Let’s Talk: Building in the Open

11-13-19 Melissa Thompson

In our fourth issue of Let’s Talk, we focus on iteration and building in the open. Melissa discusses how we've rebuilt our site, sharing our progress publicly along the way, and shares resources for how you can do it too.

Let’s talk about redesigns and building in the open. At Sparkbox, we value iteration. As web technologies and best practices evolve, we work to be proactive and adaptive to those innovations. We can then use that work and experience from improving our own site to help our clients. And by building in the open when we can, we give people in our industry a look at how we’re doing things. In this issue of Let’s Talk, our articles will answer questions like these:

  • How can you set up a system to be able to build and iterate in the open?

  • What are the benefits of building in the open?

  • What are the challenges?

Articles We’ve Written

Rebuilding in Public

In this article, Ben shares why Sparkbox has a passion for building in the open. While others may think that sharing our work publicly is just giving competitors our ideas, Ben explains that we want to be open to critique and new ideas from any source. This article came as an introduction to our first public rebuild, which is the subject of the next section.

Building Seesparkbox

Our passion for iterating and building in the open goes back to 2012, when we documented our work to rebuild our site for the first time. Ben said it best when he expressed that building things publicly can “help us push the web forward as we explore some new ways of building.” From 2012–2014, our team documented the in-progress redesign work in the form of Foundry articles as they worked. While web tech has changed since then, this subsection of our site still shows one of the easiest systems (as far as time commitment goes) to communicate our process and build transparently. These articles talk about the benefits and drawbacks of building in the open as well as how we did it.

Rebuilding The Foundry

In her article, Caralyn goes over one of the more recent ways we’ve accomplished building in the open and why that public process was, and continues to be, important to us. We started a complete redesign of seesparkbox.com, beginning with the work on The Foundry back in 2018. As we worked, we wanted to be transparent and share our process of iteration. Our first iteration of building in the open for the 2018–2019 redesign was an additional URL where the in-progress redesign work could live. Now that we’ve completed that work, our redesign work lives as The Foundry you see today.

Let Your Feature Flag Fly

Jordan discusses our next system for building in the open in his article Let Your Feature Flag Fly. He tells us about building “a system for quietly deploying code that contained dormant features.” The article talks about how we implemented feature flags on our most recent redesign of seesparkbox.com, giving these options for deploying code:

  1. Hide the feature from everyone
  2. Allow users to opt-in to see the feature
  3. Turn the feature on for all users

A major advantage of these feature flags is the ability to decouple deployment and code activation. One of the disadvantages, however, is the time it takes to implement feature flags as compared to the benefit your team gets from them. In his article, Jordan discusses those benefits and drawbacks to building publicly more in depth.

Resources We Love

Check out these additional resources we love about designing and building in the open.