A selection of real search queries, and what they can teach us about designing for developers.

A screenshot of Google’s search page.
A screenshot of Google’s search page.
Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Most of what developers do day to day involves lookups of one kind or another online: referencing documentation, choosing frameworks, investigating errors, checking keyboard shortcuts, and more.

Since online search is such an integral part of our work, it can act as a rich source of data about development practices, highlighting areas where good design can make a difference. A few years ago, I conducted research into exactly that — for two weeks, I collected the searches of 18 developers who volunteered for the study, asking them to explain some of their queries in detail every day.

The aim of…

Viewport units aren’t going to fix your typography.

Infinite breakpoints. Illustration by author.
Infinite breakpoints. Illustration by author.
Illustration by author

We call type “fluid” when the text on a web page scales in relation to screen size without any breakpoints. If like me, you’ve just had a marathon catch-up with all things web typography in 2021, the most thrilling part about this concept would seem to be the immense gains in code maintainability.

Articles on fluid type often introduce the topic by explaining how it can remove complexity in styling¹. One example:

I wanted to reduce the number of media-queries, but maintain responsiveness. I wanted to reduce the CSS footprint of the website. But above all, I wanted to make…

I recently started an epic photo album project chronicling our family life from the last decade. It included putting together a system that allows me to quickly pick and print photos on a monthly basis so that I don’t ever again end up with years’ worth of curation work to tackle.

I’m a sucker for laying stuff out neatly, and for once got a chance to do it in the physical world. …

I love Dropbox, but I was never a fan of having to keep my files inside that “magic folder” of theirs. The home directory is where my top-level directory structure should be rooted to, whether I want something in the cloud or not.

The solution — symbolic links. I was skeptical whether they would work the first time it occurred to me, but I’ve encountered no issues. Ever since, my local Dropbox folder has been a neat reflection of a list of directories I want backed up, which only take up a few bytes of space for the name, the…

The go-to example to illustrate ambiguity in any introductory natural language processing course is Time flies like an arrow. I never realised just how ambiguous the sentence actually is before coming across this passage in Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct:

Computer parsers are too meticulous for their own good. They find ambiguities that are quite legitimate, as far as English grammar is concerned, but that would never occur to a sane person. One of the first computer parsers, developed at Harvard in the 1960s, provides a famous example. The sentence Time flies like an arrow is surely unambiguous if there…

With a lot of writing assignments due in the upcoming months, I have been going through different style guides and manuals from Strunk & White to Pinker’s The Sense of Style. Beneath all the instruction on spelling, the Oxford comma, paragraph structure, active vs passive voice, avoiding garden paths (sentences that cause the reader to backtrack), getting rid of needless words, taunting academese, and fretting over nonissues such as “focused” vs “focussed”, there is the underlying purpose to make text accessible to the reader. …

People are listing wonderful, surprising, and surprisingly wonderful items on their Stacks. While this is a joy to explore, keeping up with the curation of this flood of content has become somewhat of a race against time. Tom started the week by hunting down the right colours and URLs for an unbelievable 110 listings in a row, which I imagine resulted in him suffering from some severe RSI. The rest of us can only hope to keep up.

This was as good a time as any to split the team for a few days — Tom and Utku put their…

Elise Hein

I’m a software engineer building products for medical research at London-based Ctrl Group.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store