The Devil is in the Details

We’re always struggling with how much stuff there is in our industry, and I’ve often recommended that we focus on a goal + learn on the job, be silly, steal, think small or give open source a shot. These are all ways to handle the challenges of dealing with technology fatigue.

But maybe we’re not thinking about it right. What if we should we should be looking at the constant deluge of frameworks and tools differently?

So I was listening to this audio book called Move Your DNA the other day, and I got to this part where she quotes Samuel Thayer in the book Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild plants (I know, I’m quoting a book quoting a book 😛. Also, emphasis is mine):

Whoever first said “The Devil is in the details” must not have liked details. And I doubt that he was an economic botanist. Because when it comes to edible wild plants, the miracle is in the details. It is the details that give one the power not only to identify plants, but also to select the best specimens among them…So do not shy away from the details: an don’t resent Nature for being so replete with complexity. That is its glory, not its downfall. We owe our very intelligence to this miraculous complexity. It is not the burden of the naturalist to learn this complexity: it is the awesome reality. More then anything else, which of these attitudes you chose will determine your success. So learn your details with pride and experience them with gratitude. Let the details excite you — for there are enough of them to excite you for the rest of your life.

So just like in web development, there are so many people out there who are trying to solve a lot of different problems. Naturally, a lot of different solutions are going to come up. This is usually a problem for people (yes, not just beginners!) because what the hell kind of technology should I choose to learn next?

But just like the botanist picking wild plants, we can’t resent Nature for being so complex. It just is. So what we can do is to accept it for what it is and thrive in the details.

But how do we actually do that in practice? I know it sounds a little woo woo and abstract right now, but let me give you an example. I was at a Designing Meaningful Animations workshop a few weeks ago and someone from the audience asked (I’m paraphrasing here since I don’t remember the verbatim question and answer): “How do you know what kind of technology we should use? Should we use CSS animations or JavaScript?” Val Head said that “It depends. If you’re just moving a circle, it’s probably best to use CSS animations, but if you’re trying to orchestrate more than three things that depend on one another, it’s probably best to use JavaScript.”

That’s not the end of the story either: There are a ton of ways to implement and animate a circle. You can have a div element in the DOM, you could have a circle in SVG, or maybe even have a circle drawn in Canvas. Animating these different implementations can be different from each other.

So yeah. The details will always be there, and there will be a lot of them. So accept it for what it is and thrive in it!

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Originally published at on April 2, 2017.