Chris Coyier – speaker interview

For our second speaker interview, we asked Webstock ’12 speaker Estelle Weyl to interview Chris Coyier. In addition to speaking at the main conference, Chris is also giving a workshop on “The modern web designer’s workflow”.

Estelle: What is your background? What first got you interested in web development?

Chris: I was a computer nerd as a kid and that just rolled forward. I was into programming and art in high school. Then computer science and design in college. I would have loved to get a web design job right out of college but I didn’t have the chops. So I went into graphic design and the printing business for a few years. All the while I was building websites on the side. Some for fun. Some for bands I was in. Some personal sites. Some freelance. An opportunity for a web job came up, and with that sideboard of work, I was able to get it.

Estelle: What do you consider yourself? A designer? Front End Engineer?

Chris: That’s always tough to answer. That’s why I like joke titles. I was “Lead Hucklebucker” at Wufoo. Certainly Front End Engineer is a big part of it. I also do design but I’m self conscious about it.

Estelle: What are you most passionate about when it comes to front end engineering?

Chris: Decision-making is a big one for me. I really like talking through problems and making choices. Of course that could apply to any job but it’s particularly fun in front end because the days are like an endless series of little logic puzzles to solve.

What text makes the most sense here? What should happen if they click here? How does this grid behave at this size? Does this look button-y enough? Is this error message helpful enough? How could we have prevented that error in the first place?

I consider all those things front-end problems.

Things like “should this be a <div class="subtitle"> or does an <hgroup> with an <h2> make the most sense?” are front end engineering problems to be solved as well, but are less interesting to me lately.

Estelle: It sounds like you’re passionate about good user experience design. How important do you think it is for Front End Engineers to also be skilled in UX?

Chris: Fairly important. UX is everyone’s job. If you just mindlessly replicate designs I don’t think you get to be an “engineer”.

Estelle: What projects are you working on now?

Chris: I’m actively trying to keep it simple these days. The big new thing is CodePen, a social front-end playground, if you will. You can build things out of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript then share them, test them, get help on them, whatever. It’s all about education and inspiration around front end.

I also podcast at ShopTalk (you’ve been on before!) and of course keep up CSS-Tricks, my long time blog and community site around all things web.

Estelle: For people considering entering our profession, what would you recommend them?

Chris: My general philosophy is “Just build websites.” What you need to know becomes clear when you build.

If you absolutely have no idea where to start, I think I’d suggest “Handcrafted CSS” by Dan Cederholm (the book) and read through it and follow the project.

Then pick a project of your own. Build a personal site. Find a business you can build a website for. Anything.

And just do it. You’ll have roadblocks. But now, you’ll have a motivation to do the research and learning you need to do to defeat the roadblock.

(Repeat 1,000 Times)

Estelle: What is your biggest obstacle in your career as a FEE, and what are you doing to overcome it?

Chris: There is fear and there is over-confidence. Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference.

For example, every since I started web design I sized all type on every site I’ve ever worked on in pixels. I’d read stuff about the downfalls of that and alternatives and yadda yadda and dismiss it all.

I’ve been building websites for a while now, I do it this way, it works fine.

That kind of confidence is sometimes super useful. This works for me so I’m not going to worry about it and focus my attention elsewhere.

But at some point I had to admit it was either 1) being fearful of admitting that what I’ve been doing all this time was wrong or 2) overconfidence that my was best without truly considering other options.

So I give sizing all fonts with ems on a project a proper try and it’s better. There are some clear benefits.

That kind of thing can be a constant obstacle. Your own mind can be awfully stubborn.

Estelle: Where do you think our profession is going? What do you think we’ll be focusing on in 3 years?

Chris: Three years is a great time frame to think about it because it’s both close and incredibly far away at the same time. Just one year ago there were a LOT more discussions around IE 6/7. I feel like that’s pretty much over now. There was an attitude like “Oh this HTML5 stuff is neat or whatever, 2030 will be sweet!” Now a year later we’re using a lot of it on live sites. Time passing is a part of it but the rate of change is going faster too.

I think layout is going to be a different ballgame in three years. Flexbox will be starting to be used in primetime in about a year and will totally oust floats-for-layout in two years.

Web components will be a big deal I think. Web apps will be created in a much more modular structure. It will be funny to think of CSS as this huge looming monster over websites like it is now. Instead it will be contained to smaller parts.

Education will catch up a bit, so young people entering the field will have actual web experience. Tools will get better. It’s a bright future. If you’re already involved in the web right now, you picked a good place to be.

Thanks to both Chris and Estelle for the interview!