A List Apart is changing

A List Apart, for people who make websites, is slowly changing course.

For most of its decade of publication, ALA has been the leading journal of standards-based web design. Initially a lonely voice in the desert, we taught CSS layout before browsers correctly supported it, and helped The WaSP persuade browser makers to do the right thing. Once browsers’ standards support was up to snuff, we educated and excited designers and developers about standards-based design, preaching accessibility, teaching semantic markup, and helping you strategize how to sell this new way of designing websites to your clients, coworkers, and boss.

Most famously, over the years, writers for ALA have presented the design community with one amazing and powerfully useful new CSS technique after another. Initially radically new techniques that are now part of the vocabulary of all web designers include Paul Sowden’s “Alternative Styles,” Mark Newhouse’s list-based navigation, Eric Meyer’s intro to print styles, Douglas Bowman’s “Sliding Doors,” Dave Shea’s “CSS Sprites,” Dan Cederholm’s “Faux Columns,” Patrick Griffiths and Dan Webb’s “Suckerfish Dropdowns,” Drew McLellan’s “Flash Satay,” and so on and so on. There are literally too many great ones to name here. (Newcomers to standards-based design, check Erin Lynch’s “The ALA Primer Part Two: Resources For Beginners“.)

Web standards are in our DNA and will always be a core part of our editorial focus. Standards fans, never fear. We will not abandon our post. But since late 2005, we have consciously begun steering ALA back to its earliest roots as a magazine for all people who make websites—writers, architects, strategists, researchers, and yes, even marketers and clients as well as designers and developers. This means that, along with issues that focus on new methods and subtleties of markup and layout, we will also publish issues that discuss practical and sometimes theoretical aspects of user experience design, from the implications of ubiquitous computing to keeping communities civil.

The trick is to bring our huge group of highly passionate readers along for the ride. My wife likens it to piloting the Queen Mary. (Q. How do you make the Queen Mary turn left? A. Very, very slowly.)

The slow, deliberate, gradual introduction of articles on business and theory has not pleased all of ALA’s readers, some of whom may unrealistically wish that every issue would present them with the equivalent of a new “Sliding Doors.” It is possible, of course, to publish one CSS (or JavaScript or Jquery) article after another, and to do so on an almost daily basis. We could do that. Certainly we get enough submissions. The trouble is that most articles of this kind are either edge cases of limited utility, or derivatives that do not break significant new ground. (Either that, or they are flawed in our estimation, e.g. relying on dozens of non-semantic divs to create a moderately pleasing, minor visual effect.)

We review hundreds of articles and publish dozens. Some web magazines seem to have those proportions reversed, and some readers don’t seem to mind, and that’s fine. But any content you see in ALA has been vetted and deeply massaged by the toughest editorial team in the business. And when you see a new “design tech” article in our pages, you can be sure it has passed muster with our hard-ass technical editors.

Moreover, the fields of meaningful new CSS tricks have mostly yielded their fuels. We’ve done that. We’ve done it together with you. While a few new lodes of value undoubtedly remain to be tapped, we as a community, and as individuals who wish to grow as designers, need to absorb new knowledge. ALA will continue to be a place where you can do that.

When we began focusing on web standards in 1998, we were told we were wasting readers’ time on impractical crap of little value to working designers and developers. But we kept on anyway, and the things we learned and taught are now mainstream and workaday. While we apologize to readers who are again being made irritable by our insistence on occasionally presenting material that does not fall directly within their comfort zone, we hope that this experiment will prove to be of value in the end.

[tags]alistapart, webdesign, magazine, editorial, content, focus, change, publishing, standards, webstandards, css, design, layout, userexperience[/tags]

95 thoughts on “A List Apart is changing

  1. This isn’t such a bad idea, in general. However, as you state in your post, you could just become another one of those JQuery or CSS tricks tutorial sites very easily, publishing several articles a day.

    I wouldn’t want ALA to become that. I really love the articles that are published now and while there are hardly any read-and-try-afterwards articles, most of them are still very, very valuable to me. Probably more valuable than 100 JQuery articles combined.

    Please stay true to your image and don’t let readers pressure you to become something else.

  2. i for one have welcomed the broader scope of ALA, and indeed i agree that we’ve probably teased most groundbreakingly (slightly hacky, perhaps) new techniques out of the existing CSS spec.

  3. I am reading occasionally A List Apart since… well, I do not remember well since when, but I think one of the first articles I have read there was Dan’s “Faux Columns Technique”… and in terms of Web, this is quite a long time! :-)

    I certainly wish to continue find interesting articles at A List Apart — articles on CSS, XHTML/HTML, graphic design and Web design in general. As long as find something interesting for me in this area, I will continue reading it.

    Good luck with ‘the slow shift’! :-)

  4. Another vote of encouragement for the new direction. I also appreciate a broader focus, and I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all for readers, including me, to be introduced to topics outside their comfort zones. I think It only makes us better informed and stronger designers/developers.

  5. I agree with Alex. ALA is a true value for true designers. Whoever doesn’t appreciate Zeldman’s hard work on perfecting the web is definitely not improving much.

    If it wasn’t for ALA, I wouldn’t stand where I do right now. I feel smarter by being part of such innovation. My most thoughtful thanks to you, Zeldman.

  6. Having followed ALA for much less time than probably a lot of people have I must say that the quality and substance of the articles has continually overwhelmed me. It really is the best on the web. And I think you are more than entitled to push the boundary and lead in your own direction because without that we would never learn anything new.

    I also agree that “some web magazines seem to have those proportions reversed” and that quality is much more important than quantity.

    I look forward to the coming decade of ALA and can’t wait to see how it will affect Web Design in the future.

  7. Change is good. Tapping the steering wheel is good, too.
    Congratulations on the milestone and a heartfelt thanks for the massive amount of teaching your site and it’s contributes have shared over the years.
    The Queen Mary is out here on the dock of the Long Beach Bay. They have a halloween haunt on the ship this time of year. You’re welcome to come out and sneak around. This ship, on the other hand, doesn’t move at all, except with the tide. Perhaps that’s exactly what we need, though.

  8. As I already mentioned on Twitter, the material still falls directly in my comfort zone and I feel the experiment will prove to be of value, it already is for me! I am not a designer myself, but I have to know about the techniques involved on a daily basis. I have been reading ALA since day 1 and I noticed and really welcomed the change of direction. The broader scope makes it much more enjoyable for me to read on a more frequent basis.

  9. I for one love ALA’s approach, a resource I look to for the kind of robust quality you don’t get from your everyday web resource.

    Even if an article isn’t what I would consider to be my area of interest, they are usually so well written and thought out that they provoke ideas that I probably wouldn’t have thought of, because of that existence it remains a wealthy resource.

    Cheers.

  10. Hmmm. I have noticed the shift in article style, and while the new stuff isn’t really my bag, I understand the change.

    However! We are rapidly coming to an era where (progressively enhanced) CSS properties are going to undergo a mini-revolution. FF 3.1 (when launched) joins the latest Opera and Safari builds in supporting many CSS3 features, like multiple background images, border-images, text- and box- shadows, and many more.

    I feel that ALA would do well to spearhead the possibilities here, as you have so successfully in the past. I hope to see more CSS / HTML articles in the future, rather than less…

  11. I like ALA, have read it for years, and I certainly appreciate all the work and contributions that go into it. I even like the idea of moving it away from purely tech stuff.

    With that said, I’ve found it to be less and less relevant to me over the last year or so. And more to the point, I’ve even found a few cases where I read an article and had to check I was at the right URL, because an article has read like pompous banal fluff, or seemed a technically poor approach. Basically ALA is starting to read a lot like a .Net magazine (which I un-subscribed from for becoming irrelevent, boring, and inaccurate).

    I’m not against ALA changing, but I’m simply finding it to be irrelevant for me recently. I realise that to many people that will not be the case.

    I tend to use ALA as a reference resource now. Its relevance as a magazine has dropped off the scale for me: the last article I actually read all the way through and got me excited was “Sign up forms must die” back in March.

  12. The movement toward a greater focus on User Interface/User Experience (and more) is a natural extension from ALA’s roots, and will ensure that ALA stays relevant for years to come. Good move.

  13. Like a few others I understand the change of course, though for me personally it means I’ll be reading a lot less ALA articles.

    Many of the articles are indeed a bit fluffy and concern management techniques and list a lot of obvious stuff. They are still well written, but go a long way to make a simple point.

    What I remember from this post is that css is considered “dry land” for the time being, which is a subject I’ve been meaning to write about for some time now. Maybe I should get to it …

  14. I remember when ALA was the one glimmer of hope out there, and I’m confident you’ll continue to move in the right direction. Thanks for everything.

  15. Hurrah! As my own career has taken me farther and farther away from the actual coding of pages, I’ve kept on reading ALA out of loyalty. Now, hopefully I can look forward to some articles about things that I’m actually doing day to day in my job as a community manager.

  16. Thanks for not listening in 1998.

    I’m not going to be one of those who attempts to discourage your new direction. All the best for 2008 and beyond.

  17. I was very worried by the title of this post. But relieved to find that the aforementioned changes were already taking place and I enjoy them very much. Although some don’t take my fancy I do enjoy a lot of the business based ones perhaps more so than the technique based ones.

    I do wish A List Apart was updated more frequently but somehow I think that will lessen my enjoyment when it appears in my reader.

  18. I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed the balance ALA has managed to strike recently. It seems like every issue has an article that is rich in theory, addressing the larger, more general philosophy of design, and another article that deals with a much more specific technique or implementation of the philosophy being discussed.

  19. I agree with and appreciate the new direction. While certainly the utility of “sliding windows” appeals to the geek in all of us …

    … many of us also need to deal with the business and theory that is much part of our jobs as are the underlying xHTML.

    Especially for those of us managing larger enterprises where talk of SOA and design patterns are as important as box model and float clearing issues.

  20. Code is only one part of my job as a web professional, so it makes sense that code is only one part of ALA. I look forward to the changes.

  21. I think the direction is a great one. I am a designer and developer, and find that there’s so much more to the web than a little CSS trick here and there.

    The articles I find most interesting relate to: Users, Process and Content.

    Although clean, well written code is important, I think getting to the heart of what the website should be, who’s it for, and what it’s going to communicate outweighs my interest in an overwhelming list of CSS tips.

    And…. if I hear you correctly, you are saying if there is something ground-breaking of of importance, it will be published to ALA anyway.

  22. I have no problems with slowly changing ALA to broaden the topics. Keep on with the good work! I have read ALA nearly for a decade now and will certainly do it in the future, too. :-)

  23. I’m a css & XHTML frontend kinda guy definitely loves to read about subjects other than code on regular basis. The two previous articles on writing for the web were really awesome. They conveyed how to write for the web that I probably would never have been able to express. I showed the articles to clients struggling with writing for the web and it helped them a ton. So what I’m getting at is I’m very excited for new content. ALA has been able to help me help my clients to find their way. We’re all in this Internet tomfoolery together and ALA is key helping us in our shananagins. R.

  24. I think it’s great!

    It’s like the content is maturing with the readership.

    As you say, the Faux Columns, CSS Sprites, Sliding Doors, – if you don’t already know or use these, then the information will still be there in the back-issues of ALA for new readers (it will, won’t it?).

    But once the technology/technique things are a permanent and well-used features of ones’ toolbelt, business and theory become more pertinent issues.

    The internets is growing up.

  25. As a consultant/strategist/project manager, I love that ALA focuses on more than just code. I definitely appreciate reading about the technology side of things, but the well-rounded nature of ALA is what keeps me coming back. The fact that some ALA articles are geared towards non-coders and even non-designers reflects the true nature of the industry – it’s not JUST about coding and design. There are a lot of aspects to a successful approach to building powerful web sites, and ALA provides brain fuel for those of us involved at every level. Keep it up!

  26. Jeffrey, was this blog post provoked by the twitter exchange with unnamed twitter member? I had been following on that and I agree with your point.

  27. The new direction is great, and I’ve noticed it over the past year especially. Initially, at times it was a put off. I didn’t think to shun or complain about the content, it’s just like a print magazine. Unless your a one note fiddle you must always publish content that will not “satisfy” everyone for the sake of reaching new readers and quenching the thirst of your niche readers.

    Personally I welcome theory, and business articles. Business websites are evolving, and adjusting missions, goals and re-evaluating their purpose. In an increasingly competitive internet these ideas and concepts will allow designers and developers to adjust, grow and supply the future demand.

    I doubt the ALA readership will suffer. If anything it will evolve and mature further. Diverse content FTW.

  28. Jeffry,
    Thanks for letting us know, and thanks for adding these “new” types of articles. It would seem to be a natural progression, and one that will help my career path. I know that ALA will continue to be my end-all place to look for issue fixes, but now I may just come to peruse. Smart Jeff/Eric/Douglas/Dave/et-al – I look forward to watching the Queen Mary change course.

  29. We review hundreds of articles and publish dozens. Some web magazines seem to have those proportions reversed, and some readers don’t seem to mind, and that’s fine.

    I agree with everything you said, except this^^

    I think its not fine that people settle for mediocre and often poor quality articles from people who are basically just giving you a list of links to other websites, and those websites themselves are often doing the same.

    The purist in me would rather read a well thought out article with good grammar and content which has been reviewed by more than one person, even if the topic was about making bread. If I want to copy and paste someone else’s javascript, I can just do a view -> source, you don’t need to write an article about it.

    Of course we all want to have discussions about web design and everything that goes with that like IA, client relationships, web communities etc. But big circle jerks like “10 websites which look pretty so give them traffic” are not the best way to do that.

    So I love ALA, I love the new direction, and I hope you stop apologising to the people who don’t get it.

  30. I’m not going to lie, I prefer to read articles regarding CSS/Javascript/HTML. Usually when there is an article about copy writing or information architecture or user interface I just skip it. I guess I just have too narrow of a focus on web design.

  31. THANK YOU!!!

    I’ve been actually finding myself actually passing over all of the web “magazines” out there because there is little to do with actual design in the broad scope. It’s all just cheap tricks, and I want to be better than that. Here’s to ALA leading the way in creating a more well-rounded web world!

  32. Oh no. i said “actually” twice in one sentence. What a dork.So there’s an article: how a preview button might save hasty people like me from typos and grammatical embarrassment, and possibly save a really controversial discussion from one wrong word leading it and all its readers down a dark and angry path! :D

  33. To repeat what has been said many times already here, the new direction is much appreciated. As a long time reader of ALA, I’ve seen many of my favorite web resources come and go and even come again (eg Webmonkey). ALA has been consistently relevant and continues to shape how I do what I do. It truly is the archetype of the web magazine. Thanks for doing all that you do, Jeffrey!

  34. Overall I think this is a good move. You can’t always please all, but you can try!

    My Likes: Statistics/Evidence, Originality, Privacy.

    My Dislikes: How-To’s, Business, Typography, Flash, Writing, 2.0.

  35. I look forward to the emergence of what will certainly become some new “old standbys.”

    Regards,
    -Bob

  36. Having ALA present information beyond standards and CSS is exactly why I read it. Hat Heads vs. Bed Heads, for example was a great article. One thing that ALA and AEA provide is a means to connect with a broader community, not just techniques.

    I can’t imagine “just making web standards complaint” sites and not considering project management, work politics, business and strategic thinking (plus technical information).

    ALA is great. Keep it up. And I’m hoping the ALA survey will help straighten our job classifications.

  37. Fantastic news! Selling Web Standards can be difficult, talking about the marketing aspect can greatly help us fight the good fight.

  38. I’ve found a lot of inspiration in the “pages” of ALA over the years (and from the mailing list before that, when I was young and brash and knew everything except the fact that I knew nothing at all). I still do (I’m improvising something off the foundation of “switchy mclayout” right now, in fact) but I’m finding the strictly technical article, both in ALA and elsewhere, less and less useful these days. (I need a technique, I can search for it). So count me as another who appreciates the new direction you’ve been taking.

  39. I think this is great move, there are plenty of site that just do tutorials, tips, and tricks, which is fine… but I think there are plenty of other topics that often get missed, or brushed over. I would love to see more articles that discuss practical day to day work issues as a designer / developer. And I am also pretty sure it wouldn’t hurt to read something new… and yes learn from it… (even if it doesn’t directly relate to css or development etc.)

    ALA is great and i look forward to seeing it grow, and continue to be a valuable asset to so many people.

    keep it up

    ~ Aaron I

  40. Another vote in support of continuing the direction that ALA is going. I enjoy the business cases and the broadly minded articles you’ve been posting. It puts ALA in a class by itself and I can count on reading something there that I certainly won’t find at Smashing Magazine. ALA is refreshing and I appreciate that.

  41. Variety? Good. Broadening the horizons? Great!

    What I would like to see is more. More articles than just two each month. It seems to me that in broadening the scope of ALA, this would be easier. Say four articles per month?

    Just a thought.

    Keep up the wonderful work!

  42. I think this is a great idea. I for one will spend more time, and pay more attention to whats offered now. For the longest time i have used ALA as a wonderful resource. Now I can add it to my daily reading about other issues as well. Excellent decision.

  43. Awesome. As a beginning designer I enjoy reading articles on other things than just standards. There a lots of places I can go to read up on basic standards. There are not lots of places to get the ALA quality articles on other design work related aspects.

  44. I, too, had noticed the changes already and am happy to see the explanation behind it. I’ll always have a soft spot for the standards, css and html articles, but I look forward to the always interesting articles.

  45. I look forward to reading the articles on A List Apart and to be inspired by them.

    Now you have convinced people to use web standards which has made my life easier. Can you convince people never to use IE ever again? ;-)

  46. If this were any other online magazine published by anyone else, I would be worried right now. However, how can we not have confidence in the group of people who publish this awesome resource to continue to produce an invaluable product every two weeks? I’m looking forward to these changes.

  47. I probably would not still be “successfully” working in this field, if it wasn’t for the information and techniques spread through ALA. Your team is the “most trusted” source of experts. The wider spread of article information, reflects the maturing in this industry, and our daily work environment. Kudos for remaining ahead of the curve.

  48. I for one welcome this change, it’s not changing for change’s sake, it’s changing because the web has changed. Since you are not abandoning what you have done in the past just augmenting it with appropriate new info then theres nothing to be upset about.

    So long as ALA doesn’t abandon standards because truth be told, Designing With Web Standards turned me from despising web standards to really understanding and embracing them.

  49. Your space, you should do what you want. Seriously, the quality of a site is directly proportional to how happy the maintainers of the site feel about it.

    You could write a lengthy diatribe about tomato soup. as long as you feel the topic is a comfortable fit for your site, and you’re enjoying the result. It’s called “A List Apart”. It’s not called, “A List of CSS Tweaks for the Compulsive-Obsessive Web Designer”:

  50. Ah great stuff Jeffrey! I see one thing missing in the industry is a broader recognition that its more than just images and code – usability, accessibility, business, marketing, etc… and I can only see ALA’s move in this direction working to finally get this extra part of the message over to the industry.

    I also think its a good move, there are no shortage of CSS resources out there now remaining so finely focused wouldn’t be good. I particularly enjoy the usability articles BTW, keep them coming.

  51. Jeffery,

    Once again you have my attention! I excited to see ALA evolve and include a broader view of the web. Standards matter, great code is a must, but even the worst hacked together site with lousy mark-up can be a crowd pleaser… taking time to understand why and to think about user experience design and marketing is an important part of professional (web) design. Hearing from additional experts in the field can only improve our sites.

    To your statement “we apologize to readers“, I say none is needed.

  52. I think change is good, and the way this is described fits the bill. I’ll share my personal experience with it so far though. I actually thought about this the other day when I brought up the ALA site after a hiatus. I used to check the site regularly, and eagerly pounce on new topics the day they came out. I’ve felt recently like there have been a lot less technical articles published, and I think it has detracted from my personal interest level in passionately browsing the site frequently. Maybe if I actually went back through and counted I would prove myself wrong with hard numbers, but that is just my perception of it at the moment.

    I don’t mean this to sound harsh, just my .02. I agree there is a lot more to our jobs than the latest css trick. I think my problem comes from not having the time to focus on certain areas of development, and using sites like ALA to help fill in my gaps in a shorter amount of time. If that makes sense anyhow.

  53. Bravo! I love the new direction, and agree with all the comments regarding a need for a broadened focus within our community. Too many times we get so nose-deep in code and design details that we forget about the other facets of our trade.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed the non-technical articles, and hope there are many more to come. Well-rounded content from the magazine will result in well-rounded readers—myself included.

  54. I think Zeldman and Co. continue to take A List Apart in the right direction. I believe the magazine is growing in the same manner as many of its audience.

    Like many, I’ve following the magazine from early on and relished in all the technical goodness. But as my career progressed, it’s become less and less part of my everyday task. I’m beginning to oversee others who do that — a younger flock that actually learns these techniques in a bonified school program.

    That’s not to say knowing the current best practices and techniques for CSS and markup are not important — they are. But many of us are dealing with business owners, and clients at the executive level. We need the tools and the language to bring a better user experience for their products, services and customers.

    We need a place to commiserate with our fellow web heads — to quench our technical thirst — but also to help us grow professionally and personally. A List Apart’s growth is simply a reflection of the maturation of our industry. Old media’s taken notice: we’re not hype; we’re not a fad; we’re how the future communicates — today.

    Awww. Look at that honey, our little baby’s all grown up.

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  56. refreshing. making websites is more than just code, and I figure I’d like hear about the other 80% of the biz from other professionals like myself. there is always something new to learn, a new perspective, and really if you are just reading ALA to see how many tricks from the site you can incorporate into your site, you’re doing it wrong.

  57. Good thing. I stumbled upon the research in the semantic web community today, and realized there is so much I don’t know about this. Can we please please have something about this topic? I mean freebase, dbpedia, microformats, XFN, RDF, FOAF. If that is Web3.0 then you can make it happen. It should be instructional over informational of course…

  58. We review hundreds of articles and publish dozens. Some web magazines seem to have those proportions reversed

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been reading ALA for just 3 of its 10 years, but in that time it’s turned me into the professional I am today. Don’t apologise for being the best; I already know I can trust your team not to be churning out hundreds of mediocre superficial articles like so many new sites are now doing. I don’t even see this as a new direction – ALA has always been the one forging through new ground – it just so happens that web standards are not very new anymore.

    Thanks for everything

    James

  59. I’m very keen on this changes and have been enjoying the more business oriented articles. Honestly I am very quite sick of seeing all the hundreds of CSS techniques, tricks, and other hocus pocus style around the net (ie. Smashingmagazine, Blog Perfume, Web Appers, Style Gala, etc, etc). I look forward to change. Bring it on.

  60. Only just discovered the link to this post on ALA — which reflects the problem ALA has developed in recent times. I owe ALA a debt of gratitude for the ground-breaking CSS articles it used to publish. Time was when I eagerly awaited each new edition., but now, when I visit ALA, it is usually because of a link I have seen somewhere else.

    The reason is not just a matter of the non-coding content. Certainly, there are many dimensions of web site design, development and management other than progressive enhancement, semantic html, CSS and JavaScript. It is perfectly legitimate to publish articles about those other dimensions, and, indeed, the sites I go to most often nowadays (like http://www.smashingmagazine.com and http://www.noupe.com) do publish on a wide variety of topics.

    The problem is that, high editorial standards not withstanding, ALA’s efforts in the non-coding areas seem not to have attained the originality or insightfulness of its earlier pieces on CSS. Having moved relatively late into these other areas, ALA seems to be following rather than leading in them.

  61. Jeffrey, I came over from the ALA article celebrating 10 years. What really makes ALA stand out is the clear passion in all the articles. The humour, wit, and tone is almost as good as hanging out with other designers over a beer. Cheers to you and everyone involved in ALA – here’s to another 10 years of web site creation goodness.

  62. I’ve never read ALA with expectations of this or that. Seldom do I find information I was looking for, bringing my attention to subjects I hadn’t thought much about. Often, the subject matter is something I’ve been able to use. Other times it’s just interesting. I’m confident ALA will continue to publish quality, interesting and relevant articles. I’ve been reading for ten years (and clicking on advertisers on most visits) and will keep reading.

  63. Ahoy Captain Zeldman

    I have to this point enjoyed every article I have read on ALA so far, even the none web development related ones. As in life we need to broaden our scope and perspective to reach a greater objective. I am with you on your course captain.

    Gibe Ho!

    x

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