Cloud Four Blog

Technical notes, War stories and anecdotes

Updating responsive image guidelines in preparation for AEA Austin

Last year, I wrote 8 Guidelines and 1 Rule for Responsive Images based on some consulting work we had done for a client with over 800,000 images on their site.

In preparation for An Event Apart Austin, I decided to revisit the guidelines and see if they still applied in light of browsers implementing the picture specification.

In particular, I was curious how much caution we should take when implementing solutions for responsive images. Last year, I wrote:

The one and only rule for responsive images: Plan for the fact that whatever you implement will be deprecated

Is that rule dated with the browsers standardizing on the picture specification?

I asked for some feedback from the responsive images community group on the risk of the specification changing and how much we should be hedging out bets.

Simon Pieters, who works for Opera, wrote:

It is also normal that the first shipping implementations are not perfectly compliant with the spec. For instance they might have implemented a slightly out of date algorithm and missed that something was changed, or simply have bugs. Then it is fixed in a future version and that might break your code if you only tested in one implementation.

This is no different from any other feature that is shipped on the Web. To avoid issues, test in multiple implementations and validate.

Should we still be hedging our bets a little?

No, that’s not necessary.

Now, a couple of people on the list responded that they have a large set of images on the sites they manage and centralizing image handling and markup still made sense. So perhaps it isn’t a rule, but still an idea that you should consider based on the scope of the site and the number of images involved.

I’ll leave the final word on the matter to Marcos Cáceres who played a critical role on the picture specification and works for Firefox, reassured me with these words:

Once it gets into the wild and people start using it, it can’t change. Thems is the golden rule of the Web.

Spec is stable and the browsers are coming this month – go forth and <picture> all the things! Make the web beautiful again :)

As Marcos says, go forth and <picture> all the things!

P.S. If you’re interested in more on this topic, join us at AEA Austin or AEA Orlando. You can use discount code ‘AEAGRIG’ to get $100 off your registration. I hope to see you there!

Did you try to reach us?

I’m embarrassed to admit it. I screwed up and if you tried to contact us over the last few months, there is a chance your message didn’t get through.

Specifically, messages sent via the contact form on our site weren’t always reaching us.

In case this saves anyone else from making the same mistake, here’s what happened. We switched our mail to Google. Instead of having an email alias, we had to use a Google Group.

Everything seemed fine for a few months, but then at some point Google Groups decided contact form submissions were spam. And we didn’t have any moderators for the group.

I set up the Google Group so I must have screwed it up. Because things worked great for several months, we don’t know when the problem started and how many messages were missed.

The most painful part about screwing up something like this is that there is no way to know who you need to apologize to.

So if you tried to contact us and didn’t hear back, I’m very sorry. The contact form is fixed now. We’d love to hear from you.

Slow and ugly

Many years ago at a previous job, I was responsible for pushing our organization to adopt a new ticket tracking system. We decided to use an open source project called Request Tracker (RT).

This was before the days of Zen Desk and similar services. RT matched our requirements best. I worked with our sysadmins and engineers to get the software running and rolled it out to the organization.

It was a failure. People were openly swearing at RT, and I’m sure they were privately cursing me for forcing them to use it.

While I sympathized with the complaints, I felt hamstrung because RT was deployed on an underpowered server and we had not been allowed to modify the look and feel. Back then RT was a bit of a dog both from a performance and aesthetics perspective.

As I worked with engineering to secure better hardware and get someone to assist with the design, the number of grievances continued to pile up.

One conversation stands out to me. A member of the management team told me that the fact that customers couldn’t reset their password in RT was unacceptable and as long as that was true, we couldn’t use RT.

I listened to the objections and kept a list of the issues that were raised, but I kept my focus on making RT faster and more attractive.

A few months later we relaunched RT. It was met with skepticism, but to the credit of my colleagues, they gave me and it a second chance.

It wasn’t too long after the relaunch that previous skeptics were swearing by the system. One of the team members became the master of RT and made a bunch of process improvements that I would have never considered.

What happened to that list of complaints that I gathered? We didn’t address a single one of them. Passwords worked exactly as they did before.

We simply made RT fast and attractive.

I have a simple rule when it comes to user experience: when something is slow and ugly, nothing else matters.

Until you address those two issues, you’re not going to be tell whether other complaints are real or red herrings.

An Event Apart 2014

Speaking at An Event Apart is intimidating. Last year, I was privileged to speak twice, and I was terrified each time.

While I thought I gave a good talk both times, I realized after my first talk that I had misjudged the audience. I feared I had whiffed on my only chance to speak and wouldn’t be invited back.

So you can imagine my surprise and delight when Eric and Jeffrey asked me back this year. I swore that this year I would nail it.

What I learned last year was that people come to AEA expecting not only to be wowed by fantastic speakers, but also to take home a tangible things that they can implement.

So I put together a presentation called Mobile First Responsive Design. We know that over 90% of responsive designs are built poorly. This talk teaches you how to build in a responsible manner.

I presented the talk for the first time at AEA Atlanta. It is always difficult to judge your own talks, but based on the feedback from attendees, I think it worked. At minimum, I know people went home with a long list of things that they could do immediately.

I’m giving this presentation two more times. Once next month at AEA San Diego and in October at AEA Orlando.

I’m really proud of the way the talk has come together. I’d love it if you could join me at one of the two AEAs that I’m going to be speaking at.

But even if you can’t make it to San Diego or Orlando, An Event Apart puts on one of the best conferences in our industry. You should attend. And if you do, use ‘AEAGRIG’ on checkout to receive $100 off the price.

That discount code applies for all of the 2014 events—even the ones I’m not speaking at.

I hope to see you in San Diego or Orlando!