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Chris Coyier

Chris Coyier is the man behind the very popular CSS-Tricks website, which has helped new—and seasoned—developers sharpen their client-side, and sometimes server-side, skills for more than half a decade. Chris is the designer and co-founder for CodePen, co-authored a book, Digging into WordPress, co-hosts ShopTalk Show with Dave Ruppert, and speaks at international events.

Chris maintains a blog and feeds a Twitter account @chriscoyier.

Published Thoughts

This isn’t an “I used to be fat but now I’m skinny!!” story. Not yet, anyway. Instead, I thought I’d list some things that are true now that I weigh 250 lbs instead of 300 lbs.

  • My back doesn’t hurt when I turn around to look behind me in the car.
  • I enjoy perusing clothing catalogs. Turns out hatred of clothes shopping isn’t part of my personality, I just didn’t like the “oh yay, new fabric to feel uncomfortable in” outcome.
  • I’m excited to go on trips where the plan is a bunch of physical activity. I’m planning a skiing trip and I’d like to take a surfing lesson next chance I get. I would actively avoid those types of trip activities before because they would be too difficult/embarrassing/exhausting for me.
  • The daily endless thoughts of self-pity and embarrassment are slowly being replaced by other more normal and positive thoughts.
  • When I applied for health insurance, I had to lie and say I was 250 lbs., otherwise obesity is a pre-existing condition (pre Obamacare) and I would have been disqualified (it happened to me last time I tried). Now I’m not lying anymore.
  • I can wear jeans for more than one day now. We’ll just leave it at that.
  • I’m not afraid of any bike ride. Bring it on.
  • I’m taking better care of my teeth. It seems un-related, but I don’t think it is. Self betterment spreads.
  • I’m proof to my family and friends that it can be done.

I have a long way to go. I hope this list gets a lot longer.

There is a person somewhere in the world whose job it is to create an account on CodePen and create a bunch of spam Pens (we call a demo that you build on CodePen with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript a “Pen”). They look like “landing pages” full of cheesy stock photography, keyword ridden text, and huge buttons. They link to nefarious places to buy prescription drugs illegally or apply for a payday loan.

When I’m particularly frustrated, I think about changing my opinion on the death penalty. This asshole is using my software, which I work so hard at making awesome, to cheat and steal from others.

And not only are they trying to hurt others, they hurt me. Their spam puts CodePen at risk of Google thinking it’s a spam farm and displaying nasty warnings when people come there and removing us from search results. A devastating blow for any website.

And not only are they hurting others and me, they are hurting my team. All of us want CodePen to succeed because we believe in it, but we also need it to succeed because we’re trying to make a good life for ourselves and not succeeding means taking a step back.

And not only are they hurting others, me, and my team, they are hurting the internet. Think of how much better the internet would be if so many smart people didn’t constantly have to spend so much time and mental effort battling nefarious crap like spam and online fraud. Straight up, it would be better. Information would be easier to find, at least.

So this asshole is basically roundhouse kicking everything in my life that I love. And for that they should die.

But then I’m having a better day and new thoughts replace those murderous ones. Surely life is quite hard where this spammer lives. Maybe getting a job at the spam factory is the only way they can feed their family. They are just clicking some buttons and hitting some keys — how bad is that really? Certainly it’s not as bad as their cousin who shovels industrial waste into the river.

And here I am, with my great life in my happy home on my high horse thinking awful things about them. Should I just shut up and deal with it? Or are these really terrible people who need a dose of wrath? Or is there some middle ground? I wish I knew how to do life good.

Next time you ask for a favor, think about how you might reciprocate that favor. Can you do it before you even ask?

Blogs were the first round of social media on the web. Medium length writing with links and images and such.

Then we got Facebook. We still write, but it’s shorter and doesn’t have the complexities of running a blog.

Then Twitter, just 140 characters of text. Even simpler, but you still have to write.

Then Instagram, where you just have to point your phone at something.

Then Pinterest, where you don’t even have to take the photo you just post other people’s photos.

I think the input mechanic for the next popular social network will be that you just have to grunt approvingly at something.

It doesn’t take very long on a project to get to the point where deleting code feels better than writing it.

Sometimes it means you found a better way to do it that requires less code.

Sometimes it means you discovered a way to re-use some code from elsewhere in the project. That’s exciting because next time it comes up you can re-use it again.

Sometimes it means you are ripping something out of the site, which means you have the good sense, authority, and cojones to do that. That also means you are in a good place.

It always means that there is less code to support in the future. Supporting code is mental weight and reducing that load is as good for your health as losing physical weight.

It always means that you aren’t afraid of that part of your site. Anymore, at least. The longer you go without touching some code the more unfamiliar (read: scarier) it becomes.

It always means that you grow up as a developer a little bit when you’re done.

Things that would be interesting to watch/read/listen to:

  • A barber explaining how they interpret people’s explanations of how they want their hair cut.
  • A dog walker explaining how they successfully find new customers and keep the ones they have.
  • A grandmother explaining their classic recipe for ginger snaps.
  • An engineer demonstrating how a rear differential works​.
  • An accountant pointing out the most common mistakes people make in doing home accounting.
  • A toy designer explaining the lengths they go to to make toys for very young children safe.
  • A drag queen giving a speech about the most common misconceptions about drag queens.
  • ​An astronaut telling a story about the most unusual experience they had in space.
  • ​A game programmer explaining enemy AI and pathfinding algorithms.
  • A ceramic artist demonstrating how they work with clay and create their artwork.
  • An icon designer showing a stack of iterations on a particular icon design and then talking about why they stopped where they stopped.
  • A greasy spoon waiter explaining their techniques for managing the slew of mini-chores that is the essence of being an efficient server.
  • A database administrator explaining the struggles of scaling at enormous scale.
  • A hockey player detailing what types of training gets them the most gain during the offseason.
  • A songwriter sharing some of their ideas on what makes a good song a good song.

People talking directly about what they do is nearly always fascinating to me, regardless of the job, as long as they exude some passion about it.

This was part of the inspiration for The Lodge on my website CSS-Tricks. Less about dry “training” and more about the fact that it can be interesting and helpful to watch someone do what they do while they talk about it. Working in public, as it were.

It sure is easy to waste time sitting at a computer. I’d list the ways, but you know the ways. Some of that time is required because we’re decompressing. But some of that time is because we’re being lazy, procrastinating, or worse, lacking the self-awareness to even realize we’re burning hours.

I don’t have a solution, but I have one little idea. Every time you sit down at the computer, do at least one thing of significant lasting value. Think through a problem. Write an email that connects with someone. Design something new or iterate a design that needs it. Help someone. Write something intended for publication. Work on the digital empire that is you.

Mediocre ideas, showing up, and persistence.

I don’t have much advice to give, but if I have any, it’s that little recipe.

Truly great ideas are rare. Jokers like us will probably never have one. That’s OK. We have mediocre ones all the time and they work just fine. I once had an idea to start a blog about CSS. I sucked at writing. I sucked at designing. The vibe at the time was that everything important about CSS had already been written. Nobody told me.

I didn’t just have the idea, I did it. That’s the showing up part. Hands on the keyboard, go. I barely knew what I was doing. I stumbled through even following simple walkthroughs on how to install the software. Executing your ideas is never overly comfortable.

Then never stop. Don’t get distracted by some other idea and prance away to that tomorrow. Keep doing it until you’ve done everything you set out to do and everyone and their mom knows it. I didn’t stop blogging when barely anyone read it for years. I didn’t stop when people told me I was dumb or wrong. I didn’t stop when redesigns were met with vitriol. I didn’t stop when faced with mountainous challenges like inexplicable server failure, legal trouble, and theft of the site itself.

Oh, plus, try not to be a dick. I’m convinced that helps.

OMG BAD UX!!!

Says the designer as he rips open a mustard packet too forcefully and it spatters on his sleeve.

If only these idiot mustard packet designers took pride in their craft, like I the web designer do. They shouldn’t be packets at all, but little syringes that excrete mustard in perfect lines. We could add a rate-limiter so it’s impossible the mustard comes out too fast. And pneumatics to help excretion once it has begun as to not exert ourselves or limit mustard consumption to only the strong-handed. If only these packet-designing fools had one ounce of common sense.

Never mind that lady over there in the white shirt who opened three in a row without incident. Never mind that I was able to open the second packet with no trouble. You only get one chance to make a first impression, Big Mustard, and now I’ll never think of you as anything but a careless, greedy corporation that cares more about profit than product.

Hold on, I need to tweet this picture of my sleeve. My designer friends are going to get a real snicker out of your incompetence. My day is ruined over here and now I’m out to ruin yours, you yellow bastards.

If you hired my firm to design these packets, as you obviously should have, we would have considered the user right from the start. Each packet would come with a full body plastic suit that auto-deploys around the person opening the packet to prevent incidents like this. We would mix mercury into the mustard to weigh it down and arrowroot to thicken it up so it’s impossible to splatter. And what’s with yellow? That’s a stain waiting to happen. Mustard should be as clear as water. Didn’t think of that, did you?

What is really embarrassing though is your lack of presentation. What mustard really needs is more thoughtful packaging. I’m thinking a little nested box made from shredded tires and bent road signs. Inside the packet lies on a bed of dried hemp. The logo is letterpressed into the box top and then it’s all tied together with twine. WAIT. And the packet is wearing a lucha libre mask. There are 15 different ones you can collect. Ever hear of “gamification”? Of course you haven’t you bourgeoisie rodent.

Everyone knows the words “introvert” and “extrovert”. But I’m surprised at how widespread the misunderstanding of terms. Many people I talk to, when this subject comes up, still essentially have this understanding:

introvert = shy nerd = bad
extrovert = cool jock = good

This is untrue and a bit harmful if you ask me. I’m highly introverted. But I’m not particularly shy, or a shut-in, or whatever other negative stereotypes we could lump on.

The truth about the difference between introverts and extroverts lies in how personal energy is used and gained. Introverts need a lot of recharging time to gain energy. Being out-and-about, especially in social situations, is draining. Alone time is the only way to get that energy back. For me, it’s a lot of alone time. Not sitting in a dark cave staring at the wall, but somewhere comfortable where I can do other activities I enjoy. Laying on a hotel bed catching up on the internet totally counts. At home cooking dinner totally counts. Even reading a book at a coffee shop counts.

Extroverts are the opposite in that they gain energy from social interactions. They thrive on the excitement of meeting people and doing new things. Being cooped up alone would be more like torture than quality downtime. Maybe. It’s harder for me to write about what extroverts are like because I’ve only read about them.

25% introverts is the number typically quoted for the public at large. That number feels about correct to me for the general public, especially in the United States where I live and grew up, where extroversion is the “ideal” and my little formula up top holds especially true. I suspect a much higher percentage for the web worker crowd.

The reason I’m writing about this is because knowing the true nature of introverts was incredibly liberating for me. Most of my life I thought there was something a little bit broken about me. That I wasn’t quite right. That if I could just snuff out this part of myself everything would be a lot better. It certainly didn’t ruin my life but it didn’t make it very comfortable either. Just understanding what being an introvert means and that it’s highly common is a relief. I can read up on it now. Find out how other people handle it. Talk about it with friends. Explain it to people who don’t get it yet.

I grew up in a house with my stepdad, who is about as full-tilt of an extrovert as there ever was. He’s a great guy and we get along well. But he never understood why my face was always buried in a computer. Why I’d go straight for my room after coming home. Why small talk was difficult for me. He probably still doesn’t, but hey, at least I do. I feel like us introverts should make business cards we could leave behind at parties when we duck out the back door without saying goodbye that just say “Google ‘Introvert’” on them.

At the risk of a #humblebrag—a question I get fairly often is: “how do you do it all?” Referring to blogging fairly often, having a podcast, building a startup, etc. I usually referred them to my favorite quote, but a big part of the truth of that is that I gain energy from the quiet time when I’m doing those things, which makes “just sit and do it” easy and enjoyable.

If you had these same type of feelings as me, require quite a bit of recharging time, or otherwise suspect yourself an introvert, I’d suggest some reading:

Good luck!

“The best tasting tea is the tea you drink when you are in a good mood.”1

That’s how I remember the quote from Uncle Iroh from the fantastic cartoon epic Avatar: The Last Airbender. He was full of little nuggets of wisdom like this. Relevant to the moment while hinting at a larger metaphor. I particularly like this one.

It’s a reminder that everything is better when you are in a good mood. Stop lights don’t seem so long. The 40%-on-Rotten-Tomatoes comedy movie you watch is hilarious. You respond with grace to a snarky email.

That’s because your mind is busy smiling. You ignore the bad parts for the good. You choose to stop the cycle of anger with a dash of cheer.

You can’t force a good mood, but if you’ve got one, use it well and hang on.

1That’s how I remembered it, anyway. I just re-watched the entire series to find it but the closest I could find was: “The best tea tastes delicious whether it comes in a porcelain pot or a tin cup.” which is also awesome.

The Andy Griffith Show ran from 1960-1968. Quite a bit “before my time,” but plentiful reruns allowed me to become a big fan.

I don’t like the show for its humor. It has some, but it’s pretty hokey and outdated. I don’t like the show for its stories. It’s just a sitcom with contrived little occurrences that always resolve themselves like any other sitcom. I like the show because it’s a masterclass in How To Be A Man.

Andy always treats people with respect, whether they deserve it or not. Even the town drunk, Otis, isn’t reviled and is given a chance when he needs one. And not just respect, but concern and fairness.

Andy almost never carries a gun. He doesn’t need one to control situations. He could defuse problems with a firm voice and presence.

Andy rarely loses his temper. And when he does he always apologizes for it.

Andy was smart. He often got to the bottom of things before anyone else.

Andy knew how to have fun and relax. He was the sheriff and a serious man, but he went camping, fishing, out on dates, and often played the guitar.

Yep, he’s a fictional character. Shouldn’t we have real people as role models? Sure, and I do. But just as a schoolyard kid might think of Batman to summon courage to stand up to a bully on the playground, I too sometimes think of ol’ Andy Taylor when I’m trying to figure out how to react to something. At the risk of beating an overused phrase into the ground even more, I often think to myself: What Would Andy Taylor Do? I think if I did it even more I’d be a better person.

Just for fun: did you know the theme song had words?

I wish everyone in the world would blog.

Did you solve a tricky user interface problem today? I’d love to read about the options you considered and why you picked the one you did.

Did you use some technology that you never used before today? I’d love to read about why you avoided it at first and why you came around.

Did you eat at a great restaurant this week? I’d love to read about what you ordered and what it was like there.

Did you subscribe to a new podcast recently? I’d love to read about why you chose to subscribe and your review of it.

Did you buy a board game recently? I’d love to hear how your first time playing it went.

I enjoy living vicariously through you, even for a moment. Give blogging a shot, I bet you won’t regret it.