Become a standards and accessibility champion

An illustration showing an island in the shape of a brain, depicting many perils such as volcanoes, whirlpools and giant squid.

Want to know the kind of person it takes to become a true custodian of the web? The well-known speaker and accessibility evangelist Bruce Lawson has spent years diligently advocating on behalf of developers and championing inclusivity in user experience design for brands such as Opera and Wix. We catch up with him to discuss building at scale, developer advocacy and his Generate London talk.

You’re known for speaking up for non-Western web users. Why do you feel so passionately about this?

I first discovered the web in Thailand, when I was researching the ramifications of my multiple sclerosis diagnosis. That experience made me understand, early on, that the web isn’t just for people based in Silicon Valley or Europe. I’ve been banging on about that since I returned from Thailand to the UK in 2000 and don’t intend on shutting up any time soon. 

How was being a developer advocate for Wix different from your previous role at Opera?

In some ways, it was similar. Both companies had very strong consumer brands and fierce loyalty, but weren’t well known as places of engineering excellence. With Opera, I worked to show web developers how our engineers made a browser run on low-specced devices to serve its millions of customers in the developing world. 

At Wix, I reported directly to one of the founders but he doesn’t wander around in a shiny suit of synergies, smoking caviar or swigging leverage beverages; he writes JavaScript in the Stylable team. It’s a very engineering-led company; over 50 per cent of the workforce are engineers.

What did you learn there?

When I was at Opera I had a somewhat naive view of how websites get made in the industry. Working for Wix, which has 120 million users building sites on its platform, taught me a great deal about building the web at scale, about the kind of infrastructure behind the scenes, performance and where the rubber meets the road in terms of standards.

Wix asked me to join to help them design APIs for Stylable that are compatible with CSS and other standards and then open source it. We were open sourcing a significant number of projects. It was also a great place to work and my team were loads of fun. Who else would fund me to script, direct and appear in a professionally made music video?

Are there any new technologies that are exciting you right now?

Well, naturally, I’m excited about Stylable. Wix is about to unleash it to millions of users to make their websites with. It offers the benefits of CSS-in-JS (static analysis, components, scoped styles, re-use and customisation) with the advantages of CSS (minimal run-time overhead, familiar syntax, compatibility with existing tooling and performance).

In the wider web standards world, I think web assembly will be tremendously exciting. And Houdini, the ability to hook into the browsers’ internal CSS engines and extend or tweak them with JavaScript, will revolutionise both the way we make websites and the way we make standards.

What will you be talking about at Generate London?

I’ll be talking about how to be a proper custodian/steward of the web: making sites that are beautiful and functional, which are open to everyone and make the world a tiny bit better instead of worse. Because if we all contribute a gram of goodness, among the million or so web developers worldwide, that’s a whole ton of goodness produced. And we owe it to the medium that has given us our amazing job.

This article was originally published in issue 310 of net, the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers. Buy issue 310 or subscribe to net.

Want to hear more from Bruce Lawson?

Bruce Lawson is giving his talk Shokunin of the Web at Generate London from 19-21 September 2018.

Bruce Lawson is giving his talk Shokunin of the Web at Generate London from 19-21 September 2018

If you're interested in learning more about how you can make your sites more accessible to a global audience using web standards, make sure you've picked up your ticket for Generate London from 19-21 September 2018.

Former deputy CTO of Opera and fashion consultant for Wix, Bruce Lawson will be delivering his workshop – Shokunin of the Web – in which he will explore how you can become a web ‘shokunin’, a Japanese term meaning an artisan with a “social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people."

Generate London takes place from 19-21 September 2018. Get your ticket now.

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