Archive: July, 2014


I personally tend to favor commmand line runners and local apps for my sprite generation, but Spritebox looks like a slick web-based alternative.

Side projects matter

I usually give my students and junior developers two pieces of advice: practice your skills and work on strong side projects. Practice is a given, but projects on your own time are a greatly underrated and often forgotten asset.

Strong projects challenge you in at least one way. If you’re focusing on development, maybe you’ll target a framework or an aspect of a programming language you haven’t used yet. If you’re a designer, it could be a new tool or workflow. Remember, the side project needs elements of the familiar to make regular progress so you do not get frustrated and give up, yet remain achievable over time.

Great side projects are a mix of what you can execute quickly but are also somewhat foreign and difficult. It’s a twist on your existing point of view, not one that’s completely coming from left field. One personal example: a refresh of this very site (familiar), but undertaken with a fresh set of responsive design tools and Sass underpinning the styling (foreign).

It’s not an accident I generated my latest project after work hours; the best side projects are almost always outside the day job. Because you’re free from work interference, it can and should move at your own pace. It’s ok to be disorganized too. You don’t even have to finish; the project can flounder and die days, weeks or months down line. As long as you grow from it, it’s still a success. And above all, side projects should be fun.

Shouldn’t a good job nullify the need for side projects? Not exactly. Even with the best jobs, your personal growth goals are never perfectly aligned with the company you work for. And some work, even with the best intentions, can get stuck in a boring, repetitive rut. A strong side project provides an opportunity to escape that.

At the very least, even a so-so side project teaches you something new on your own timetable. And at its best, side projects can establish your “niche” as a designer or developer, a critical way to stand out from your tech peers. They did for me; three years at Gucci, my first formalized web job, pushed me most of the way. However, it’s my Hacker News and Rdio browser extensions on my own time, along with some minimal Tumblr themes, that confirmed my interests as a web developer on the very front of front-end development that often drifts into UX and aesthetic design.

Good jobs push your career far. Good side projects push it further. Make time and a commitment to both.

Prototyping your workflow

Developer Mark Llobrera over at A List Apart gives advice for successfully integrating new web design and development techniques on new projects:

Look at the projects you have on the horizon. Think about the portions of your workflow that you want to improve, and pick just one of those things to introduce into your project. Why just one? It allows you enough space to experiment without endangering your project.

A mentor of mine once told me that programming (and especially programming for the web) boils down to reducing the number of “unknowns” on a project to a manageable number. One is fine, two is a stretch, and three is asking for trouble. If you think exploring HTML/CSS wireframes could have a positive impact on your work, introduce just that one thing. Most projects have enough built-in friction without adding or changing multiple processes at the same time.

Alfred workflow – gist

I share code snippets all the time with both coworkers and students in my classes. The main Gist page on Github makes it easy, but there’s no substitute for the raw speed of this Alfred extension. I just copy the code block in question, type my Alfred shortcut, and a moment later a link to the Gist is copied to my clipboard. Very useful.

Five great shots from Pulp Fiction in honor of its 20th anniversary

We’re technically two months past the exact anniversary, but it’s worth a look back at a few images from what remains a groundbreaking, highly influential film.

Far beyond ‘Snow Fall’

Craig Mod:

When we explore new ground (or re-explore old ground, forgotten ground) in new mediums, we often find it necessary to swing the design and interaction pendulum to the baroque side of the scale. We do this to see what “too much” feels like in order to understand the edges of “enough.” We saw this happen with iPad “magazines.” We saw this happen with “Snow Fall.” “Snow Fall” was less about what felt natural in a web browser or what was best for the story, and more about what was maximally possible in a web browser. The experiment just happened to be attached to an article.

Great storytelling is not about maximizing technical possibility.

Spot on.

Xbox One review update: six months later

Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton:

Six months in, the Xbox One still raises as many questions as it answers. What is Microsoft’s vision for this thing? Is it about the cloud, or online gaming, or is it about Kinect? Is it for watching TV, or as the company’s more recent messaging seems to suggest, is it now all about gamers and games?

It’s only natural that some unanswered questions remain, of course—no game console achieves its every goal in the first six months. All the same, Microsoft has yet to put forth a coherent vision for the Xbox One, nor have they clearly articulated why it’s worth spending hundreds of dollars to own one.

As I wrote about back in 2013 before the Xbox One and PS4 were released, vision was the biggest concern I had about Microsoft’s offering. This piece was written slightly before E3, where Microsoft standing by keeping its focus squarely on games. But many questions remain unanswered.

Stop asking me to “sign up”

Designer Gregoriy Korgan:

The fate of many startups depends almost entirely on one conversion point: When a visitor becomes a user.

All too often, this pivotal role falls on the shoulders of a pitifully generic “sign up” button that’s lucky to get even a minute of consideration during development.

If you take a moment to consider the wording of your signup button, you can drastically increase how many of your visitors turn into users.

One of those “why didn’t of this months ago” moments reading Gregoriy’s post. It may be interesting to experiment more with in my day job.

Figuring out responsive images

Leave it to Chris Coyier from CSS Tricks to try and figure out, with code examples and video, some responsive imagery basics. Pay extra attention to the strong explanation of the sizes attribute, integral to srcset-based responsive images.

An update on the hamburger menu

Designer Brent Jackson succinctly goes through the weaknesses of the hamburger menu; can’t say I completely agree with this more recent backlash against this now ubiquitous navigational choice, but Brent presents a strong argument.