Global Warming

In the past year or so, when thinking and talking about transformation of personal computing from something we do on desks and laps to something we do in hands and pockets, I’ve grown fond of a comparison with global warming, when observing most peoples’ attitude to it. Point at the charts and stats on sales trends and data use and they will agree that this is, indeed, the case. But as a spur to robust action this doesn’t seem to have any effect. The previously-linked-to BBC story about increasing average web page sizes in 2011 is evidence of this.

A reason, I think, is that, like global warming, the in-progress transformation of the web and how we interact with it is so completely, massively revolutionary that it can’t quite fit inside the average human brain. And so a weirdly well-informed paralysis takes over, where there is plenty of talking the talk, in general terms and safe, “in a couple of years” timeframes, but little to no walking the walk.

Even with things like Responsive Web Design in our toolboxes, that let us design and develop sites in actual, itty-bitty mobile devices and not feel embarrassed, we go the other route, throw more things at a page, load up on JavaScript-powered transitions and resource-gobbling CSS3 effects with little to no regard for performance and user experience.

We can see the glaciers crumbling around us, the weird weather in analytics stats. We know what is happening before our eyes! And yet… “throw another scroller component or five on the homepage and…  something… something… great user experience!” is the best we can come up with.

It’s going to be a disaster for a lot of otherwise very clever people.

But fortunately, unlike actual global warming, our collective denial isn’t going to fuck over the whole ecosystem of the web. The web is probably going to be just fine. It’s the vast majority of those who make their living making the web who are in real danger. There may even be a mass extinction event in the offing. Those who can’t adapt to the new environment. Those who thought Moore’s Law was a single smooth, exponential line heading always into the future and haven’t noticed we just jumped tracks. Those who are too lazy to tool up for the uncertainty of the immediate future, favouring the static safety of the past instead.

Revolutions require a bold response if you are to survive and prosper from them. And “Right Now” is always a bolder moment than “Later”.

State of the Web

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State of the Web: Of Apps, Devices and Breakpoints

Jeffrey Zeldman summarises the uncertain waters we are moving into as we are confronted with hundreds of different display sizes and the strain this places on conventional web design and even responsive web design.

Personally, I think the number of different devices are less important if the focus is on designing for the content first, choosing breakpoints that serve the content and ensuring that the design remains robust across the complete spectrum of screen sizes you are targeting.

Taming complexity

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Taming Complexity

As part of the 24ways web design advent calendar 2011 spectacular, Simon Collison offers a smarter perspective on complexity and simplicity.

SVK: Seeing the future

The comic and SVK Device

Look once and you’ll see SVK is a comic, at its most basic level. Paper, ink, a couple of staples. Words by Warren Ellis and pictures by Matt “D’Israeli” Brooker. Published by BERG, a London design studio that mostly invents new forms of media.

Another look and you’ll notice the SVK Device, a credit card-sized UV LED torch, that interacts with invisible ink on the pages to reveal another level of the world the book portrays.

The story is about seeing and being seen. In a London not too far in the future, Thomas Woodwind, a security and surveillance expert who’s career has seen better days, is called in by a former colleague to find a missing product developement guy and, more importantly, the product he was developing: the SVK. Woodwind is a classic Ellis lead. Cynical, vicious, expert, moral despite his best efforts. And the story, too, is classic Ellis. Deception and conspiracy lead to sudden, chirpy violence directed at those who cross Woodwind’s morality. It’s a great read. I want to see what Thomas Woodwind does next. And to who.

The SVK device reveals the thoughts of the London Underground

I bought SVK during its initial print run in July and it was entirely worth its cover price of about £10. But the price wasn’t just for a comic + torch gizmo. It was also to participate, a little bit, in the future of “how media is made”.

SVK is a product as much about intent as about a physical, interactive piece of stuff. The product is the conception, design, execution, production, delivery and customer support. You see all this because BERG and Warren Ellis talked about it as it was all happening, from detailed blog posts about conception and design, to tweets and snapshots about meetings and minutiae, all archived along a timeline from then til now. You get a real sense of all of these things soaked into the timeless, tangible artifacts of the comic and SVK Device.

And here’s the thing. The first SVK Device, delivered with the comic, didn’t work.

I had a few minutes of wondering if I was doing something wrong, consulting the website, deducing the correct visual effect I should be seeing, and then finally emailing BERG about the problem. The speedy, personal and positive response to the problem (which was non-imaginary and hardware-based) made me feel lucky, in a way. I got a more complete experience. One that lifted the curtain a little more on the reality of making this thing. Failure rates of mass-produced modern media artifacts. Entropy intruding on the global economy and producing something less perfect but more interesting.

A flurry of emails with Kari Stewart, the studio mananger at BERG HQ, and a replacement was winging its way to me within about 15 minutes (leaving London sometime on Friday afternoon and hitting my desk first thing on Monday morning). The problem, it transpired, was an unexpected side-effect of shipping the torches from the manufacturers China. BERG were honest and humble about the shortcomings of their product, and speedy and transparent in identifying and fixing the problem. They even documented the failure for posterity.

It was actually a fascinating thing to watch unfold and be part of. A properly “experimental publication”.

Do unto others…

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Do unto others…

Sarah Parmenter talks about the increase in generally snarky behaviour, enabled by Twitter, in the web design community. She asks a very interesting question about whether we are over-sharing ourselves, via social media, and this is changing our standards of etiquette.