dereck quock

Be Like Water

2 min read
Photo by kazuend
The waters of a river adapt themselves to whatever route proves possible, but never forgets its one objective: the sea.
-- Paulo Coelho, Maktub

Many times, we overcomplicate things. It always reminds me of Kent's post about AHA programming, which explains that we should Avoid Hasty Abstractions. We make things complicated by trying to support a million different use cases or prematurely optimizing when it's not necessary.

My previous manager once told me that we should build for the lowest common denominator. In other words, we shouldn't spend all of our time covering every single edge case but instead, focus on learning what's best for the customer so we can deliver experiences that the majority of customers want. Let me expand a little more on what I mean.

Let's keep it basic

Take a Modal for example. Let's pull in the Reach UI dialog component:

import React from 'react';
import { Dialog } from '@reach/dialog';
import '@reach/dialog/styles.css';
function Modal() {
const [showDialog, setShowDialog] = React.useState(false);
const open = () => setShowDialog(true);
const close = () => setShowDialog(false);
return (
<div style={{ marginBottom: '1rem' }}>
<button onClick={open}>Show Dialog</button>
style={{ color: '#666666' }}
<p>This is a basic modal</p>
<button onClick={close}>OK</button>

Awesome 🔥 we have an accessible modal!

A more complex modal

Now Product and UX want us to have a customizable modal header with a title, a logo, a close button, and we handle different modal sizes. So now we have something like this:

import { Overlay, ModalContent, Header, Logo, Close } from './lib';
function Modal({
hideHeader = false,
hideLogo = false,
hideCloseButton = false,
preventCloseOnESC = false,
type = 'full',
}) {
const close = () => {
if (!preventCloseOnESC) {
return (
<Overlay isOpen={showDialog} onDismiss={close}>
<ModalContent aria-label="complex" type={type}>
<article style={{ padding: '1rem' }}>
{!hideHeader && (
<h2 style={{ margin: 0 }}>
{!hideLogo && <Logo />}
{!hideCloseButton && <Close onClick={close}>×</Close>}

Now our modal has a bunch of conditional logic and there are multiple combinations of flags that determine our UI. What if we want to render a different header on mobile? What if we add a complex footer too? This can get hard to manage and maintain with every feature request that comes in. There's got to be a better way to have a flexible and extensible modal component. Luckily, React Hooks allows you to compose logic together and we can export components that consumers of our Modal can compose for themselves.

Let's make it more simple

We can extract control props to a custom hook and export the modal-related styled components so that other developers can compose them together.

This is much simpler and there's no conditional logic:

import { Overlay, ModalContent, Header, Logo, useModal } from './lib';
export function Modal() {
const { showDialog, openDialog, closeDialog } = useModal();
return (
<div style={{ marginBottom: '1rem' }}>
<button onClick={openDialog}>Show Simpler Modal</button>
<Overlay isOpen={showDialog}>
<ModalContent aria-label="basic" type="3/4">
<article style={{ padding: '1rem' }}>
<h2 style={{ margin: 0 }}>
<Logo /> Modal Title
<p>Modal body</p>
<button onClick={closeDialog}>OK</button>

This is great! 🐯 It's simpler and much more declarative and doesn't include unnecessary abstraction. By building this Modal to compose logic and other components together, it's easy to reason about and understand what's going on. We don't have the complexity and cognitive overhead of trying to understand everything that this modal does. It makes it easier to maintain and we don't have to click through multiple layers of components to get to a definition.

You can check out this codesandbox for yourself 👍

Edit this on CodeSandbox

Adapt to changes

This is also flexible enough that if I wanted to add a close button to the header, I could just pull it in from ./lib and add the component directly in the header. And if I wanted to change the header altogether, I could just swap it out. In this way, we're adapting to changes that come in and not over abstracting things. We're giving control to the developer that's using this modal so they can compose things together for their specific use case.

We're also developing for deletability. If we did want to change the whole header, we should be confident in pulling it out. I'm definitely an advocate for code artisanship, but I also feel like we shouldn't get too attached to our code. Just because someone refactors or deletes some code that you've written doesn't mean you should take it personally. Be like water. Go with the flow and adapt to the ever-changing technology that we work with.

Focus on the end goal

Now that we're not focusing on the nitty-gritty details of supporting every edge case, we can focus on our end goal: delighting users with a great experience.

Be the waters of a river and focus on getting to the sea 🌊 just around the river bend.

Just around the river bend