Defining moments

As I’m laying in bed unable to fall back asleep, my mind starts to wander as it does on occasions like this; for some reason I started thinking about certain books, articles or techniques that had a significant impact on my web development career.

Based on the time of their impact, these are what immediately came to mind.

Designing with Web Standards

This is probably no surprise to anybody, well except for younger generations of web workers (get off my lawn you damn kids.) It’s probably on everybody’s list.

I was late reading this book, I think it was in its second edition by the time I actually read it. To be fair I was already practicing web standards, but I could never really articulate why. One of the problems with web books is that they’re often about emerging or well-known concepts, so by the time they’ve been printed and distributed that concept is already in practice. Now the key to great web books is making you care after the fact, and Jeffrey Zeldman’s book did just that.

His quote comparing structure, presentation and behavioral layers to the different roles in a movie production was the perfect tangible comparison that made it so easy to grasp the concept. Like any good quote, I still use this today. And like most quotes I probably bastardize and butcher it.

If your site were a movie, (X)HTML would be the screenwriter, CSS would be the art director, scripting languages would be the special effects, and the DOM would be the director who oversees the entire production.

Jeffrey Zeldman, Designing with Web Standards

Bulletproof Web Design

Perhaps the goofiest photo of me in existence. At a bar during An Event Apart Chicago 2007.

This is the book that just made CSS click for me. Like Designing with Web Standards, I was already using CSS and some of these techniques but I was really bad at it. Dan Cederholm’s book really just made me think about what I was doing, and made me want to do it better.

Throughout my career I’ve been fortunate to attend several conferences, and Dan Cederholm is one of nicest of my “heroes” who I’ve met.

It was at a bar in Chicago for An Event Apart , as I saw him walk by I said hi and how much I enjoyed his book. I just happened to mention I enjoyed his book so much that I lent it to my boss who subsequently lost it. He (Dan) said to email him and he’d send me another copy. I never did. I’m sure authors have several copies of their books to spare, but that just struck me as such an unprompted act of kindness.

Don’t Make Me Think

Again, Steve Krug’s book is probably on everybody’s list; it is one of the quintessential user experience books. But it makes my list for another reason – accessibility.

Having spent my entire professional career working at an university, I’ve always had to work with accessibility in mind. But nothing ever made me care why it was important as much as his statement that with the use of accessible content and screen readers a blind person could read a daily newspaper…on the day it was published…by themselves. Mind blown.

If that doesn’t make you care about accessibility then I’m not really sure what will.

And not just the right thing; it’s profoundly the right thing to do, because the one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives. Personally, I don’t think anyone should need more than this one example: Blind people with access to a computer can now read the daily newspaper on their own. Imagine that.

How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better?

Steve Krug, Don’t Make Me Think

Responsive Web Design

This is THE article, the one that started it all. I mean Ethan Marcotte coined the term. This article was so mind blowing I had to read it several times before I really grasped how great it was. His Fluid Grids article in which he described dividing the target by the context was worth the price of admission alone. Ok fine, it was free but I would have paid for it, it was that good. In fact, I did pay for it (or rather my company did) for the A Book Apart book with the same title.

Mobile First

I saw Luke Wroblewski (and yes, I had to google that spelling) present at the aforementioned An Event Apart and just soaked up his talk about forms. From that moment on Luke was somebody I paid great attention to. He also happens to be one of my favorite presenters, only being surpassed by Jared Spool at the last minute.

I honestly don’t remember where I first heard about his mobile first theory, but it resonated with me from the very beginning. By the time I travelled across the country to Las Vegas with just an iPhone 3G for an information source, I completely understood the value of mobile first. If you’ve ever tried to book a hotel reservation online with your phone, then you’ll understand the value too.

I read his A Book Apart on a plane, and I think my tweet after landing sums it up pretty well.

While not exactly the same context, the fact that I read @lukew‘s Mobile First book entirely on my iPhone proves why it’s important.

Jon Faustman, Twitter

BEM

Although I haven’t been using this technique long enough to say it’s career defining, it certainly has changed how I think about style and layouts. I first read about it on Harry Roberts’s CSS Wizardry. From then on I was hooked.

Of course I’d known about OOCSS for quite a while before finding out about BEM, but I never liked it. For some reason it just seemed wrong to me. Maybe it was the naming, or standardista in me fighting against what at one time would have been shunned as bad practice. (Remember the zOMG tables are bad, nothing can be a table including tabular data misconception? Yeah, that.)

I remember seeing Nicole Sullivan present at An Event Apart and threw up in my mouth a little bit when she showed a class named .h1 – until I really thought about it, that’s useful, damn useful.

BEM just works for me. It makes sense. It’s easy, especially in combination with Sass.

Fanboy?

Honestly when I started writing this, I never realized how much of a fanboy I am of all the things Apart – A List Apart, An Event Apart, A Book Apart.

A List Apart

Like the rest of my RSS feeds (Google Reader is going away? LOL OK) my unread A List Apart articles are overwhelming. I probably won’t ever catch up or read back issues, but they’re there – chock full of great, relevant information just waiting for me. Maybe I’m missing the next Responsive Web Design article.

An Event Apart

Honestly I can’t say enough good things about these conferences. I’ve been to two – Chicago in 2007 and Minneapolis in 2011. And while the information gap in my career between those two periods is vast, the second trip was just as worthwhile as the first.

Why is it such a great conference? Well the talent level of the speakers is amazing…I’d say it’s unparalleled. While I couldn’t recall every subject matter they’ve spoken about, I can recall many, many memorable moments. Like Jason Santa Maria nearly falling off the stage, or Jeremy Keith blowing my mind – repeatedly.

I’ve had the chance to interact with many of my “heroes,” usually while partaking in an adult beverage. I mean I talked to Eric Meyer about flexbox, and was admonished by Jeremy Keith for foresaking JavaScript knowledge and skipping directly to jQuery. How fucking awesome is that?

(By the way, Leah Culver if you ever read this – I’m really sorry for sort of blowing you off. I didn’t realize who you were, which sounds like a horribly snobbish excuse, but I thought you were with Jeremy…like with WITH and I didn’t want to offend him by giving you too much attention. I realized what happened much later. You know what, this apology sucks. So I’m sorry for that too.)

While the quality of snacks and abundant soda is usually unmatched at other conferences as well, having one track really makes the conference. No deciding what to see. No skipping because of indecision. A shared experience. That’s what really makes the conference.

A Book Apart

Simply put these books are amazing. It’s true you might already know the subject matter, but I can almost guarantee you’ve never read about it in the same way. Easy to understand. Concise. Enjoyable. I’ve talked my company into buying them all.

So yeah, I guess I am a fanboy. So thanks to everybody who makes all this awesome stuff happen, keep doing what you do.

Did I really just use part of a Bobby Flay quote? I really need to go back to sleep.