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Cognition

A Web Development Highlight Reel

As the year winds down it’s time to take stock of 2014. Turning over a new year provides us with the opportunity to reflect and look forward. The web is an ever-evolving platform with new technology, techniques, and paradigms taking hold all the time. I’m excited about the direction the web has taken in 2014 and have learned a lot over the past year. That said, here are some highlights of these developments in the past year.

Automation

At one point, the range of knowledge a front-end developer had to keep track of seemed manageable. It’s hard to argue that working with the web has gotten easier over the years. Things change all the time, and what is certain is that what we need to do is darn near impossible to do by hand. That’s why automation is so exciting.

I began to accept and embrace automation in my work flow in earnest this past year. Sass was my introduction into automating web development tasks. After experiencing the advantages firsthand it has become clear. The power of building automated tasks is essential for being a productive web developer. Grunt and similar tools have come to rescue us by making repetitive, error-prone tasks quick and effortless. It feels like we’re just getting started with automation, so if you have yet to test the waters right now is a fine time to jump in.

Responsive Images

Getting a workable solution for responsive images has been difficult. We’ve been struggling with this for a long while. Workarounds were devised, but unless the situation demanded it we often fell back to less than ideal compromise.

Thankfully, we’re past that now. The effort at the Responsive Issues Community Group and the fine folks at Filament Group have paid off. We now have a clear responsive images spec and browser support is moving forward. With a little JavaScript to coax those browsers lacking support, it is feasible to implement today. A lot of uncertainty and confusion is behind us. In 2015 we can look forward to getting the responsive images we’ve always wanted.

Typography

In any discussion of typography of the web, the axiom that “Typography is 95% of the web” seems to follow. While I think that it is a bit more complicated than that, the sentiment is not wrong. Type has seen improvements in leaps and bounds over the past few years, with wide adoption of web fonts leading the charge. WOFF is in the books, and a version 2 is on the horizon, but on the sidelines the detail is coming into shape as well.

Most browsers have rudimentary support for advanced OpenType features through use of the `font-feature-settings` property. Kerning has improved with ligatures as a more common reality. It’s not impossible to get a stylistic alternative glyph to render. Thanks to progressive enhancement, all these goodies will slowly blink on. In most cases it requires no extra work from developers. I’m looking forward to watching these kinds of advanced typographic features expand in the years to come.

Performance & RWD

Performance has been at the heart of responsive web design (RWD) over the past year. As a community, we’ve all been exploring how to best implement RWD. From the earliest days performance has been a concern. After all, if our websites are slow they might as well not work at all. At Happy Cog we’ve learned this the hard way.

Thanks to some great work and exploration, we’ve learned that a performant, responsive design is a possibility. Best of all, the techniques to achieving that are mostly old hat.

Automation tools like Grunt can be used to concatenate, compress, and lint our CSS and JavaScript. We can root out and fix inefficient code and make certain our images are as compact as possible. New technologies, like responsive images will allow us to be more exact in what assets served to the browser. Most important of all, we’ve learned that performance is not a technical implementation. It is a design constraint that designers, developers and project leads should work together to address. With an automated work flow, better compression tools, and simple awareness we can create our snappiest designs yet.

Web Developer Tools

Nearly every time I open Chrome there is a some new hotness waiting for me in the developer tools. Mozilla has gone an interesting route. They’ve released an entire separate edition of Firefox just for developers. It comes with all kinds of shiny tools. Safari has been quietly upping its game with its developer tools as well.

With more built-in features to help manage building for different media queries and devices, developer tools have become super charged over the past year. Any insight these tools can give us the better experience we can build in our designs.

Keep Up the Momentum

2014 has been a fantastic year for web developers. Our tools are sharper and new ideas and techniques are overflowing. The spirit of sharing in the web community never ceases to amaze me and momentum shows no signs of slowing.

The core of web development is always the same – to build useful and engaging web sites with the technology we have. We’ll also stress inclusiveness and progressive enhancement and look to every decision on a project as an opportunity to learn something new. Collectively we’ve done a stunning job this past year, I commend you all. I’m looking forward to what’s next.

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