Understanding web design, live on video

Now available on streaming video, Jeffrey Zeldman: Understanding Web Design — is a good quality 42:40 capture of my October 25, 2008 presentation at Gain: AIGA Business and Design Conference.

Author and Happy Cog founder Jeffrey Zeldman answers the question: what does a web designer need most? Skills and knowledge of software, of course, but empathy—the ability to think about and empathize with your user—is by far the most important. Good useful education is hard to find, and within companies there is often no departmental standardization. Good graphic design is not the same as good user experience design, he explains. In fact, “good web design is invisible”—it feels simple and authentic because it’s about the character of the content, not the character of the designer.

In addition to the streaming video, a surprisingly accurate PDF transcription is available, along with a downloadable copy of my slides. (The typeface is Joshua Darden’s Jubilat.)

[tags]AIGA, GAIN, Gain:AIGA, Zeldman, design, presentation, video, webdesign[/tags]

25 thoughts on “Understanding web design, live on video”

  1. Great talk! You always have great content, and I can’t wait to read your submission to 24ways. It’s a shame that you didn’t expound upon one of your 17 theories about women and discrimination, as I’m sure you would have gotten quite a laugh out of the crowd.

    Absolutely no offense meant… but wow you are a lot shorter than I’d imagined! Or maybe the person who introduced you was just really tall. ;-)

    I’m desperately jealous that I won’t be able to attend your Event Apart in Seattle in 2009, but rest assured I’m making plans for a 2010 Event. Best wishes to you, sir!

  2. I wish this had been posted about a week ago! I gave a much more boring presentation titled “Web Design Education (or what passes for it)” on Tuesday to a group of my fellow undergraduate students in our Digital Media degree program.

    I really wish I’d have thought to say ” Teaching Excel is not the same as teaching business.” Instead I made some inept analogy about hammer swinging vs. house building…

    Our program focuses way too much on graphics software, and there is not enough respect for web design as a unique and distinct profession. Not to mention the pathetically few design classes required for the degree. It is going to be a fight for me to try and take typography classes and have them count towards my digital media degree, cause, you know, good typography doesn’t matter in digital media. I would laugh about the curriculum if I could, but the joke is getting old, as I try to reconcile my academic pursuits with the real world of web design as I see it evolving.

    Too bad I need a bachelor’s degree before I could apply for a program like the Interaction Design MFA you mentioned. That looks to be exactly the kind of education I’m seeking, although I admit I am likely unprepared for. The worst part is, I don’t think my current degree program is going to prepare me for it either.

    @Zeldman:
    What should the undergraduate college student study if it seems no viable option exists? The lack of relevance in my classes is really beginning to be a drag.

  3. @Kimball:
    I wouldn’t consider myself a raging success in the online world yet, but so far I’ve found my having studied languages to be a real boon. I’m hardly unique in this talent, but I feel I’m particularly strong when it comes to thinking about how to communicate.

    Also: Take classes on the history of the book (you’ll probably get some typography here and some design inspiration), and look at what your English department offers–if they have anything on “textual studies” or “new media” or “textual criticism,” odds are pretty good that you’ll get some inspiration from there.

  4. Very inspiring/instructive presentation. Web design means also (and maybe, mainly) empathy: so true!
    Thank’s a lot for sharing.

  5. Thank You for sharing, Mr. Zeldman! I’m not a web designer myself but my partner is and he introduced ne to your work two years ago. All of a sudden web standards made sense in my “graphic” mind and code beacame intresting.

  6. I had the same struggles with my program. When I started studying journalism at the University of Missouri a few years ago, their web program was all but non-existent. The one online advertising class I did take I probably could’ve instructed.

    In learning to train myself over the past five-plus years, I’ve really come to appreciate how much there is out there just waiting to be learned. Sites just like this one provide the motivated designer endless opportunity for growth. Most of the technical web skills I’ve learned have been from sites just like this.

    One thing I will say: Take heart in the design training you’re getting. While they may focus too much on a particular piece of software that you may not use, focus on the design lessons. I think one of the things that sets me apart is the design education I got. Good design principles apply everywhere — on paper and on screen. You just have to be open to thinking about how the two formats crossover. When I need inspiration for a web design project, I pick up a magazine.

  7. Thanks for pointing out the importance of teaching web standards in academic programs.

    Here at the Art Institute of Atlanta, faculty in the department of Web Design and Interactive Media have made concerted effort to integrate competencies dealing with web standards, accessibility and usability in the curriculum. Some of our graduates have gone into the industry and “converted” design studios into thinking standards, accessibility and usability.

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