Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Web Evolution

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“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer” – Bruce Lee


2012 looks set to be an interesting year. Short of owning a crystal ball, it’s tough to predict exactly what’s in store, but I can share a fraction of my findings in the last few weeks:

1. Progressive enhancement:
The rise of mobile and the dominance of Webkit-powered smartphones over the old desktop/laptop web browsing is pushing even die hard skeptics to embrace progressive enhancement, HTML5, CSS3 and other aspects of standards-based design.  It is important to note that Microsoft’s backing of these new standards has added to the “rush” to embrace the shiny new.

2. Responsive design:
We are experiencing a ‘standards nightmare’ in the hardware arena. There is a plethora of devices out there with widely differing abilities.  It’s never been more confusing or challenging to create brilliant interfaces that work across all of them.  This is why responsive design will play a big role this year as we all try to bridge the enormous gulfs between platforms.
2011 saw an explosion in the number of websites built responsively, and the beauty of it is that we’re all involved in developing the process. It’s still in its youth, developers are concocting new approaches all the time, and we’re a long way off nailing down any real best-practices. Should we first design for large screens and use media queries to gracefully degrade our designs for mobile? Or should we design for mobile first, progressively enhancing for more capable devices? Or should we favor feature detection over browser detection?

3. Typography:
Two noteworthy aspects of typography are the aesthetics and the growing understanding that type exists primarily to be read. Typefaces don’t have to be microscopic to appear chic, and the emphasis on content first is pushing us towards a web full of big and beautiful type.

4. Mobile gets bigger:
We’ll see the rise of mobile MVC frameworks. There is nothing like Rails for mobile web app development: a company named 37signals is creating a web app MVC framework specifically designed for mobile phone web apps. The code will be comprised of local JavaScript, with the network just being used for data. The apps will work offline, when live data transfer isn’t required. The framework is built in CoffeeScript and Eco (a new templating language created by 37signals).

5. Grid Systems:
A big player of the Responsive layout is the grid. 2011 has seen fixed grid frameworks make flexible improvements, not to mention the appearance of even more tools to help us out. All of the following frameworks, tools and guides cater for today’s needs and offer fluidity.

6. Horizontal and Vertical Scrolling:
The rise of mobile devices has reminded us that we can scroll and there is relevant content below the first few pixels of a web page. Some designers have taken this to the next level and made scrolling a fundamental part of the browsing experience.

7. Native support for plug-in features:
As support for the various aspects of HTML5 and CSS3 improves, we’ll see greater pressure for native browser support of features that we used to use plug-ins for (i.e. adaptive streaming of multimedia, webcam and microphone access, etc.)

8. Web app fragmentation:
example: Chrome only apps. For some inexplicable reason the proliferation of market places for web apps has induced a proportional growth of custom manifest formats. Each app store, each platform now supports its own.  This plethora of formats may be seen as damaging. A single format (a standard) to describe literally the same thing: app meta-data with, eventually, some platform- or store-specific data sprinkled on top of it seems to be a growing necessity.

9. Start-ups explosion in LA and a plethora of technologies:
Los Angeles is experiencing an explosion in mobile and web Start-up companies.  There is also an abundance of development frameworks, portable database formats, open source solutions and the likes that are collaborating to the growth of entrepreneurs in Southern California. There are many investors and incubators with their eyes placed all around LA trying to find and investment opportunity.  Many of these LA start-up companies are thriving, and it will be interesting to see the new technologies that will evolve from these companies as we see 2012 unfold. I can only mention a few companies as an example: Penango: makes secure e-mail easy to use, simple to manage and accessible everywhere with its end to end authentication and encryption to webmail and securing services such as Google documents. Bitium: Offers a free management tool to companies to manage their SaaS accounts.

There’s no way I covered every significant development in the web design front. I hope I’ve inspired some of you to go out and learn more about this fascinating area of technology.

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