Renowned web developer Rachel Andrew wrote an excellent and timely blog post entitled Stop solving problems you don’t yet have.
It’s a call to use stuff that you need, to think before you do, to engage the grey matter with the task at hand.
Don’t use the complete HTML5 boilerplate, the CSS reset and the entire jQuery libaries unless you need them. Otherwise you add complexity, bloat and precious download requirements to your website.
A friend employed a plasterer, a master in their field. My friend was puzzled that the plasterer spent a good ten minutes just staring at the wall. And then the plasterer plastered, the fastest plasterer he had ever seen.
I think everyone can benefit from taking a deep breath and thinking about the task in hand before committing head long. On my last contract, I found myself mired in repeating CSS and mildly different yet aggravatingly separate styles. I really could have done with following my own advice, and applying a bit of Scalable and Modular CSS or some Object Oriented CSS.
As Russ Olsen, author of Eloquent Ruby, puts it in relation to Ruby: “Above all, avoid boilerplate comments. Never put in a comment simply because you always put a comment there.”
There is an underlying and understandable reason for all this leaping in: black box thinking brought about my time and attention pressures. It’s the way we treat a process as a black box. Rather than taking the time to fully understand the inner machinations of the box, we get used to a streamlined way of working, just so long as they work.
I can understand this, as I do this. I use WordPress and NestaCMS. I know very little PHP or Ruby. But I know enough of the systems to get by and build a website.
Periodic Table of Froot Loops by Ben+Sam on Flickr
The author Primo Levi summed up this black box mentality in his most excellent book The Periodic Table. If memory serves me right, a stabilising ingredient was added to paint production because of a shortage another chemical. When the author visited the factory many years later, the chemical was still needlessly being added because that was the way things had always been done.
So, an exhortation to think before you do, even if the thought is about the limitations of your knowledge.