Tonight, I’ll be speaking to a group of local high school students participating in Digital Skills for All and learning about web design. It makes me fondly remember when I was in their shoes, captivated by the magic of writing some code and seeing it suddenly available to everyone with an internet connection.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the what helped me learn my craft. “Learning to learn” is maybe the #1 skill you have to develop. The web is always changing and you will never memorize everything. There are lots of techniques and language features I use all the time that I’m re-learning or looking up.
This post shares many of the sources that have helped me learn everything I know today and the websites I follow to stay up to date. You never stop learning.
THE Book: Don’t Make Me Think
This really is the book to read to start learning about how people use websites. I’ve written about it before.
It’s short, easy to read, and will change how you understand building websites. I’ve never met someone who read it and didn’t think it was great. The key takeaway: people just want to do specific tasks on your website and it’s your job to get out of the way and give them what they want!
Side Note: Get Yourself an RSS Feed Reader!
Before I got any further, these next two sections require that you acquire and setup an RSS reader. RSS is the best technology you’ve never heard of or forgot about when Google Reader died. But it’s still here, and it’s still great!
An RSS feed reader allows you to subscribe to a website. Anytime one of your followed websites posts a new article, you get it in your “article inbox.” Where before you’d have to visit 30 sites to see if they’ve posted anything new, RSS feeds bring the new articles straight to you. I like Feedly, but there are lots of other options.
Beyond web design, I use Feedly to follow local and national politics, my beloved Seattle Sounders, web comics I like, and a few blogs about WordPress. I even follow myself! (To make sure my posts look ok.)
General Web Design Blogs
These three sites were absolutely foundational in my journey from web hobbyist to successful web professional.
Founded by Chris Coyier, this website posts tons of articles by lots of authors about CSS and all the other “front end” technologies that make up the web. There’s a good handful of thoughtful opinion pieces mixed in for good measure. The number of new things I’ve learned from CSS-Tricks has to number in the hundreds by this point. I’d be lost without it.
An Honorable Mention must also go to Smashing Magazine. They publish a ton of articles on similar topics, but I’ve never been able to get into their writing style quite as much. Check it out though in case you love it!
If Don’t Make Me Think, teaches you the basics of how people use the web, Nielsen-Norman Group’s articles explain why people do what they do and how your website can be as usable as possible for your visitors. What makes this site stand out is the amount of research that goes into their findings. The article I share most of theirs is “5 Tips to Get Donations on Nonprofit and Charity Websites”.
The online magazine with the article that defined “responsive design” has published a number of important articles about cutting edge techniques and processes. One thing I love about A List Apart is that their articles are often high-level or focused on the softer skills that go into building excellent websites. The best web designers aren’t just the best coders! My favorite ALA article of all time is easily “The Core Model: Designing Inside Out for Better Results.”
Specialists to Follow
Here are a few people who I watch to see what they’re working on. If they say something is interesting, it’s usually worth learning more about! This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it covers some of my favorites.
Jeremy Keith – Thoughts on the Web
He was recently on the team assembled by CERN to rebuild the world’s first web browser.
Adrian Roselli – Accessibility
I care deeply about ensuring the websites I build are accessible to all visitors regardless of how they access them. Maybe they don’t use a mouse or listen to what’s shown on a screen rather than look. The web is made to be accessible but too many web developers break their websites for people using “assistive technologies”. Adrian is always posting interesting information about how to make websites more accessible. For general information about accessibility, visit the A11y Project website and subscribe to the A11y Weekly email newsletter.
Rachel Andrew – CSS Grid
CSS Grid is one of the most exciting recent changes to CSS and no one knows more about it than Rachel Andrew. Her site Grid by Example is my go-to resource for understanding CSS grid.
Sara Soueidan – SVG Images
One of the leading experts on using SVG images on the web. SVGs are an exciting new format that are both high quality and also manipulable by code. Hover of the logo on this site I built for some SVG fun. Sara also writes about other front end development topics.
Brad Frost – Front End Development
Brad posts an interesting mix of hyper-specific technical posts and general broad thoughts on blogging, web development, and more. I love following people who do [somewhat] similar work to me and who aren’t afraid to sometimes just post what’s on their mind. This blog falls under that category.
Lea Verou – CSS & Front End Development
Lea’s pioneered some amazing CSS techniques and blogs about that, SVG, and other topics. She also built my favorite color contrast testing tool!
General Code Resources
The Guides and Almanac on CSS-Tricks are wonderful resources, especially for CSS topics. Their Complete Guide to Flexbox was constantly open for years in one of my browser tabs.
When building websites, you have to pay attention to whether the code you’re writing will work for all browsers. Can I Use provides an exhaustive list of features with browser support lists, and also really useful ways to see how much browsers are used.
I hope one of these sources is new to you and you might follow it after today. If you do nothing else, use an RSS reader!