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Monday Profile: Russ Weakley

russ weakleyThis week’s Monday profile is Russ Weakley: front end developer, web designer and trainer, with particular expertise in CSS, UX and accessibility.

Russ spoke at our Respond Front End Design conference, and this profile first appeared in Scroll magazine.

You can follow Russ on Twitter, and find him at

Q Describe your family.

A I live with my long term partner, our two children and two dogs. Both my partner and I were born and raised in Sydney.

Our oldest son is obsessed with video games of all varieties, to the point where we have to set time limits. He is also a passionate musician – playing the trombone. Our younger son is interested in a range of activities including competition swimming and dance.

Q What book has changed your life in some way?

A At different times of my life, different books have inspired me, or caused me to change how I thought about a specific topic. When I was around 20 years old a book called Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams was a big influence. As a print designer, many typography books helped me change the way I saw type in design. I cannot remember a lot of the earlier books, but one that comes to mind is The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst.

When I moved into web design, a lot of books were influential but one stood out as it approached HTML and CSS in a very different way: Pro CSS and HTML Design Patterns by Michael Bowers. These days, I often get more inspiration from other media rather than books. I listen to a lot of podcasts and I watch a fair amount of YouTube movies on all sorts of topics from comedy to secularism and rationalism.

Q What formal qualifications do you have How did you end up doing web work?

A When I left school, I decided that I wanted to go to Art college as I was very interested in drawing and cartooning. Sadly, I did very little painting at the Art School so they decided to fob me off to a new “Design School” which was just about to start at the College. It was there that I learned about design. I learned from a grumpy typographer who constantly berated us about kerning and letter spacing. I still have nightmares about incorrectly spaced letters to this day.

As part of the program, students had to do work experience. I refused to find my own, so the College found me a place with the Australian Museum design team. I worked there for two weeks and thought “Well, luckily I’ll never have to come back here”. Soon afterwards, I was employed by the Museum and worked there for 29 years.

Q Describe what you do. What’s your job? Is presenting at web conferences part of that job?

A My work falls into four different areas:

1. I am a UX/UI professional. I work mainly on web applications – sketching, wireframing, prototyping, user testing etc.

2. I am a front end developer – specialising in HTML/CSS/SCSS pattern libraries.

3. I also work in Accessibility – often working with other developers to advise them on how to make applications more accessible.

4. I do a fair amount of on-site training – where I work with team members to build up their skills in aspects of HTML, CSS, SCSS, Responsive Web Design and Accessibility.

Q Do you give much thought to the title you apply to yourself? Does it matter?

A It’s very hard to work out a title across these four disciplines. The closest I have seen is “UI Developer” – which theoretically covers aspects of UX/UI, design and front end. The problem is that individual teams use different titles, and they use them in different ways. There is no canonical reference point for titles.

Q Describe the first time you gave a presentation on a web topic.

A I began presenting around 2003. I think my first presentation was to a Web Standards Group meeting in Sydney on some aspect of CSS. I felt very little nerves as I had presented a lot before becoming a web designer/developer. I really enjoyed the idea that I could help people understand an topic.

Q In The Graduate, Mr McGuire has just one word to say to aimless college graduate Benjamin Braddock: “Plastics”. What one word would you give to today’s prospective web professional?

A Basics.

I see many front end developers who have fast-tracked their knowledge. They can use Bootstrap and multiple different JavaScript frameworks but many lack even basic knowledge of HTML and CSS – or concepts like Progressive Enhancement.


When Russ first responded to our interview questions, he couldn’t resist having a bit of fun with the questions. Here are his original answers to the first three questions.

Q Describe your family.

A My family comes from a long line of criminals – thieves, robbers, pickpockets and the like. My father and mother actually met in jail – staring at each other across the exercise yard. They had three boys, all by accident. Our young lives were spent in and out of juvenile detention centres. It is amazing that any of us have managed to stay out of prison.

I now have two boys of my own … well, I part-own them along with my partner. And the bank. I try to bring them up in the same way that I was brought up. Needless to say, they could shoot before they could walk and perform card tricks by the time they could speak. We have high hopes for their future.

Q What book has changed your life in some way?

A Probably the most important book I ever read was Put ‘Em Down, Take ‘Em Out! Knife Fighting Techniques from Folsom Prison“. It taught me many of the lessons that I still use in business meetings to this day.

Q What formal qualifications do you have How did you end up doing web work?

A Unlike my brothers, I pretty much failed high school. As we surveyed the wreckage that was my HSC score, it became apparent that there was very little I could do except go to art school. It was either that or Humanities.

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Thanks for an amazing few days Web Directions. So many great themes of empathy, inclusion, collaboration, business impact through design, and keeping our future deeply human.

Laura van Doore Head of Product Design, Fathom