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Creating New Projects With Google’s Web Starter Kit [Guide]

Google have just released a boilerplate named Google Web Starter Kit. Web Starter Kit is aimed to help web developers to start a new web development project quickly.

Google Web Starter Kit features

It contains powerful tools such as BrowserSync, LiveReload, HTTP Server, PageSpeed, ImageMin, Sass Compiler, JSHint, and a couple of templates that we can use to develop web applications that works in multiple devices. Let’s take a look to see how we can start using the Web Starter Kit.

Getting Started

Google Web Starter Kit can be downloaded from Google Web Starter Page and you can use it right away. But to make use of the tools that comes with it you will have to install the following tools.

First, ensure that you have installed NodeJS, which is required to run a number of Gulp tasks including PageSpeed, ImageMin and JSHint.

Since Web Starter Kit uses Sass to compose the CSS, you’ll also need to install Ruby and Sass.

Lastly, you will also need to install Gulp. Web Starter Kit also comes with a number of Gulp plugins that automates development tasks. All Gulp plugins are pre-configured within gulpfile.js which can be found in the Web Starter Kit root directory.

To install Gulp, use the command below.

 npm install gulp 

Once all these tools are set, we can start using the Web Starter Kit.

Using Web Starter Kit

As mentioned, you can download Web Starter Kit from Google Web Starter Page and extract it to your desired folder. Another way you can get the kit is to use git command to download it from the Github Repository. Run:

 git clone https://github.com/google/web-starter-kit.git 

This command will copy all Web Starter Kit to your computer. This will also bring a new folder named “web-starter-kit” containing a number of folders including an app folder, Gulpfile.js, package.json and others. Next, we will install Web Starter Kit dependencies (files and libraries that are required for development). Simply run this command to install the dependencies:

 npm install 

Once the dependecies are installed, we are all set and can start building our web application. At this point, all the files and folders are in our project directory.

Build Web Starter Kit with Gulp

Web Starter Kit is equipped with Gulp plugins to reduce the weight of our development tasks. The following are some useful commands that you can keep in mind. Run them in Terminal or Command Prompt.

gulp serve. This command serves the app in the browser with a localhost address as well as runs the LiveReload that refreshes the page in the browser whenever you’ve made a change in the files. The command will also run BrowserSync. As we have discussed in our previous tutorial, BrowserSync will synchronize user interaction like clicks, scrolls, and reloads the pages across multiple devices as you edit the files.

Web Starter Kit viewed in Chrome mobile emulation.

gulp pagespeed is another useful command. This command will show the pages performance scores of your application as per the Google-owned PageSpeed API. It’s a handy tool to get insight to your pages load perfomance.

The gulp command, in turn, generates a new folder named dist folder, which contains the distribution-ready files. Files such as HTML, JS, CSS, and images in this folder are optimized and compressed.

A few caveats

Web Starter Kit is built with cutting edge web technology. The Web Starter Kit only works with the latest version of browsers such as Internet Explorer 10, Firefox 30, Chrome 34, Opera 23, and Safari 23. Furthermore, based on my test, there are a few glitches that occur in Internet Explorer 9 and any earlier version of the above mentioned browsers. So, if you are obliged to make your web application to work in older browsers, you might need a bit more work to fill the technology gaps of those browsers.

Conclusion

Using the Google Web Starter Kit will help in the development of a powerful and well-performing multi-device web application. The kit contains templates for a styling guide and is a powerful tool that’s pre-configured, so that we can develop our web application project quickly.








Fresh Resources For Designers And Developers – September 2014

We’ve journeyed through the depths of the Internet and yes, we are back with a bunch of new tools for you to choose from.

This time we’ve got free books to help beginners get started on Typography and Node.js. We’ve also got a couple Javascript libraries and even a little something for you Emoji fans. Let’s dive right in.

Practical Typography

Typography is one thing that determines content readability. Though mastering typography would take you years of practice, if you are keen, you can start now by reading Practical Typography composed by Matthew Butterick. It will walk you through anything about Typography from A to Z. Personally, I’m blown away. I think this book might be comparable to four semesters of learning the subject in college.

Node Beginner

Node has taken over the Internet. Its implementation and application can be seen in many different ways – from being a handy web developer tool like Grunt and Gulp to blasting fast server services like Heroku. If you are new to Node, read this online book: Node Beginner. Additionally, you might also want to check out our previous post on the subject, Beginner’s Guide To Node.Js (Server-Side JavaScript).

Beautiful Open Source

Open Source has changed the course of software development. While it used to come with a hefty price because of business monopoly, we can now find plenty of open source codes and applications that we can freely extend, modify, and even transform into a commercial product. Find the best open source projects at ‘Beautiful Open Source.’

Trianglify

You might have seen a couple of websites display a mesmerizing background as shown below. If you’re wondering how you can create such a background for your own website, then this JavaScript library is for you. Trianglify will generate the background pattern using SVG. Trianglify also provides a handful of options for output customization.

Onsen

Onsen is a mobile framework that allows you to build a mobile app using web HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Aside from being optimized for multiple screen sizes, Onsen is also designed with performance in mind. The framework runs comparably faster than jQuery mobile. You can also use Cordova to compile Onsen into a workable app and publish in the App Store and Google paly.

Emojify

People these days speak with Emojis, that tiny icon that depicts a facial expression. Use Emojify to add emojis to your own website. Emojify works by turning the keywords as listed in the Emoji Cheat Sheet into the respective icons.

Pattern Bold

Pattern Boldis a collection of SVG patterns. The patterns come in a CSS or SCSS file. You can implement the backgrounds on your website easily through the drop-in classes. At the time of the writing, Pattern Bold has around 16 backgrounds with (hopefully) more to come.

Pexels

Need free images? Look no further. Pexels has collected a bunch of high-resolution images that, as mentioned, you can use for free – not to mention that it will keep uploading 30 free images every week. Definitely worth bookmarking.

MatchHeight

Achieving equal column height is tricky. Hence, there are many methods to do so, and one of the ways is with this jQuery plugin, MatchHeight. As the name suggests, MatchHeight lets you set multiple columns in the website layout with ease. The plugin takes care of all the hurdles of calculating and matching column heights. Simply call the script and configure the output with a series of provided options.

To-Markdown

Markdown is a simplified way to write for the web, which will then have to be compiled into HTML format with the appropriate wrapping elements. If you need to convert HTML into Markdown instead, use this tool, To-Markdown.








10 Smart Home Devices For Home Automation

Ever thought of turning your home into a smart home? Wouldn’t you love to be able to switch off the lights you left on even after you’ve got to the office? Or turn the air conditioning on before you get home from work? Smart Home devices also can let you monitor the safety of your home, unlock doors to friends for temporary access (even if you aren’t at home to receive them) and even turn your regular appliances "smarter".

Sentri Home Automation Device

Though we’re starting with the most popular of the lot, Nest Thermostat, know that there are plenty of other smart home automation devices that let you do more than just check your home’s surrounding temperature. It looks like things are going to get interesting, at home, in the long run.

1. Nest Thermostat

This is a self learning thermostat that will act as the core of your home heating system and it uses Wi-Fi to let you gain access to control it, even when you’re far away from home. When you first start using this device, you may just use the turn on/off feature for the boiler in your house or set a schedule for the timer to handle your boiler automatically. Instead of that, you can just use the dialer feature to turn the temperature up or down accordingly.

Nest Thermostat can also learn your habits, so that it can use its motion sensor to automatically adjust the temperature.

[Price: 9 - Get one]

Nest Thermostat

2. Honeywell Lyric Thermostat

Honeywell Lyric Thermostat is similar to Nest Thermostat, but instead of relying on a motion detector, Lyric uses geofencing to detect if you happen to be in the vicinity of a pre-set area. That way it will know when to turn on/off your electrical appliances automatically. For example, if you happen to be on the way home, Lyric knows that and will automatically turn on your air conditioner to cool down your house.

Lyric boasts that it comes with better Heating, Venting and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) control than Nest Thermostat as it takes into account the current weather, inside and outside temperature, and humidity levels before adjusting the perfect temperature for your home.

[Price: 9 - Get one]

Honeywell Lyric Thermostat

3. Sentri

Sentri is not just a temperature-monitoring gadget, it can even be used to monitor your home doubling as your security system. There’s a 360-view camera integrated inside the device that allows you to view your house remotely. You can also make a video call to Sentri through its smartphone app.

Sentri is actually less expensive than a traditional security system, and does not require professional installation services as you can start using it right out of the box.

[Price: 9-299 - Get one]

Sentri

4. Canary

Canary is a simple, out-of-the-box security system that is perfect for those who want to keep an eye on their home remotely; it helps protect your house by alerting you of intrusions. The device itself comes with a camera to monitor your house surroundings, a humidity and air quality monitor and a siren that is good for chasing thieves away.

Canary is smart in its own way, as the device will learn your habits. It knows that when you’re home, it doesn’t have to alert you when the doors to your home is opened.

[Price: 9 - Get one]

Canary

5. Goji

Goji is a digital lock for your home that is not only smart, but also pretty advanced. It works via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connection. This device can send pictures of visitors at your door, allowing you to enable temporary access to anyone entering your house even when you’re not around. You can also use it to record all lock activities, and using clip-on electronic fobs, it can lock/unlock your doors.

In case you worry about what happens during a power outage, you can still lock and unlock your door as normal, but you won’t be able to receive updates until the power comes back on.

[Price: 8 - Get one]

Goji

6. Revolv

When you’re using way too many home automation devices, opening the right app for the right device can become difficult and counterproductive. That’s when you need Revolv to become the central automation device for your home.

To get Revolv to start working properly, just place Revolv in the centre of your home, have it connected to your Wi-Fi then let it scan for your other home automation devices. Even if it fails to locate them, you can manually add them through the Revolv app too.

[Price: 9 - Get one]

Revolv

7. Homey

Homey lets you take control of all your connected devices and appliances via the Homey app or voice commands. Apart from ZigBee and Bluetooth 4.0, there are a total of 8 radio modules and Homey supports them all. With Homey, you can order around your house, for example, asking it to turn on the lights in the living room, close the blinds, pick a movie you want to watch and a lot more.

All of these settings will have to be pre-configured of course but think of the possibilities. You won’t ever have to look for the remote again!

[Price: 9-229 - Get one]

Homey

8. Tado Cooling

Instead of replacing your old air conditioner with a newer, energy-saving one why not make it smarter with Tado Cooling. Tado can be installed easily, and help regulate your house temperature for example, when you’re awake, out for a jog or work, and even when you’re sleeping.

It will adjust the surrounding temperature according to your activities so you don’t have to do it yourself, and in the process, help you shave off your electricity bill.

[Price: 5 - Get one]

Tado Cooling

9. SmartThings

Like Revolve, SmartThings acts as the central hub for all your appliances but it goes the extra mile by remembering your daily routine. Through its app you can do most of your usual stuff remotely, like turning off lights and switches, and closing and locking the doors.

It can adjust the temperature to match the climate, get the right music and lighting according to your situation, and best of all, it can still change its plans and re-adapt to changing patterns with a single push of a button.

[Price: 9 - Get one]

SmartThings

10. Ninja Sphere

What is cooler than having a device that is capable of knowing everything about the condition of your house and reporting back to you through your smartphone, smart TV or even smartwatch? Ninja Sphere lets you do this and even includes an ‘if this, then that’ rule that can even be applied to other third party devices that you add to it.

For example, if you happen to have tagged your keys, or pets (dogs or cats), Ninja Sphere can tell you when they’re missing and will make sure to inform you immediately.

[Price: 2 - Get one]

Ninja Sphere








Web Design Trends: How To Decide What Works

Designers love to complain about “superficial” design trends that they don’t feel have any staying power or contribute anything meaningful to the industry. But are they right?

Today we’re going to talk about design trends and new phenomena that get many designers pumped up, but that can also draw the ire of others who think the design industry is going down the tubes.

Are Design Trends Superficial?

I happen to think that whatever users find “trendy” or cool, even though it may be fleeting, is part of the service a designer provides. It’s part of what clients are paying for. If you’re offering classic, outdated solutions that nobody wants, you are only hurting your own career. Yes, it might be annoying to feel you must bend to the whims of the “masses,” but if those masses are looking for something you can’t give them, they aren’t going to pay you.

Adopting visual trends is simply a part of providing a commercial service. The only way you can really subvert a design trend is by creating one of your own, which allows you to be the thought leader and influence other designers to follow your lead instead. This is extremely difficult to do, however, and the vast majority of designers are followers rather than leaders.

That may seem harsh, but it’s true. You can be convinced that you’re completely original and unique, yet still be a follower of overall design trends, often without even realizing it. Don’t believe me? Just look at the designs for tablets and smart phones both before and after the release of the iPad and iPhone. Those designs were so influential that they virtually eliminated any design possibility other than sleek, thin, and black (or white).

The Nature Of The Beast

Yes, it’s true that trends are fickle, often short-lived things. As we all know, people are quick to jump all over any new trend, causing it to look dated in a matter of months. But, like it or not, that’s the nature of the industry, particularly these days. Ideas spread much faster than they used to, thanks to the Internet. Which means that designers and clients alike are exposed to new trends constantly.

Think of the phenomenon of Internet memes that come and go in waves. One minute, everyone’s buzzing about the latest antics of some celebrity or YouTube video. Then, sometimes just mere days later, it’s old news, and people get tired of it.

Not to say that design trends are that short-lived (usually), but the general idea is the same. Humans are seekers of novelty. Once something is “conquered territory,” it ceases to hold our attention. We start looking for new sources of stimulation almost immediately – we can’t help ourselves.

This tidal approach to trends can seem chaotic and, to the cynical, merely another example of the intellectual simplicity of the general public. It doesn’t mean that the trend was necessarily bad; just that people are quick to copy whatever they think is cool. Monkey see, monkey do, and all that.

But how do you stay abreast of new trends while not running around like a headless chicken, trying to adapt to every new trend you think might get you more clients? There are 3 ways you can go about it, which I will explain.

1. The Puzzle Piece Approach

You can use the constant influx of new trends to your advantage as a designer, adjusting your personal style to fit the range of what clients may be looking for depending on which corner of the web they approach you from. I call this the “puzzle piece” approach – you have the missing piece of the puzzle for every design project you take on.

This isn’t a bad way to do business as a freelancer if you don’t mind the constant switching and adapting. You probably won’t gain the venerable reputation of someone who sticks to their guns, but if you can continue to ride the wave and know just when and how to adapt, you’ll have a long career ahead of you.

2. The True Blue Approach

On the other hand, you may wish to develop a reputation for creating work that always bears your personal mark or style. You buck any and all new trends, and only serve clients who are looking for exactly the type of design work you specialize in. This is a great way to build a solid, loyal client base and following, but there can be dangers here as well. You may find your base getting smaller and smaller as people’s attention is drawn to newer, more exciting trends.

However, if you can stick it out for the long haul, you’ll find that your client base is far more loyal, and usually willing to pay a premium for the unique perspective you provide. Your ability to be a true blue designer is largely dependent on the health of the design market, which in turn influences the amount of business you’ll bring in with your designs. The recent economic troubles around the world have made this more difficult than it once was, but, like design trends themselves, things will eventually come full circle. Patience is the key.

3. The Goldilocks Approach

Personally, I think the ideal approach lies somewhere in the middle. If you’re too much of a trend hopper, you’ll have no credibility as a designer. However, if you’re too absorbed in your personal style preferences, you’ll alienate too large a portion of your potential market. Don’t get me wrong – I’m the biggest believer in niching down your potential pool of clients. But you don’t want to go so niche that you’re unable to grow and expand your career.

The goal is to be flexible. Show your clients and users that you’re not a Luddite, stubborn and out of touch with the world. But also, carve out a space of your own where you can dominate with your unique perspective on design and be seen as a thought leader (even if you’re still following overall trends. It’s okay – it happens to 99% of us).

What Do You Think?

Do you pay attention to trends? How do you handle the job of maintaining the perfect approach that fits your clients’ needs while staying marketable to new clients?








Design Vs Art – The Difference And Why It Matters

Design versus art. What’s the difference, and how does it affect your career as a designer? We all know there is a difference, and those outside our industry might not be able to see it. Your parents, for example, might refer to you as an “artist” even though you are a professional designer.

How do you tell them, or anyone else who asks, that there’s a big difference between art and design? Are you even sure yourself what the difference is? Read on to find out.

Art Asks, Design Answers

Let’s go back to when you first decided you wanted to be a designer. For me, it was while I was in school. I thought I wanted to be an “artist,” when really, I discovered that my skill set was better suited to design. Why? Because I enjoyed the process of solving problems. I wasn’t as interested in posing unanswerable questions for the world to ponder. I wanted to nail down a system for understanding the world around me.

The bottom line – the main difference between art and design – is that art asks questions, while design answers them. Design is there to fill a need. Art fills no need except its own internal need to exist and challenge the viewer. That’s not a bad thing, by the way. Art is one of the fundamental building blocks of human culture; every culture that has ever existed has its own unique art forms that they leave behind for future generations. Think of archaeologists – what is the most common thing you hear about that is uncovered from civilizations past? That’s right – art. Pottery, architecture, paintings on walls or stones. Art is very important. And so is design.

No Time For Wonder

Art inspires wonder and awe. When you look at a painting, sculpture, collage, or installation, your mind starts to churn with a horde of dazzling new ideas, and you get inspired to ponder all the endless possibilities that have now been introduced to you by the artist and her work. Ah, the magic of art. What an exhilarating, deeply fulfilling experience.

Designers have no time for that. If people are in awe of your design, that’s cool, but it’s not the main reason you created it. You design to make people’s lives better in ways they don’t necessarily see or appreciate, but without which they would be lost. The art lovers crowding around that Van Gogh at the Louvre probably all have their phones out, taking pictures. They aren’t paying attention to their camera apps, but the designer who created it plays a very important role in allowing them to share their experience with their friends.

Art Has No Set Process

Art has no process that can be replicated across the board to achieve an optimal result. There are no rules. At all. There used to be rules about who could paint what, but all of those got dumped with the rise of modernism. Ever since Éduoard Manet started painting prostitutes instead of aristocrats, the art world has been slowly divesting itself of every single rule it once had. Some people are unhappy about this, but that’s the way it is. Anything can be art – a urinal, a tree, a dog – anything. Art has no rules.

There are, however, rules in design. Even if the result is “ugly,” there’s an underlying structure there that solves a problem. There are the physical rules of design: the grid, the color wheel, the rules of composition and layout. Then there are the rules about what the design is supposed to do. What problem are you solving? Is it ergonomic enough? What will the psychological response of the average user be to this particular arrangement of design elements? Will it cause them distress, or will they have a good experience?

These are all rules that designers must take into account if they are to create a successful design. These types of rules may make an artist break out in a rash. But not us designers. We love this kind of stuff. Why? Well, I’ll tell you…

Philosophical Opposites

You can appreciate a design even more once you know why it was made. It’s not just a pretty picture – there’s a concrete reason why it exists and a concrete problem that it solves. Design geeks love to get into the nitty gritty of what makes a particular design work so well. Simply put, designers use the left (mathematical) sides of their brains to create work that resembles something from the right (artistic) side.

Art, as we’ve learned, has none of this structure or reason for existing. You don’t need to understand why a work of art exists or how it was made. All you need to do is appreciate it for what it is. Art for art’s sake, as they say. That’s not to say there’s no value in analyzing art according to the time it was made, or deconstructing the process. It just isn’t necessary in order for you to enjoy it.

Too Much Design Ruins Art, And Vice Versa

Exactly what it says above. Art and design are related, in a general sort of way, but, as we’ve seen today, they are not identical at all. The two are entirely separate disciplines, and things can get very muddled if you merge them too much.

Imagine if you brought home a chair that was in an art installation, and you sat on it. It now has lost its value as art, and is just another chair. Art is much more dependent on the context in which it exists than design is. In fact, I would say that design is the context much of the time.

Again, art and design are both vital to human culture and progress. I love and enjoy them both, but at heart, I am a designer. If you love to provide solutions to problems, rather than ask questions, then you are probably a designer too. If you’re the opposite, you’re most likely an artist.

What Do You Think?

Are you a designer or an artist? What other differences and parallels can you draw between art and design? Tell us what you think in the comments.