The Cleanest Line

I’ve long been a fan of Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia and before that Chouinard now Black Diamond. Central to Patagonia’s core values and the development of their business and brand was the concept of The Cleanest Line

Originally the cleanest line was a fascination with or desire to find a way up a blank Yosemite wall or through a Waimean barrel. Later it became a philosophy applied to product design and development. Success was to be found in the fusion of strength and minimalism, placing function before form, paring down, stripping away excess and always about building the best possible product whether that be a carabiner or a jacket for elite alpinism.

Climbing and building for the web

As a boulderer my eyes were always drawn to the purest features – from immaculate aretes to blank walls and steep roofs – features that compelled you to climb them, or at least try your best to.

Going a little deeper the attraction and challenge was heightened by a desire to climb these in as near perfect style as possible – I was never interested in winging it. Have he physical capacity, the technical ability and experience required, send or execute in the best possible style – the coveted flow state I guess or effortless effort as described by Timothy Gallway in his seminal book ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’.

What has all this got to do with making websites I hear you ask?

At Huxley we design and build bespoke WordPress websites and are passionate about making the web more inclusive.

Our core values are that

  1. We take Pride in Our Work
  2. We work For the Greater Good
  3. We are Nice People and No Egos
  4. We care about our Brand and Reputation (therefore, customer satisfaction)
  5. We are Dynamic and Creative

As part of my role as a Senior Developer I’ve begun to look at our build processes and what we can do to consolidate and improve these. Moreover I wanted how we make websites to reflect our core values. I wanted to identify a set of principles that as developers would help us incorporate these values into our work.

The Cleanest Line seemed to me to be a great metaphor for how we might begin to accomplish this. A build philosophy that summaries how we might make great products.

To achieve this I felt we should incorporate and be guided by the following:

Inclusivity
Web Standards
Craftsmanship
Empathy

Inclusivity

I used the word inclusivity rather than accessibility here, though they’re one and the same. A commitment to inclusivity means we shouldn’t build products that exclude anyone, period. It goes against the founding principles of the web and is simply the right thing to do. All the products we build should aim to be as accessible as possible.

I’d argue that the way in which we ask each other to build for the web should be inclusive and accessible too. Gatekeeping and unnecessary complexity are rife within tech and the web as an industry, restrictive by nature they make it harder to encourage, develop and utilise talent, harder to share tools and ideas and in my experience can lead to sub-standard products. The web is at heart an open source platform and at its most fundamental level is supposed to be shared and easy.

Web standards

The rules that inform how we should build for the web.

If we incorporate these and do the basics properly: progressively enhance, layer HTML, CSS and then JavaScript, incorporate clean, minimal semantic mark-up, lint and compress then there’s every chance we’ll be building highly performant accessible websites. Ones that can be viewed by as many people as possible, on as wide a range of devices as possible and what’s more ones that are a joy to use.

Craftsmanship

A mindset if anything. Take pride in what you do and build to the highest standards, don’t duck challenges or take shortcuts. Commit to continually refining and improving what you do and are doing. Iterate as a sculptor might.

Empathy

To me this is fundamental, akin to Patagonia’s do no harm and wider concepts such as being the change you want to see. I believe that for every design choice we make and every component we build through to every interaction with colleagues or clients we’ve a chance to do things differently and kindly.

I’m passionate about this because I want to do our bit to change things. Applied across the build process this could mean anything from encouraging juniors and challenging unnecessary complexity to understanding clients and users are not experts, help and accommodate rather than judge. I’ve seen and have first hand experience of bullying in agencies: toxic cultures that put profit before people and always delivered sub-standard products to their clients, simply put that’s not what the web or the web we want to build should be about.