Back to overview

The Web and Design Systems with Michael Chan

In this podcast episode, Kent C. Dodds and Michael Chan discuss the evolution of web development, the dynamic nature of design systems, and the excitement for the upcoming Epic WebConf.

In the podcast hosted by Kent C. Dodds, Michael Chan, celebrated as Chantastic, shares his insights on the evolution of web development and the critical role of design systems. He discusses how design systems should evolve with product development, the importance of documentation, and the dynamic nature of design systems contrary to the belief that they are static. Michael advocates for the empowering aspect of creating personal software and looks forward to the future where emerging tools will not only prevent breaks but also enhance development workflows. The conversation ends with a positive outlook on the web’s future and the excitement for the Epic WebConf, seen as a springboard for new ideas and community engagement.

Watch this episode.

Meet Michael at Epic Web Conf.


Michael Chan
Michael Chan


Kent: Hey everybody, I am so excited to be joined by my friend, the Chantastic, Michael Chan. How are you doing, Chan?

Michael: Hey, I'm doing really good. However you can.

Kent: Doing great. So for those of you who are, well, for everybody right now, you should go look up a post that I put on X on February 5th at 10.27 a.m. mountain time, because it was just moments before we started recording on here. And it's just a good time capsule of what

Michael: Yeah.

Kent: happened right before this recording. But anyway, that's not what we're here about.

Michael: A little behind the scenes, a little behind the scenes.

Kent: Yeah,

Michael: Go find

Kent: yeah.

Michael: it.

Kent: So what we're here about is I am super excited to have Michael coming to the Salt Lake City area. We're gonna be in Park City for

Michael: Can't wait.

Kent: Epic WebConf. And I want folks to get to know Michael before that event. So Michael, could you introduce yourself to us a bit?

Michael: Yes. So my name is Michael or Chan or Chantastic, whatever, whatever floats your boat, whatever makes you happy. And, man, I am so excited to hang out with you, Kent and the incredible lineup of people that you're bringing to Park City. It's going to be amazing. Yeah, a little bit about me. I am just, you know, I'm, I feel like I'm just kind of a classic nerd, like someone at egghead was writing a bio for me. Taylor's written a bio and said like, just web enthusiast. And that was it. And I was like, you know what, I think that's my favorite bio that I've ever that I've ever had just, I have loved the web since like the moment my dad got me a dial up subscription to the internet. And just that, that sound just kind of like brings back so much joy and happiness to me the idea that you can exist. digitally and kind of capture your essence like for forever through these like little things called like websites like it's kind of the craziest thing and like with AI the fact that we contribute to all of that is like humanity it's like I don't know there's a lot of like cool fun stuff to about the web and so yeah I'm just excited that you're building a conference that celebrates all of those aspects of the web and what makes it fun and why we love it and like what it means for humanity like over the long term like it's all very fun. So I think that's probably like all you really need to know about me is like that I just I think this stuff is fun. And I am excited to be around people who love it as much as I do.

Kent: Yeah, I love that. Yeah, the web is epic and it

Michael: It

Kent: is

Michael: is.

Kent: just, it's awesome. It's freeing.

Michael: Yeah!

Kent: Like there's a lot of stuff in the news about Apple being like locked down or different app stores just locking down what developers can do on those platforms. And I appreciate that that's a nuanced conversation and all of that

Michael: Yeah.

Kent: stuff. But like the thing that is so cool about the web is that from the very beginning, you could just... do whatever you want to on there.

Michael: Yes. Yeah. For good or

Kent: I

Michael: bad,

Kent: mean,

Michael: right?

Kent: yeah, yeah. There's both sides to that for sure. But like you can put up what you want.

Michael: Yeah.

Kent: Nobody needs to approve it. It's just, it's awesome. I

Michael: Yeah,

Kent: love that.

Michael: there is like the first thing that I ever really built on the web that wasn't like, I don't know my space profile or something like that was a was a registry not a registry RSVP site for my own wedding. And I just remember thinking it was the cool like I just had the most fun it was server somewhere that I was paying a couple bucks a month for. And I just thought it was so fun. I was I have this vivid memory of being in Singapore on a business trip with my dad. And I'm just ftp updates to this, to this application pre get pre everything like for me, at least. And I'm going to call with my now wife Nellie and just kind of like, how does this look like? Is this right? Like, are these the right details? And like being able to update that in real time and like close that gap, that distance gap between us online for a second. Like, it's just, I don't know, I just really like fell in love with it. Like all of those things are just so fun. The way that it brings people literally brings people closer together. Um, is awesome.

Kent: Dude, falling in love with the web while you fall in love with your wife, it's amazing.

Michael: I know,

Kent: Like.

Michael: it's

Kent: Ha ha ha.

Michael: great, yeah. The two loves of my life at that time.

Kent: That's awesome. Well, so Michael, we're gonna have you at the conference speaking, and I think I want people to get super excited about your topic and like just prep themselves a little bit. So can you tell us a little bit what you're thinking about for your talk?

Michael: Yeah, for sure. So I have my entire career worked in like design systems before they were kind of like capital DS design systems, you

Kent: Mm.

Michael: know, working in that gap between developers and designers, even when that was just like working with like, you know, Photoshop cut ups, you know, with this kind of like naming strategy so that it could easily go into these like web templates and whatnot. And so I've been working with like component libraries, design systems for a really long time. And I am excited to help people understand how to capture that workflow of building a design system or a component library in real time. So more of like an emerging design system or emerging component library.

Kent: Mmm.

Michael: Um, how to start capturing those details to improve their development experience. And I think the enemy in all of this is that We work so hard to build that component one time and we often lose all of the valuable context for the decisions that we made along the way. We commit that component, it works great, but then you come back to it and you're like, oh crap, I know that I remember we wanted to make this change, but then there was also this reason that we didn't or a reason that it was hard and we decided not to do that at that time. or there was a use case that we were really trying to support. It's all just kind of like, you got the cake now, but you don't have the recipe anymore. And

Kent: Mmm.

Michael: so what I wanna cover is just that idea of like, how do you capture that recipe while you're building the cake so that the next time you can be like, okay, if we need to rebuild this cake from scratch, or we just need to augment it, like we have the instruction manual to do it a second time and kind of holding all of those really important pieces together for us. So that's what we're gonna

Kent: Hmm.

Michael: cover is basically just the important details of your web development process in a way that's like, doesn't feel like a lot of extra energy.

Kent: Yeah, yeah, we don't want extra chores, but we

Michael: Right.

Kent: do want to have cleaner rooms. And so,

Michael: Yes, yeah.

Kent: yeah.

Michael: And so how do you clean up while you're building? And

Kent: Yeah.

Michael: I think that's the ticket there.

Kent: Yeah, you mentioned like these emerging design systems and things that I think that's really the only way that a successful design system really comes about is as

Michael: Yeah.

Kent: it emerges, right? Because as the product is being developed, you think of these different ways that you can represent

Michael: Yeah.

Kent: the interactions that your website will have. And so you really do have to like build the plane while it's flying. And

Michael: Yeah.

Kent: also, update the instruction manual, I guess. And so I look forward to hearing about strategies for that as well.

Michael: Yeah, thanks. Thanks. Yeah, you know, I think it's so hard to we, we want things that are finished, right? And I think that that's, you know,

Kent: Mm.

Michael: we talked about component libraries and design systems, there's this, this urgency to try to get to the end of it, where it's done and it just like serves you for forever. But these are, that's not the nature of living things, right? Organic things can, they're continually emerging and replacing bad cells and like growing, you know, until eventually they die, right. But the quickest way to guarantee that something dies is to not continue to develop it and grow it and watch it emerge over time. So yeah, I think that is an important thing that we forget sometimes and trying to build the perfect thing.

Kent: Yeah, well, that's, and it's important to remember that nothing is perfect. And

Michael: Yeah.

Kent: like the closest you can get to perfection is shipped.

Michael: Right,

Kent: So,

Michael: yeah.

Kent: yeah, that's great. I'm really looking forward to chatting with you at the conference. And I'm sure a lot of other people are as well. And

Michael: Yeah.

Kent: you are looking forward to talking with people too. I think that's important

Michael: I

Kent: for

Michael: love

Kent: people

Michael: it.

Kent: to understand like. the speakers or the people who are on stage are excited to not be on stage and still talk

Michael: Hahaha

Kent: with people. And so when we're at the event and talking with folks, what are the sorts of things that you're hoping they come up and talk with you about? Or what are you hoping to talk with other people about at the conference?

Michael: Yeah, I think there are two things that I'm really bullish on right now, which is building one is building your own software. I think that you embody this really well. This idea of it is always a worthwhile investment to just build your own software. And maybe that means that you decide that an abstraction or a service is still better, right? Like, you're like, you love, right? That is an abstraction over like bare hardware that makes sense to you, like, you don't have to build your own like deployment service, right?

Kent: Hmm.

Michael: But knowing how all that stuff works, like not being afraid of going that deep, if, if it's necessary. I think building your own software is such a superpower. And I think gets to the heart and the joy of like why we do all this stuff so I think I love talking with people about the silly stuff that they're building just for themselves that makes me super happy um and then I think you know development workflows and um kind of just in time like productivity I guess is something that I'm really excited about I think that um like snap like visual testing is big like this year and in the coming years. I think we're only just starting to see the tools emerge to make that pretty easy. Playwright has just been crushing it like the

Kent: Yes.

Michael: last year and a half. It's been absolutely amazing to see those tools emerge. And I think that we're just at the cusp of seeing how those things can actually improve our web development workflow, not just the like make sure that it doesn't break in the future workflow.

Kent: Hmm

Michael: And I think that's something I'm really excited. I'm excited to hear people's experiences with that, as well as kind of like what they'd like to see improved because I think you know, now is the time it's like it's all happening right now.

Kent: Yeah, wow. 100%, I think that those are really awesome things for folks to think about and talk with you about at the conference. Yeah, the future is going to be very exciting.

Michael: Yeah.

Kent: And you know, I appreciate talking about the past and stuff, but I like being in a position where we can have very interesting and deep conversations about the future. And honestly,

Michael: Yeah.

Kent: as difficult as the world is right now and there's a lot of uncertainty and everything, I still feel really optimistic about the future.

Michael: Yeah.

Kent: And I think that there's a lot to be excited about. So I'm

Michael: Yeah.

Kent: excited for that.

Michael: Yeah, I think I hope that people match your energy on that. And I think that's what I'm excited about you doing this conference. I'm excited for you to put this conference on, because I think that you have always embodied that energy that hopeful, optimistic, positive about the web energy. And I think that as people come together with that energy in mind. man, there's going to be a lot of really cool ideas and fun that's had over that conference. So

Kent: Hmm

Michael: I can't wait. I'm excited about it.

Kent: Well, thank you. Yeah, I love that it makes me think that like If if the world is going to end

Michael: Ha ha

Kent: Like we're concerned that it's going to then I would much rather have it end with me having an epic conference with

Michael: Ha ha

Kent: my

Michael: ha!

Kent: epic friends Then to just like sit at home and be like this is awful that the world is ending So like

Michael: Yeah.

Kent: I'm happier and maybe just maybe by having a positive attitude and working toward something bigger than ourselves, we can actually prevent the world from ending. I don't know.

Michael: You know, it's, it's our only hope, right?

Kent: Yeah.

Michael: You're not going to find it the other way.

Kent: Yes.

Michael: Have you seen? What is it called? What is the post Harry Potter series?

Kent: Oh, the cursed child.

Michael: No, no. Oh, shoot in the cinematic universe, the Dang it. Sorry. The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Kent: Oh yes yes,

Michael: Okay,

Kent: yeah.

Michael: there's a scene, it's one of my favorite scenes in any movie ever. There's this big like rhinoceros thing on the, looking thing on the loose, and they're trying to capture it. And Newt says to the guy that he's using his bait, he's like, you know, I wouldn't worry. And he's like, oh, really? And he's like, yeah, well, you know, when you worry, you only suffer twice.

Kent: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Actually that's in Don't Worry Be Happy, actually.

Michael: Oh, is it? Okay.

Kent: Yeah, it's one of the things that, like, you know, there are a couple of times in that song where he'll say like, just something really quick, like, look at me, I'm happy. Or he'll say, like, I'll give you my number. If you worry, call me, I'll make you happy. So he'll like have these phrases. And one of them

Michael: Thanks for watching!

Kent: is, if you worry, stuff for twice or something like that. I'll

Michael: Yeah.

Kent: have to look it up, but yeah. So

Michael: Yeah,

Kent: don't worry,

Michael: it's.

Kent: be happy, and come to EpicWipConf.

Michael: There it is. That's it.

Kent: Alright, hey thanks so much Chan, I appreciate you giving us some of your time today and

Michael: Oh,

Kent: looking

Michael: my pleasure.

Kent: forward to seeing you at the conference.

Michael: Can't wait. Can't wait. Thanks for having me, Kent.

Kent: Bye everyone.

Sweet episode right?

You will love this one too.

See all episodes

Featured episode

Open-Source Development and Standards with Zeno Rocha

Season 5 Episode 24 — 10:51
Zeno Rocha