Customer service, not Ruby on Rails

Among developers, 37signals has achieved a cult following for giving us web applications like Basecamp, Highrise, and Campfire, and the Ruby on Rails platform. But the real secret of their success is as old fashioned as your great grandfather’s Victrola. It’s customer service.

We opened a HighRise account to manage our A List Apart author contacts and then didn’t use the account for whatever reason.

This morning I cancelled my account with two clicks of a button.

The messaging clearly explained that canceling the account would mean losing the contacts, and provided an opportunity to rethink the decision.

When I chose to go ahead with the cancellation, it happened instantly, and I was taken to this page, which reassured me that the account was closed and that I would stop receiving product-related emails. Smart. I was instantly satisfied and had no more questions. How often does that happen when closing, say, a phone or cable or internet account?

The page also offered me the opportunity to try another 37signals product or to provide customer feedback in a survey. If I had quit using the product because of dissatisfaction with it, I would have been able to use the survey to tell 37signals everything I disliked about my experience. If I liked the product but found it wasn’t right for me for whatever reason, I could tell them that (which could help them focus on their core audience’s needs).

All smart, businesslike, and yet inoffensive and un-pushy.

37signals not only constantly fine-tunes their products, they also think about the customer experience even when the customer is leaving.

I find that instructive, educational, and inspiring.

Disclaimer: Jason Fried is my friend, and I do business with 37signals through The Deck advertising network, so I’m not impartial. Just impressed.

ALA 282: Life After Georgia

In Issue No. 282 of A List Apart, For People Who Make Websites:

  • Can we finally get real type on the web?
  • Does beauty in design have a benefit besides aesthetic pleasure?

Real Fonts on the Web: An Interview with The Font Bureau’s David Berlow

by DAVID BERLOW, JEFFREY ZELDMAN

Is there life after Georgia? We ask David Berlow, co-founder of The Font Bureau, Inc, and the first TrueType type designer, how type designers and web designers can work together to resolve licensing and technology issues that stand between us and real fonts on the web.

In Defense of Eye Candy

by STEPHEN P. ANDERSON

Research proves attractive things work better. How we think cannot be separated from how we feel. The next time a boss, client, or co-worker scoffs at the notion that beauty is an important aspect of interface design, point their peepers here.

A List Apart explores the design, development, and meaning of web content, with a special focus on web standards and best practices.

[tags]alistapart, type, typography, realtype, truetype, CSS, beauty, design, aesthetics[/tags]

ALA Survey Findings Up!

The annual A List Apart survey for people who make websites is the only public source of data on the shifting salaries, titles, job skills, and work satisfactions of full- and part-time, staff and freelance web professionals.

This year’s survey findings, culled from answers provided by over 30,000 ALA readers, are now up for your pleasure on a specially designed website. We’ve sliced and diced the data, making sense of complex interrelationships, and displaying the results in miniature CSS masterworks by Mr Eric Meyer. (More about the CSS.)

This year’s findings paint a clearer picture of the distinctions between full-time and freelance web professionals: how you work, what you earn, and what you love about the job. Interestingly, too, despite the brutality of a global recession that was already in full swing when we offered the survey, most respondents revealed a surprisingly high level of job security, satisfaction, and confidence in the future.

See for yourself. Read the findings.

Comments off. Please comment on ALA.

[tags]alistapart, aneventapart, webdesignsurvey, survey, forpeoplewhomakewebsites, surveyfindings, findings, meyerweb, css, jobskills, titles, webdesign, webdesigners, webdevelopment, webdevelopers, IA, UX, editors, writers, webmasters[/tags]

Your Guide to An Event Apart Boston

The complete schedule for An Event Apart Boston is now online for your reading pleasure.

Join Eric Meyer and your humble host with truly special guest speakers Jason Santa Maria, Jeremy Keith, Joshua Porter, Whitney Hess, Dan Cederholm, Daniel Mall, Derek Featherstone, Aarron Walter, Scott Thomas, Heather Champ, Andy Clarke, and GoodBarry’s Brett Welch for two days of design, code, and content.

An intensely educational two-day conference for passionate practitioners of standards-based web design, An Event Apart brings together thirteen of the leading minds in web design for two days of non-stop inspiration and enlightenment. If you care about code as well as content, usability as well as design, this is the one you’ve been waiting for.

Educational discounts and group rates are available, and everyone saves $100 during the early bird registration period.

Comments off.

[tags]aneventapart, AEA, webdesign, conference, webstandards[/tags]

ALA No. 276: Web design education

In Issue No. 276 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

Elevate Web Design at the University Level

by LESLIE JENSEN-INMAN

Web education is out of date and fragmented. There are good people working hard to change this, but because of the structure of higher education, it will take time. As part of a year-long journey to discover where we are in web education and where we need to go, Leslie Jensen-Inman interviewed 32 web design and development leaders. The consensus: technology moves too fast for college and university curricula to keep up. How, then, can educators create a sustainable foundation for the future?

Brighter Horizons for Web Education

by AARRON WALTER

No industry can sustain itself if it doesn’t master the art of cultivating new talent—an art that requires close ties between practitioners and educators. Yet web design education consists mainly of introductory Flash classes and the occasional 90s-style HTML table layout tutorial. How drastic is the web design education gap, and what can be done to close it? Designer, developer, and web design educator Aarron Walter of The Web Standards Project surveys the state of the curricula.

[tags]webdesign, education[/tags]

ALA 275: Duty Now For The Future

What better way to begin 2009 than by looking at the future of web design? In Issue No. 275 of A List Apart, for people who make websites, we study the promise and problems of HTML 5, and chart a path toward mobile CSS that works.

Return of the Mobile Style Sheet

by DOMINIQUE HAZAËL-MASSIEUX

At least 10% of your visitors access your site over a mobile device. They deserve a good experience (and if you provide one, they’ll keep coming back). Converting your multi-column layout to a single, linear flow is a good start. But mobile devices are not created equal, and their disparate handling of CSS is like 1998 all over again. Please your users and tame their devices with handheld style sheets, CSS media queries, and (where necessary) JavaScript or server-side techniques.

Semantics in HTML 5

by JOHN ALLSOPP

The BBC’s dropping of hCalendar because of accessibility and usability concerns demonstrates that we have pushed the semantic capability of HTML far beyond what it can handle. The need to clearly and unambiguously add rich, meaningful semantics to markup is a driving goal of the HTML 5 project. Yet HTML 5 has two problems: it is not backward compatible because its semantic elements will not work in 75% of our browsers; and it is not forward compatible because its semantics are not extensible. If “making up new elements” isn’t the solution, what is?

[tags]HTML5, mobileCSS, webstandards, alistapart, johnallsopp, W3C, Dominique Hazael-Massieux[/tags]

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]

ALA No. 273: trad vs. agile

Issue No. 273 of A List Apart, for people who make websites, looks at web design from both sides now:

Flexible Fuel: Educating the Client on IA

by KEITH LAFERRIERE

IA is about selling ideas effectively, designing with accuracy, and working with complex interactivity to guide different types of customers through website experiences. The more your client knows about IA’s processes and deliverables, the likelier the project is to succeed.

Getting Real About Agile Design

by CENNYDD BOWLES

Agile development was made for tough economic times, but does not fit comfortably into the research-heavy, iteration-focused process designers trust to deliver user- and brand-based sites. How can we update our thinking and methods to take advantage of what agile offers?

About the magazine

A List Apart explores the design, development, and meaning of web content, with a special focus on web standards and best practices. Issue No. 273 was edited by Krista Stevens with Erin Kissane and Carolyn Wood; produced by Erin Lynch; art-directed by Jason Santa Maria; illustrated by Kevin Cornell; technical-edited by Aaron Gustafson, Ethan Marcotte, Daniel Mall, and Eric Meyer; and published by Happy Cog.

[tags]agiledevelopment, agiledesign, informationarchitecture, scope, scopecreep, managing, client, expectations, alistapart, forpeoplewhomakewebsites[/tags]

Um, don’t blog, or something

In Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004, Wired, which ceased to be relevant in 1999, says you shouldn’t write a blog because, um, Calacanis and Scoble.

Uh, wait, the problem is that some comments are not thoughtful. And I guess you can’t turn off comments in blogging software (except in all the blogging platforms that are already out there in the marketplace). But all those many long-established blogging platforms aside, I guess, like maybe in some new as-yet unreleased blogging tool, you might not be able to turn comments off. And then you’d have to, like, endure that some comments might not be thoughtful. So clearly you should just use Twitter and not write a blog because people can’t respond to you on Twitter. (What? They can?)

Well maybe the reason you’re not supposed to blog is that you won’t get rich blogging, because Calacanis did, so I guess he used up all the rich. Sorry, no more rich to go around. I mean, what’s the point of expressing yourself if there is no immediate rich to be had?

In conclusion, Twitter, Flickr, Calacanis and Scoble. Which proves you can’t have a blog and also use Twitter. Or maybe you can have a blog and use Twitter but you shouldn’t because comments, Scoble, rich.

Paul Boutin is usually a good writer. I’m not sure what happened here. Paul, when do we stop talking about web content exclusively in terms of narrow platforms and shallow, self-interested goals? When do we stop saying x makes y irrelevant? When do we stop reducing the web to a vulgar and trivial competition between head boys, and start appreciating it as a maturing medium for real thought and expression?

Obviously, not today in Wired.

[tags]journalism, opinion, idiocy, wired, blogs, blogging[/tags]