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Web Directions Weekly–the chocolate box edition

No themes this week, in our roundup of some recent things that have crossed our desk.


Just a reminder, these and many other ‘elsewheres’ can be found at Conffab

Dao Day 2024 – a regression in the making

It’s twenty four years to the day since A List Part published John Allsopp’s seminal treatise A Dao of Web Design. It must be one of the most vital and cited articles ever to be written about web design. In it John quoted the Tao Te Ching as a way of persuading us web designers to be like The Sage and “accept the ebb and flow of things”.

Source: Dao Day 2024 – a regression in the making | Clagnut by Richard Rutter

So a little bit of self aggrandisement here–Richard Rutter observed that just the other day it was 24 years since an article I wrote (technically) in the last millennium was published.

A Dao of Web Design is still referenced online, which is gratifying and humbling. Richard reflects on it 24 years later.

Notes on how to use LLMs in your product

I’ve been working fairly directly on meaningful applicability of LLMs to existing products for the last year, and wanted to type up some semi-disorganized notes. These notes are in no particular order, with an intended audience of industry folks building products.

Source: Notes on how to use LLMs in your product. | Irrational Exuberance

There are many criticisms to be made of generative AI and large language models not least the ethically problematic use of datasets and the substantial energy and water use to train and run inferencing. 

But these technologies exist and can potentially have significant positive impacts as well.

This is a detailed and thoughtful piece on how, and how not to, think about using these technologies in product development. Well with the few minutes’ read.

How would you build Wordle with just HTML & CSS?

I’ve been thinking about the questions folks are typically asked in front-end interviews these days, and how well those questions assess a candidate’s depth of understanding of web standard technologies, and not just their ability to employ JavaScript algorithms and third-party frameworks. It made me think about the sort of questions I would like to hear or ask in an interview myself.

Source: How would you build Wordle with just HTML & CSS? | Scott Jehl, Web Designer/Developer

Constraints, working with and around them, can be some of the most fertile ways to uncover new ideas and techniques and just plain magic.

Those of my vintage might remember Space Invaders, one of the breakout (obscure video game history reference intended) games to make video gaming mainstream.
Rows of tiny aliens marched inexorably down toward your ship as you fired up. Shoot them all or they would overrun you.

A distinctive feature of the game play was as you eliminated more and more of your foes they sped up! The associated sound added to an increasing sense of anxiety. Such amazing game design.

Except it wasn’t originally the design. The aliens were supposed to continue at the same rate. But the hardware–game designer and developer Tomohiro Nishikado discovered that as the aliens were eliminated and the hardware had to draw fewer and fewer of them it could do so more quickly so the game sped up.

He toyed with the idea of slowing it back down but realised it made the game far more exciting.

He worked with the constraints and limitations of the system. And created a genre defining classic.

Scott Jehl has done something very different but still reminiscent here, asking how you might develop game like Wordle using no JavaScript, just HTML and CSS. Let’s find out what happens next… 

Design Engineering at Vercel: What we do and how we do it

Design Engineer is a new role that is gaining popularity—a role that is both confusing and exciting. Expectations for what good software looks and feels like have never been higher. Design Engineers are a core part in exceeding that expectation. This post will go behind the scenes for Design Engineering at Vercel, our work, skills, and how we contribute to shipping with a high degree of polish and performance.

Source: Design Engineering at Vercel: What we do and how we do it – Vercel

Speaking of Design Engineering, as we have been in recent newsletters, here’s some thoughts from the Vercel Design team on the role.

AI & the Web: Understanding and managing the impact of Machine Learning models on the Web

This document proposes an analysis of the systemic impact of AI systems, and in particular ones based on Machine Learning models, on the Web, and the role that Web standardization may play in managing that impact.

Source: AI & the Web: Understanding and managing the impact of Machine Learning models on the Web

An important effort by the W3C and it raises questions any of us involved with web and technology should be considering.

xz, Tidelift, and paying the maintainers

Late last week, a developer noticed some unusual behavior on their computer, investigated it, and uncovered a hack of epic scope, in an obscure but important library called xz. The attack was technically sophisticated, but perhaps worse it was socially sophisticated. The attackers took advantage of a maintainer over a long period of time to slowly, but steadily, win his trust—and then subvert the security mechanisms that he had previously put in place.

Source: xz, Tidelift, and paying the maintainers

Everyone involved with technology should read this. And the lesson to take away is not “open source is risky and dangerous” but rather “all of us, and most egregiously massive corporations have extracted huge value from open source without recognising that value, leading to these sorts of vectors”.

We have to do better.

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