From Agency to Edge

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show, we look at the frustration of pricing projects for agencies, what is happening in the world of web fonts and discuss everything you need to know about Microsoft Edge.

This episode of the Boagworld show is sponsored by Adskills and 2Checkout.

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Paul: This week on the Boagworld show, we look at the frustrations of pricing projects for agencies, what’s happening in the world of web fonts and discuss everything you need to know about Microsoft Edge. This episode of the Boagworld show, is sponsored by Upskills and 2Checkout.

Paul: Hello. Welcome to the Boagworld show. The season of the show, it’s all about virtual meetups. The idea has become, join the season. Web professionals, come together in a chat room. We hangout, people drop in and drop out, and we make up as we go along, that it’s about this season. Thank you for joining us, but fortunately the one consistent in this ever changing world, is Marcus. Hello Marcus.

Marcus: Hello.

Paul: Well I say that, when you eventually turn up you’re ecosystem.

Marcus: I believe you just apologized offline, but it all being your fault.

Paul: There is no record of that, I deny it completely.

Marcus: I think there is, there were many witnesses.

Paul: They were all on my side.

Marcus: What’s with the very short sentences, that we have to speak in quite quickly, today.

Paul: Because I have a ridiculous amount of sugar and caffeine in my system, because I’ve got a cold.

Marcus: You’re going to crash?

Paul: I know, I’m going to crash horribly, partway through this. Also, I’ve had quite a confrontational experience just before this show. No, not that… You’re thinking about a completely different confrontational experience, I’m collecting them at the moment. I think, I’m going through some kind of, I’m not putting up with shit anymore stage, and it’s all coming out. So, let me tell this story. This is worthwhile, this is worth talking about. Because there are valuable customer experience lessons to be learned here.

Marcus: Similar things have been happening to me, Paul. But you go first.

Paul: All right. So over Christmas, like pretty much everybody, I put on a obscene amount of weight. Now, unfortunately I’m one of those people where doesn’t show my face, I just get this little pot belly, right? So-

Marcus: Similar.

Paul: … I thought, I’ve got to get rid of it, right? The good thing to do, get rid of it. So, as my wife has from years been a Weight Watchers leader and she’s really into Weight Watchers, I thought I’d join Weight Watchers. I had a catalog of what I can only call bad user experiences with Weight Watchers, that is really interesting. The actual app itself is absolutely brilliant and the community of people is the loveliest community of people, I have ever encountered in a virtual environment.

Paul: They’re so encouraging and so supportive, all the rest of it. Anyway… So, it started off by the fact that… Well no, I’ll skip over it all, because otherwise I’ll go on the whole show. The critical instance, and where I think this is really interesting, came on the fact that I made a mistake, right? And it’s this little thing between, well was it a dark pattern or was it user error? And there’s a fuzzy line between it. So when I went to sign up, I signed up for what I thought was a monthly rolling contract, because I didn’t need to lose a lot of weight, I knew it would come off very quickly. So as a result, I wanted a month at a time, so I signed up. Now, I lost weight. And so, I went to unsign and that’s where things got really interesting. First of all, they make it super easy to sign up for the product, right? You could do it all online and through the app and all the rest of it. To cancel, you need to call them, right? So immediately-

Marcus: On a Tuesday morning? First Tuesday of the month between 9 AM and 9:15.

Paul: Exactly. So, immediately… Now that for me is very much dark pattern, because there’s no reason for me to call them. You could quite easily do it online, there is no reason other than they know that a lot of people won’t be bothered to do it. So, I may have gone into the call with a slightly negative attitude. I then get through to lovely people, who starts off well, yes sure we keep after that-

Marcus: At least got through. Because that’s what normally happens, you just hanging on the phone for hours.

Paul: No it wasn’t too bad. I had to do the one, two, three, four thing, but it was a right. It’s comparable to anybody else. Now this is the interesting one. It turns out, that I’d signed up for a six month contract without realizing it.

Marcus: Ooh, tricked into it, Paul.

Paul: Now… Well, this is-

Marcus: Or just stupid Paul.

Paul: … well, yeah. And this is where the interesting thing is, right? Because looking again, I went back and looked at the screen that I signed up with. It is actually obvious, right? They have made it very clear, right? And so in a sense, it’s my problem and not theirs. Now they did the whole thing of, we’re going to recommend this one that’s got a much cheaper price on, all of that kind of stuff and then kind of great six months. But it is not. I wouldn’t say it strays into the pattern of… Into dark patterns, it wasn’t that bad. Do you know what I mean?

Marcus: Yep.

Paul: So I said to them, “Look, I totally understand I signed up for six months, but I made a mistake.” Right? “I didn’t mean to do that. I’ve only used the app a month. Would you cancel the contract for me?” And they said, “No.” Right? And so, we had this, “So, I want to be clear that your basically going to hold me to the contract rather than giving me a good experience, right? And you’re going to take the… You’re going to put your profits before your customers when the customer is obviously made a honest mistake.” Right? “Yes. That’s what we’re going to do.” Right? I know. And so, this is where I think it’s relief… Now, it turns out to be fair… First of all, I got nowhere and I asked to speak to a manager as you do. And I got through to the manager and the manager said the same thing. And I said… And of course, my curiosity started getting the better of me because of my job.

Paul: And I said, “Well, do you have the freedom to give me a refund or is it just a policy?” Right? He said, “No, I have got a discretionary ability to do it. But the policy ascertain certain criteria.” Like someone is seriously ill or something like that. And so… So we… It was a really interesting scenario where, he did in theory have the freedom to do what was right, but in practice he didn’t feel he could. And that I found really interesting. Now I hung up… Eventually I’d lost, didn’t get anywhere, and I really… I can be quite persuasive and I tried my best, and I didn’t get anywhere. Now got off the phone and he then went to speak to his manager and his manager okayed it. So they did cancel it, right? But it was a lot of hoops to jump through to get there, is the first thing. But I think there’s some lessons to learn there, the first one is that, people are stupid, right? I was stupid. I made a mistake. And I think we need to recognize that people do make mistakes online, and we need to accommodate those mistakes.

Paul: Otherwise, you just create buyer’s remorse, right? And I was all ready to have a big rant about… Well I’m having a big rant about them, but ended happily ever after and they did the right thing in the end. But I would have come on very differently to the show if that hadn’t happened. I was thinking, Oh, this would be a good blog post and all of this kind of stuff. So, they would have been a big backlash if they had just… Because they hadn’t designed a system, that enabled the fact that people make errors. And I think that’s what’s really interesting, is that whole principle of people making mistakes and how we need to support them in making mistakes, even if technically, we’re in the right.

Marcus: Yeah. I mean, what you… What they should’ve done, is at least given you a, well, we’ll let you off.

Paul: Yeah. That’s what-

Marcus: You can pay us another month and then you can go, kind of thing. That’s what they should have done without any hassle. That’s weird.

Paul: Yeah. It was weird. It was an interesting situation. I think basically, it just boiled down to the fact that their… The business model is built around… It’s built effectively around the gym membership model, right? They get you hooked and they want to keep you going. So, the people didn’t have the freedom to really say, “No, we’re going to be human about this.” What’s Chris saying, “I’m currently reading a delightful and funny and clever book. It’s called Humans, Brief History Before We F’d It All Up. Very true. And we do make mistakes.

Marcus: And Richard is saying the same thing. Was it… Is it cheaper to [inaudible] them for six months? Which is why I said you have to pay another month and we’d all go on. Anyway.

Paul: It was just-

Richard: On an interesting story-

Marcus: On a similar subject, vaguely similar, I encourage you all to sign up for Now TV, at some point in your life. Just to go through the process of trying to get out of Now TV, cancel a Now TV, the contract that you have. Basically because it gets… They actually get funny with it. Exactly. I think it took seven clicks or seven screens for me to go through and just get… Like the, “Are you really sure?” Teary face, all those kind of stuff.

Paul: I really-

Marcus: To the point of actually, it made me laugh. But all I was trying to do, was cancel one to start another one. It’s like I’d let that one… I’d let this contract go on a bit too long and I was paying more and I just want to cancel that and buy another one. And what made me really laugh, was I went back to the home page to click on the what I thought was an information link about this new thing I wanted to buy, and I bought it as soon as I clicked on it. So, seven screens to go through over, are you really sure you want to leave us? Very funny copy, but… Anyways, so do that one day. My recommendation.

Paul: I do find it fascinating. And what I found particularly fascinating about my experience, setting aside the kind of company policy side of things, was how oblivious I was, right? I’m someone that works with computers all day, yet I was still utterly oblivious to that six months. I’ve just written a freaking book on things like, cognitive load, on pricing structures, on all of that kind of stuff, and I still missed it. I still didn’t see that it was a six month tie in.

Marcus: Paul is reading, listeners.

Paul: I can’t read and speak at the same time. Lewis is asking a question, but I can’t be bothered to read it. So, we need to move on anyway.

Marcus: Yeah, we do. [crosstalk 00:12:00].

Paul: So, we’ve got a couple of people in that would be really good to get on. Rich, do you fancy coming on? Are you happy to come in and have a little chat? Because I haven’t spoken to you for ages and it would be lovely to catch up. So while he’s doing that, should we talk about my new book, why not?

Marcus: Oh yes, please.

Paul: Yes I am. I thank you very much, right? Well, I’m just… See now I’m messing Rich up. He doesn’t know I’m messing him up, hopefully-

Marcus: You messing him up, man.

Paul: I messed him up. Oh, this [roadie] over thing is not working very well. There we go, I’ve got him now. So, Rich is coming on. I just wanted to say, I’ve launched a landing page for my new book, which is about all this kind of thing. It’s about how to persuade people to take action without getting buyer’s remorse and all of that kind of thing, and without resulting to dark patterns. And if you want to find out more about that, then check it out at, there’ll be more on that soon. Hello Rich, how are you doing mate?

Richard: I’m doing very well. Thank you very much. Looking a bit silhouetted, in this video.

Marcus: You look like you’re in a bunker in the Middle East, somewhere.

Richard: It is a bit weird like that.

Marcus: Hello Richard, how are you?

Richard: Hi Marcus. Very well. Thank you.

Marcus: Nice to see you.

Paul: So, since we’ve last talked, there’s been big move around, aren’t there? You’re now the CEO at Clearleft and Andy is doing a different role, is that right? Or have I got that entirely wrong?

Richard: Nearly right. I’m now the MD, so Chief Executive.

Paul: Oh I see. Right. I don’t understand how that works or what that means, but it sounds cool.

Richard: Andy was MD before, but he’s actually focused almost entirely on the events side of playlist business now. So, leading design in UX London, and stuff like that. And I used to try and split my time between working with clients and trying to run aspects of the business from inside, and it all got a bit too difficult really. I felt like I couldn’t do either one very well, so I had to choose. And I chose to move away from the clients and into running the business and looking after the people.

Paul: Oh dear. That’s-

Richard: Which was I think-

Paul: … for me, that’s… It’s a very big decision. And I have to say, I think you’ve made a massive mistake, because employing you are a pain in the ass.

Richard: Oh, Yeah. Well, unfortunately I could have told you that beforehand. So, I kind of [inaudible] into.

Paul: Well, we have long known that you’re a far nicer person than I am, Rich. And so, that makes a lot of sense.

Richard: Yeah. Definitely [Crosstalk 00:14:54].

Marcus: I’m saying nothing here, nothing at all.

Paul: So, how many are there these days at Clearleft?

Richard: We’re hovering around 25 to 30. I say a range, because we have some sort of long time freelancers who are basically part of the team, so it’s a little bit. But, around about that size.

Paul: Good. That sounds a decent size. So, you’re doing the salesy side of things as well, or are there other people to do that kind of stuff these days?

Richard: The way we do sales really is, pretty much, everyone chips in. I guess, some people do more than others but, we looked at it from a sort of consultative selling point of view. So, when someone gets in touch with us and they have a problem, then… That we can solve, then we get our practitioners, our experts to talk to them. And that’s a pretty good way of making the sale, actually. We have a few people who, like project managers primarily, who will do all the statements of work and tidy up, all of that stuff. Someone to keep on top of the leads that are coming in to make sure that we are actually replying and we are moving it from one step to the next. But basically, the sale is done by the people who are going to be doing the work. [crosstalk 00:16:12].

Paul: Which is always the way it should be. It’s… This whole bait and switch that you see in some larger agencies, where you get the A team that do the pitch, and then the kind of junior designer who sits in the corner is dragged out to do the actual work, it’s not nice. I don’t like that. So, that’s another dark pattern to add to my list of ramps.

Marcus: That’s a way of making money, Paul. That’s why law firms have done that for years, haven’t they?

Paul: Yeah.

Richard: And it’s… It doesn’t kind of work very well for us. We have some more and junior folks here-

Paul: Of course.

Richard: … but primarily it’s your experienced people who are going to be able to talk to clients and prospective clients about stuff that we’re going to be helping them with. And it just, I don’t know, it just feels much more us, a lot easier to have the conversations like that. And it’s… If we’re able to sit in front of a client and have that conversation, we know the chances of winning the work and pretty good.

Paul: Yeah. That’s another big part of it, isn’t it? That you’ve got people that actually know what they talking about, talking to the clients rather than some slimy salesman.

Richard: But it means, you have to get past that kind of a situation where, an organization might send an RFP out to a whole load of agencies they’ve barely even heard of and you’ve got to fill out reams and reams of paper. And, it just takes out that human contact. And it’s… Occasionally, we’ll win a piece of work that way, but it just puts us on the same level as anyone else and mostly it will just come down to money, at the end of the day. And not actually the value that you give. So, if we can avoid that sort of thing, then we might actually have a proper conversation, then it’s much better for both parties.

Marcus: I’m seeing things becoming a little bit better on that front. Not completely. I mean, I’m responding to a proposal at RFP at the moment where, you can question but you can’t question using voice, you have to do it via email, which is like. But, I’m finding at the moment, there’s people are inviting to come for a little chat before they send the RFP out, so that’s a plus. But then it becomes all formal after that. I think it’s just that people are just, bound by certain rules, sort of purchasing rules, that makes our lives a nightmare basically.

Richard: Yeah. And Of course, we’ve been on the receiving end, good and bad, of where second or third phase of work with an existing client has had to go out to tender preserve, a publicly funded body. And that’s alright and proper, but we want to work with them, they want to work with us. So, it has to go through those channels and you kind of hoping that they’re going to honor that and carry on that that relationship, but it could all go sour. And we’ve also got sniff of when we’ve been one of the agencies that’s been asked to put in a bid even though the incumbent is going to get the work.

Marcus: [Ditto 00:19:20]?

Richard: Yeah. You can normally sniff it out and then you don’t bother.

Marcus: Yes, correct. But sometimes you can’t. Sometimes things will come through or you’re not that busy. And it’s like, Oh well, it’s a follow up on this, without the normal alarm bells ringing.

Richard: Exactly right with that one.

Paul: I mean, it’s worth saying as well, it’s not just annoying or difficult from our perspective, on the agency side. I think it’s also quite unhelpful from the client side as well. Because, without those conversations, without that back and forth, you’re getting a very kind of cookie cutter type of solution being proposed to you. It’s through that, as you say, a consultative process that the agency learns about the nuances of what you’re doing, what you’re trying to achieve and can potentially suggest solutions to you that haven’t even entered your head. But, if you don’t have that conversation, that can’t happen. So you don’t really get the full value out of an agency like Clearleft or Headscape, unless you have that kind of conversation and discussion. That’s my view.

Richard: Yeah. And it becomes…. And just in terms of winning a piece of work, it… If you’re not able to have that conversation and then it comes down to money, and you’ve come in with a high bid just because you think, this is everything you’ll need to do this job really well. And we tend to be a little bit too honest when it comes to that, whereas lots of other agencies will come in as… Just give you kind of bare bones, and then once they’re in, then it’s change requests after change requests, and that kind of thing, ends up spiraling and it costs three times as much as they said in the first place. Whereas we’ll come in with that price and because we think this is the honest way and this is realistically what it will cost you. And then if you’re not able to have the conversation where the client turns around and says, “Well, actually we’ve only got a third of that.”

Richard: Then you have, “Okay fine.” Let’s talk about that. Let’s find out where your priorities are. What is the bare minimum that we could do? Or what can we do… Where do you want to compromise? What can we do less of? And the less often is just what gives you perhaps confidence or detail in the final delivery. And sometimes they’ve got teams who can run with. It given us the foundations, we’ve got a team who can run with all the detail in that, and we don’t need quite so much of a handover because we’re capable. But, until you have those conversations, you don’t know where they would want to compromise. [crosstalk 00:21:57].

Marcus: I said to Chris earlier on, Chris is doing a different proposal at the moment, and I just said to him, “Well, just lie, Chris.” No-

Paul: Marcus [crosstalk 00:22:09].

Marcus: … I did not mean it at all. And then it was like, that’s what other people would do. It’s true.

Paul: But I think that, that whole thing of clients being reluctant to talk about their budgetary constraints, is such an important conversation to have with people. Because, you’re entirely right. If I costed a project as it should be done, from my perspective, the chances are it will go over most people’s budget, because I will add in a lot of use of research and I will add it in this and I’ll add in that, that I feel would maximize the effectiveness of the project. But, if the project doesn’t justify that level of investment in the broader business, I need to know that. I need to know that well, realistically, even if it should be a 50 grand project, if I could… If the business really can… Hasn’t got the physical cash to spend more than 30 grand, then fair enough. Let me know that. And like you say, you can work within it.

Richard: Yeah. And obviously the fear from the client’s perspective is, if we say the budget is 100 grand, they’re going to come in at 100 grand. As if it’s been inflated from 50 to 100. Whereas we might be thinking, well that’s a quarter of a million pounds worth of designer development you need there, we’ve got to try and squeeze it into 100 for you. Whereas it’s fine if the client a ballpark range, if they say, “Oh well, we sort of between 50 and a 100.” Or whatever it is. So well, okay now we’re talking about. What we can do then is say, “Well, if you’re only willing to spend 50, this is how we can attempt to fix it. Here’s a hundred and then actually, you come in with the…” It’s got a proper name. What’s the… There’s a proper name for the super big ridiculous thing you do 1,500 and then 500,000 pounds, and then… And to make everything else look like it’s a bargain.

Paul: Yeah. The loss… Look like a loss leader or isn’t a loss leader, is it… No, that’s not the right word. I know what you mean. It’s like for a long time, McDonald’s sold a really expensive over the top Big Mac, because it increased the sales of the Big Mac. That kind of-

Marcus: And Lewis says, “Parkinson’s law.”

Paul: Oh, okay. There you go.

Richard: It could be.

Marcus: Don’t know.

Paul: Who knows?

Richard: That’s the power of the three options if you’re available to do it, but then when you’re stuck in a classic RFP situation, you’d normally have to get one price. And then the one price is costed relative to all the other prices that you get, and you’ve got no option to give options. And it’s really annoying.

Marcus: Paul, actually says something there. I openly say, I will spend every penny you’d let me, unless you have way too much money, but how often do clients have way too much money? That’s one in a [crosstalk] 50.

Paul: This whole idea of inflating the price or if we tell them we’ve got 100 grand to spend, they’ll quote you 100 grand, yes we will. We will-

Marcus: That’s Parkinson’s law.

Paul: … we will quote you 100 grand. But the reason we will quote you 100 grand, is because we’ll do 100 grands worth of work. It’s so… So, that’s the kind of way. I think of it… The analogy I often use is, with clients, it’s like buying a house. You don’t go to someone saying, “How much does a house cost?” Right? “How much do I need to pay for a house?” What you do is, you go to the estate agent and say, “I need these kinds of things. This is my maximum budget. These are the areas where I’m willing to compromise. I need three bedrooms, but the area doesn’t need to be quite so nice.” Or whatever else. And it’s a conversation that finds you the right house. You never go and just say, “Give me a quote on the house.” Well… There you go. So, just before we let you go, I do want to also ask you Richard, because your other passion other than managing people, which I just think is a weird hashing, is… Obviously you do a lot with web typography.

Richard: Yeah.

Paul: I haven’t been paying attention recently, right? And there seem like there’s a whole load of new things that have recently come along with… I want to… I can’t even remember the word, this is how out of touch I am with it now. With variable fonts and all this kinds of, what’s going on? Give me… What should I be paying attention to? What should I be Googling in the world of typography at the moment?

Richard: Well, variable fonts is, I guess, a pretty new thing that’s come along.

Paul: Did I get the name right?

Richard: You got the name right. I was waiting for you to fumble around for something wrong, but well-

Paul: Every once in a hundred, it turns out right.

Richard: So, that’s certainly one of the hot topics at the moment. And from a web designer and developers… Well from a web devs point of view, they can save a lot of weight. So, where you would have four different files for a bold italic, bold italic or something along those lines or a few different weights, as separate files all quite big. Variable fonts wraps that up into one file, and it uses all sorts of clever stuff, which is basically around looking at the… It saves a lot of space and also you’ve only got one file to deliver.

Richard: That’s one aspect of it. But another aspect is that, it can give a whole load of extra creativity available to designers. So, where we might have said, “Oh, you can only use so many fonts, just for download.” Sort of bandwidth capacity and that sort of thing. So, we’re just going to use a variable… Sorry, a regular weight and a bold. We would like to use semi bold for some of our subheadings, but we can’t really afford the extra font in terms of the fire way. But now, if you have a variable font, you’ve got everything, literally everything all the way from regular through to bold or from ultra light up to super heavy. And that’s just on a weight access. And there’s other things you can vary as well, all the way from… You got fonts which can slide from being a sans-serif through to a full blown serif, and everywhere in between. And they’ll have the bold, often, and whips as well put into that. So, it gives you a lot of flexibility without incurring any extra weight to be on that variable file in the first place.

Marcus: Is it widely supported?

Richard: Yeah. It’s been really interesting, watching it happen over the last few years. Because really the support happened in web browsers before it happened in design software. And in fact, design software, is still catching up, with the in design from samples, only just started to support variable fonts. Whereas, the good support was there in the browsers and CSS, which has been quite interesting. I mean, that’s partly because it was driven by a conglomerate, if you like, of Apple, Microsoft, Google and Adobe. So, you’ve got the browser players right there from the very beginning. But it’s been interesting how slow Adobe has been to catch up with its own software. And in fact, Adobe is a font vendor as well, and it’s been particularly poor at providing variable fonts to… For people to buy.

Richard: And actually that is a bit of an issue. They can be very expensive because the type designers look at it from the point of view of, well if you buy a variable font, you’ve got our entire super family, you’ve got all the weights there, we’ve got all styles all built into one file. And so we’re going to charge you a 1000 pounds, which is what we would charge you for a super family. And you’re thinking, that’s one font file and it’s 1000 pounds. And it’s… That’s something that still needs to be worked out. But there’s plenty of quite decent free ones as well. And Google fonts have-

Paul: Oh, there are?

Richard: Yeah there are around. Google fonts has… They’ve just released, I think in beta, a new API. And that includes variable fonts now in that, which is quite good.

Paul: Oh cool. Oh that is very good.

Marcus: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s interesting.

Paul: Oh well, thank you for bringing me up to speed on that. I just thought, as I’ve got you here, I might… Basically, this show is my equivalent of Google. If people come on and they know shit, I will ask them it rather than Google it, that’s how lazy I’ve become. So Rich, are you still blogging? Are you still putting stuff out on typography or are you just too busy these days?

Richard: The answer is yes to both of those. So [crosstalk 00:31:05].

Marcus: Not very often then. [inaudible 00:31:08].

Richard: I’ve just set up a-

Paul: So, where can people… Oh, thank you.

Richard: …. a link, And that lists basically, is pretty comprehensively all the variable forms that you can get hold of at the moment, both free and commercial. And it shows you how they vary as well. So that’s a good tool to play with,

Paul: Ooh, thank you.

Marcus: Cool.

Paul: Well there you go. I was going to point people at your blog, but we’ve now got that instead.

Richard: In terms of how to use the variable fonts in real life, there’s some good stuff on my blog about that.

Paul: Okay, cool. And that is-

Richard: [crosstalk 00:31:49].

Paul: Where is your blog?


Paul: Clavnut…

Richard: [crosstalk 00:31:56].

Paul: Clag. Sorry, I said clav, didn’t I? Clagnut. Yes, it’s a-

Richard: [crosstalk 00:32:01].

Paul: Yeah. I know the feeling. At least yours isn’t as egotistical as mine, which is… Boagworld is ridiculously egotistical, so there we go. We all made mistakes a long time ago in a galaxy far away. All right, Rich, thanks very much for joining us and hopefully we’ll catch up with you again soon.

Marcus: Cheers Rich.

Richard: Cheers Marcus.

Paul: Bye.

Richard: Bye-bye.

Paul: Right. So that is Rich Rutter, is definitely worth following his blogging, even though he didn’t sell it particularly well because he’s a busy man. But, he’s got really great stuff on there about typography and it’s one of the few blogs that I actually try and pay some attention to. Although obviously, not as much as I thought I had, as he’d been writing about variable fonts for a little while now. Right. I think this is the point where we will add a sponsor.

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Paul: Right. Well, I was thinking while we’ve got Christian Hellman in the room. We had him on a couple of weeks ago, but I thought it’d be quite nice to get him back on. If I stop clicking on people by accident. The reason being is that, when we were talking to Chris before, we didn’t really get massively into the new browser from Microsoft, which is Edge. And again, I’m going to use Christian as my Google, because I haven’t been reading up about Edge as much as I should be, so I’m just going to get Chris to explain it all to me. But, we’ve started off very well, because the minute I mentioned Edge, Lewis, who as we discovered from last week’s show is the most grumpy cynical man on the planet, has given it a big heart. So, you must be doing something-

Marcus: I think it’s for Chris.

Paul: You reckon it’s for Chris, not for the browser. Ah, shucks. Anyway Chris, how are you mate? How’s it been going?

Christian: Good. It’s been… I’ve been at Redmond for two weeks now and sitting with my team and now I’m back in Berlin, home to a degree and my jet lag, is almost over again. And… So it’s a new role for me. I’m now a Principal Program Manager. That’s why I’m actually blogging a lot less and it’s being cutting down on my events as well. So, I’m spending much more time with my team and finding out new features in the developer tools and proposing them and writing specs for them. And also working in between Microsoft and Google to make sure that everything we contribute back to Chromium, is an option to go into other Chromium based browsers as well.

Christian: So, I’m in a weird position where I work for Microsoft, but everything I do is again, open source. So, it’s fun to be in that position. And it’s good to have a different role. It’s kind of weird to spend more time in bug lists and in writing specs, than doing things. But at the same time, I’ve been fighting the good fight for the open web for so long. I’d rather do the tooling now that enables people to do things right without having to understand them, rather than telling other people after they’re doing [inaudible 00:36:32].

Paul: Yeah. Sorry, I lost you there for just a second, Chris. So, now we’ve got your back from that little hiatus. I wanted to ask you… So, tell us a little bit about Edge. About what’s changed, what makes it cool, why I need to be paying attention to it now? What’s going on?

Christian: So, the main thing is we changed the…. When we first brought out Edge, when I joined Microsoft five years ago, we actually rewrote the engine from scratch. And we said we’re going to have a new browser, a smaller browser, a better browser that will be, the Windows 10 browser. And then we realized that not everybody is on windows 10. And not everybody wants to upgrade to Windows 10, because in enterprise if you have thousands of machines, it takes me ages to do that. So, we realized that we kind of need to bring that browser also to older versions and to other platforms to make sure that people can use them. And that was kind of a neck because our engine that we wrote was very much focused on Windows environments only. So, we took a very pragmatic decision by taking a look at what people use and seeing what we can contribute.

Christian: So, we based the new browser on the Chromium engine. Which means that we contributed to the Chromium core and we are actually one of the first companies to get status to actually bring things into that as well, other than the main owners of the project originally were. So, we now, by changing that, we now allow actually every browser and every platform based on chromium that also includes electron, which for example, Slack is running on, Visual Studio Code is running on. And also known environments to get better and get the changes that we put into the browser. So, the main difference for us is now that if something works in Chrome, there’s like a 99% chance that it works in Edge as same way. So, we don’t have to consider that anymore. Because in the past people had to use virtual machines to get a Windows machine, because obviously everybody has a Mac, which is of course a fallacy. But I mean that’s sadly enough, always the request that we had from people. And… Well, I’m using a Mac right now, so I’m kind of a hypocrite in this one.

Christian: But, the main reason why we actually went with the Chromium project is that, we wanted to contribute to the thing that runs the web right now, and to… I was actually worried about it. How easy it would be to actually contribute back. And the… People saying, “Microsoft is going to do the horrible thing again, and take something away from other people.” But it totally worked out. So… And it’s… I’m so excited that in that year and a half year, we managed to roll it out and now on the 15th of January we released the final version, now it’s stable. And it’s now going to trickle down with every Windows installation, more and more people will replace the original Edge, the Spartan based or the Edge HTML based one, with that new browser. The features that… Well, bug fixes. We had over a hundred CR bugs that we fixed. And we made the whole interface more accessible.

Christian: So, now in the developer tools that I’m actually responsible for, it’s fully keyboard accessible and fully screen reader accessible. So, that makes a lot of blind or visually impaired developers happy but it also makes everybody else happy, because I myself I’m a keyboard user, I’m absolutely horrible with a mouse. I haven’t used an external mouse for 20 years now. [inaudible] using my touch pad. Or before I use it on my… On that little mouse thing, the red thing, on my IBM machine. So, now the developer tools are much more easier to use. And the other thing we also put in is localization. So, we actually… We translated the developer tools into 12 different languages right now. So, when you actually don’t speak English or don’t want everything in English, you can turn that. That sounds weird for European.

Christian: But when you see how many Chinese developers are out there, they actually became much more efficient that way. There’s a much more focus on privacy and blocking things and tracker blocking in the browser as well. And there is a thing called… I’m really horrible at that because I’m deep down into developer tools. There’s also a thing called, Collections. Which allows you to actually collect different websites and then generate a spreadsheet or a word document from it. Which sounds bizarre to people who love the web like us, but for educators and for people in the retail space, they absolutely love that kind of feature. And I found that interesting that you could differentiate on the usability of the browser, and you can actually still keep the same engine. I think the new browser wars are not about maintaining an own engine but actually delighting the end users with sensible interfaces that other people don’t have.

Paul: Yeah, absolutely. I mean obviously, speed and performance is another big one, that I know everybody is working on. And no doubt you guys, I suspect… Well put it like this, so I’ve just downloaded and installed Edge. That’s how far behind I am. I’ve sat here and done it now. And it is fast. So… Which is a good starting point for anything [inaudible] really.

Christian: Yeah. And I mean, the great thing is all the features that we find, all the performance optimizations that we find, go back into the core as well. So, that will make other browsers better as well. And I mean, there’s a lot of stuff based on it. I mean, the Samsung browser and mobile devices is based on Chromium, and that’s on every Samsung phone out there. So, it’s really exciting to actually reach people where we are not going.

Christian: And the main thing I learned after joining this team was also that, Microsoft is very much focused on enterprise customers. Not focus, but we actually have those that nobody else… They don’t talk to anybody else. They’ve been using us for 20 years. And it’s so weird. I’m going to write a talk about this soon, about filling this gap. About, when you go to JavaScript conferences and we think what end users are using and what developers are using, and then you meet people that build websites that are super important for the world and they have a stack that’s just incredible. I worked with the hospitals in the Seattle region in America, and they’re actually still using Dreamweaver and FTP to maintain their website.

Paul: That is incredible. So I mean-

Marcus: Wow.

Paul: … you’ve mentioned two of the big things for us as developers working with Edge, which is obviously the fact that I can now install it on my Mac or… Which is a huge bonus. And then the second one being, obviously it’s built on Chromium, so if it looks good in other Chromium browsers, it’s going to look good in this as well. But, you’ve talked about you’re involved in developer tools. What are you doing in that regards, that things that I’ll find useful or maybe not me, but proper developers will find useful?

Christian: Yeah. One thing we have a benefit is that we also have the VS Code team working with us. So, that’s basically… That took the developer world by storm. Everybody went to Visual Studio Code as their main editor by now, including me on every platform. Because I went away from Sublime Text quite some time ago. Because I can mess with it. The editor is written in TypeScript itself, so I can write extensions, I can rewrite parts of it as well. So, I’m super excited about being able to peek under the hood and do these kinds of things. So, one thing I’m working on right now is actually in the integration between developer tools and the editor. So, one thing we have as an extension called Elements for Edge. So, that one brings the developer debugging tools inside Visual Studio Code.

Christian: So right now, your work flow as you code something, you go to the browser, you load the page, you open a developer tools, you tweak something around in the CSS panel to change some colors and change some sizes. And then you go back to editor and you look confused, because you don’t know where actually the change came from that you just put in there. Because it changes tab and Firefox has also changes tab in Chrome and also in Edge. That actually shows you the changes that you’ve done. But it still is kind of a weird non automatic way to do that. So, as we now have to include the developer tools in the Visual Studio Code browser, you can actually do some visual tweaking of those things and put… And when you set up your project the right way, your SAS automatically gets fixed as well.

Christian: So where the CSS came from, you can tweak it with the visual tools in the browser and you don’t have to jump between browser and editor all the time. And it’s only possible because both of them are running on Chromium. I look at… The other thing I’m looking at, accessibility of it. So mostly about making it work in high contrast mode right now, which is a legal requirement a lot of people don’t know about, because it’s only a Windows thing. And I’m also working on a simulator for high contrast mode. So, if you don’t have a Windows machine and you want to see what you have said would look like in high contrast mode, we can do that in the developer tools now as well. Much like you can simulate dark mode and light mode at the moment.

Marcus: [inaudible] up.

Christian: Other things we’re looking at is, font tooling. That allows you… Firefox has something like that already where you do variable fonts that Richard just talked about. But I also want to have something in there that actually when you load a website and it analyzes the fonts and says like, okay, by the way this is that font. So, if you want to use it in your own pages, you can actually analyze websites, seeing what fonts they use. And in terms of performance, we’re also looking at use twelve fonts, three of them look like Ariel, why do you actually do this kind of thing. So, that would be another step to actually consider in this. Out of things that are new right now that just came out, [ST3D view 00:45:54]. So, that was… Used to be a Firefox extension called Tilt, when I worked at Mozilla back then. That had performance problems and nowadays we have Babylon.js under the engine.

Christian: So… And it got better and faster. So what that one does is, gives you a 3D view of the Dom of the document, to see how many Dom elements you have. But also a visualization of the set index. So, if you said set index of different… I mean you always saw that in HTML and CSS, so that’s been maintained by people that don’t know CSS. They put a 50,000 set index on there to make sure that it’s above the others. And this visualization now shows you the difference that index issues and it helps debugging with that one. So, that got rolled out a few days ago and people are super excited about it. And I think that kind of innovation is something that we’re working on and making sure that it’s in there. Networking is the next one where I want to take a stab at, to actually intercept network requests and change them while you’re doing it, much like Postman does now as a third party tool.

Christian: So, open to anything. And I think it’s great that we have a PM team now of six people on the developer tools themselves. And each of us has two or three developers on, working with us to make sure these things are, and whatever we put into those goes back into the Chromium core as well. So none of that becomes an Edge only thing.

Paul: Wow. So, you’re not looking for a competitive advantage in developer tools then, from the sounds of it? [inaudible 00:47:18]. I suppose you are in the integration with Visual Studio, I guess.

Christian: Yeah, Visual Studio Code and Visual Studio as well. I mean Visual Studio, I don’t know much about sadly enough, although I’ve been five years at Microsoft, but I hate IDs. And… I mean, I just set up a new machine, a new Mac, and as soon as I started downloading the 30 gig of Xcode, just to get random Linux commands, I’m like, “This is not my world, I don’t want to have this.” But we’re getting there. I think the, as I said before, the competition in browsers is for the end users. It’s where… That’s where you differentiate.

Christian: And I go even further to say that the services around a browser is actually what makes people use a browser. Chrome was the first one to translate websites for you, that’s why people started using it. Maps integration was much better in Chrome as well. So, when I worked at Mozilla, I was always like, “What kind of services can we offer around that?” And without getting people’s data or without actually asking people to sign up, it’s impossible to do these kinds of services. So, that’s where the differentiation, I think, will be in the near future and developer tools [inaudible] self, and not give it back to the main community that you’ve got so much from.

Christian: If anything, I want the developer tools to become a bit more simple. Because… I mean, right now you opened them and it’s like a proper kitchen sink. We’ve put everything in there right now and… I’ve… I don’t find my way around it. I used to command [inaudible] and type commands into actually navigate the interface. And I think there’s a good opportunity now with more eyes looking at it and more demands from our end users, from our enterprise users to make them simpler as well.

Paul: Yeah. I mean, as well… And there’s people like me who have to… Aren’t full time developers but are having to do development from time to time, so I have to go into developer tools. And I look a lot of it. There’s certain things I know how to do in the developer tools and that’s it. The rest is just this kind of confusing mess to me. So, I’d be very much in favor of that. That sounds great to me. I tell you what? The z-index, 3D feature you’ve just talked about, I could have done with that only yesterday when I was working on the landing page for the book. And I was faffing around and having problems and if I just been able to visually see that z-index, that would have helped me so much.

Paul: Because there’s a lot of us people who are very visual but are doing development as well. So, cool. All that sounds really exciting. And I love the integration that you’ve got going with Visual Studio Code. My son is doing an A level in Computer Science at the moment, and he’s been working on Visual Studio Code. And I keep looking at it and going, why haven’t I switched to this? I should switch to this. So, I’m now going to download it and make sure that I have a go and poke around with that. Because anything new and shiny, is always good for me.

Christian: I think the most exciting thing that I like with when I teach people web development right now, beginners in very much code camps and these kinds of things, the gate integration in Visual Studio Code is a wonderful thing as well. Because gate is so useful, but basically telling, people here’s your 10 lines of CSS and now let’s go to the terminal and learn about 500 gate commands you’re [inaudible 00:50:32]. If you integrate… The integration Visual Studio Code is like, you say something, there’s little M that comes next to it, you roll over and says like, this is a [inaudible 00:50:41]. And that’s back in the background into the gate work flow. And this is so much nicer than jumping, again, between the editor and the terminal and back. Which version controlling was more focused on writing good commit messages rather than learning all the different commands, and this is what Visual Studio Code helps you with.

Paul: And that’s really interesting you say that, because at the moment, my son’s teacher is trying to get him to learn a load of gate commands and he keeps going, “What is all this built into Visual Studio Code. Why am I learning these obscure commands?” Which I totally get. Hey, I do want to ask you one last question before you go, which is a question that Richard has just posted, and I’ll be interested in your opinion about it. He’s asking whether the kind of the fact that everybody is using Chromium, that everybody is moving on to that, whether that’s problematic from the point of view of supporting or proposing new CSS properties. I’ve got to say, from my personal point of view, almost feel like it’d be the other way. The adoption will happen much faster. But I’m interested in your opinion on it, Chris.

Christian: Well, I mean there is the question of losing an engine of the web and losing… We had that with Opera as well before, and we had that with other browser [inaudible 00:51:49], because Chris Coyier just in his sharp talk, talked about that in the last edition as well. I think there’s a pragmatism there that basically developers only tested for that. And I mean, we have to see where developers are. But when it comes to the proposal, the standards proposals, I think it’s even better that we have more people on the Chromium project right now as well. Because where people are and where they can get integrated, is not allowing just one company to just do something. I mean, we’ve, in the past, we’ve been terrible about that, that we basically said, “Okay, here’s the thing that you using. I hope you love it.”

Christian: But with having a lot that many people in the W3C as well as Microsoft has, I’m in two working groups and there’s people in 17 or something, there is a good opportunity to get new features in and not get them only as a test run behind 500 flags. So, if two big browsers are based on the same engine then it’s actually faster to get them out into the market and let people use them. Because I find there is a huge drop off as well about getting people excited at CSS conference, it’s about new features and then when it takes half a year for them to show up in stable browsers, people will have forgotten about them already and not use them. So, that’s where people copy and paste CSS Grid or CSS Flexbox layouts without understanding what they are, and without actually looking at it.

Christian: Because when we integrate in the openness, a lot of moving parts. So, often people do something… A lot of the engine that we have in browsers is basically backwards compatibility for previews of technologies that changed later on. And as we can never break the web, we have to keep all of that in. So, with every new innovation, we basically have to put more craft into the browser. And hopefully in this case, it actually makes it better. When we learned that when we did the new Edge engine, we made a pristine engine that only worked with W3C standards, put it on the web and nothing worked. Because people rely on all kinds of Safari prefixes than Chrome prefixes back then. And we realized that a more pragmatic way is actually making it there. So, I don’t see the CSS, especially the CSS work, actually being stalled by that.

Christian: I actually see it to be faster in the hands of real users, so they can actually… Or real developers to actually play with them. So, I’m not worried about that. I also think that having more people on the Chromium project itself, disallows only one company or one player in that Chromium project to have their way with it. So that’s something that, in the past, was a worry. Now, I’m super excited that the Chromium team is actually there in Germany as well. So, that’s why I have a particular reason to stay here and not have to move to America. And we have our weekly… Actually after this, we’re going to have our sync this week and it’s… We are all talking, so that’s a good thing about that.

Paul: Brilliant. Thank you Chris. Thanks for coming on. Much appreciate it.

Marcus: Much appreciate it, as always.

Paul: And we’ll catch up soon. It’s nice to have a developer on the… I actually understand some of the stuff you’re saying. It’s good. You’ve got an amazing way of explaining it in real English. You’re [crosstalk 00:00:54:49].

Christian: So, let’s talk about WebAssembly next.

Marcus: No [crosstalk 00:54:51].

Paul: No. That’s it. I’m topped out at this point. I’m going to throw you off at that point. Bye-bye.

Marcus: Cheers Christian. I just need to say, for those listening, Christian just kept dropping out there. Hopefully I’ve managed to fix it. If anything didn’t make sense. It’s just all out of our hands. But, he’s so good. It’s always a sign of when I start writing down, make sure the other guys listened to this. That’s when you know the value of what you’re been told [inaudible 00:00:55:23].

Paul: Yeah. And I do entirely agree with it. I understand Richard’s concern about the homogeny of browsers. But I have to say, from those years of battling with multiple browsers that… With all their individual extensions and all of the problems that went with that and all of these promises and talks, “Oh, you can… There’s this cool new thing in the spec. You might get it in four or five years.” I’m just glad that we’re in the browser environment that we are today, and it’s so much better these days than it used to be. As I’ve just quoted Andrew Miller, who’ve said exactly the same words even with the prolonged so, in the chat room. So, take it from us old fogies, that things are much nicer today than they were in the past.

Paul: Okay. So, a few words about our sponsor 2Checkout. The name says a lot, but actually they do a lot than you might think. So, I bet if you’re listening to this, you’ve purchased something online before, it’s fairly obvious, isn’t it? We all have these days. So, you go to a website and let’s say that you are on a laptop and you want to buy some, I don’t know, high end security software, antivirus, something like that. You go to whoever is your favorite brand and you click the buy button. That’s where you lead the security company’s website and end up on an HTTPS secure site, and that is what 2Checkout does. Everything else that happens after you click that buy button, the payment, the finalization of the order, may be adding another product to the cart that has been suggested to you, the delivery notifications and so on. All of that is what 2Checkout handle.

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Paul: Risk management and compliance and partner sells. By this, I mean that it’s got 50,000 affiliate networks that you can plug into and make use of. Anyway… So as you can see, it’s a heck of a lot more than maybe you’d first think. There is a huge amount going on beyond just payment. So in summary, if you want to make the most out of every transaction that goes through on your website, whether it’s a digital project, a product or a physical one, then you probably want to check out, 2Checkout. You can find out more about them by going to and let them know you came from me. I think that we should be looking to wrap up the show. I think that was really good. We covered some great stuff today. Really interesting broad range of conversations about, quoting on projects, dealing with fonts and whatever it was Christian was talking about that I pretended I understood.

Marcus: Techie stuff.

Paul: Stuff. Actually it’s really cool. Very cool stuff. Right. So yes, Chris, I haven’t forgotten Marcus’s joke. Marcus, what have you got for us today?

Marcus: First of all, I have to say that even though the Slack channel, the joke Slack channel is very good, there’s a continued stream. People have started just posting pictures of funny things in there. Please go back to doing proper jokes because I’m running thin as you’re about to find out. So, I can’t remember who put this one down, I just copied it, and so apologies for whoever shared this one. So, this is a person going into a vet. And the vet says, “Mrs. Jones, I’m afraid I’m going to have to put your dog down.” Mrs. Jones, “Oh no. Is it something incurable?” Vet says, “No. He’s just heavy.”

Paul: That is terrible. Oh please, somebody sort him out with some decent jokes because I don’t think I can cope with that.

Marcus: It made you laugh though, didn’t it? It’s badness. It’s utter poor quality.

Paul: I guess so. Anyway, another good show. I’ve very much enjoyed that. Thank you very much. I’m enjoying this meetup thing. Hopefully, we’ll get some more people on the next show. If you’ve struggled with the… When these shows are recorded and not being able to make the live event, don’t worry. We are going to mix it up very soon. I think we’ve got one more week of our Thursday at 3:00 PM slot, and we’re going to do some different things. If you-

Marcus: That’s superb. Sorry, I’ve got to interrupt you, Paul.

Paul: Go on.

Marcus: Chris has got another joke in the Slack channel. With Britain leaving the EU now, how much space has been created? Exactly 1GB.

Paul: Oh now that is good.

Marcus: Isn’t that good?

Paul: That’s clever. I’m liking it. Geek joke, absolutely a geek joke. So, what was I going to say? Yes. So if you want to be notified about future episodes that we’re going to be recording, so maybe you can come on and join us either chatting on the mic or alternatively just hanging out in the chat room, which is as disruptive as always. You can go to we would love to have you along. Also, it’s worth saying, if you go to you can listen to this kind of pointless waffle all day, every day. Which is fun. We have a great time chatting in our Slack channel, so that would be pretty good as well. All right, that wraps this up for this week. Thank you very much everybody for joining us in the chat room, thank you for listening at home and [inaudible] you again next week. Goodbye.