Harry Roberts is a Senior User Interface Developer for BSkyB, a member of the exclusive experts panel on Smashing Magazine and author of the ever popular csswizardry.com.

Oh, and more importanly he is a NuBlue hosting customer (and a nice guy). We catchup with Harry to get his thoughts on all things UI, HTML5, CSS3, Typography and performing crazy stunts on bikes without seats!

Harry Roberts

Senior UI Developer for BSkyB, Experts Panel for Smashing Magazine and .net magazine awards finalist. Impressive CV for a 21 year old! How did it all start?

Thanks! I started off about sixteen really wanting to be a graphic designer. My friend Sam and I used to design logos and stuff for people but the truth is, I was terrible at it. I loved it, so I kept at it, but I sucked. I decided one day that we really needed a site to host all our design work as a joint portfolio so I took on that job and I just fell in love. I loved building websites more than I loved designing logos, and I was a lot better at it too.

From there I just tinkered with HTML and CSS as much as I could for as long as I could. I didn’t have the internet on my computer in my room so my evenings after school were spent reading articles on the family computer and saving them to a USB stick, then my nights were spent putting those articles into practice on my PC in my room!

When it came to apply for universities or jobs it was a no-brainer for me; I wanted to be a web developer right away. I got my first job at a place called Sense Internet when I was 17, I started there a few days after my 18th birthday. Coolest. Place. Ever!

That was three years ago now; since then I’ve just worked a lot. 16 hour days aren’t uncommon when I factor in work-work and personal-work. I love what I do so I do it all the time.

Where did your interest in User Interfaces and Typography start?

I’m not sure to be honest… Where typography is concerned, I guess I’ve always had an interest in letterforms of all kinds, graffiti, old scripts, you name it. UI stuff, is even harder to answer…

I’m not a particularly great designer, I’m just a bit of a problem solver. Nor am I a programmer; I suck at programming, my brain just isn’t built for it. I like UI development because it’s very structured, it’s about users, it’s about rules. For someone not overly creative the ability to design to rules is actually a godsend!

The thing I love most about UIs is actually building them; they’re so much fun from a CSS point of view!

As CSS3 and HTML5 gathers momentum, what do you think are the biggest issues arising from this new era of modern UI creation?

For me a lot of CSS3 is at odds with how UIs should be built. A lot of CSS3’s selectors, for example, are incredibly inefficient (and UIs for apps of all sizes need to be fast).

Other things, like HTML5’s history API and offline storage are brilliant, though. That’s really exciting stuff, especially when combined with mobile. All these new little things are best when brought together; my friend Nick and I are building a mobile-first web app at the moment and the CSS stuff is all mainly CSS2.1, the HTML5 history API is getting put to good use!

What new opportunities do you think CSS3 and HTML5 have brought to the table for user interface designers. Is there any aspect of the new HTML/CSS specification that is particularly exciting to you?

We can build stuff a lot quicker with a lot of CSS3’s progressive aspects (like border-radius etc). These things help to make front-ends a lot lighter in terms of imageless designs, but as I outlined above, a lot of CSS3’s selectors are pretty inefficient. We need to strike a good balance if we’re to keep UIs and front-ends performant.

As far as the spec goes, I’ve not really been keeping much of an eye on it I’m afraid to say. I’ve been going back to basics and reworking our fundamentals; there are a lot of things we’ve done in plain ol’ CSS2.1 and below that should never have happened. As developers we made a rod for our own backs in many ways, so the last year or so I have spent reassessing our old practices before diving headlong into the new.

I gave a talk recently called Breaking Good Habits in which I tried to dispel a lot of myths about our best practices; a talk in 2012 that didn’t mention CSS3!

I think typography is an area that can make an incredible difference within user interface designs, but so easy to get wrong! What are your top typography tips to designers starting out with creative typography?

Forget the creative aspect. Seriously, typography comes with so many quick-win rules and guidelines that the best way to get good type is to play by the rules. I wrote an article for Smashing Magazine covering basic tips and tricks for creating theoretically beautiful type just by sticking to a few tried and tested rules. I’d recommend sticking to those for anyone starting out, then bend those rules once you’re getting more comfortable.

Just remember that the best typography is the type that you don’t notice. That’s when you know you’ve done well – when no one even knows it’s there.

You have created a number of resources for fellow user interface designers, such as inuit.css and Web Design+, where did the inspiration for these come from and what else have you got in the pipeline (go on we won’t tell anyone)?

Web Design+ started off as a resource for myself, cataloguing the things I’d learned over the years. It’s pretty out of date now though, and I just don’t have the time to go back to it which is a shame.

inuit.css was born of a frustration with 101 other frameworks just doing things plain wrong. The only problem was that inuit.css is now framework 102. It’s going to keep growing and it’s taken a much more power-tool and pragmatic approach than most other frameworks. It does a lot of heavy lifting and very little styling which I think is paramount for a decent CSS framework.

Is it important to you to be contributing to the Web Design industry on a level above simply making websites?

To me personally, yes. I love building and tinkering and writing, and it’s a happy coincidence that combining the these things has really helped with my career.

We’re a very young industry and I believe that no good comes of keeping things to yourself; if you solve a problem or make something cool or just have some knowledge that may help someone out then it’s important to share that. I learned from people sharing stuff, I’m just paying it forward.

I think anyone who does anything web related **and who wants to get somewhere** should have a Twitter account and a blog. It’ll do you a world of good in terms of both learning and exposure. I’d not be where I am now if it weren’t for my blog.

What UI practices really grind your gears?

You know, not much! UIs are so varied that there’s not one thing that really bugs me. There are no real consistent mistakes.

What does bug me is code; building UIs is one of the most rewarding bits of work from a CSS point of view. For me UIs and CSS are so tightly paired; they both work off rules and consistency, patterns and repetition. There’s so much scope for really cool CSS solutions to so many UI problems and it really bugs me when I see a cool looking site built on poor code. There’s so much missed opportunity to write some crazy cool CSS; UIs don’t bug me, their bad code does.

You have been spotted doing crazy things on bikes without seats! Discuss?

Ah, my trials bike! My friend Sam, who I mentioned earlier, got me into trials years ago! I’ve just had about a year off as I’ve just been too busy, which is a massive shame, but I got back out last weekend for an hour. I was rubbish but it was fun to be back out again.

NuBlue provide professional, high quality UK Web Hosting on Shared, VPS and Dedicated platforms.

Subscribe to RSSShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponShare on TumblrShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter