How our UX team's approaching accessibility

At Shopify, our mission is to make commerce better for everyone. When we say better, we’re talking about caring deeply about making quality products. To us, a quality web product means a few things: certainly beautiful design, engaging copy, and a fantastic user experience, but just as important are inclusivity and the principles of universal design.

“Everyone” is a pretty big group. It includes our merchants, their customers, our developer partners, our employees, and the greater tech community at large, where we love to lead by example. “Everyone” also includes:

We take our mission to heart, so it’s important that Shopify products are useable and useful to all our users. This is something we’ve been thinking about and working on for a few years, but it’s an ongoing, difficult challenge. Luckily, we love tackling challenging problems and we’re constantly chipping away at this one. We’ve learned a lot from the community and think it’s important to contribute back, so — in celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day — we’re thrilled to announce a series of posts on accessibility.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll release posts on the Shopify's UX publication on Medium about some of the real-world problems we’ve faced trying to make different parts of Shopify accessible and then how we’re trying to overcome them. Like many other teams, we’re not starting from scratch: the Shopify platform already exists, and with these posts we want to dig into our approach for making an existing platform accessible. You’ll hear from a bunch of talented people on our UX team — front end developers, designers, content specialists, and user experience researchers — who work closely with engineering and product teams to solve these problems.

For this round, we’re releasing six articles, with a new one dropping every two weeks. We’ll cover:

  • Accessible pricing in Shopify themes
  • Contrast and accessible text
  • Semantic HTML at scale
  • Mobile-friendly, accessible tables
  • Running an accessibility user testing session
  • Creating an accessible culture

We hope you’ll find these useful and that they’ll help you make your product (and industry!) better for everyone. Feel free to drop us comments and questions in the posts. We want this to be a conversation.

PS If you’re passionate about quality and are looking for an awesome place to work, check out our Careers page.

Dave Newton

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Five Shopify talks at RailsConf 2016

RailsConf banner

RailsConf is tomorrow! For the first time, the conference will be in Kansas City, known for jazz and barbeque and home to the Royals. If you're heading down, here are the details for the five presentations we'll be giving:

  • How We Deploy Shopify - Kat Drobnjakovic

Shopify is one of the largest Rails apps in the world and yet remains to be massively scalable and reliable. The platform is able to manage large spikes in traffic that accompany events such as new product releases, holiday shopping seasons and flash sales, and has been benchmarked to process over 25,000 requests per second, all while powering more than 243,000 businesses. Even at such a large scale, all our developers still get to push to master and deploy Shopify in 3 minutes. Let's break down everything that can happen when deploying Shopify or any really big Rails app.

Wednesday, May 4, 11:40 am to 12:20 pm, Room 3501 G

  • Foreign API Simulation with Sinatra - Konstantin Tennhard
Nowadays, we often rely on third party services that we integrate into our product, instead of building every aspect of an application. In many cases, well written API clients exist, but on occasion you run into the issue that there isn't a ready to use client or it simply doesn't fit your needs. How do you write a good API client and more importantly how do you test it without hitting the remote API. So far, the standard approach has been replaying requests with VCR or stubbing them with Webmock. There is a third option: simulating foreign APIs with Sinatra from within your test suite!
Wednesday, May 4, 1:40 pm to 2:20 pm, Room 3501 EF
  • How Sprockets Works - Rafael Mendonça França

Almost all applications have assets like CSS, JavaScript and others. That means the asset pipeline is an integral part of the Ruby on Rails framework. In this talk we'll show you how the asset pipeline works, and how you can take full advantage of the asset pipeline's features. Ever wondered how to convert an SVG to PNG automatically? Wanted to know what exactly happens to your CoffeeScript files? We'll explore that, and more.

Wednesday, May 4, 3:40 pm to 4:20 pm, Room 3501 H

  • Testing Rails at Scale - Emil Stolarsky
It's impossible to iterate quickly on a product without a reliable, responsive CI system. At a certain point, traditional CI providers don't cut it. Last summer, Shopify outgrew its CI solution and was plagued by 20 minute build times, flakiness, and waning trust from developers in CI statuses. Now our new CI builds Shopify in under 5 minutes, 700 times a day, spinning up 30,000 docker containers in the process. This talk will cover the architectural decisions we made and the hard lessons we learned so you can design a similar build system to solve your own needs.
Wednesday, May 4, 4:30 pm to 5:10 pm, Room 3501 AB
  • Rails 5 Features You Haven't Heard About - Sean Griffin

We've all heard about Action Cable, Turbolinks 5, and Rails::API. But Rails 5 was almost a thousand commits! They included dozens of minor features, many of which will be huge quality of life improvements even if you aren't using WebSockets or Turbolinks.

This will be a deep look at several of the "minor" features of Rails 5. You won't just learn about the features, but you'll learn about why they were added, the reasoning behind them, and the difficulties of adding them from someone directly involved in many of them.

Thursday, May 5, 11:40 am to 12:20 pm, Room 3501 DC

 

Come say hey, and we're looking forward to chatting all things Rails! And if you're a dev interested in joining Shopify. Kayla Boyer will be at RailsConf: reach out to her through Twitter. To check out open roles or to learn more, head over to our Careers page.

Jaime Woo

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Adventures in Production Rails Debugging

At Shopify we frequently need to debug production Rails problems. Adding extra debugging code takes time to write and deploy, so we’ve learned how to use tools like gdb and rbtrace to quickly track down these issues. In this post, we’ll explain how to use gdb to retrieve a Ruby call stack, inspect environment variables, and debug a really odd warning message in production.

Scott Francis

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Developer Onboarding at Shopify

Hi there! We’re Kat and Omosola and we’re software developers at Shopify. We both started working at Shopify back in May, and we felt both excited and a little nervous before we got here. You never know exactly what to expect when you start at a new company and no matter what your previous experience is, there are always a lot of new skills you need to learn. Thankfully, Shopify has an awesome onboarding experience for its new developers, which is what we want to talk about today. The developer onboarding process at Shopify is constantly adapting to the needs...

Kat Drobnjakovic

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Introducing Shipit

After a year of internal use, we’re excited to open-source our deployment tool, Shipit. With dozens of teams pushing code multiple times a day to a variety of different targets, fast and easy deploys are key to developer productivity (and happiness) at Shopify. Along with key improvements to our infrastructure, Shipit plays a central role in making this happen. Motivation Coordinating frequent deployments in a large development team poses a number of challenges. You need to ensure that no one else is currently deploying, that the revision you are about to deploy has been successfully tested on CI, and even...

Jean Boussier

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Secrets at Shopify - Introducing EJSON

This is a continuation of our series describing our evolution of Shopify toward a Docker-powered, containerized data centre. Read the last post in the series here.

One of the challenges along the road to containerization has been establishing a way to move application secrets like API keys, database passwords, and so on into the application in a secure way. This post explains our solution, and how you can use it with your own projects.

Burke Libbey

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Announcing go-lua

Today, we’re excited to release go-lua as an Open Source project. Go-lua is an implementation of the Lua programming language written purely in Go. We use go-lua as the core execution engine of our load generation tool. This post outlines its creation, provides examples, and describes some challenges encountered along the way.

Francis Bogsanyi

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There's More to Ruby Debugging Than puts()

"Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place. Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are, by definition, not smart enough to debug it." - Brian W. Kernighan

Debugging is always challenging, and as programmers we can easily spend a good chunk of every day just trying to figure out what is going on with our code. Where exactly has a method been overwritten or defined in the first place? What does the inheritance chain look like for this object? Which methods are available to call from this context?

This article will take you through some under-utilized convenience methods in Ruby which will make answering these questions a little easier.

    Blake Mesdag

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    Building Year in Review 2014 with SVG and Rails

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    As we have for the past 3 years, Shopify released a Year in Review to highlight some of the exciting growth and change we’ve observed over the past year. Designers James and Veronica had ambitious ideas for this year’s review, including strong, bold typographic treatments and interactive data visualizations. We’ve gotten some great feedback on the final product, as well as some curious developers wondering how we pulled it off, so we’re going to review the development process for Year in Review and talk about some of the technologies we leveraged to make it all happen.

    Tessa Thornton

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    Building and Testing Resilient Ruby on Rails Applications

    Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the biggest days of the year at Shopify with respect to every metric. As the Infrastructure team started preparing for the upcoming seasonal traffic in the late summer of 2014, we were confident that we could cope, and determined resiliency to be the top priority. A resilient system is one that functions with one or more components being unavailable or unacceptably slow. Applications quickly become intertwined with their external services if not carefully monitored, leading to minor dependencies becoming single points of failure.

    For example, the only part of Shopify that relies on the session store is user sign-in - if the session store is unavailable, customers can still purchase products as guests. Any other behaviour would be an unfortunate coupling of components. This post is an overview of the tools and techniques we used to make Shopify more resilient in preparation for the holiday season.

    Simon Eskildsen

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