Select Writeups

Sharing a bit about myself by publishing what I write. This is where you can find opinionated writeups discussing various topics of interest including:

Trending tactics


Since software just loves walking down the catwalk

New seasons bring new rules. Whatever the status quo was, we grow tired of it and eagerly await the new styles coming down the runway. No one likes being outdated, so we watch for the next thing to make us feel young and current. There is plenty of clamoring for the next big and popular trend ready to occupy our mindshare. These trends can affect what we use, how we create, what we value, and what we believe.

For better or worse, software mirrors life and fashion. Every creation gives and takes from a grand cumulative design. A design that wields undue influence on what we perceive and adopt as the next hot shit. The methods, languages, deliverables, and products we produce and consume can become outdated or even counterproductive at the drop of a hat. It’s all about the moment, and it’s a shame because we can't create software by snapping our fingers, so it’ll be behind the curve either way.

How can we avoid being blinded by the small tactics and trends that cloud the basics when trying to learn, build, and use software to improve our lives? The easiest way is to gouge out your eyes because seeing ourselves as a feather in the winds of trending influences will keep us afloat. You’ll work, play, love, live, learn, grow, and shrink at your own beat, so the goal should be knowing how to properly integrate these trends into your natural flow. All the tactics can live in your mind, but you’re still the owner of your thoughts, so never let them control you. While we can’t completely abstain from every idea that becomes popular, we can adopt practices to let those trending tactics know their place.

Read the trend behind trends

Trends don’t occur in a vacuum. Lots of times they are old life lessons with new applications and buzz-words. Those lessons can be the common denominator for various trends we come across. Paying attention to the trend behind the trends, and you can get what you need from the trend without getting too caught up by it.

Software development methodologies have gone through its share of changes, so it’s a great place to find a trend among trends. There is agile development, which promotes having short cycles with small sets of requirements that are quickly created and adjusted. This has been inspired by lean UX, where the focus has shifted away from deliverables and towards the end-user product experience. In the business world, lean startups are a new emerging trend where companies can test if a product should be built by quickly gauging market reactions. These methodologies come with many successes, failures, proponents, and detractors. But through it all, there are grand lessons to learn that go beyond the specific application. Don’t worry about perfection…make mistakes quickly…get feedback early…focus on the small important things…roller coasters are better with more loops. Laws that can be applied to life, as well as software. Spot the trend behind trends, and they can help validate whether it’s worth integrating with how you currently do things.

Taking it into context

There’s a reason summer fashion season has little to do with heavy coats. Knowing the context around trends help us understand why they exist, and how long they will be viable. We can find patterns when matching the context to our own goals. Trends are glorified short term solutions to short term problems. The problems may be vapid, or even imagined, but they caught the attention of the masses who are lost in their own circumstances. It’s fun to toss aside trends, but it's helpful to look into why they gained attention.

Look at all the recently emerging web design patterns to see how context affects trends. With graceful degradation, a website targets predetermined experience but is expected to fall back to a working functional version for those who may not have the means to match that experience. Alternatively, you hear about progressive design, where we build a basic experience and enhance that basic view for newer client screens that can handle those improvements. Responsive design is an emerging popular trend, where sites are optimized and change according to the size of the device. Mobile-first design is another new technique where sites are developed for smaller mobile environments first to promote a focus on important functions and then expanded upon for larger devices. These trends emerge from the need to solve the emerging web designer’s dilemma of accounting for multiple screen sizes and client devices. They grew popular because they provided focus and let web designers know what they should target first. The context for many trends our often born out of problems that designers have dealt with in the past.

Yes, mobile-first design is a fine design method, with wonderful time-saving benefits. And you can argue about whether it’s an approach that should be followed to the letter. Meanwhile, you can’t expect a sane developer to bother using it for a desktop intranet that’s built for a 30 person team. Not everything is a consumer product or marketing website. Context provides clues about the general usefulness of a tactic, letting us know if we can safely get by on our current projects without using them.

See how long they last

Have you heard that trends age and die just like everything else? We get caught up in them at the height of their influence, then move on the next when they fade away. The world moves fast, but that doesn’t mean we have to be an early adopter of everything. The world has been spinning along just fine before the trend was introduced, and it will continue to spin whether the trend gets adopted or not.

It’s worth it to stay on top of industry advancements and changes but look at it all with a critical eye. Let the idea simmer and analyze the cost and benefits. Don’t be so quick to adopt it into your workflow, unless you want to have a constantly changing workflow with no sense of stability. It never hurts to be a little conservative, even in technology and design, where new things are constantly introduced. See how long the trend lasts, see who gets burned by it, and see what the detractors have to say. A worthy trend will survive the time and the lashings either way.

There is more to software than just building it, you will be learning how a whole industry goes about setting its own trends, and if you’re not prepared to handle that, then stop doing the little things like learning how to code. Look beyond the small tactical band-aids. Software lives and software dies. While we need goals to future proof our products as much as possible, the strategy needs to evolve beyond the software itself. We can meander on glossy designs, gradients, skeuomorphs, and flat designs, but it’s all reflective of the times we follow. And to make great things, we have to be more than followers. And while they may provide inspiration, the trends and the tactics alone just won’t be able to save you.