Paul Irish on awesomeness

This article first appeared in issue 240 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

Use a word too much and it begins to lose its impact. Take ‘awesome’, for example. According to our delightfully weighty and utterly pre-internet Encarta Dictionary, it’s an adjective. It means imposing and frightening; indeed “so impressive or overwhelming as to inspire a strong feeling of admiration or fear”. Nowadays of course, it’s a synonym for excellent. In this form it’s deployed by us web sorts like confetti at a wedding. Everything, from pixels to our lunchtime panini, is awesome. We even say ‘awesome’ when we mean ‘yes’, ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’. Awesome is a Swiss Army knife among words.

But when Paul Irish uses the word ‘awesome’, he really means it.

We find him sitting on a red sofa, opposite a red chair and surrounded by garish furnishings. As we sip our coffee, he introduces himself. “I’m a frontend developer,” he begins. “I’m a developer advocate. I’m a proponent of the web. I care a lot about making sure developers know what they need to know to make awesome websites.” There it is, pronounced syllable by syllable, delivered like a slow motion punch. Meant and intended.

There’s a strong chance that – if you’ve not heard of Irish himself – you’ll have heard of one his many projects. Looking skyward as if reading from a list on the ceiling he runs through them. “There’s HTML5 Boilerplate, Modernizr, HTML5 Please, CSS Please for your vendor prefixes and syntax … I don’t know if I can explain the motivation,” he confesses. “It’s just whatever I’ve devoted myself to for a while now, and it’s what I want to see happen. It’s hard though. Hard to scale across all of the projects I really care about.”

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