Archive for the ‘Reviews’ category

My notes on Rachel Andrew’s “The New CSS Layout”

9 October 2018, in CSS, Resources, Reviews | Add a comment »

“The New CSS Layout” was released when I was about to embark on the challenge of refactoring an old site to be responsive and have grid support and support for old browsers. Yikes! I wasn’t looking forward to the faff that I assumed this kind of challenge involved, so I was more than pleased to have a book to guide me.

By the time I read the book in preparation for my adventure, I had already watched all of Rachel’s video tutorials, and I still found the book filled in gaps in my knowledge. Maybe it’s because I read books more carefully than watch videos or read blog posts but I recommend it to anyone who’s starting to work with grid (which, by now, should be all of us).

I like that the book starts with a brief trip down memory lane, helping to contextualise and explain how CSS layout was achieved previously to the advent of grid and flexbox.

I found the chapter which delves deeper into the subject of old browser support (“Chapter 7: Embrace the future”) particularly useful for my task at hand. I still can’t believe how painless it was to add basic support with only a few lines of CSS.

Just like other A Book Apart publications, “The New CSS Layout” does an excellent job at taking you from newbie to confident at its subject. The book won’t turn you automatically into a pro at CSS Grid Layout, which, as you may have guessed, only practice, trial and error, many times over will.

I only fairly recently started using grid in production and client work and am completely converted. And this wouldn’t have been possible without Rachel Andrew’s relentless publishing of resources on the subject.

These days, when creating CSS layouts, I keep 3 tabs open at all times:

And “The New CSS Layout” gave me the foundational knowledge that I needed to get started with grid more confidently. Thank you, Rachel. 🙏🏼

Technically Wrong: the book I needed to start the year

8 January 2018, in Reviews | Add a comment »

Those who know me know I’m not a fan of surprises—I choose my Christmas and birthday presents. And this year was not an exception. But nevertheless, my husband, as the risk-seeker that he is, took the bold step of gifting me something I hadn’t previously approved, but that he sensed would be just my cup of tea.

He wasn’t wrong. Since I opened my book-shaped present on Christmas Eve I haven’t been able to put Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s “Technicaly Wrong” down.

Unputdownable, they say.

Somehow, I had missed this book’s publication, which is very odd as I follow people who I’m sure have tweeted about it. Nevertheless, I had never seen it before, or heard of it, so maybe other people don’t know of its existence either, which is a crime.

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about the book, because I’d rather everyone read it. But I’d like to echo the sentiment of the author. The subtitle, “Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech”, is a good summary of what you will find inside.

Technology is an inescapable part of our lives. From the most trivial things, like buying lightbulbs, to the most live-changing ones, like applying for social housing, or getting a passport. But we don’t place tech companies and the people within them in a position where they have the same accountability as other, older institutions. We think if a computer came up with something (like a search result), it must be right. But it’s humans all the way down, and humans have biases and are fallible.

Technically Wrong includes incredible, heart-pumping, rage-inducing stories of racial discrimination, gender inequality, sexual harassment, and much more. There is also a call for everyone to open our eyes to the biases that permeate the technology that surrounds us, and that we brush aside, because they mostly don’t affect us in a harmful way. But technology is for, and is needed by, everyone. And everyone means people who don’t all live, look or sound the same.

Sometimes I forget in how many categories I fall that technology and the tech industry have a tendency to put at a disadvantage: I’m a woman. A working parent. An immigrant. There’s an acute accent in my often-too-long name, who no-one can pronounce. [I totally understand the plight of the woman in the book who needs to manage different versions of her name across different systems—that is my life (p.72).] Online forms that ask for my ethnicity confuse me (although I just sent my saliva to 23andme, so I might know how to answer that question soon). My passport says I was born in Russia (actually, in the “Soviet Union”, which is as amusing as it sounds), but I am not Russian (it was fun getting my son his British passport).

One time, I had to wait for 20 minutes at an airport check-in desk until someone with enough authority could allow my son and I to check-in. Why? Our names didn’t match our passports. Why? The airline’s online booking form said “the combination of both of our first names and surnames was too long”, so I had to cut them until they fit the form.

My anecdotes are largely benign. But for people who are less privileged, tech that doesn’t consider anything that departs from the norm can have truly devastating consequences. As tech workers, it’s within our power, and our responsibility, to change this:

“[A]lienating technology doesn’t matter less during this time of political upheaval. It matters all the more.”
—Sarah Wachter-Boettcher, in “Technically Wrong” (p.196)

My new year resolutions are very much the same as the next person’s: drink plenty of water, got to bed early, exercise more, read more books, write more articles.

But on top of that, and most of all, I hope I can bring just a little of what the author asks of us to my work. If I can do that, it will be a good year.

Now go read it.

Book review: “White Hat UX”

19 April 2017, in Reviews | Add a comment »

When Trine told me she’d been writing a book for the past year I knew it would be good. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking at a couple of the same events as her in the last few years and have since followed her work. Her talks gave me a great insight on designing for children — an important topic that we should know more about but that can sound daunting at first.

White Hat UX is a great reminder for experienced designers of the kind of work we should be striving to do, and an excellent introduction to the topic for UX novices, as it dedicates some time to explain some of the basic concepts.

Trine’s book, co-authored with Kim Andersen and Martin Michael Frederiksen, focuses on doing things right. It goes into detail about how we can improve our users’ experience of our sites and products, and our bottom line, without resorting to dubious design practices.

“Day-to-day business is about traffic measurements, conversion rates, cost per click, page views, uptime, media convergence and all the three-letter acronyms of IT business.

“What has become of style, tone, good language, identity, branding and positioning? They are still there, but are struggling to keep afloat among the flurry of new technologies all driven by metrics.”

—White Hat UX, page 53

My favourite aspect of the book is that it holds design professionals to the high standards that we should all want our work to meet, without excuses. Our work can influence the lives of people in ways that we can’t even image, and as professionals with this kind of influence it’s important for us to revisit our practices and consider what we do regularly throughout our careers.

The best part: the book is available for free on Amazon until the 22nd of April. Go get it — it would be rude not to.

Podcasts I like

10 November 2015, in Inspiration, Life, Resources, Reviews | Add a comment »

A few months ago, while I was still on maternity leave, I asked on Twitter for podcast recommendations. My son was getting more and more mobile, and we were going out more, so watching everything there was on Netflix while he napped on me was no longer possible, and the only podcast I was following was about being a parent, so I needed some ideas.

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Books: “HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions”

14 April 2010, in CSS, HTML, Project 52, Reviews | 8 comments »

The second book I’m reviewing is “HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions”, by web standardistas Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson.

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Book Review: “CSS Mastery — 2nd Edition”

24 January 2010, in CSS, Project 52, Resources, Reviews | 3 comments »

I’m frequently confronted with the question of “which CSS books would you recommend?” and CSS Mastery is always at the top of the list. Here’s the audio review I did for the Boagworld podcast.

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Book Review: “How To Be A Rockstar WordPress Designer”

31 January 2009, in Reviews | 8 comments »

In recent years, WordPress has become an increasingly popular blogging platform and full-blown CMS for company websites – a sure credit to its immense versatility. Although not impossible to master, some of us still haven’t had the opportunity to put some time aside to delve into it. This inspired me to write a short review for Rockable Press’s “Rockstar WordPress Designer”. Here’s my quick capsule review:

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