Vitaly Friedman: Cleaner Web design for a better environment (part 3)

“Everyone is collecting so much data that frankly is rarely used, and if it is used, it’s not in a good way,” Vitaly Friedman tells me. “The real perspective, the real feeling of what it’s like with the actual users of our systems – there’s this disconnect has been growing significantly over the years. The experiences we are deploying to the Web today are heavy. Most of the time, applications are really, really heavy. Weight wise, it’s a very sad state of affairs now.”

So, how did we get to this sad state of affairs? How is it that, as with so much else in digital, we have been progressing and innovating backwards? “Around 2007, we started looking at developer experience, and how to make it easier for developers to build sophisticated applications,” Vitaly explains. “So, we invested a lot of effort into making sure that creators have incredible tools. Today, we’ve never had better tools at our disposal. But it doesn’t come for free. You can create everything you need using ready-made frameworks and you really don’t need to look under the hood and remove what you don’t need. You can just plug them in, adjust, configure, add things on, and then ship. These frameworks do not come for free. There is a lot of JavaScript that needs to be loaded in order to get the page to work. Things can be optimized but it requires quite a bit of expertise and experience.” We are over-engineering. “70% to 80% of webpages do not need complexity. They could be static, simple pages,” Vitaly states.

Vitaly finds that many of the designers and developers he comes across “don’t know where to start” when it comes to creating less wasteful pages. “One of the ways that things might be improved is to make weight much more visible,” he says. “Many pages have improved performance by delivering the most important things first, but the weight is still very heavy. If the tools began to focus on weight, saying, for example, this font is very heavy, that would improve the visibility of the problem.”

Here are Vitaly’s six top tips for less wasteful digital design:

  1. You start with something that’s clean. You start with accessible, clean markup and then you build up.
  2. And then every time you want to add things to it, you think, do you really need to add it? Because you can easily say, I can add this plugin or this code because I probably will need it. Well, you don’t have to add it now. So, don’t add things unless you really need to. This seems almost trivial but it’s not. It needs to be a part of how we do things. This requires a cultural mindset shift.
  3. Focus on image optimization. Set limits for image size.
  4. Avoid PDFs.
  5. Make performance, accessibility, sustainability visible to everyone in the organization. Every time you build or deploy, release a note saying how much the performance, accessibility and sustainability has been improved or disimproved.
  6. Finally, about roles. Try to find front-end engineers who really have a good knowledge of accessibility and inclusive design, and UX researchers. I think there are never enough user researchers. There are only good things that can happen to an organization if they hire UX researchers, so if we could do that, that would be fantastic.

Vitaly Friedman’s Smashing Magazine

Podcast: World Wide Waste
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