411: Vitaly Friedman and Smashing Magazine in 2020

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Vitaly Friedman talks with us about the changing landscape of publishing on the web, the changes seen in web conferences, the difference between a workshop and a webinar, and keeping up with all the technology in front end development.



Vitaly Friedman

Vitaly Friedman

Web · Social

Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. When he is not writing or speaking at a conference, he’s most probably running front-end/UX workshops and webinars. He loves solving complex UX, front-end and performance problems.

Time Jump Links

  • 00:38 Birthday thoughts
  • 03:56 The changing landscape of publishing on the web
  • 12:44 Sponsor: X-Team
  • 14:32 Changes for web conferences
  • 25:55 What's the difference between a Cisco webinar and a Smashing workshop?
  • 36:35 Losing track of all the technologies
  • 59:19 Sponsor: CodePen Radio


[Banjo music]

MANTRA: Just Build Websites!

Dave Rupert: Hey there, Shop-o-maniacs. You're listening to another episode of the ShopTalk Show, a podcast all about Web design and development. I'm Dave--turning 40 today--Rupert and with me is Chris Coyier. Hey, Chris!

Chris Coyier: It's not -- literally today?

Dave: Literally today is my -- well, the day we're recording and not the day we release this.

Chris: Aw!

Dave: Turned 40 today, man.

Chris: Happy birthday, Dave!

Dave: Thank you.

Chris: I'm just finding out for the first time and it's another -- I can't believe I didn't know this, but you share it with my co-founder, Mr. Alex, who has been on the show. It's his birthday as well today.

Dave: Really?

Chris: Yeah.

Dave: Hey. Happy birthday, Alex. That's nice….

Chris: Yeah! Well, that's fantastic. 40 even, too.

Dave: Oh, man.

Chris: Do you have thoughts about that? Let's get into it, but we have a guest here, too, who can reminisce with us too, Vitaly. Hey, Vitaly.

Vitaly Friedman: Hello, Chris. Hello and, Dave, wow, 40. I had no idea. Congratulations. You decided to spend the time with me today.

Dave: Yeah. What a gift.

Vitaly: It's like a gift.

Chris: Vitaly is ageless.

Vitaly: I wouldn't spend the time with me.

Chris: You could tell me you were 25 or 50 and I'd be like, both of those sound right.

Dave: [Laughter]

Vitaly: Wow, but congratulations.

Chris: You've just done too much for it to be 25, though, so I'm going to say 32. No, 38. Shit. How old are you, Vitaly?

Vitaly: How old do you think?

Dave: [Laughter]

Vitaly: Do I look like 25? I think so.

Chris: I don't know. That's the whole thing.

Vitaly: Oh, no.

Dave: I agree. Ageless is probably the most accurate.

Chris: It's just, you know, it's like you're old and wise but healthy and young. You know? Even the word "vitaly" is kind of like close to a word that means health or something, isn't it?

Vitaly: Well, that's what my parents thought as well, actually. It's interesting because I think that if you take me, let's say, ten years ago, I probably looked like 35 and now I am 35 and I feel like 30, which is a bit weird. I am actually 35 now.

Chris: Thirty-five, that's -- I would have gone over on Price is Right.

Vitaly: That's fine. That's fine. We're all friends here.

Chris: Just in case anybody doesn't know you, they probably do because you've been on the show before and just are a big player in the Web design and development community because you operate, well, Smashing Magazine, which is quite literally, which kind of feels like a home base for everything you do, if nothing else because the top nav on says it all. You have this huge Web publication that aggressively publishes tons of articles, like myself. We've been in the same business there for a while.

But then you also produce books and sell those. You produce events, sell those. There's a job board. There's membership. There's all this stuff. It really feels, especially lately, like a really strong, cohesive suite of stuff that you do under the Smashing brand. That's Vitaly, yeah?

Vitaly: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much, Chris.

Chris: How'd I do?


Vitaly: Actually, I think that we have a very small team. I think we just really got to the point right now where we feel like we are the team. The company has existed over 14 years or so and it's been all ups and downs and this and that. Right now, I feel like we have such an incredible team of people who are really kind of committed and dedicated to their work. That shows, I guess.

But you know, CSS-Tricks is very much in the same boat. I think that you're doing an incredible job there as well. The articles are just stellar.

Chris: Yeah, we do a lot of the same stuff.

Vitaly: Yes, of course. We're like brothers or sisters, both.

Chris: Which is fine. There should be ten more of us. Yeah. Do you see over time that people kind of--I don't know--attempt to replicate the model a little bit? Not exactly, but I see it plenty, you know. Back in our early days, I feel like there just wasn't as much, like, "I'm going to have a big blog about technology," not that we invented the use case of a blog.

Vitaly: Right. I think, frankly, this time is over. I remember vividly maybe seven or ten years ago, there were so many blogs and so many magazines, or blogs that actually wanted to become magazines, some things like that. I don't see them anymore.

The only thing I see right now is Medium and a couple of blogs for Medium.

Chris: You think there's less of it now.

Dave: Yeah, that's a good point.

Vitaly: Right. Yeah. Yeah, and I also see that many of those interesting conversations that happened in the past in comments or maybe in forums, they still happen in forums sometimes. CCS-Tricks has incredible forums but, at the same time, many of them are kind of semi-private and they're kind of lost in Slack channels and maybe Zoom talks and all those things, and not even on Twitter. I don't see much happening on Twitter anymore. Every now and again, there is a conversation, but you know.

Chris: As far as rational, good, long-form conversation.

Vitaly: Yeah.

Dave: Yeah, just memes and arguments on Twitter.

Vitaly: Yeah, I guess, but I mean remember those articles which came out about--I don't know--some weird techniques that nobody would even imagine existed and huge case studies on things. For a while, I saw them on Medium. Right now, I don't know. It's just a little bit more silent, maybe, or everything is just too fragmented and scattered all over the place. It's different, I think. I would love to see more magazines, actually.

Just last week, I think, or two weeks ago, dotnetmagazine has closed doors as well.

Chris: Well, yeah.

Dave: Yeah, the current publication, right?

Vitaly: Yeah. Then you also see O'Reilly going, you know, not running any conferences anymore, just going online. Right?

Dave: That's a big thing, too. When I got started -- I was thinking about this recently but, when I got started, being an O'Reilly author was like a crown of gold. You met an O'Reilly author and it was like, "This person has, whatever, a do-do bird for their cover," and it was amazing. It was such, like--

Chris: Yeah, a milestone.

Dave: That's not to say it's not anymore but, yeah, it was a huge milestone. It was a huge thing because that was the book they sold in the bookstores, like at the Barnes & Noble, and at the Borders near my house. It was such a wild thing. Now, it's a little bit different. The landscape is different there.

Chris: They got bigger and they got slimier. Sorry to say, but they've done enough slimy crap--

Dave: Yeah.

Chris: --that I just kind of don't care anymore. You know, like, "Yeah, whatever. You're bigger than I'll ever be. You'll never notice this. You'll never hear this conversation. Nobody there cares." I don't know. I didn't pour one out for them.


Vitaly: Right. I think it was -- what I'm missing, I guess, is this kind of diversity of everything, really, of publications. There are conferences but, at the same time, there are only a few established conferences, I guess. The same goes for magazines and things. I wish I could go every single day to another magazine and just read incredible case studies and things, really well designed, really well prepared, and things like that.

It seems like we see many video tutorials and video courses locked on platforms. We see many kind of articles also locked in behind a paywall at times. Yeah, maybe I'm just getting old in my 35. I don't know.

Dave: Oh, I think you're right. Even just my consumption is a lot like of YouTube videos, but unless the YouTuber is putting a lot of effort into it, there's not a lot of editing there. It's, "Hey, guys. I'm going to just use the Internet for 25 minutes. Watch me."

You're saying magazine, which I would put CSS-Tricks in that category too. It's not just a blog. Somebody has edited this. You've gone through an editorial process. You've commissioned things here. You view pieces of publications, not just like, "Hey, anyone write anything." You're kind of like, "Let's just line up things that they don't overlap too much." I think both of you all do a great job doing that.

I don't really see that anymore. Yeah, there's Medium, but that's just people barfing out their company's propaganda. [Laughter] Then there's YouTube, which is very informal, it feels like sometimes. Then what you're saying, Vitaly. Everything else is kind of behind a paywall. If you want to learn how to use something, you kind of have to cough up bucks for it.

Chris: Is that just the industry shaking out? What do you feel about that, Vitaly? Is the differentiating factor the fact that you do a good job? [Laughter] You actually have an editorial process?

Vitaly: I'm not sure. I think that, in many ways, it's kind of, we live in this interesting world where we see the democratization of things, right? For example, I really hate Ryanair, the airline, right? I really do. But in many ways, they give people an opportunity to fly cheaply, right?

When we look at things that you can do today on the Web, even without having any kind of formal education, anything, essentially, you can go and get a course on React and just move into React somehow and do something on it. That's something you couldn't do, let's say, maybe 15 years ago. In many ways, when you see all those things kind of happening, I feel like, in some ways, it's great that it's really easy to get in and people can publish stuff and things. However, when the foundation is missing, that's, of course, kind of trouble.

I keep running into conversations in companies where they just literally don't understand what is happening. When I see, for example, job profiles, job openings, it's like they're expecting one person to be able to do everything, like absolutely everything. That to me shows that this industry in which we are, in some ways, is kind of weird. In a good way, I guess, in that we all live in this really diverse world where so many things are happening.

You take front-end, you take design, you take everything and then there is always that niche that is extremely exciting where there's a lot of stuff happening. But, at the same time, we kind of maybe are missing the understanding of what makes a good product online. Do you know what I mean? That's kind of in some ways, something that I feel is really missing. We just got very, very sad all of a sudden.

Dave: No, I think I was leaving room, but I think, in our experience, we feel the same way over at Paravel. You can make a website or anyone can make a website on Wix, Squarespace, or whatever. To make a good one, that's very subjective, but to make a good one that's very usable is very different. The same with a magazine. To make content that's very readable and understandable and leads the user through a learning process, that's difficult work and not everything does that.

Vitaly: Yeah, but at the same time, I much say I'm very, very excited still. How many years have you been in this industry now, Chris? Dave?

Chris: It's, you know, going on 20.

Vitaly: Twenty years. Imagine that.

Dave: Yeah.


Vitaly: Twenty fricken' years, that's a lot of time. I feel like every single day when I wake up, I still want to learn and check CSS-Tricks and see what else is coming up. All of that makes me extremely excited. In many ways, I'm kind of really hopeful and happy.

I think that one thing that really differentiates interesting companies from boring ones--I'm not trying to point fingers or anything--we have this opportunity to innovate all the time. You see this happening right now in this really weird and strange times as well when I see all these wonderful digital conferences showing up as well, and you see people inventing all kinds of creative Zoom remote sessions, audits, whatever, and I love it. It really shows the spirit of the community that actually exists.

We've been sleeping a little bit on Twitter and we've been sleeping a little bit on Facebook and whatever else we're using, LinkedIn and all the others, but now is really the time when we actually start connecting on a really deep level and I love it, I must say.


[Banjo music starts]

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[Banjo music stops]


Dave: Yeah, I think Marc Thiele from Beyond Tellerrand. They had to cancel their conferences because of Corona and everything, which is just gutting for a small conference, I'm sure. He had an online hangout with just people who go to the conference and I thought that was very cool because it's now getting more smaller forum. It's not just, "Hey, everybody. Go hang out in a loud conference hall for a week."

Chris: Yeah, it might be better for some people, huh?

Dave: Maybe, yeah.

Chris: Maybe. I'm starting to get a little fatigue of it. We're already on Zoom for our jobs and then this conference wants to be on Zoom. There's this music thing that's on Zoom. It starts to be like your day fills up with this. I find even an average Zoom call is a little fatiguing sometimes. I feel like if you spend your whole day, you just can't. There's a limit to how much you can participate in stuff like that.

Vitaly: I think I agree with that.

Dave: True.

Vitaly: I also think that it's really an opportunity to invent something else. In many ways, when we think about a conference or when we think about essentially just moving digital altogether, it doesn't matter if it's a conference or remote work or anything. We really try to replicate this physical experience or in-person experience to digital or to online somehow. We use reliable tools like Zoom and others to do that. I think that sometimes it's okay if you need to have a call that's a call.

But if you want to have a conference, you really need to rethink the entire experience. This is what we've been trying to do for the last two months, actually, because it's not just about taking what you have, just a couple of speakers, and say, "Okay, we have two full days for a conference in Austin. Okay, we're going to move it to have two full days of conference just online."

Chris: Yeah, it's not a one-to-one.

Vitaly: No, no, no, no. I think we really need to kind of think about how can we make the best out of online because there are incredible opportunities there. I don't want to speak too much, so please interrupt me at any point. I was so amazed by this incredible experience that we had with online workshops. That was just freaking unbelievable because I always thought that online workshops, this is just like webinars, boring, and just boring corporate and all of that. When we started doing research and trying to understand what people want to see, what people want to attend and stuff, it was very clear that people don't want webinars. Nobody is really excited and wakes up in the morning hoping to attend another webinar today.

But if you kind of make it exciting, interactive, people can participate, and they turn on the video and stuff, then it's getting extremely exciting all of a sudden. That moment when I was running a workshop and then, all of a sudden, I see all these people just in their living room with all kinds of crazy virtual backgrounds and this and that, and you see people from India joining and from Singapore and South America, and all of them have something weird on the desk and they all have cats and dogs foraging around and sometimes babies and this and that.

It's such an intimate moment, actually. This is an incredible workshop experience, which really makes everybody feel like they are in the same place, in the same position, the stage because if it's an in-person thing, like with a conference let's say, there is a person on stage presenting and it's very frontal. But in this experience, you're like everybody else, and I think this is incredible. In some way, it's even distorted pixels and video and audio breaking up every now and again, but this is kind of a part of a human nature of this kind of communication. I think this is incredible.

For me, it was incredibly empowering. I don't think I can come back to regular, in-person workshops anymore. That's it for me.

Chris: Wow!

Dave: Oh, wow!

Chris: Those are bold words. That's great. You're not just saying that either. If I said that, it'd be like, "Yeah, whatever. Chris has some dumb opinion about conferences." You produce these things and you're doing it a lot.

If you go to right now, the first thing you'll see is these online workshops that you're producing. There are six of them coming up.

Vitaly: Yeah.

Chris: Good. Congrats. You've been saying that having to whole up has been having kind of weird effects on your psyche kind of going from sitting on the couch a little bit but mostly feeling highly productive. Congrats for that and it shows.

Vitaly: Thanks, Chris. Thanks for plugging, actually.

Chris: --because just these workshops alone--

Vitaly: But I think that in some way it just needs us all to rethink a little bit of how we do things and can we learn something from an online workshop.

Chris: Well, what have we learned? Are you on all day? It seems like you have done this interesting step where you kind of split them into a lot smaller chunks than you do in person.


Vitaly: Right. Essentially, when I was running interviews, I tried to understand what people feel comfortable with. Obviously, many of us are really stuck at home. We have families. We have errands to run. We have things to do and we have work to do as well, right? Nobody really wants to sit in front of a screen for the entire day. We thought, how can I make it more family-friendly, given the entire situation, and also just a bit more comfortable for everybody to join and still be able to learn?

Essentially, we took workshops that we had and also, in the end, later, we actually asked more people to come and join us as well. We took the workshops that we had and we thought Rachel and me, maybe we can just throw it out and see how it works. Definitely not a full day, definitely not a prerecorded thing because it was important for us and this is what showed up in the research; people want to have this level of interaction when they can ask the question at any point, where they can talk with each other in chat. They do not want to sit in front of the screen and just watch the video and then join for Q&A.

We thought, okay, so what if we take that workshop, space it out over days or maybe even weeks? Essentially, if you have a full-day workshop, that's eight hours. You can chunk it into two hours and then, essentially, you have four days with two hours each. The way we usually do that is, one week, you might have Thursday and Friday with the workshops running, and then the other week it could be also Thursday and Friday, let's say.

The important part is, we always dedicate a lot of time for Q&A. That's so cool because people have a lot of time, first of all, with the span of two or even three weeks sometimes, to really connect with each other because, whilst we have a Slack channel where people can hang out and stuff, and they have an incredible amount of time, which they would never get in an in-person workshop, to ask all kinds of questions directly.

Chris: Mm-hmm. Right.

Vitaly: Literally, they have six hours when they can ask all kinds of questions because this is exactly the time we'd dedicate to it or so. It's been wonderful. Right now, Brett Frost is answering questions like 1.5 hours long [laughter] after every session.

Dave: Wow!

Vitaly: This is because, you know, it's kind of a slightly different access to expertise, experience, and things like that, which you don't have normally in a one full day. That's been a miracle for us. It's been really, really working well.

Dave: I like this on ten different levels. I like the accommodating families because I'm thinking about me, like, you know, I can't just sit at a computer for eight hours and then go straight to family stuff or whatever. For my work, I still have clients. I have jobs. It's hard for me to be like, "I'm going to take eight weeks," or whatever, "two days, three days out of my life to stop production on client work." That's hard to do.

If you're asking two hours a day, it's like, "Okay. I could block that off over two weeks or four days over two weeks. I could do that." That's very cool and that Q&A thing is great, too because I feel like, too, when I go to a conference and somebody gives a talk after the second day and they're like, "Any questions?" it's like my brain is way too fried to even come up with a question that's helpful. This seems like if you give people a day to refresh and then think, "Okay, here's what I have questions -- I went back to my job and I tried something and here's what the problem I'm having is," or something. That seems very helpful.

Chris: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.


Vitaly: Yeah, I think that in many ways people kind of appreciate just having this availability to be able to ask and being in the slightly more or less situation where can they block off just two hours or so. Also, we have on top of that that kind of collaborative Google Doc, which has been also incredibly exciting for me. I don't know. Maybe I'm just getting too excited about things these days but imagine that Google Doc where everybody is participating and taking notes for each day for each session. Everybody has access to it and everybody is just making notes together.

Chris: That's pretty cool.

Vitaly: The best part is, sometimes I see this Google Doc being edited by 50 people or so and then people are so kind because they're fixing typos of other people and restructure things and add screenshots to the point that somebody else made and add some resources and add some questions from the chat. It's so collaborative, it's just unbelievable.

In the same way we're using Mirror for group exercises, so people can draw things together and stuff like that. It's so cool when you see 50 people kind of moving these pointers and drawing things together from all the different parts of the world, literally, like from India and from South America and all of that. All of them are represented with these little pointers and they move things together as a group exercise. It's just magical. To me, this feels like online can be boring with things like webinars, like just really passive webinars, but it could be extremely exciting as well because all of these people and thoughts, ideas, and questions and collaborative work coming together. Now that's -- I'm just burning for it. I really do.

Dave: What's the difference between the Cisco webinar and a Smashing workshop? Can you sum up the difference in one word?

Vitaly: I think, in our case, it's just interaction, really. It's fun. I don't know. I'm just trying to bring in all the things that people know from friendly cats, the Smashing Conf experience onto it, so there is music. There are people asking questions. There is informal conversation with speakers.

Even things are broken at times, which they're usually not, like audio issues, video issues, and stuff. It's all very friendly. I think the keyword is really very friendly learning experience here where people feel very comfortable to support each other, to collaborate, to ask questions, to learn at their own pace because obviously they can also re-watch later or download recordings later, even if they miss a session.

I don't know. It just feels very, very friendly to me, and inclusive and accessible in many ways because some people just cannot go to a workshop, an in-person workshop or in-person conference. That's an incredible opportunity for them as well.

Chris: Yeah, it spreads out the ability to attend. That's cool. I wonder if people will get better at it too. It's not like this is new technology but, obviously, we're using it like 10x more than we were, all of a sudden. [Laughter] I think people will get better.

Just some minor observations is that, for me, and so this doesn't necessarily go everywhere, is I really like it when any kind of Zoom call, but particularly one where it's like I'm experiencing it new for the first time. I actually haven't done an online workshop. I would. I'm interested in it, but I haven't had the chance to yet. I've done things like it.

I'm even taking some music lessons/jam together kind of opportunities thing that was made possible because of this online thing. It takes place in Portland and I live in Bend. I can't go to Portland. It's too far away. Now, all of a sudden, I can take this class because it's on Zoom now.

Vitaly: Hmm.

Chris: They do a pretty darn good job with it. It's clear that they learned the technology. They know what buttons to press. They know how to teach somebody who is both good at Zoom and not good at Zoom. This doesn't have to be specific to Zoom. It could be any technology, but they guide it really well.

Then I've been on some calls where it's a little less clear what's going on. I just feel like one thing that any one of these calls benefits is real leadership. The person -- there's somebody who is kind of obviously in charge of what's going on and they're not floundering. It's okay if you do a little bit. I'm not trying to criticize people for trying to figure things out, but I think these things just feel a lot more like if the goal is friendliness that having somebody in charge who knows what's going on who can guide people there is good.

The interaction, I would say in an online workshop, that's almost no chance I would raise my hand and ask a question. It's not my personality at all. I just suck at that. Even if I had a question, I'm just terrible at it. But on zoom, I might. Yeah?


Vitaly: Here is the thing, Chris. That's exactly what I was thinking as well when I was just really starting out because I was watching. I was passively watching a webinar and, essentially, I would just turn it on and then do my dishwasher stuff and whatever. Right?

Chris: Sure.

Vitaly: I was so amazed that whenever you explain to attendees that this is a really informal setting, it's a very friendly setting, so please turn on your video camera so everybody can see you. Please do pay attention. Please just speak up if you have a question or so. Then people start talking and it feels like it's not very different from an in-person workshop in many ways.

You just need to really incredibly -- not incredibly -- just encourage people to just be there. It's okay if you don't want to turn on your camera. That's fine. It's okay if you have your fancy virtual background and that's all fine. But there is no need to say, "Oh, please hold onto your questions for that particular moment and raise it then or write it in the chat."

We've played with different things and this moment you can say that's okay. You can just speak up if you don't understand anything or anything of the kind but be respectful and mute yourself if you're not speaking, of course. That kind of liberates people to really ask questions right there.

Chris: I would turn it around a little bit and say, while I might ask a question, you know what really helps me personally, just as advice for anybody that might be running one of these or being a leader of some sort, is to call people out. That also feels a little dangerous but this has worked really well just for me personally.

"Does anybody have any questions? No? Okay, I guess I'll move on." No, don't just move on. If there isn't any, just pick somebody. Just look through the list and be like, "Jan, how are you doing? Chris, how's this feeling for you?" Almost force them to talk but not really force them, of course, if they don't want to say anything. Just be like, "I'm fine. Okay. Over."

Think of almost like a schoolteacher where they intentionally call on students to get them to say something. I find that can be really effective in a Zoom call. It might open up -- you know, somebody might say something insightful who, otherwise, their personality is to not say anything at all. You might get some insightful stuff out of it.

Vitaly: Yeah, I think in some ways it's also about people being comfortable with the way things are. If you kind of prompt them to really participate, then they might open up and just tell you the story of their life and ask all kinds of questions. It's really, I think, the matter of making sure that, in the very beginning, everybody feels like, "Oh, this is not a formal thing. This is me just being able to ask my questions even if I have a horrible mic or anything of that kind."

Chris: Yeah.

Vitaly: We deliberately do not want to be like--

Chris: I paid for it. I better be able to….


Vitaly: Yeah. Well, we deliberately don't want to be formal, strict, and all those things. For me, it's been really life-changing. I don't even know what happens to me, but I can't wait for the next one. I really can't.

Chris: You're giving one yourself, aren't you?

Vitaly: Yes. Yes.

Chris: Tell us what you're going to do.


Vitaly: Oh, this is the most exciting part ever. For me, it's like I'm almost counting days at this point. I'm not even joking.

Essentially, it's like an interface design workshop where we take a look at many different things from simple things like coordinates and navigation to mega dropdowns to tables to maps to charts to cart configurators to date pickers to Web forms, all of that stuff. We tried to look into best practices, basically. What are the things that we are doing on the Web these days? What things work? What things don't work?

Over the last few years, I've been working quite a lot with different companies as a consultant. I was lucky enough and had a chance to experiment and try things and stuff. For me personally, I've just been collecting many examples on the Web and bringing them into my little reference place. That reference place happened to be Keynote, which is how it then became some sort of a workshop thing because I have--I don't know--1,500 to 2,000 slides with video recordings of examples and stuff.

Chris: Wow!

Vitaly: This has been maybe my hobby. I don't know. It's probably a weird hobby but I love going to Japanese websites. I love going to Russian websites. I've been installing Indian apps. I've been installing Korean apps. I'm getting all kinds of really weird emails in Korean and Japanese and Russian and all kinds of languages, which I don't even understand. Russian, I do understand, but the others I do not.

It's just interesting to see what are they doing. Do they also use a hamburger icon or not? Where do they place icons, in general? What is the interact like?

It's probably not a good idea to click on buttons you don't understand, but I usually do that. This is why I got a really weird email once. I think it was like a year ago where somebody from Japan thought that I actually bought a bike and they wanted to deliver it to Germany, which was weird because I don't remember buying a bike. Probably you shouldn't click on buttons you don't understand, but I do that and it's fun. I collect all these examples and that's what the workshop is about.

Chris: You look through these examples. I think that's a great idea for a workshop, by the way. Looking at things together just can be such a big deal. We do that with the apps that we work on. We get on a call with our coworkers. That's kind of what we're doing is we're looking at what we have, talking about it, and making examples. Then to do that for hundreds of other sites and learn from what they're doing, what a great opportunity to do that.


Vitaly: Yeah, it's kind of fun for me, especially because I really like checklists. I grew up in Germany, so I really like when things are organized. For everything, my goal is really to organize everything in life that I have. Every time I encounter any kind of problem, it's really about finding kind of a good starting point to tackle this problem.

I was working with the European Parliament and I was working with a couple of companies in Belgium as well. Web forms, what do we do with inline validation? What is the best practice for inline validation? Is it a good idea to disable submit buttons before the form is complete? All those things kind of are decisions that need to be made. The earlier you make them the better, and I think it's really a decision the designer and developer have to make together.

I ended up creating this checklist for everything I encounter from, again, mega dropdowns to carousels to forms to anything. My longest one is on forms, which is like 103 things that you need to discuss sitting down, the designer and developer together, before you even start designing a form. I guess maybe I'm just weird but that's my passion.

Chris: I believe it with forms. That's about as complex as it gets. So many things to think about and that kind of shows, to relate it back to Smashing Magazine, there a bit is that there might be a thousand articles about form validation that are just surface level. They're just like, "Hey, did you know that you could put the required attribute on an input? Oh, you can."

You're like, well, great. That's one of 103 things that [laughter] you might think about in a form. I hate to say it but it makes some of those articles just less useful than an article that really actually digs into it.

Vitaly: Well, yeah, in some way, but I think that all of them contribute. All the things that I have, for example, is built on top of the shoulders of giants. Frankly, on your shoulders as well because you've been posting incredible articles on CSS-Tricks. I keep going and thinking, "Aw, this is more stuff I have to go read now to really understand what's going on."

Then because you also have wonderful articles on forms and HTML 5 input types and all those things as well, right? But I have no idea, Chris. I must say I do envy you. I do because I feel like right now, right now, I'm slightly losing the grip of what's going on in front-end. I really do. It's just so much for me.

Chris: No. It's too much for everybody.

Vitaly: For a long time, I thought, okay--

Chris: Tell me how you're feeling now.


Vitaly: Yeah, for a long time, I thought, I kind of understand what's going on. You have the React thing. You have Vue. You have single specifications and this and that. Right now, I feel like, okay, I just don't know, ever since there was Alpine.js that made rounds.

Chris: Mm-hmm.

Vitaly: I'm lost. I just don't know. I need to ask Chris or Dave. I just don't know. That's it.

Chris: Yeah, Dave really knows what's going on.

Dave: I'm caught up on everything. I'll just--

Chris: [Laughter]

Dave: This is my master class. Let's just start. [Laughter]

Vitaly: Dave, tell us, what does the future of front-end look like?

Dave: Oh, robots, I hope.

Vitaly: Machine learning things?

Dave: I don't know.

Vitaly: Machine learning front-end, full-stack front-end, back-end frameworks things?

Dave: [Laughter] Well, not to be too future-y here, but there is front-end tech kind of happening to fix your front-end code. Like use an AI to fix your front-end, so put labels on your forms.

Chris: Big fan of that.

Dave: What's interesting is front-end -- [Laughter]. The problem is it won't get better. Well, developers are going to keep putting out bad code, I think, is the future of front-end and then we'll have to use machines to fix the bad code.

Vitaly: That means that instead of talking to people who are going to annoy us about our errors, we'll be speaking to robots who will be kind of pointing out errors that we have and it'll be a very sad conversation with robots.

Dave: Maybe. Yeah. Yeah and, hopefully, it goes well but, no, I think we're at a very pragmatic point in the future of front-end. I think we had a big -- I have a talk on this right now but, ten years ago, responsive Web design came out. That's when Ethan wrote the article. About five years after that, five years ago, everyone was like, "Well, now that the Boston Globe is responsive, we can make our sites responsive." I think a lot of companies made their websites responsive and a little more interactive. Then probably in the last five years, have started pivoting to a JavaScript framework to do that.

The first one isn't ever good [laughter], you know, the first time around, and so I think companies are learning a lot. All these frameworks aren't exactly -- they aren't mobile class frameworks, if that makes sense. They demand a lot of our tiny little phones and I think we're on the cusp of having some maybe truly mobile class front-end frameworks, which will change the landscape again.

Then, hopefully, we have a kind of good footing for building products in the future. That's my hope but we'll see. Maybe Web components play a part in that but I don't know. Everyone is made at those.

Vitaly: What about you, Chris? What is the future going to look like?

Chris: Oh, gosh. I got lots of thoughts on it, but you know one thing that it feels refreshing to me sometimes or is kind of a key to getting out of almost the funk that you've described. I just don't know. I'm losing grip on this. I don't think you are. I think there's way more that doesn't change than changes.

Even if you look at Alpine and you're like, "Uh, I don't get it," it doesn't matter because what you build with it is all the same crap. Ultimately, it comes down to HTML. You've got to serve some HTML to a browser for it to do. User needs are all the same. They need to read some stuff. They need to click some stuff. Your data needs to go somewhere. You need to fetch that data out and put it in a template so that you can show it.

All that stuff has never changed in all the years I've done Web development. It's just, there are some new tools that do it a bit differently or they do it in a way that's a little sturdier. There are less bugs or it's just a little more ergonomic to write or something.

It's rare that really big changes come along and they change everything. Now, responsive design maybe was one of them because now they're like, "Oh, gosh. We really do have to think about this differently now. But kind of the fundamentals are still there and they're so important.

I feel like I could just start over on CSS-Tricks. I could do a video about border-radius and some people would be like, "Wow! Cool!"

Vitaly: I would love to see that.

Chris: I had a bit about grids the other day. You can talk about any fundamental Web concept and people will be like, "Nice! I learned some stuff there!" There's just no foundational chunk of knowledge that you can assume anybody has.

Vitaly: Yeah.

Chris: You can just talk about the same stuff over and over and over and over and over and over forever because there'll always be new -- people that just leave and then just started.


Vitaly: I'm just curious, though. Do you feel like there are generations of developers right now where we feel like--?

Chris: Oh, totally. Yeah.

Vitaly: For example, it's very interesting for me to see, very often when I look at articles that we publish now, look at people who read those articles and people who attend our workshops and stuff. It feels like maybe this is kind of my generation of people.

If I look at what's happening in the React world, it's a very different kind of audience, a very different kind of age-wise audience as well. Do you feel like that or is it more like the first generation of front-end developers, let's say, who started 10, 15, 20 years ago are still around doing the things with new technologies?

Chris: Yeah.

Vitaly: While the next generation, the new generation is really, massively pushing for React, for Vue, and all of that. Do you see a difference or is it just me?

Chris: Sure, maybe there are cohorts. If you have an app that you sell or you're a startup with pro plans or whatever, a big part of your business analysis would be cohort analysis, figuring who signed up for you and then how do they drop off. Five years from now, how many of them are still around, or five months from now? I think that works with developers too. A bunch of people are learning and then some of them drop off and they go forward.

It's not as clear. It's not like a class like an actual cohort. There's just a sign-up period to become a developer. Then if you miss the cutoff, you've got to start in September to be a developer. It's a little more weird than that, but I get that impression.

Maybe those newer cohorts, their entry point is just different. The things that they're exposed to are different, particularly if they come in from something as formal as a boot camp. Then their only exposure to the Web is whatever they happened to learn from that curriculum and that curriculum is largely driven by, what can we teach these kids--I just say the word "kids" not because they're young but they're developer kids, you know--to make them super-hirable.

That's the only thing that drives a boot camp curriculum because that's the whole reason anybody goes to a boot camp is to get more money, when they're done, at some new job. Whatever is hirable or perceived to be hirable will be what they're taught. Then they come out of that and now they don't have a teacher to ask anymore. Now they're Googling things and figuring things out on their own. Maybe that's only some JavaScript framework or who knows - whatever that stuff is. That affects these cohorts in what they know and care about and think about.

I think of something like Event Apart, who sponsored this show, and I think they do a great job. They're a conference too, like Smashing is. I don't think they would ever have a talk about React. I don't think they would even touch it. I don't think that's their vibe.

Vitaly: Mm-hmm.

Chris: I think they would say, "You know what? We're more high-level than that. We don't have technology-specific talks. We talk about bigger concepts that will last." I think that might make them appeal less to newer cohorts because they're like, "I don't know. React is all I know." To go to a conference where the word never even comes up once, meh, maybe the target cohort for something like Event Apart is just different.

Vitaly: Interesting because, at the same time, when we look, of course, at the landscape of conferences, React conferences attract literally tens of thousands of people. This is where people go because, of course, there are many JavaScript developers or React developers.

Chris: Mm-hmm.

Vitaly: Yet, at the same time, conferences like Smashing and Event Apart and BT Conf, like we were talking about our good old friend Marc, they're much smaller, right?

Chris: Yeah.

Vitaly: But also, a bit more intimate, maybe.

Chris: They also last.

Vitaly: Yeah, true. Yeah.

Chris: You know? There used to be jQuery conferences. Those used to be big. They don't exist anymore because nobody cares anymore about that. They don't care to get together under that brand.

Vitaly: What about Flash conferences? No Flash conferences anymore?

Chris: [Laughter] I don't think so.

Vitaly: But I'm sure--

Dave: I'll start one.

Vitaly: Yeah, I think it's a good idea because I am sure there must be some--I don't know--horrible legacy thing, systems where you have to use Flash to access that system or something of that kind and somebody has to maintain them, right?

Chris: Yeah. Still, it just doesn't sell tickets, you know. I don't know.

Vitaly: Probably not.

Chris: Not that I think it's impossible. Smashing Conf could choose to run a React-focused conference under your brand.

Vitaly: Yeah.

Chris: You know, Environments for Humans did that. Oh, just to mention our old, departed buddy, Christopher Schmitt, I don't think we've mentioned on the show, passed away suddenly. That's super sad. Shout out to you, buddy. He used to have that brand and then run conferences that sometimes were technology-specific under that brand, which might be a decent way to go.

Vitaly: Yep. You're right.

Chris: I don't know. I don't know.

Dave: That was neat because you could scale it horizontally. You're like, "We're just doing the same formula but it's about accessibility now," or, "We're doing the same formula but it's about responsive design," or it could be a React one or whatever.

Vitaly: Yeah, I think--

Chris: Does it give you any comfort, Vitaly, to think a lot of this stuff doesn't change? I can talk about UX forever.


Vitaly: Yeah, obviously, people's habits change every now and again but people, per se, the way they think, the way they read, and things like that don't change that much. I don't know. For me, for the last 15 to 20 years now, I remember designing the very first website in 1997. That was an interesting time: VRML, DHTML, all those things. Before Flash, that was remarkable.

In many ways, all this time, all this time since then until today, for me it's been almost like a mystery to find out what is the better way to design forms. What is the best way to make this better and this better? Radio buttons, should they be a circle? Yes. Checkboxes, should they be square? Yes. All those things.

At the same time, I've always been somewhat kind of attracted by front-end, so really like JavaScript, CSS, accessibility, and this and that. When l look back now, I feel that many of the things have gotten so much better. You look at an average website just Googling anything, and I really like doing that, going to random engineering websites in Turkey or going to a random medical appointment website in Switzerland.

You see that many of them are horrible but most of them, actually, didn't. They are okay. You can find information they're looking for. They might not be the best but they are pretty okay. I think that we've gotten much, much, much better in usability and UX in general, but we kind of tend to forget some of those things along the way, especially in terms of stability when it comes to really trying to be on the edge with front-end frameworks. This is where I see things kind of breaking down every now and again where you see a very powerful and reactive and interactive experience but it's extremely inaccessible. There is no way you can use the keyboard to access things or click on buttons or things like that. That, I think, is something that we are missing a little bit. Overall, I do agree with you that if we get the basics right and we keep focusing on them, we're in a good boat.

Chris: I think so, too. I almost mentioned all that. If other people out there get bummed sometimes about the ability to not keep up and not know what's going on or feel like they don't have a grasp anymore, it's like -- not to invalidate your emotions because that's never useful, but a word of encouragement just being, "Don't worry about it." If you've been effective before, you can be effective again.

Dave: One thing -- yeah, specifically you, Vitaly, I feel like you are willing to reinvent and willing to kind of try a different way. I think about the last time you were on this show. You were talking about monetization and you're faced with the hard facts of almost all your readers use ad blockers and you're an ad-supported site so, "Uh-oh. What do we do?"

You, even before that, pivoted out of the top ten jQuery plugins kind of articles into more long-form magazine articles. Then I'd kind of love to -- you've kind of moved on to conferences a little more seriously since then. I think you had one or two shows a year back then but now you're selling books, physical/digital books as well. Is that going pretty well? Is the response pretty good? I know Heydon Pickering's book Inclusive Components is super rad.


Vitaly: Yeah. I think it was a very important move for us, actually, to move away from relying on advertising many, many years ago. We've been around now for, what, almost 15 years. That's a long time. Very much like CSS-Tricks, right, Chris? Very similar, I think.

Chris: Yeah.

Vitaly: Yeah, so in our case, we've been relying on advertising for a while but then we started doing books, indeed. I think that books are -- frankly, I'm just -- I really like producing something that -- I don't know. Maybe it's just naive of me, but I like to produce something that shares the knowledge with many people and I'm really happy to speak for free to everyone just for everybody to actually learn something. Maybe there are certain mistakes that I did that I don't want other people to repeat.

Books kind of reflect that as well. I think we put our soul and heart into producing really good books. The very first ones were not maybe as good as the last ones but they are selling fairly well. Essentially, we never run into troubles because we really take good care of producing books that we think people need or could use or like or will find useful.

Yeah, other products are kind of on the same boat as well, so we just try to make sure that we are having fun along the way by creating these books, by also having these online workshops now and conferences, in general. In the end, I think very much like with CSS-Tricks, it's just the community. That's all these wonderful people who chose to start reading us maybe a decade ago and maybe still read us today, or people who just don't like cats anymore and moved away. That's perfectly fine.

It's so cool for me to actually get emails every now and again with stories of people. I really encourage people to do that every now and again….

I always get these really incredible stories like somebody who used to be a teacher in South Africa and they would print out a magazine article every day and that would be the teaching material for the school and other things like this. There was this guy from India and there was no school on digital anything so he would just read stuff and articles. He never understands what's going on because he's eight. He wanted to get some help and I was replying to him for a while. I can't really explain everything in the world, so we just sent him a bunch of books and stuff.

We never meet these people, I guess, or we'll never meet them, probably. But this fact that these stories are out there and that you can eventually, maybe, you know, a decade from now, get an email from somebody who is reading an article today. Wow. That's the thing that really drives me forward. That's essentially why I keep doing that for even today, although I don't know many people--I really don't--who stay in the same company, in the same industry, for like 20 years. That's a long time. It's a very long time.

Chris: I get a lot of that. People run into me like, "Oh, your early WordPress videos really helped me out. It was a big deal for my career back then." Some part of it makes me happy like, "Hell, yeah. High five. Good for you." Some part of it is like, the implication of it is like, "Well, I don't visit your site anymore. [Laughter] I just needed it then."

Vitaly: That's fine, actually.

Dave: [Laughter]

Vitaly: I think that -- yeah.

Chris: I know it is fine.

Vitaly: Yeah.

Chris: That's what I mean by cohorts.

Vitaly: Yeah.

Chris: They're an old cohort - long gone.

Vitaly: Exactly.

Dave: We get that with ShopTalk. It's like, "Oh, I used to listen to ShopTalk."

Chris: [Laughter]

Dave: Why not now, you jerk? No, it's totally fine because I know, too, as a podcast listener. There's an ebb and flow, right? Different content in different everything kind of meets your needs at different times and suits you like a pair of pants, a shirt, or something else. It's different.


Vitaly: I think that we are really -- I mean, maybe again I'm being too naive today because I just had my third coffee today but I really think that we're doing something meaningful here. The ShopTalk Show that will be around for maybe--I don't know--hopefully 20 years, you'll still be thinking, "Oh, remember the 2020 edition when we actually talked about this and that?" I think that we are -- I mean my hope is, really, that through our work, we kind of help the generation of developers and designers to make the Web better. In the end, making the world better. I'm not talking about this naive thing like making the world a better place and stuff, but I do think about things like maybe interfaces a bit better, a bit more usable, a bit more accessible, a bit faster, a bit easier to maintain - all those things. In the end, people learn things from articles that we and all people from the wonderful community around there share and write. If all those things are locked down behind a paywall or Medium or whatever, then it's worse because it's a bit more difficult to actually learn things.

We're doing, I think -- I mean I cannot speak about ourselves, but I think that CSS-Tricks and ShopTalk Show and all those wonderful resources out there are really helping an enormous amount of people. I don't think that people forget that easily. I think that, Chris, if you write an article today saying, "You know what? I really enjoyed this ride and I feel like moving on to something else," please don't -- I think people who have stumbled upon your article ten years ago and that person who mentioned that they watched your video tutorial on WordPress a decade or so ago, whatever, they will come and they will help if needed, and they will do whatever it takes. The community is still there. I don't think that people are really forgetful.

Chris: I agree with that. Yeah.

Vitaly: Cats are forgetful but people are not.

Chris: It's a good point. Even if you don't read something anymore, there are definitely people, brands, and just things from my past that I don't necessarily do anything with right now but if you saw some Tweet that was like, "Help us out," I'd be like, "Hell yeah!"

Vitaly: Yeah.

Chris: "I'm there for you."

Vitaly: I think people are--

Chris: Not quite there yet, although, this is a good opportunity to sell you something, right? Maybe you should all sign up for CodePen Pro. Okay. Go do that.

Vitaly: Yeah. Sure. Sure.

Dave: [Laughter]

Chris: Get a Smashing membership while you're at it.

Vitaly: Just spend all the money in the world on a ShopTalk Show donation. Do you have a Patreon or something?

Chris: No, we don't have anything.

Dave: No, we don't do that.

Chris: We just sell ads. Speaking of which--

Vitaly: Mm-hmm.


[Banjo music starts]

Chris: Hey, ShopTalk listeners. This show is brought to you in part by CodePen. That's me, your host Chris, Co-Founder of CodePen also. Sometimes I like to sponsor our own show and tell you about CodePen.

It's a freemium app, so you can use CodePen for free, but I hope to compel you with the features of CodePen Pro. One reason you might upgrade is just because you like this show. That's fine with me. I'll take your support that way. Ideally, there's some part of Pro that makes you want to upgrade.

One of the little things you get with Pro is that you get unlimited embed themes. You might build something on CodePen in which to then use somewhere else, like use in a blog post or documentation or whatever. It's nice because you change your theme and then it changes on every single embed where you used that theme.

Of course, that's very important to me on, like, CSS-Tricks, for example, where I might want to change the look of the embed because we're redesigning the site or just want to freshen things up or something and have that theme change over the entire site. Of course, I do that. If you need several, a bunch of themes, just go Pro and you have unlimited of them, which is cool. Just one of a dozen or more features you get for upgrading to Pro on CodePen.

[Banjo music stops]

Chris: There is it. Okay.

Dave: Good placement.


Dave: Well, that was a good placement.

Vitaly: Some books have this extra blank page which says, "This page was left blank for whatever reason," and now comes the moment where this next space is left for Chris to announce the next sponsor.


Dave: Hey. Yeah, this is good. We'll have one of these blank space segments every show.

Vitaly: Actually, just talking about that -- sorry to interrupt you, Dave. I think that this would be really fun to fill in a podcast with blank spaces.

Chris: Yeah, so when you're actively listening to a podcast and they're like, "We're just going to have two minutes of just silent time in case you need to go to the bathroom." You know?

Vitaly: [Laughter]

Dave: There's this one. This Davie504, he's a YouTuber who plays bass guitar and he plays slap bass specifically. It's just ridiculous kind of like ultra-meme sort of stuff. Sometimes, to hit the ten-minute video mark, he'll make a seven-minute video and then he'll say, "Now we're going to do therapy with Davie504," and he goes, "How are you doing today?" "Good." "Yeah." "Uh-huh." "How did that make you feel?"

Chris: [Laughter]

Dave: It's two or three minutes of that, and so maybe we'll do that one day.

Chris: Whoa! Minutes?

Dave: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It's ridiculous, dude. It's ridiculous.

Vitaly: But, you know, whenever you have people talking and all of a sudden there is silence, then people start paying attention because they think, "What's going on there?" Right? Maybe that's a thing.

Dave: People start thinking. People need to think, you know, especially in these times.

Vitaly: You're designing and building things for people to think more. Right, Dave?

Dave: There you go. That's what I want to do. No, I want to -- I'm thinking about getting into the publication business. I might make a Paper Zine. That's what's on my brain, so I'm going to be milling that about.

Vitaly: Maybe we should talk.

Dave: Hey, maybe. It might not be Web-related at all. [Laughter] Maybe one day I would, but I think mine might be sci-fi. A sci-fi zine is maybe what I want to do.

Vitaly: Interesting. You know what I really would love to do and I even have a written outline for the workshop I want to do? It's like all the little things and life hacks I learned in my life, and that would include things like how to iron properly, like shirts and stuff, and how to pack your stuff and how to cut a watermelon and how to open a banana, and all those things. Imagine that in a full day -- not a full day -- probably split over two hours, for instance, and all kinds of things. We could have maybe you, Dave, coming in and telling what is a little lifehack you learned over the last couple of years. That'd be cool.

Dave: You know, Kevin Sharon, former … designer guy, he gave a talk at Artifact Conf and he said, "I was curious how a professional chef makes eggs. It hit me one day and I just couldn't shake it, and so I watched this Gordon Ramsey video of him making eggs and it was weird because it was totally different and it changed my life, just like that moment, I changed how I make eggs, which is so just bizarre," but you think about how does a professional chef make eggs? Oh, that's way different than how I do it. [Laughter] You could learn a lot. A lot of people have weird tricks.

Chris: They do. There should almost be some blog called Life Hacker or something.

Vitaly: Probably. Probably.

Dave: Yeah. [Laughter] Well, hey, Vitaly. We are kind of hitting up against the time with all that space we created. [Laughter] I guess we should wrap it up. Thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it. It's always good to see the changes that Smashing is going through. It's cool to see how you all are adapting to the new normal here and then just even kind of as your business evolves over decades. That's cool to watch.

For those who aren't following you and giving you money, how can they do that?

Vitaly: Oh, well, we're trying to be very humble. Thank you so much for your kind words, by the way. I'm looking forward to the podcast ten years from now or two decades from now, maybe. That'll be cool.

Yeah, I mean, we do have some nice products and things but, in general, we're trying to make sure that everything we're putting out there brings value. If you're interested in online workshops, if you want to learn things like HTML email and performance and interface design, all that stuff, we do have some really cool things happening on the Smashing Conf and online workshops.

There is something new that we're planning on right now as well and we have nice books and stuff. Anything you can just -- you know, that's up to you, really. As long as you find it useful, I'm happy that you actually find it useful.

Dave: Awesome.

Chris: Yay!!

Dave: Thank you. Thank you and thank you, dear listener, for downloading this in your podcatcher of choice. Be sure to star, heart, favorite it up. That's how people find out about the show. Follow us on Twitter, @ShopTalkShow, for tons of tweets a month.

If you hate your job, head over to and get a brand new one because people want to hire people like you.

Chris, do you got anything else you'd like to say?