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2014 wrap up

2014 was eventful and very productive.  Web design terrain keeps changing and to stay on top one has to learn new things continuously or at least be aware.  Here is the list of things I dived into with some success and my experiences.

SASS

I finally tried SASS. I read about it and knew what to expect, but when I learned it I was blown away. Yes, there are many other CSS preprocessors out there, and many more things to learn, but… I will never look at CSS the same way again. The default CSS structure is linear and after a while the code always gets messy. SASS helps you keep your code clean and reusable by:

  • Using Partials.You can split the file into as many parts as you require for your project. Later you can simply import your reset, header, grid, forms and buttons into your next project.
  • Using variables.  You can set your default colors and font-styles once per project and always keep it updated.  This comes super handy when you need to adapt a template for another project.
  • Using mixins and extends.  With SASS you no longer need to keep repeating these lengthy css vendor prefixes such as transition, border-radius and others.  Mixins and extend statements help you do it in just one line of code.
  • Media queries.  With SASS you can keep your mobile overwrites together with your main CSS.  This is very important when you want to reuse pieces of code between projects.

Best of all, it took only one weekend to understand SASS following a video course on Learnable.

Brackets code editor

Brackets is the new code editor, written in pure HTML, CSS and JS for Windows, Mac and Linux. It is open source (like most good things these days), it has awesome design, it supports all languages and code libraries (even Cold Fusion via plugins).  The most important, it is blazing fast. I was amazed at how fast it opens on my overloaded computer.  Give it a try. 

Alternative keyboard layouts

I became interested in learning COLEMAK keyboard layout.  Apparently QUERTY keyboard layout was specifically developed to slow down typists so they don’t jam the typewriters about 1.5 centuries ago. I am not using a typewriter and lots of typing puts quite a lot of strain on my hands. Comparing COLEMAK and DVORAK I realized that I definitely need my Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V buttons, so DVORAK is not really an option.  Colemak allows to type most common words on the middle row, thus promising to increase the typing speed by 20-30%, while reducing the strain. There is a catch to it: rewiring brain for the new keyboard is not easy. I am still trying to learn it aiming to reach 100 wpm in 2015.

Drupal vs Wordpress vs Kirby

Last year I had a great opportunity to build sites in Drupal, Wordpress and Kirby CMS.  It’s really interesting to compare what each can do as they are different and more suitable for different projects. The most notable discovery in this field was that WordPress is easy to work with due to plugin and theme availability, however it was a lot more difficult to build and use a WPML based multilingual website. Drupal is definitely more stable when it comes to large multilingual projects, while Kirby CMS is just perfect for small to medium websites. Kirby is a flat file commercial CMS that I tried on smaller projects and was extremely pleased by simplicity of templats, ability to customize website on a page by page basis and fairly robust admin.   Best of all it is fast and doesn’t need a database, so it is easy to deploy and manage. I find that the latest release of Kirby is a bit pricy, but I still recommend it for commercial projects.

508 accessibility standards

I had a chance to look into the needs of visually impaired people and understand the requirements of the US Government 508 Accessibility Act in relation to web design and document publishing. It turns out that preparing documents for 508 compliance is a pretty difficult, but manageable task.

Digital agency vs company with their own projects

2014 was my first year of working for a company that develops their own web projects and I finally see the difference in comparison to my previous job at a digital agency.  While working with clients I rarely had a chance to perfect the project to my level of standards.  To be honest, I can safely say that often it wasn’t even appreciated by the clients who just wanted A website.  Now I am working for a company that runs their own projects and I finally managed to build the perfect website and optimize the admin to the highest levels of usability.  My new ‘toy’ allows me to manage content in 12+ languages and all kinds of other bells and whistles effortlessly.  I am still not sure if I prefer digital or corporate environment, but it seems that iterating the same projects and making them better over time is more satisfactory than delivering a large number of websites that could have been improved with more resources in hand.

Lets see what 2015 brings our way.