Refreshing Web Design Trends

by Dan DeMeyere - @dandemeyere

In the past year, the post 2.0 web design era has really come into its own. I wrote about the start of this when web designers first started to embrace HTML5 and what it has to offer, but the time has finally come when over-the-top Flash websites, such as this one, are no longer the standard for those that are pushing the envelope for creative web designs.

Here are 4 websites who have utilized HTML/jQuery and creativity to build refreshing designs:

Go to It's ok, I'll wait for you to actually click the link. Once the page loads, you'll notice you have two options. Click the first one titled 'What? Slaves work for me?'. Now start scrolling. Killer, right? With a little bit of jQuery and some clever CSS, this website is re-inventing the way to deliver information to users. Lines of text are brought in at the same pace as your scrolling, allowing you to control how quickly you want to read their text. On top of this, they have different graphics pushing the text into place to make the reading experience fun.

A lot of freedom is granted when designing a personal website. It can say anything and look as wild as you want it to look. Shockingly, one of my favorites is not a designer or a developer's website - it belongs to a cricket player. James Anderson's website is awesome and it's showing off one of my favorite trends: making numbers sexy on the web.

HTML5, specifically the addition of Canvas and SVG, has given designers free reign to design graphs, charts, and other data visualizations without having to worry about how they will be built. Thanks to JavaScript libraries like D3.js and Highcharts.js, developers no longer have to worry about Flash or any other antiquated plug-in for interactive visuals. And while D3/Highcharts are two of my favorites, there are plenty of other emerging solutions.

Tangent: if you're someone who is looking to make your own website, I strongly recommend you look over this Quora list of best personal websites on the web. is a very cool website. It's a kids website that highlights really cool things that kids and parents make and it's also showcasing the last trend I'll mention in this post that I'm excited about - high powered web graphics. In the past, image sizes were always a huge cause for concern because of bandwidth limitations and costs. As broadband internet becomes more prevalent and static asset storage (ex: AWS S3) becomes more and more affordable, image sizes become less and less of a concern.

When you go to the DIY homepage, you're presented with a stunning graphic. After a couple of seconds, the text overlays disappears and you're able to grab the graphic and move it to explore (with a nice easing effect to simulate gliding). The entire graphic is larger than 3000x3000 pixels, but through some clever coding the actual images that compromise the entire graphic are 35 387x387 image tiles. I would also bet good money that only the necessary tiles are loaded until you try and explore surrounding tiles. The reason why I think this will become a web trend is because this same high-quality graphic tiling technology could be used for a web-based video game built on top of HTML5. A 'level' in the game could be hundreds of thousands of pixels, but when the graphics are loaded only when needed, it could be realistically done with ease.

This last website is a combination of all three trends I mentioned: re-inventing the way to deliver information, beautiful metric visuals, and high powered web graphics. By utilizing all three, the creator of this website was able to bring to light a very serious topic (Hydraulic Fracturing) and deliver the information on the topic to you in such a compelling way that you want to learn. You need to keep scrolling. They have gamified the process to digest information on the web. It's brilliant.

AJAX Content Pagination with Dynamic URLs

by Dan DeMeyere - @dandemeyere

Sorry about the ugly title, I couldn't think of a better way to describe the post in fewer words. The long title would have been: "How to paginate through content with AJAX and still be able to share the current content piece that is viewed without the page refreshing". See why I shortened it? Onto the post.

AJAXing content in and out creates a nice experience for the user when done correctly. You can flip through posts or articles in a magazine-like fashion. If you're having trouble visualizing this, a good example is The Daily Thred is a new project that a colleague of mine, Heidi, and myself created over the past month. Heidi was in charge of all of the front-end (design/layout/templates etc.) and I was responsible for the back-end implementation and JavaScript. Since we're a Ruby on Rails shop here at thredUP, I chose the Refinery CMS gem to handle the majority of the functionality. As for the JavaScript library of choice, we use jQuery. I love jQuery. 

jQuery makes working with JavaScript fun. Seriously. A lot of people think of JavaScript and cringe, but I always look forward to the part of my project that involves JavaScript. Anyways...a big requirement (at least in my mind) of this project was being able to share the URL at any point in time on The Daily Thred and having that URL reference the current piece of content the user was viewing when they copied the URL. If you're reading this, you probably know that if you change the URL in the browser (i.e. -> with window.location.href, the page refreshes automatically. Not very convienent for the problem we're trying to solve, but I'm sure there are security reasons for having the browser respond the way it does. The answer is not the window.location.href object in JavaScript. Close though, the answer is the window.location.hash object. Subtle yet important difference between the two.

The hash portion of the URL ( is not visible to the controller. You can play around with the params variable in Rails all day or the $_REQUEST variable in PHP, but you'll never find the string 'hash_portion' anywhere. This is why we have to use JavaScript. I came to this conclusion after doing some brief reverse-engineering. I knew Facebook allowed you to browse pictures without the page refreshing while still being able to the share the URL of the specific photo you were viewing at all times. So I watched the URL while flipping through some photos and sure enough I saw that the URL was changing with each new picture, but only after hash portion of the URL. I figured this must be the key and I began Googling, which is a developer's best friend.

After reading a couple of posts on Stack Overflow, a developer's 2nd best friend, I quickly discovered a couple of plug-ins and libraries that already existed for this exact purpose. The only problem was they didn't seem easy to configure to our app's needs and they weren't lightweight. I wanted something fast, very fast. I also wanted the feature to fail gracefully in the event garbage was entered to the URL's hash parameter. So I decided to write my own implementation.

There are two parts to my code. The function definitions and the setup calls. As usual with most jQuery plug-ins, the setup calls need to be made when the DOM is ready. I also have an additional call that should be the first jQuery call made after the jQuery <script> includes. Here is the setup:

The paging.check_hash() call (which I'll show the code for in a second) checks the URL's hash string to see if the URL is actually referencing another piece of content. This function will intercept the current page from loading and swap out its contents for the hash string referenced content before the user ever notices. Here is the rest of the code:

As you can see the URL's hash string is updated upon a successful AJAX request. You'll also notice there's a function called refresh_social(). The purpose of this function is to find the Facebook Like and Twitter Tweet social plug-ins on the page and activate them. My controller returns a block of html to the AJAX method and therefore the JavaScript within that block will need to be called/refreshed once the DOM is visible to the new elements. Without those calls, not only would the Facebook/Twitter widgets not be unique to each content piece, they would never be clickable as the 3rd-party API calls need to be made first. 

Hopefully that was helpful in your AJAX endeavour. As always, shoot me an email (contact info below) if you have any questions or see any flaws in my code. Also, if you're looking for a new job and you're interested in learning Ruby on Rails or are already a RoR developer, send me an email and I'll forward it along to the right people because thredUP has some openings on the dev team (and it's an awesome team to work for). 

The next step for this plug-in will be adding forward/backward functionality with the hash event. Should be fun.

Dan DeMeyere
Ruby on Rails Developer & Front-end Engineer

How to Add a Selected Class to a Sub-menu

I haven't created any blog-worthy code contributions in Rails yet (hopefully soon), but I have something that I think is pretty cool to help people who have multi-level, navigation menu user interfaces...say that tens time fast. It's common UX practice to inform the user what page they are on through some sort of visual mechanism - i.e. you're on the 'Contact Us' page and the 'Contact Us' link is underlined or styled in a way that differentiates itself from other navigational items. This is simple to accomplish in Rails. You can set a variable in your controller and pass it down to your view to discern the current page. Then it's as simple as attaching a {:class => selected_class} on your anchor tag where selected_class is the variable set in your controller. Simple enough. What about when you have sub-menus that contain individual links there as well? Well, you can keep passing down the current page from your controller to your view, but at a certain point your navigation menu code becomes scattered with duplicative logic. I believe I've found a simple solution to this.

The first image is part of our in-house metrics navigation menu. The second image is an expanded view of the sub-menu that lies within each top-level menu item. Each top-level menu item has its own controller, which passes down the variable selected_class to layout view, where the navigation lives. I do a simple check above each top-level menu item to determine which controller I'm currently working with.
It looks like this:

The class 'active' is a style set in the CSS to differentiate your top-level item from the others. Now to set an additional style to whichever sub-menu item is currently also selected (as shown with the green background of 'Avg Star'), I wrote a simple jQuery function to scrape the current page's URL and check it against all the sub-menu anchor tags and their href attribute values. Once it finds the sub-menu item with the same href value as the current URL, I add a class onto the element.
The code looks like this:

There are three blocks of code that run on DOM ready. The first is a .click() handler that reveals the sub-menu hiding below each top-level navigation item. The second is a command that does what the first handler does for the currently selected top-level navigation item (that was set by selected_class). The last finds the currently selected top-level item and looks through it's sub-menu to place the additional .active class for the specific page we're on.
For some context, here is what the source HAML code looks like:

Hopefully that was straightforward enough to understand. I know it's pretty dry, but maybe you can think of another use for the code or be inspired to create something better. If you have questions or can think of a more efficient way, shoot me an email (

Also, if you're a Ruby on Rails developer or an ambitious programmer looking to learn Rails, check out our jobs page or drop us a note at I've been working here for a little over 3 months now and I can honestly say that the grass over here is at green as it looks.

Front-End Developer and Ruby on Rails Newbie