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robertogreco : robinrendle   7

🔠 Jack and the Magic Key | Buttondown
"It’s 2007: I’m sat in the kitchen watching a family friend and her four year old son talk to my mom. Over the course of a few minutes I notice how this kid, Jack, is starting to get bored; his eyes roll into the back of his head and all of his limbs begin to fidget independently of the host as if he’s possessed by the spirit of boredom itself.

In a flash my mom notices this before her friend does. Her eyes dart around the room, looking for something, anything, to entertain Jack with. Coming up short, my mom grabs the closest thing that was on the table: a key. I think it unlocked one of the older cabinets we had lying around back then so it was very nondescript and boring; it didn’t have any patterns on it, or engravings, and it certainly wasn’t imbued with ancient magic of any kind.

But my mom gets down to Jack’s level and hijacks his attention with the key. She twirls it between her fingers and Jack’s eyes expand to the size of saucers.

My mom whispers in his ear.

“This key opens a door somewhere in our home,” her hand outstretched, sweeps across the air as if our house was a castle in the Scottish highlands, a scary and adventurous place that little Jack might get lost in. “And this very special key opens a very special door. So Jack…” My mom pauses for emphasis “…you’re the only one that can help me find it.”

At this point all of Jack’s boredom had been converted into pure, unbridled excitement and his smile almost hopped off his round face in the rush of this new adventure. He spent the rest of the afternoon darting around the house trying the key on everything; on books and chairs, walls and fireplaces, and even his mother’s knee.


I didn’t realize this until I was an adult but when I was a young kid my family went bankrupt and my father’s successful business disappeared almost over night. Our small family, just my dad, my mom, my brother and me, lost everything. Our grandparents died and we’d been ostracized from cousins, sisters and distant brothers before I was born and so there was no-one to call for backup.

After my dad finally relented in telling us the details decades later I remembered that for years my brother and I had slept on the floor without a mattress. We didn’t have wallpaper. We had no toys or even a television until we were much older.

Whilst my dad was throwing himself into the maw of tax collectors and shady debt men, my mom was left dealing with two young children almost entirely alone. And so she learned quickly how to entertain us on a budget. Without any money to pay for toys my mom had to make the ordinary extraordinary. Our empty bedroom became a jungle, the couch a train, the stairway a place where Pokémon could be found and fought. And yes, even boring nondescript keys became potent with magic and prophesy.

That unbound excitement in boring things, that sort of curiosity in the world around us is what we so desperately need more of. We need excuses to play, to experiment, to dream during the daytime. And I think it was that key that my mother held in her hand that afternoon that made me want to be a writer and a designer. It’s what ultimately sparked my curiosity in typography, letters, and writing as well because I knew that I wanted to give others that feeling of infinite hope and that sense of wonder, too.

This is most certainly going to be a non-sequitur but for some reason all of this reminds me of Mary Reufle’s Madness, Rack and Honey where the poet describes what the perfect English Literature class in a highschool might look like. In the book, Mary writes:
My idea for a class is you just sit in the classroom and read aloud until everyone is smiling, and then you look around, and if someone is not smiling you ask them why, and then you keep reading—it may take many different books—until they start smiling, too.
robinrendle  education  curiosity  boredom  2018  parenting  play  maryreuffle  learning  howwelearn  unschooling  engagement  resourcefulness  cv  experimentation  creativity  keys  scrappiness  lcproject  openstudioproject  nexttonothing 
july 2018 by robertogreco
🔠 Webfonts, web fonts, web-fonts
"Earlier this month Bram Stein published a book, along with the fine folks at A Book Apart, called The Webfont Handbook and it’s all about how browsers interpret our design choices when it comes to typography. Bram explores what fonts are and how they load, along with the unfamiliar CSS properties that we can use to control them.

You might not care one single iota about fonts or how browsers interact with them, and that’s totally okay, but I think this book is then interesting from two separate angles: web accessibility and good technical writing. First, on the topic of accessibility, one of my favorite sections of this book is where Bram writes about how webfonts can harm the user experience if we’re not careful. By loading too many fonts, for example, and thereby slowing the speed by which the website is requested:
Which matters most to you—conveying your message, or conveying your message in the correct font? In almost all cases, communicating your message matters most. The web is not—or at least shouldn’t be—only for the privileged. Young, affluent people with perfect eyesight using modern devices with high-resolution screens on fast network connections constitute a small fraction of internet users. Don’t forget about the rest.

Later in the book, Bram continues this argument further:
We need to start thinking of webfonts as progressive enhancement instead of expecting webfonts to be a resource that is always available. The baseline experience of your site has always been, and will always be, just plain HTML and CSS. Webfonts enhance that experience. In fact, there’s no guarantee that visitors to your site will see webfonts at all. The Opera Mini browser is used by hundreds of millions of people, and it does not support webfonts. Without you doing a thing, those users are already excluded from using the webfonts you specify.

That means there are two possibilities you should design for: when webfonts are not available, and when webfonts are available.

Accessibility and caring deeply about how webfonts impact the overall design of a website does not make us a gang of old type snobs, instead it makes us good citizens of the web. By thinking about those technical implications we show our care for everyone that visits our small island on the web, and not only the people that happen to look just like us. And every moment that we ignore web accessibility is one where the web becomes more difficult to approach and where we all become a little more isolated from one another.

The second important note that I took away from this book is that technical writing, and writing about code in general, is extraordinarily difficult. It’s tough to know what to teach and when. Not only that but it’s tricky to keep enough concentration and focus to go through each step meticulously so that someone else can follow along easily. This subject leads back to accessibility I suppose, but I can only think of a handful of people that are really good at this sort of technical writing and Bram is certainly one of them."
webdev  webfonts  fonts  html  css  accessibility  communication  robinrendle  bramstein  typography  web 
september 2017 by robertogreco
In Search of the Long Wow — Between Shelves — Medium
"What happened to the e-reading revolution that would shape the way we think about text?

If it’s possible to draw my life onto a timeline then every major event would be accompanied by a book. Although, despite what my shelves might tell you, I certainly don’t hoard them. It’s the books that are infatuated with me.

In hope of spending a weekend by my side, or even just a moment in my bag, books will call out from the shops in airport terminals and reveal themselves along riverbank market stalls. Likewise, I’ve found so many books waiting for me on the midnight trains that slowly criss-cross their way along the English towns near my home that I’ve begun to imagine a conspiracy of books at work; they’ve heard reports of my forbidden touch, or the color of my eyes, or my prolonged contact with the naked bodies of their friends. And so, hidden in jackets and sheathed in purses, the books plan their approach as they hope to try their luck with me instead.

I find them everywhere, at all times, and they respond to my body like a magnet; jumping into my bag, clinging onto me for dear life. What is it about these books, these inky sponges, I wonder, that make them act so desperately?

That’s not to say that the relationship is all one-way however; over the past year or so the buildings and faces around me have swirled into an incomprehensible blur and it’s only when I think about these books that the events lost in that swirl begin to make a little sense. I vividly remember the the final scenes as I turn these books over in my hands; they reveal a collage of where I was, and who I was, when I read them.

Yet in the foreseeable future my library can no longer be brought along for the ride, and I can no longer continue my affairs with the strange books that whisper my name in the dark. This year I’ll be attempting to avoid those flirting temptations by reading everything on the new Kindle Paperwhite.

I’ve always been fascinated by e-reading devices but I’ve been continuously frustrated by my expectations of them. Several years ago I owned a Kindle with physical buttons and a keyboard, and I remember how the experience was much like trying to read a novel from an Etch-a-Sketch.

During that time I tried to ignore how the designers appeared oblivious to centuries of typographic discipline, yet the hardware itself was unavoidably primitive and frustrating in every regard. No matter how many reviews I watched or how many friends recommended them I couldn’t understand where this wellspring of sentiment came from. Ultimately I felt that ebooks, and e-readers, showed so much promise but it was a promise that couldn’t be kept, which is why I was so very hesitant when I thought of returning to the Kindle again.

Yet I didn’t know anything about the latest models at all. I hadn’t picked apart the reviews or carefully watched an unboxing video, and my bookish friends appeared oblivious to the developments in the ebook world, too.

I believe this is for two reasons: one, no-one appears to believe anymore that ebooks will annihilate the print world any time soon, and two, the Kindle Paperwhite is remarkably boring.

And that’s the first thing you discover when you open the box and setup your account — it dawns on you just how truly boring the Kindle now is. So much so that whenever I’ve tried to bring up a conversation about my latest reading adventures I watch as faces droop and eyes roll, it’s impossible not to yawn in reply. Where are the Watch apps and the VR simulations that will let me read Moby Dick whilst sitting on the Moon or tumbling down a roller coaster, I hear you ask.

Back in 2007, when the Kindle debuted, there was so much hope for a literary and technological revolution of some kind. But eight years later, surely we ought to have replaced this antiquated ebook technology by now.

If this is the future that we’ve been promised from the very start, then where is the revolution? Where are the new forms of reading?

And where is the Kindle?

After opening the Kindle Paperwhite for the first time my impression was that I had somehow been tricked — I discovered that time had slipped forward by an hour in what felt like a second. Hmmm…, I thought. Shortly afterwards, I visited my Kindle library and found that it had automatically downloaded everything from my previous device. Hmm…, I thought again. Next, I tried to buy a book and found just how cheap the Kindle versions are, easily saving 50% of the cost of a physical book. This encouraged me to double the size of my library in a matter of minutes. Subsequently they appeared onto the device silently, without any procession, just like magic.

Hmmm… I continued to think.

It slowly dawned on me that the Kindle is such an interesting device today precisely because it is so very boring. It looks and feels like a machine that’s finally reached maturity; it’s part of a greater ecosystem that cannot sustain itself by flashy gimmicks or tropes. Instead, it just quietly, expertly, does a very simple job, and does it extraordinarily well.

A string of Hmmm’s and Oooh’s occur with each passing moment spent with the Kindle, and this reminded me of an old post about design by Craig Mod. Somewhere deep in his vast archive of book design is a note about two experiences: the Long Wow vs. the Small Wow. Yet I can’t seem to retrieve the quote from search terms or keyword strings, and this leads me to think that I am garbling the original idea in some horrible manner. Perhaps it wasn’t on Craig’s website that I first heard of this idea at all.

But here’s how I remember it.

The Long Wow vs. the Small Wow

The Long Wow is the sort of action that continues to impress, long after someone’s first experienced it. But the Long Wow is never really an individual sound, image, graphic element or feature of a product that we can point to. Instead, it’s a collection of features and experiences: it’s how they snap together, and how the seams between these features are then hidden away from view. It’s made up of lots of tiny moments, and identifiable features, but it’s difficult to point to a Long Wow with any certainty.

For instance, the first time we saw magazines on the iPad — all those animations and diagrams and Minority Report-like features! — these could each be described as a Small Wow. But the gimmicks fade quickly and then you’re left wondering how the blasted thing works. (Is this the app where I have to swipe right and then down into the article, or is the one where I have to pinch-zoom out to get to the contents page etc etc.)

However, both types of Wow are possible outside the realm of the e-reader, too. I remember a physical book that was surely capable of both. After years of looking at it, I still gawp at its shape and texture. I think about the custom typeface, about the quality of the paper, about the delicate woodcut illustrations, each a Small Wow in their own right, and each leading to a more satisfying reading experience overall.

In other words, there are Small Wows that contribute to better experiences, and then there are Small Wows that prevent them. This is why designing a reading device is so frustratingly difficult. But in order to understand the Long Wow of the Kindle, we have to break it up into each of its component parts, the tiny features that continue to impress and surprise:

• The prices of ebooks are astoundingly cheap.

• You can throw the Paperwhite into a bag and not worry for a second whether or not it could be damaged in the process; its plastic body feels durable rather than cheap.

• The screen has a coarseness to it that resembles another material entirely. On the iPad you swipe your finger along a slippery plane of ever-present, fragile glass but on the Paperwhite your finger tracks along a groove that resembles thick card.

• The network connection always feels predictable: you know when you’re offline and which features you can access. A notification doesn’t pop up when you walk away from your WiFi hotspot. Bonus points: you rarely need to be online anyway.

• The battery life appears to be nigh-on infinite.

• The screen/format/process is perfect for text-only works: novels, short stories, collections of talks, etc.

• The common design of most Kindle books has now overtaken their physical counterparts.

• Typographically speaking, the Kindle has reached an a-ok position for me. Every book I’ve read is still poorly justified but somehow I forgive them. Although, it should go without saying that the text of every ebook should be left aligned, ragged right.

• The custom-made Bookerly typeface, made by Dalton Maag, is a solid foundation for future typographic experiments on the Kindle platform.

• The refresh rate is very responsive: in the previous model that I owned whenever you turned a page or selected an option the screen would judder very slowly. But now, the way that the whole screen refreshes when you tap to reveal the menu or turn to swipe a page leaves a pleasant, old-school computer feeling in its wake, one that isn’t annoying in the slightest.

• The lack of physical buttons is a very good thing. I’d heard terrible moans about previous models having touch screens but this one seems to be immediately responsive and fast.

• Tiny gestures, like highlighting the text or calling the main menu by touching the top of the screen, are elegant, consistent and memorable. There are effectively three “buttons”: tap the top part of the screen for the menu or tap left/right to turn the pages.

These features aren’t thrilling, and they can’t easily be made into an advert that sparkles or grabs the reader’s attention; it’s difficult to imagine Zooey Deschanel or Samuel Jackson sitting in a brightly lit room and talking into a camera whilst they Oooh and Aaah about the highlighting gesture or the battery life of a Kindle.

Yet amidst that … [more]
robinrendle  kindle  longwow  technology  edtech  utility  ebooks  ereaders  paperwhite  2016  reading  howweread  smallwow  books 
april 2016 by robertogreco
The “Other” Interface: Atomic Design With Sass – Smashing Magazine
"As front-end developers and designers, we’re constantly refining two interfaces simultaneously: one for visitors who load the website, the other for developers who have to tackle the code in the future, when adjustments or full-scale redesigns must be made. Yet we tend to assign the role of “user” to the first group, often forgetting that the code we write must work for developers in a similar way. We shouldn’t forget that developers are users, too.

If this is the case, then our convention for naming and organizing files is critical if we are to ensure active (and efficient) development in the future. But do we really design the partials, files and directories that make up this interface with a particular set of users in mind, with a set of clear goals, combined with precise, well-defined documentation? I don’t think we do.

Recently, I’ve been working on many different projects, each wildly different from each other. And the various problems I’ve faced while switching between the projects has made me wonder how we can drastically improve front-end accessibility.

We Need To Follow Atomic Design Principles In Our Style Sheets Link

Last month, in a post titled “Atomic Design,” Brad Frost argued that Web development could be improved. He suggested to developers that, instead of coding a form as a component that is reused throughout a website, they could style small modules — such as a placeholder, input field and text field — and then create each form by combining these chunks together. This process could be duplicated for navigational items, text with icons, floated objects and pretty much any other sort of front-end module that needs to be reused regularly.
“Atomic design gives us the ability to traverse from abstract to concrete. Because of this, we can create systems that promote consistency and scalability while simultaneously showing things in their final context. And by assembling rather than deconstructing, we’re crafting a system right out of the gate instead of cherry picking patterns after the fact.”

The theory is that by employing these distinct elements, a developer can speed up their workflow and write code more efficiently because they’re not forced to repeat themselves. This much appears to be common sense. Essentially, what Brad calls for is object-oriented design, which has been discussed in numerous articles and blog posts recently. That isn’t really what interested me about the idea, though — it was the naming convention that Brad chose.

He uses scientific terms to quickly describe what sections of a design should do; “atoms” are the discrete chunks (placeholders, labels, etc.), while “molecules” are combinations of these standard atoms. The simplicity here grabbed my attention, because ultimately what we’re discussing isn’t just a process for design, but also a distinction to be made in the user interface, as I mentioned earlier."
atomicdesign  robinrendle  2013  via:caseygollan  webdev  sass  css  frameworks  webdesign 
march 2016 by robertogreco
Robin Rendle · Call Me Interactivity
"We are all tempted by inter­ac­tiv­ity; video & audio snip­pets, data charts that can be flicked and pushed, let­ters that can be popped & pinched. But how many of these fea­tures enhance the rela­tion­ship between reader and writer? Due to the con­straints I men­tioned pre­vi­ously, we most likely won’t recog­nise the dig­i­tal book in a decade. This is because they won’t be built in the same way, they won’t be writ­ten in the same way & they won’t be funded & pub­lished in the same way either. These prob­lems, some eco­nomic, some tech­ni­cal, will force us to con­sider alter­na­tive meth­ods of think­ing about con­tent, space, sto­ry­telling & time.

The line that bor­ders pixel & paper has been crossed, bound­aries have been bro­ken, but the hori­zon swells with oppor­tu­nity. And so these uncharted, dig­i­tal spaces demand not only new types of think­ing, pub­lish­ing and design, but also a new form of sto­ry­telling, new kinds of heroes and mon­sters, new worlds to explore…"
technology  mobydick  leonwiedeltier  oliverreichenstein  craigmod  content  flexibility  control  mandybrown  design  ebooks  digitalpublishing  publishing  interactivity  interactive  2012  future  books  robinrendle  epub3  html  html5  moby-dick 
august 2012 by robertogreco

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