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  • March 28, 2013

The Beauty of the Blank Slate

You dev? If so, ever popped open a fresh PSD and thought to yourself, “Oh man, I can’t WAIT to get this party started”? I have, and I do, with each new project. As a front-end developer, that specific, exciting moment is my fresh start. Decorative Illustration

It’s not just that I love what I do—solving problems and working with a fantastic team that creates beautiful, purposeful things. It’s because I make a conscious effort to seize the opportunity inherent in this fresh start that I look forward to it every time.

The very beginning, the first time you dive head-first into a project—that’s special. That fresh start represents the potential to be better (whatever “being better” means to you). Every new project could be the “the best project ever ever ever!!”

Try something new.

Our best practices and medium are ever-evolving—the W3C spec changes so often it might as well be written in pencil. We’re lucky in that regard. We’re all perpetual students, and each project is an opportunity to learn something new.

Most recently, I had the opportunity to work “mobile first.” From a dev perspective, for me, that means I start with mockups of the mobile design. I first define things like typography and color, leaving the grid and layout for a later phase and working up to desktop styles. I’ve always worked “desktop down” in the past, so I found it to be a really interesting exercise with takeaways for my future projects. Getting comfortable fleshing out a full typographic system from the ground up without the context of layout left for cleaner baseline styles. I also found I had to fight the cascade far less, as I was conditionally weaving layout over top of my existing CSS. Most importantly, coding “mobile first” added an extra layer of intrigue that helped keep me focused.

Refine your personal process.

In order to look forward, you must first look back. Before my mobile-first fresh start, I reflected on aspects of my previous projects that were challenging and/or left room for improvement so I could take the opportunity to address them.

In a previous project, I became frustrated by the volume of selectors I rewrote, because I repeated and grouped styles by media query. So, for this mobile-first project, I sprinkled inline media queries throughout my stylesheets. I didn’t have to worry about specificity issues, and my styles felt far more organized.

I also paid close attention to how often I overrode properties in my mixins and extends, trying to keep them as small and as succinct as possible. (Non-devs: mixins and extends are chunks of CSS organized and available in shorthand form.) As I’m finishing up this mobile-first project, I know this is an aspect I need to continue to refine.

One of the things I love most about our industry is how rapidly it evolves. There are exciting things released daily, and fresh starts provide opportunities to both try these new things and hone existing methodologies—without the interference of any past mistakes. Be sure to recognize and harness the joy that the very beginning of a project can bring to your personal process. Be sure to recognize the beauty of the blank slate.

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