Dmitry Baranovskiy on breaking web boundaries

Raphaël creator Dmitry Baranovskiy explains why JavaScript libraries are like cars, and what it feels like to see your work in the White House

This article first appeared in issue 238 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

.net: What are you doing at Adobe?
My work at Adobe consists of two parts. I’m part of the Creative team, where we create cool demos and prototypes utilising web technologies. The idea is to define web boundaries so it’s easier to break them. Beyond that I represent Adobe in the W3C, as SVG working group representative and as Web Animations specification editor.

It’s a dream job: creating new, fresh code that scratches at the walls of possibility – all the while working to push those walls out a bit further.

.net: Most people know you for your side projects. Can you tell us a bit about those?
Well, apart from Raphal, I work on Eve – a small, simple, flexible event manager for JavaScript and dr.js — a documentation generator. Oh, and as a hobby I draw vector icons. You never know when some small and insignificant pet project will grow into something big, as happened with Raphal.

.net: What’s the reaction to your work been like?
Create something and there will always be people who call you a genius, and those who call you an idiot. I’ve had a bit of both, but altogether feedback has been rather positive.

.net: Some people say that using libraries is bad because it doesn’t require a deep understanding of a language. How does that make you feel?
Using cars is bad, because it makes your legs weaker. But that doesn’t stop people from using cars, because it’s so much faster than walking. It’s the same with using libraries: yes, it’s not hardcore, but it will help you to get the job done, therefore there’s no reason not to use them. You can’t force people to run instead of driving.

The reason for the great speed of IT development is that we use our tools to create better tools. We aren’t untangling bytes and registers in assembly code anymore.

But don’t get me wrong, I think that everybody who writes JavaScript should know the language: it’s beautiful, flexible and gives you wings, if you believe in flying.

.net: Is it true that Raphal is being used in the White House?
Yes, it is true. The visualisation team from Mass Relevance chose Raphal as their visualisation helper, and my code output was on a big screen next to Barack Obama during a conference. I wish I could travel to all the places where my code did. It’s amazing to release something in a wild and watch where it ends up. I can’t trace users of the library, so every time some big name, like Apple or CNN, uses Raphal, it comes as a big surprise to me.

.net: Which web technologies are you most excited about, and why?
In my case, the obvious elephants in the room are SVG and JavaScript. I love JavaScript, because it is a very flexible and powerful language – a great choice for the web. Anybody can use it in any way they want, to achieve any goal they set.

There are always people who would like JavaScript to have some new features or syntax sugar, and I could write a whole lot more about which of those I like or dislike, but more importantly, the core concept of the language is great. This is proven by the large number of other languages that compile into JavaScript.

And the designer inside me can’t pass by SVG. I’ve used it for ten years now, and I still enjoy it as much as I ever did. Both SVG and JavaScript have a very nice set of new features coming up and I am jealous of the kids who will get to play with all of them in their browsers.

.net: What are your plans for the future? Are you cooking up any new side projects?
As a matter of fact, I am. I have two projects brewing – but I can’t tell you anything about them, because they are at quite an early stage.

I like to create new solutions to problems, and while I understand that my success with Raphal probably can’t be repeated, I don’t want to be stuck there.

My personal motto is to be productively unhappy: find out what you like least, find the way to fix it, then share your solution with the world.

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