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028: Be Persistent with Chris Coyier

User Defenders podcast
Web Dev
028: Be Persistent with Chris Coyier

User Defenders "CSS Man" Chris Coyier

Chris Coyier teaches us that if we care about succeeding in something, we need to be willing to persist for a long time. He inspires us to grab hold of the joy that comes from building for ourselves, too. He encourages us to not just use a framework because we’re “supposed to”, but to use whatever tool is right for the job. He also enlightens us to the superpower of using SVG in practical ways.

Chris Coyier is the founder of everybody’s favorite CSS resource CSS-Tricks, and the author of newly released A Book Apart published “Practical SVG“. He’s a fellow podcaster co-hosting the Shop Talk Show. He co-founded the incredibly innovative web coding playground, CodePen. He loves to share his knowledge as an international speaker and avid blogger. His life goal is to be a banjo player in an old time string band.

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Artwork by Eli Jorgensen | Editing by Chris Combs

I don’t do as much as I should. We’re gearing up to do some. I almost think of customer support as being a little bit like user testing as well. When someone sends you an email that says, “I was using your product, and this is what happened to me and here’s a video of what’s happening to me, and I think it should’ve worked like this.” You didn’t exactly ask them for that, but they did it and that’s user testing. We get that all the time. That’s like 60% of customer support at CodePen.

I actually do have one I think, although it hasn’t been put to the test in long enough. I have to challenge myself to it once in a while. For a long time, what I thought of and what I did was give me something to design, like a Photoshop file or JPG or something, and I’ll convert that into a web layout. I love that. I love re-creating things like a design that I found, or it was a part of our workflow at work. Like a designer designed something, and like “hey can you build this for me?” Not only can I, but I can do it really really fast. I can process exactly how I would do that and translate it into HTML/CSS in blinding speed. So kinda my superpower although I wished it happened more. We don’t have a full-time designer for example at CodePen who’s just tossing me designs to build all the time. I wish we did, but we’re not big enough for that right now. So, I get to do it sometimes, but I haven’t honed those skills in a hot while.

Maybe it is getting psyched out when I have to do much in a silo like I explained. That bugs me out a little bit. There probably are other things where I’m like, “God I don’t wanna design that.” I think it’s very converse to what I want to design is something that’s gonna be used a lot. If I know that there’s a really important area of our app, I will rise to the challenge of designing that interaction, where as I struggle with a page that I know isn’t going to be visited all that much. It probably should exist because it’s like a landing page for some vertical that we think we should hit or something, but it’s not that important of a page. It’s a little harder for me to sink my teeth into that.


I think that I do. I think that maybe it’s not my number one superpower, but we’re working on a feature right now on CodePen that’s just a monstrosity of a feature and it’s taking us forever to get it out and that’s another story but, when I test it which is like all the time that’s like maybe my primary role on this project is like getting it running on my machine and then using it. And every time I do it, I just wanna use it. I don’t care how it’s built. I don’t care what’s going on behind the scenes. I want this thing to exist so I want to use it as if I was a user using it. So, that’s putting myself in the shoes of a user. Like totally divorcing myself from what I know to be true from a business sense, and from a back-end sense, and from an architectural sense of how the app is built or whatever. So when I fight for the users it’s just me sitting there being a user. And even with the CodePen that exists today that everybody uses…I use that every day! It’s not this app that I built because I thought the world needed it or whatever, it’s built because I need it which is yet another cliche in startup land. I use it all the time so when there’s something broken in it, there’s a good chance I notice it first. So when I fight for the users, I fight for myself. I am a user, so I get to do that. And all my QA’ing, and Trello cards and Github issues I submit and stuff, they’re usually from that perspective of look at what I was trying to do that didn’t happen the way I thought it should as a user of our thing.

It helps to define UX first, and I don’t even want to do that because that’s such a weird convoluted place to go. But, from the most broad possible thing, it’s like my favorite field that exists. We should almost change the name to UD because it’s your job to make sure that the thing you’re employed by does right by the users. That it’s understandable, that it’s solving their needs, that it communicates well and all that stuff. Those lessons I’m sure it’s no surprise goes way past websites. Your UX is everything. If you have a phone line, it’s for that. If you make a brochure for your thing, it’s that. If you sell a physical product, it’s the box that it comes in. It’s the social media presence. It’s what you wear to the tradeshow. It’s everything. What’s cool about that is if you’re really good at it, right now you work at Facebook or something doing it, or if you work at a Web Design agency, or if you work for us a CodePen or something and your title is UX and that’s what you are actually charged to do is represent the users, I don’t even know what that job looks like these days. Because I don’t unfortunately work with them as much as I should. So it’s a little weird to talk about this, but there’s lot of people out there who are. The future of your job is to just keep doing that job anywhere that needs you. I wouldn’t doubt that both of us live to an age where websites are just not like what they were. Maybe that’s sad or whatever but I would think that there’ll be something else. There be some other product, or service. You’ll just be useful forever because what you’ve developed is this skill set that puts yourself in those shoes that has empathy and that can communicate ideas on both sides. You can talk to users and you can translate that into talking to the builders of the product. That skill set is more transferable than most others skill sets. So the future is bright for it I think.

My favorite one that we’ve already probably talked about a number of times is the persistence one. I just can’t impart that to people enough. Maybe the extension of it can be just as simple as if you really care about succeeding in something, you just need to do it for a long time. You just got to put the hours in. You just gotta show up and do the job, and you’ll get there. You just will. It always works. It’s the number one way to success in something. And it’s both empowering and kind of a bummer sometimes. Cause people are like, “Oh, I’m no good at snowboarding.”, and I’m like well have you put like a ton of hours into it? You just gotta know there’s no thing you can just pick up and be good at. It’s not gonna happen. Once you kind of wrap your head around that, you kind of gotta pick and choose in your life what things you’re gonna give time to and what things you’re not. Persistence is such a big deal and it just unlocks all the doors for me. And if you’re having trouble being persistent on a thing, then perhaps it’s the wrong thing to be persisting on. If you can’t give the thing that needs persistence persistence, there’s just something wrong. It wasn’t meant to be ya know. Persistence should be both challenging and come easy in a way.

By taking vacation like everybody else does since they invented jobs.

Putting yourself in the shoes of the user and having some empathy towards those people. Really actually feeling for the people that use your thing. They’re not alternate versions of you, but people who come from a very different place than you do.