P059: An Appreciation of “The Web’s Grain” by Frank Chimero

Today saw the publication of another fantastic essay from Frank Chimero about to building the web. Not building things for the web or building things on the web but simply building the web. Derived from a talk by the same name, The Web’s Grain breaks down basic tenets of responsive design, takes a beautiful detour through David Hockney’s joiners and arrives at a thoughtful appreciation of edgelessness, a trait that sets the web apart from other media. Chimero argues that the fundamental nature of the web – 

  • small pieces,
  • loosely joined,
  • accessible only in discrete portions
  • via an always expanding number of contrasting and complimentary techniques

– demands a new kind of approach for those who build the web professionally:

“Simply put, the edgelessness of the web tears down the constructed edges in the company. Everything is so interconnected that nobody has a clear domain of work any longer—the walls are gone, so we’re left to learn how to collaborate in the spaces where things connect.”

I found this to be both terribly insightful and indicative of what had been happening naturally at around the office, an evolution that has been met with no small amount of snark:

But this is the new normal and people like me need to do more to embrace what’s going on here. Frank Chimero is right: the Web does have a grain. And while it’s (hopefully by now) blatantly obvious that you can’t build a website in the same way that you’d build a print ad, it’s also slowly becoming obvious that you can’t build a website in the same way that you’d build enterprise software. Just as a painter must understand the intrinsic “paintiness” of paint, a web developer needs to know that the grain of the web doesn’t stop at the edge of the screen.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron