Category / Web Design


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.


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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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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How to tell if you’re a web design OG

This morning I’ve been following the hilarious (and cringe inducing) web design OG Twitter meme started by Jeff Croft (if you’re wondering, OG stands for Original Gangster). Here are a few of my favourites:

If you created a website that had “Works best with Netscape Navigator” you may be a #design_og

If you remember Adobe PageMill, you may be a web design OG. #design_og

If you’ve ever said that your “site looks better in Netscape Navigator” you may just be a web design OG! #design_og

If you remember cleaning up bad Word-to-HTML markup by hand in a text editor, you might be a web design OG #design_og

If u ever designed an interactive CD-ROM you’re a #design_og

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Goodbye conditional comments

The very first article I wrote on this blog, back in July 2006, was titled Goodbye hacks. Hello conditional comments. In that post I discussed how conditional comments could be used to feed different stylesheets to older version of Internet Explorer, smoothing differences between browser rendering engines without resorting to CSS hacks.

Conditional comments have provided a great stopgap measure while we wait for obsolete versions of IE to fall into disuse, but as the market share of IE6 and IE7 has dwindled I’ve found myself relying on them less and less. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I resorted to a separate stylesheet to make an old browser behave.

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How to spot a troublesome client

I’ve written in the past about how it is just as important to turn down the wrong clients as it is to work with the right ones, but even when a client ticks all the right boxes they might still spell trouble. Here are a few problematic clients to watch out for:

The Carrot Dangler

The Carrot Dangler will tempt you with promises of lucrative work in the future if you agree to take on their first project at a generous discount. Like the carrot that coaxes a donkey to pull its cart, this client hopes that the lure of more work will secure your loyalty, and make you receptive to the idea of lowering your fee.

It goes without saying that the dangling carrot will always remain just out of your reach, as elusive as the proverbial pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. If you do have an opportunity to work with this client in the future they will almost certainly plead poverty again, then dangle another carrot in front of you.

When confronted with a Carrot Dangler remind yourself that if they don’t have the money to pay you fairly now, they probably won’t in the future either. Don’t let the carrot tempt you into putting yourself at a financial disadvantage.

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A website can’t be measured in pages

For a long time page count has been used as a unit of measurement in web design and development. Clients will often phrase a pricing enquiry by asking “how much would it cost for a (x) page website?”, and when quoting on a project it can be tempting to measure the required effort in these terms. Some web developers go a step further by assigning a fixed value to a page, and sell page-based website packages to their clients: a 5 page website for $800, a 10 page site for $1,500 and so forth. This approach is shortsighted for several reasons.

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Best viewed in Safari

Remember when websites came with disclaimers listing their minimum viewing requirements, and shooed away anyone who didn’t make the grade? “This website is best viewed in Netscape Navigator” visitors would be advised, or “View this site in Internet Explorer at 800×600 resolution”. Those were the bad old days, and I would like to believe that as a community we have learned our lesson and moved on, embracing graceful degradation and progressive enhancement as alternatives to the “my way or the highway” mentality.

This morning I visited a website that caused me to wonder if we’ve come so far after all. I was looking forward to experiencing the site’s typography, which I’d been informed was exemplary, and was surprised when my browser served up fallback system fonts rather than the embedded web fonts I was expecting. A warning message in the masthead informed me that if the fonts looked “kind of weird” I should switch to Chrome or Safari.

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