Category / News & Reviews


Particleground: a jQuery plugin for background particle systems

Lately I’ve noticed a few sites using JavaScript particle systems as animated backgrounds. I was curious about the technique so I created Particleground, a jQuery plugin that creates a similar effect.


The particle system can be fine tuned using several configuration options, including a parallax effect which is controlled by the mouse on desktop computers or the gyroscope on smart devices. Particleground works in any browser that supports HTML5 canvas.

See a demo


View on Github


The Web Designer’s Bookshelf

I have just launched a new personal project called The Web Designer’s Bookshelf, which is a curated archive of articles about web and interface design.


Here’s the blurb:

As an industry we are obsessed with technical implementation. We write endlessly about front-end processes or the latest CSS and JavaScript techniques, but by focussing so much of our attention on technical concerns we have squeezed design issues out of the conversation.

The Web Designer’s Bookshelf is my attempt to rectify this imbalance. The site is an archive of articles that examine the history and craft of web and interface design, and related design disciplines, in a critical and thought provoking fashion.

Unlike technical articles, which date quickly, writing about design principles tends to have a longer shelf life. My hope is that the articles collected here will be of lasting interest to designers of all persuasions, and contribute to an ongoing conversation about the interactive design discipline.

Visit The Web Designer’s Bookshelf website, subscribe to the newsletter or follow @webdesbookshelf on Twitter.


The true cost of H&FJ’s web font platform

Chris Bowler from the Campaign Monitor team has written an interesting comparison between Typekit and Hoefler and Frere-Jones’ new cloud.typography web font service. If you’ve been sizing up clouds.typography, or didn’t know that H&FJ has (finally) launched their much anticipated web font platform, go read his post.


One thing that Chris didn’t touch on, but I think is relevant to the comparison, is that H&FJ’s annual subscription fees don’t actually give you access to their full range of fonts, just five font families:

Join Cloud.typography and get your first five webfont packages FREE

If you want access to more than five families then any additional fonts need to be purchased separately – currently H&FJ’s popular Gotham family costs $149 for a web font license, or $299 for a web and desktop license.

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Convincing users to abandon Internet Explorer is like whistling in the wind

Smashing Magazine recently published Dear Web User: Please Upgrade Your Browser, an article by Louis Lazaris encouraging regular Internet users to abandon Internet Explorer and upgrade to a modern web browser. After reading the piece, I tweeted that while I appreciate the sentiment, trying to convince stubborn IE users to upgrade is like whistling in the wind. By which I mean that those users are a) never going to read an article on Smashing Magazine and b) not going to upgrade their browser until they upgrade their computer. Hardly anyone chooses Internet Explorer as their web browser – they use it because it came pre-installed on their computer, and will continue using it for the lifespan of the computer. Any number of articles on Smashing Magazine won’t change that fact.

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Test your JavaScript skills with js-assessment

I recently discovered js-assessment, a “test-driven approach to assessing JavaScript skills” created by Rebecca Murphey. The js-assessment application contains a series of tests designed to assess a job candidate’s grasp of JavaScript, but it can also be used to gauge your own knowledge of the language. Think of it as a mini Project Euler for JavaScript.

The questions are divided into five topics covering different aspects of the language: arrays, objects and context, functions, asynchronous behavior and Backbone views. If, like me, you have a decent grasp of JavaScript, but wouldn’t feel confident writing “JavaScript programmer” on your curriculum vitae, then I think you’ll find the tests an enjoyable challenge. None of the questions are super difficult, though I confess to needing help from MDN to arrive at a few of the solutions. I definitely learned a thing or two about JavaScript along the way.

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Book Review: Big Deal

Big Deal book cover

Robert Hoekman, Jr is a user experience designer and consultant who is best known for his books about interface design, Designing the Obvious and Designing the Moment. His self-published book Big Deal: On Being Famous to Almost No One tackles a far more personal subject. In Big Deal Hoekman, Jr recounts his rise to the top of the web design field, and describes how his craving for professional notoriety eventually devastated his personal friendships, marriage, and sense of self worth.

The form of celebrity Hoekman Jr discusses in Big Deal has been dubbed “micro-fame”:

My name is Robert Hoekman, Jr, and in certain rooms, under certain circumstances, at certain moments, surrounded by certain people, and when all these very certain things come together, I am a big fucking deal.

In other words, Hoekman, Jr might be unknown to the general public, but within the web design industry he is a bona fide rock star.

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Thinking Web, a free ebook from Sitepoint

Sitepoint have just announced the release of a free ebook, Thinking Web: Voices of the Community. The book is a collaborative effort designed to tap the wealth of knowledge that can be found in the Sitepoint forums.

The book is over 200 pages in length, and covers a whole gamut of topics including web accessibility, coding HTML emails, database basics, online marketing, and going freelance.

Get the book for free from the Sitepoint store.


Book Review: Volume

Volume book cover

While I was twiddling my thumbs waiting for my last Amazon shipment to arrive I asked my studio mate if he had any design theory books I could borrow. “Aha! I’ve got just the thing”, he said (or words to that effect) and plucked a copy of Kenneth Fitzgerald’s Volume from his bookshelf. The author’s name didn’t ring any bells, but the book’s back cover promised a survey of “the discipline of graphic design in context with the parallel creative fields of contemporary music and art”. Since I love graphic design, music and art, I figured I was on to a good thing.

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Book Review: The Design of Everyday Things

The Design of Everyday Things cover

Donald A. Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things frequently pops up on lists of “must read” design books, but I’ve somehow managed to avoid reading it until now. I finally included the book in my last Amazon order, and now I wish I hadn’t waited so long to get my hands on a copy, because it really is a classic that deserves all the praise that’s been heaped on it.

The Design of Everyday Things was first published in 1988 under the title The Psychology of Everyday Things, and is aimed at anyone involved in the design process, regardless of which field they work in. Norman’s background is in cognitive science, and in the book he explores the psychology of everyday objects, making a persuasive argument for the importance of a user-centered approach to design. After reading The Design of Everyday Things you will never look at a tap, light switch, stove top, or telephone the same way again (and I guarantee you’ll learn a thing or two about the layout of your computer keyboard!)

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