Event Apart Chicago wrap-up

The sights, sounds, and sense of An Event Apart Chicago 2007. Thank you, Chicago. You rocked. (Literally.) An Event Apart San Francisco is our next and final show of the year.

An Event Apart Chicago 2007 Photo Pool
Those who were there share photos in and out of the conference.
Blog reactions to An Event Apart Chicago ’07
Via Technorati.
An Event Apart ’07 Extended Mix
The interstitial playlist from the show.
Middle West
Speaker Dan Cederholm’s recap of the event.

One track continues to rule. It rules because you don’t have to decide where to go and what to miss. But it also rules because the conversations in the hallways and pubs can be centered around the same sessions. There’s no “ah, I missed that one because I saw ______ instead”. There’s a complete shared experience between all attendees, and that’s a very good thing.

Seven Lies in Chicago
Liz Danzico recaps her presentation and answers questions about information architecture.
Best Practices for Web Form Design
Slides from the powerful and incredibly useful talk by Luke W. “I walked through the importance of web forms and a series of design best practices culled from live site analytics, usability testing, eye-tracking studies, and best practice surveys. Including some new research on primary and secondary actions, and dynamic help examples.”
Design Your Way Out of a Paper Bag
Luke W: “Jason Santa Maria’s Design Your Way Out of a Paper Bag highlighted some of his creative process when working on the redesign of popular Web destinations.”
Search Analytics
Luke W: “Lou Rosenfeld’s Search Analytics talk at An Event Apart outlined ways designers and developers could utilize search query logs to uncover insights about their site’s audience and needs.”
7 Lies about Information Architecture
Luke W: “Liz Danzico’s talk at An Event Apart dissected seven often-cited information architecture rules and highlighted counter examples that exposed why these rules might be better suited as design considerations.”
Selling Design
Luke W: “Zeldman discussed the soft skills that enable designers to get great work out in the world.”
KickApps at An Event Apart
Dwayne Oxford: “It’s difficult to walk away from an event like this without a fresh perspective on CSS and the DOM, a head-full of elegant design techniques, and enough inspiration to catapult our work to the next level.”
On An Event Apart Chicago 2007
Brain Freeze on AEA: “Never a boring moment.”
She car go
Speaker, developer and author Jeremy Keith shares his experience of An Event Apart Chicago.

[tags]aeachicago07, aneventapart, aneventapartchicago, chicago, design, web, webdesign, conference, conferences, ux, userexperience, dancederholm, simplebits, lizdanzico, jimcoudal, derekfeatherstone, lousrosenfeld, jeremykeith, lukewroblewski, jasonsantamaria, ericmeyer, zeldman, jeffreyzeldman[/tags]

Web type, iPhone content

In Issue No. 244 of A List Apart, for people who make websites, father of CSS Håkon Wium Lie advocates real TrueType fonts in web design, while Iconfactory’s Craig Hockenberry (developer of Twitterific) describes in detail how to optimize websites for iPhone.

Web content is mostly text. Web interfaces are text-based. Design consists chiefly in arranging text to aid communication—guiding readers to the words and experiences they seek. Better typography means better web experiences. Improving typography without resorting to image or Flash replacement and their attendant overhead is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Will browser makers rise to Håkon’s challenge?

Apple’s iPhone is the new frontier in interface design, offering rich computing experiences while dumping established techniques like mouse use and copy-and-paste. Its browser component, by contrast, pretty much provides a normal desktop experience via the standards-compliant Safari browser and small but high-resolution screen. For the most part, then, designing web content for the iPhone simply means designing web content. Ah, but there are tricks that can help your site more smoothy accommodate Apple’s new device. Some can even improve the web experience for all users.

Craig Hockenberry seems to have found them all, and he shares what he knows in a two part series that begins in this issue. I have known Craig since 1996; we collaborated on web-oriented Photoshop filters before Adobe figured out the web. He is a brilliant, funny, and modest man, and now you can get to know him, too.

Both articles are bound to produce thought and argument. Both are at least somewhat controversial. I love them both, and admire both writers. It is a pleasure to share this issue with you.

This issue of A List Apart was produced by Andrew Fernandez, technical-edited by Aaron Gustafson and Ethan Marcotte, art directed by Jason Santa Maria, and illustrated, as always, by the amazing Kevin Cornell. Krista Stevens is acquisitions editor. Erin Kissane edits the magazine.

[tags]design, webdesign, alistapart, håkon, chockenberry, truetype, fonts, typography, webtype, webtypography, apple, iphone[/tags]

Hog butcher

A car is coming.

It will take me to a building.

In the building I will enter a ramp.

The ramp will take me to a jet.

The jet will take me to Chicago for two days of web standards, best practices, and creative inspiration.

An Event Apart Chicago 2007, here I come.

Eric Meyer’s CSS Sculptor

Danged if Eric Meyer hasn’t launched a product. Eric Meyer’s CSS Sculptor, created in collaboration with WebAssist, makes it drop-dead easy to create standards-compliant, two- and three-column CSS layouts in Adobe Dreamweaver.

As a close friend of Eric Meyer’s, I found out about the product yesterday.

It’s a template-driven, “choose, then customize” application. CSS Sculptor includes 30 of the most common web page layouts—fixed-width, liquid, elastic, and combinations thereof—coded the way Eric Meyer would code them.

Once you choose a layout, you can change any aspect of it, including page width and browser window position. Add background images to any component. Rename elements and restyle at will. Additional columns can be added to the left or right of the main content area; headers and footers can be included or omitted with a click.

A nifty tree view visualizes how your style sheet is working, and lets you quickly select and edit any component of your layout. CSS Sculptor even creates a fully customizable print style sheet for every design—automatically. That’s cool.

I test-drove CSS Sculptor yesterday. It’s powerful and fun to use. I can see this application appealing to three audiences:

  1. The power coder who knows CSS inside, outside, and backward, and will never cease hand coding—but wouldn’t mind working faster by off-loading some of the more tedious tasks of CSS layout development.
  2. The professional designer who wants to use CSS, but is daunted (and sometimes frustrated) by the complexities of advanced CSS layout.
  3. The non-full-time web person, responsible for maintaining their organization’s website in addition to other responsibilities, who believes in web standards and accessibility but will never be a CSS Jedi. Now you don’t have to be.

CSS Sculptor is compatible with Dreamweaver CS3 and Dreamweaver 8 on Windows and Macintosh. It will retail for $149.99 but is can be had for $99.99 through 6 September 2007. I don’t get anything for telling you about it except the warm glow of sharing.

Comments are now closed.

[tags]css, csslayout, csssculptor, ericmeyer, adobe, dreamweaver, webassist, software[/tags]

San Francisco, here you come

San Francisco. California’s jewel. America’s prettiest city. Cool fog and hot startups.

I last left San Francisco on September 10th, 2001. It was a good day for flying. I had gone there to speak. Normally when I present at a conference, I stick around, listening to the other speakers and chatting with attendees. But I saw little of that conference and even less of San Francisco, for accompanying me was she who is now my wife. Even from the heights of Coit Tower, I only had eyes for her.

On October 4–5, 2007, I return to the city by the bay for the fourth and final Event Apart conference of 2007. The schedule of presentations, published Monday, outlines a holistic approach to web design rarely seen on conference stages.

There are sessions on writing the user interface and developing effective content strategies (art direction for words, if you will). Sessions on designing and redesigning brands, adding ’zazz to tired layouts, and creating designs that scale to accommodate a thousand users or millions.

Someone who’s actually done it (and at a big company, yet) will share insights on promoting and nurturing standards adoption in the workplace. We’ll find out how CSS really works and what IE7 means to developers. And we’ll learn how to design and structure forms to maximize accessibility, improve semantics, and allow for more flexible styling.

The world’s foremost expert on the subject will tell us what’s wrong with online video captioning (a concern in our increasingly YouTubed world) and how to do it right. And from one of the founders of the usability movement, we’ll gain clues into how people follow the scent of information—and how that knowledge can help us connect users to the content and functions they seek:

…how the quality of links affects whether users click on them; how longer pages actually help users get where they are going faster; the three types of graphics; how users follow a scent; and four ways your design could be blocking their smell.

An Event Apart San Francisco presents one of our most striking speaker line-ups yet: movers from Google and PayPal, shakers from Apple and A List Apart, passionate leaders and experts, all. Plus two big parties, sponsored by Adobe and (mt) Media Temple, where you can network, job-hunt, swap horror stories and phone numbers, or just boogie the night away. Plus breakfasts, lunches, and snacks on both days, and a dandy bag of swag. All for $795 (reg. $895) during the earlybird savings period through September 7th.

Readers of zeldman.com can take an additional $50 off by using the discount code AEAZELD. Enter that code in the discount coupon area of the registration form to get all of AEA San Francisco for $745. Seating is limited and this opportunity won’t last forever. Don’t leave your seat in San Francisco. Tell your corporate overlord or generous uncle about An Event Apart San Francisco 2007 today.

[tags]aneventapart, aeasf07, design, webdesign, webstandards, conferences, seminars, sanfrancisco[/tags]

What is Art Direction (No. 9)

Alive Day Memories - Home From Iraq

This outdoor ad, newly posted on a phone kiosk, arrested me as I strolled down Lexington Avenue last night. Its explicit content can be summarized as follows:

A young woman, facing the viewer, holds what appears to be a prosthetic arm—her own prosthetic arm, one infers. The young woman is casually dressed in a sweater and jeans. Her expression borders on neutral. Where her right arm should be, the sweater has been pinned back. The poster also contains words advertising a new HBO documentary, executive-produced by James Gandolfini, concerning the difficulties faced by a new generation of American war veterans returning home from Iraq.

That is a pictorial inventory, but the poster contains more content than I have listed. Most of that content is externally located. For this poster has been framed and shot, and its subject styled and posed, almost exactly like an American Gap ad.

Consciously or unconsciously, an American viewer will almost certainly make an uncomfortable connection between the disfigurement and sacrifice portrayed in this ad, and the upbeat quality of the Gap’s long-running, highly successful clothing slash lifestyle campaign.

That connection is content. And the non-verbal information that triggers that content in the viewer’s mind is art direction.

Wordless and full of meaning

What is the art direction saying? What is it adding to the content that is already there? Surely the sight of an attractive young woman who has lost her arm fighting in Iraq is loaded enough as an image. Surely a non-combatant, far from Iraq, safe at home, already feels plenty of complex emotions when confronted with this one veteran and at least some of the visual evidence of her sacrifice. What additional statement is being made by the art director’s decision to style this poster like a Gap ad?

Here is a possible reading:

While many Americans are well aware that their country is at war, many others are doing their best to blot that thought out of their minds. In this effort at collective amnesia they are abetted by many retail advertisers and TV programmers, including not a few TV news programmers. Ratings-wise, the war is a bummer. Sales-wise, it is a drag. America wants to shop and move on. (Interestingly, the fashion industry is the one segment of America’s consumer culture that is paying attention. The 691 pages of the new September Vogue are filled with skirts, shoes, dresses, and jackets that obviously resemble armor or in other ways clearly invoke awareness of war and warriors.)

In conceiving the way this poster would be shot and styled, the art director was not holding the Gap responsible for the war in Iraq. Nor was he or she blaming the viewer. But by carefully echoing the imagery of an ad that epitomizes our comfortably shallow consumer lifestyle, the art director does indict the complacent among us and challenge us to think about something besides our next new sweater or iPod.

The placement of type ensures that the words are the last thing we see on the poster. We absorb and are discomfited by the rich, non-verbal text for several beats before our eyes take in the explicit, written content announcing a documentary.

That is art direction. It is not art. It is not design. It is something else. It makes us feel. It makes us think. It holds up the mirror to our desires, our regrets, ourselves.

[tags]artdirection, whatisartdirection, alivedaymemories, iraq, gap, veterans, advertising, iraqwar, wariniraq, posters, thesis, antithesis, synthesis [/tags]

10 Things the Next iPhone Will Do

  1. Provide the option to download and save YouTube videos for 99 cents.
  2. Accept voice commands, read text aloud in any of six user-selectable voices, and provide optional verbal audio feedback on all actions.
  3. Improve built-in camera to 6 Megapixel and include a feature-limited version of Aperture.
  4. Facilitate borrowing from your local public library.
  5. Translate incoming or outgoing e-mail messages. Supported languages will initially include Spanish, Russian, two kinds of Chinese, and Australian.
  6. Vibrate when you approach someone with compatible musical tastes.
  7. For drivers: pay monthly E-Z Pass fees and beam E-Z Pass fare at toll kiosks.
  8. For mass transit riders: pay discounted monthly transit fee and beam per-ride fare at subway entrances and on boarding buses. Also good at Six Flags.
  9. Locate lost keys, pets, children, or anything else tagged with RFID.
  10. Copy and paste.

[tags]apple, iphone, RFID, cameras, 6 megapixel, australianforbeer[/tags]

What crisis?

Has HTML 4.01 stopped working in browsers? I was not aware of it. Has XHTML 1.0 stopped working in browsers? I was not aware of it. Do browser makers intend to stop supporting HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.0? I was not aware of it. Do they intend to stop supporting CSS 1 and CSS 2.1? I was not aware of it.

Has the W3C withdrawn the WCAG 1.0 accessibility guidelines? Nobody told me. Have the WCAG Samurai withdrawn their errata listing? I must have called in sick that day. Have browsers stopped supporting the DOM and ECMAScript? First I’ve heard. Has structured, semantic markup stopped making the content of web pages easier for people and search engines to find, and for assistive software and devices to navigate? I didn’t get the memo.

What exactly is the crisis in web standards? People assure me there is one. But they can’t be bothered to explain.

Certainly the W3C moves at a glacial pace. It’s why we write float when we mean column. But a glacial pace isn’t all bad, especially if you’re driving off a cliff (which I gather we are). Driving off a cliff at a glacial pace affords you the luxury to turn around. I loves me some glacial pace.

The glacial pace of the W3C has given browser makers time to understand and more correctly implement existing standards. It has also given designers and developers time to understand, fall in love with, and add new abilities to existing standards.

So the glacial pace can’t be the crisis. Maybe the problem is lack of leadership. One worries about the declining relevance of The Web Standards Project. (Note the capital “T” in “The”—people who believe in standards should also believe in and follow style guides.) One has worried about the declining relevance of The Web Standards Project since 2002.

There is surely work still to be done. For one thing, mobile devices (the iPhone excepted) need to better support those existing web standards I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I suspect that the people now running The Web Standards Project are working on this and other problems; they’re just not publicizing their efforts until they have more successes to report. That’s how it feels to me, but I could be wrong. This whole post could be wrong. This whole court could be out of order.

Maybe the W3C is the problem, or maybe the problem is that there is standards-related activity going on outside the W3C. Depending on who you talk to, each of the preceding clauses defines the crisis.

Certainly the W3C is political. Certainly some, perhaps more than some, of its committees bog down in in-fighting. In pursuit of a theory, or from lack of fresh air, committee members too often forget the user. Specifications like XHTML 2 and guidelines like WCAG 2 can seem misguided to people who actually create websites for a living. Happily, there are signs that the W3C wants to shed some of its hermeticism and do a better job of listening. Unhappily, there are also signs to the contrary. Depends where you look and who you talk to.

Certainly there is a risk of fragmentation. Two groups, one inside the W3C and the other outside it, are working on HTML 5. Their motivations and methods differ. Their work may come together at some point, or it may not. If there is a rift, the “wrong” HTML 5 may catch on. Heavens!

One day, people from nice homes may forsake XHTML for HTML 5, making us wonder what that XHTML pony ride was all about anyway. Or not. If HTML 5 bombs, we’re not so badly off with the markup specifications we have. Remember this. It may help you sleep at night. If HTML, CSS, or accessibility go seriously astray (and depending on who you ask, at least two of these are in trouble), we will still be able to use HTML 4.01, XHTML 1.0, CSS1 and 2.1, ECMAScript, the DOM, and WCAG 1.0 (with our without reference to the samurai errata) when Britney has grandkids.

Sensible new standards may yet emerge from the W3C, or from elsewhere, or they may not come at all. Some of this may matter before we ride hover cars.

I don’t make standards and I haven’t endured what some who’ve advised standards makers have had to put up with. God bless the advisors. But their frustrations do not a crisis make—any more than a bad meeting with one of my clients foretells the end of capitalism.

Possibly one or both versions of HTML 5 are abandoning accessibility or damning themselves with the same kind of deliberate backward incompatibility that has made XHTML 2 such a profound non-starter in many people’s estimation. One would like to believe that market forces would correct any such deviation from the path of reason, but the influence of market forces on the web has too often been malign for us to expect so upbeat a resolution. This, perhaps, is the crisis our friends talk about but don’t explain.

I have heard the harbingers in blogs and newsgroups but I have not understood their lamentations because, with the exceptions of Joe Clark and Gian Sampson-Wild, none I’ve seen has bothered to document and make clear to others precisely where they believe a specific standard is going wrong.

I wish they would explain. Less drama and more clarity, please. A trail of newsgroup messages you need a roadmap to navigate and a PhD to parse does not constitute a call to arms.

Is there truly a crisis in web standards? Tell us. We will support you. But really tell us.

[tags]webstandards[/tags]

Don’t design on spec

Our agency receives its share of RFPs, and sometimes these requests stipulate that our proposal include layouts. Even if the project looks promising, we just say no.

There are good reasons never to design on spec:

  • It’s a lot of unpaid work.
  • Design is only partly decoration. Mainly it is problem solving. Unless the RFP spells out site goals and user needs in phenomenal detail, you can’t create an appropriate design because you don’t yet know what problems need to be solved. (Even if the RFP spells out goals and needs, it’s unlikely that the people who wrote it know what all their site’s problems are. Most times you need to talk to people who use the site and study how they use it to get a handle on what works and doesn’t. It also helps to interview stakeholders. Doing that at your own expense is risky business at best.)
  • It’s unsafe for agency and potential client alike. The annals of the AIGA are filled with stories like this one:

Per Acme Anvil Co.’s request, Joe’s agency designs comps on spec in hopes of winning the Acme redesign project.

Acme Anvil Co. informs Joe’s agency that someone else got the job.

Six months later, Acme Anvil Co. launches its redesigned website. Joe’s VP of new business visits the site and discovers that it looks similar to one of the supposedly rejected designs Joe’s agency had submitted.

Joe’s agency calls Joe’s attorneys. A nasty lawsuit ensues. No matter who wins the suit, it will be costly and annoying — a drag on resources and morale — for all. If Joe’s agency wins, word goes out that they are the kind of agency that sues if they don’t get a job. If Joe’s agency loses, they may have to lay off staff or close their doors. All because they were willing to design on spec.

“No work on spec” was an advertising mantra until the mid-1990s. When we left advertising, it was routine for ad agencies to compete by presenting clients with free print campaigns, TV animatics, and sometimes even branded caps, match packs, or other promotional tie-ins. Agencies would temporarily add award-winning freelancers to their staff, spending thousands on these spec campaigns. Agencies that did not get the account almost always laid off fulltime staff to make up for the money they lost. We do not know if this is still a standard practice in advertising. Fortunately it is not standard practice in web design.

The AIGA strongly advises its members never to design on spec, and we know of no professional web agency that disregards that advice. Most potential clients who’ve initially requested that we submit designs along with our proposals understand our reasons for saying no. Those who insist on getting free designs anyway are simply advertising the fact that they would not be good clients to work for.

If business is slow, especially if you are a freelance web designer/developer, you may be tempted to say yes to unfair requests for free layouts. Designer, beware: the risks outweigh the potential benefits.


This zeldman.com reprint originally appeared 26 January 2004.

[tags]spec, specwork, design, graphicdesign, dontdesignonspec[/tags]

Staying creative

Everyone is creative. But some stay that way longer. Sooner or later, most people charged with designing, writing, illustrating, and the like find their stores of invention running low. Inspiration pays fewer calls. The well of originality produces only echoes. Ultimately, the very urge to create—the thing that got them into this business when their parents advised them to study dentistry—shrivels and fades.

Or so I have read.

A List Apart illustrator Kevin Cornell is no stranger to the problem of becoming and staying motivated, and in his new ALA article, coincidentally entitled Staying Motivated, he shares his process for doing just that.

Also in Issue 243 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

We say potato, our client says po-tah-to. Clients and those who serve them come from different backgrounds, possess different skills, and often seem to speak different languages. To work around these differences, many of us use a metaphor- and simile-driven shorthand. The site should work “like Amazon,” with features “like Expedia.” It should be “like Basecamp” and “like Wikipedia.”

This language of comparison can help bridge the knowledge gap, but it can also create false expectations and frustration on both sides of the client/designer relationship. Can you master the metaphor without falling prey to its pitfalls? Jack Zeal thinks you can, and in Design by Metaphor he shares tips on using the technique to keep clients engaged but not unhinged.

Pretty good, right? But there’s more. In Editor’s Choice, from 16 August 2002, we proudly revive 10 Tips on Writing the Living Web by Mark Bernstein—the classic article on updating daily content to grow community and keep readers coming back.

I should reread that one myself.

[tags]alistapart, creativity, inspiration, jackzeal, kevincornell, designbymetaphor, clientservices, ebay[/tags]