of good new ideas to offer that we will all benefit from. What I am saying is that there’s a tremendous amount of rapid progress in the JavaScript development sector right now, and there’s perhaps not a lot of context for the history of the web or how we got to where we are today. I think that a lot of the hard work that web standards advocates have done over the years could potentially be undone fairly quickly unless those folks in the web standards field turn some attention towards JavaScript and chime in on its progress.

    It’s an area of the web world that desperately needs leadership. There’s dozens of competing technologies and ideas, and to some extent the ideas are competing via corporate marketing instead of via critical thinking.

    I also must admit a bit of reluctance in expressing my thoughts about this subject, as I unfortunately expect some knee jerk “how dare you question XYZ technology” replies.

  5. Hi Eric,

    Your talk already sounds amazing, and I’m looking forward to when it’s live and public.

    One thing I’ve found valuable, and I appreciate seeing, are notes about how various elements have changed over time and what I need to know. For example, it was great how the most recent Lynda course noted that you didn’t need to close each break tag any more and walked through how you didn’t at first, then did, but don’t now. As someone who’s learned a bit then forgotten some then relearned, that helped a lot to cement things in place.

    Also, have you looked at some of the free visual interfaces for git, such as SourceTree? That helped me jump into a project at a hackathon when I didn’t have any git experience. Maybe some are too basic or limited for you?

  6. I am in the same boat as Stephanie. +1 for all those things.

    Aside from those, the strategies of styleguide-first or “cruft-to-core” or any other ways of approaching a project and solving it in an elegant manner.

  7. Eric I’ve been following most of your posts from 2014 mainly in an attempt to try and share the pain Rebecca, you and your family were going through.
    I believe web components are something that have been quite exciting in 2014 and I feel it would really change the way we build our frontends in the coming years

  8. I hear that Mongo DB, Angular and Bootstrap are transforming the web.

  9. In addition to what the folk above have mentioned — I’ve seen more and more people over the last 18 months using style guides / pattern libraries not as documentation, but as the core development artefact. Things like how Daigo Fujiwara talks about developing the new If it ain’t in the pattern library — it doesn’t exist.

  10. I forgot to mention in my last comment, if you decide to work with github for pushing repos, git remote show origin is super handy for knowing if your remote copies are in sync with your local copy.

  11. Jake Archibald and I recently recorded a show about the things in 2014 we thought were great for the web, and we mentioned Service Workers as the big deal for 2015. Might be a fun watch :)

  12. I took an unintentional 9 month pseudo-hiatus and dove head first back in mid-May. In terms of CSS, the main thing that “emerged” during that time, was that we can now use everything that was a pipe dream before the hiatus. IE7, IE8 and almost IE9 are falling by the wayside. We can finally have fun and play with everything that is new and shiny. Oh, and everyone and their cousins are using Sass.

    Not sure if your query is also in regards to other layers and tools. LMK.

  13. Eric, I love your writing, so it’s good to hear that you’ll be back at it in full force in 2015. I would argue that you haven’t missed a thing. It’s all still here, and it’s forever changing. I’m still ignoring git, and as far as I’m concerned my life none the worse for it. You’ve been living life fully, and that is the most important thing. Moreover, your sharing of your pain has set a great example, and has helped me and others learn to handle pain with grace, and to wonder about and learn from its deeper meaning. Thank you for that.

    I look forward to seeing you, hearing your talk in Boston, and reading what you write here in the future.

  14. Web components.

    I think you’d find them interesting for a few reasons. There’s the fact that they aren’t one particular spec: they’re the combination of a bunch of separate small pieces, not-so-loosely joined. Then there’s the fact that they could fundamentally change the way that web development is done. I’m simultaneously very excited and very nervous about the potential.

    Also, everything that Zachary said about JavaScript MVC frameworks. Leaving aside the actual code, they’re fascinating from a cultural perspective—like Zachary said, their use seems to be driven entirely by people from outside the realm of web standards.

  15. Eric, I’d love to hear something on how even a mensch on these topics such as yourself finds a best way to get up to date after not paying close attention for a while. How do you learn what to learn/relearn first? How do you find trusted sources on what to pay attention to?

    I’m in that boat myself with prototyping tools. There are so many, and so many either lock you in to their own workflow, or their own way of thinking about interaction flow, or offer divergent advantages. When my students ask what they should use, I do kind of (but justified, I think) tell them that the best tool is the one they’ll use most easily, and/or the one that their team works with.

  16. I’m much farther out of the loop that you are re: the technical nuts & bolts of web development, but as a consumer of web content, I’d like to see you & the AEA gang keep pushing the message “design with wisdom”.

    Specifically, one recent problem to watch out for: some designers have (IMO mis-) interpreted “mobile first” as a license to ignore large-screen desktop users. There are now sites that look beautiful on my iPhone, but incite rage when viewed on a 30″ monitor (mostly because they seem to have been designed to only show 2 or 3 content elements at a time, regardless of screen size/resolution–huge-screen users absolutely must scroll down to see more content, no matter how big the screen in question is, or how little content there is in total).

    I suspect this might be caused by similar design/thought processes that have lead to your “Design for crisis” epiphany – focusing too much on the “main” or “important” use cases, where the usage stats say the users are going most often, etc., leading to highly non-optimal scenarios for the less common users/use cases. I think designers should be tasked with balancing their results, not hyper-optimizing toward one case (and as a result, away from some or all other cases).

  17. I taught myself git earlier this year via a tutorial on Code School, and it was straightforward and clear. Good practice. Here’s the direct link:


    I used Code School to learn Angular, too:


    SASS, Cassandra, and AWS certification are on my roster.

    Looking forward to your new work, and wishing you and yours a gentle new year.

  18. I saw your AEA Orlando talk and it is still fresh in my mind every day. Thank you for sharing and making designing for crisis seem both attainable and so, so critical.

  19. Web accessibility seems to be getting some much needed attention. So, you might want to look into the updates with via the w3c on web components.

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