An Event Apart redesigned

There’s a new aneventapart.com in town, featuring a 2009 schedule and a reformulated design. I designed the new site and Eric Meyer coded. (Validation freaks, only validator.nu is up to the task of recognizing the HTML 5 DOCTYPE used and validating against it; the validator.w3.org and htmlhelp.com validators can’t do this yet. Eric chose HTML 5 because it permits any element to be an HREF, and this empowered him to solve complex layout problems with simple, semantic markup. Eric, I know, will have loads more to say about this.)

Family branding concerns drove the previous design. Quite simply, the original An Event Apart site launched simultaneously with the 2005 redesign of A List Apart. Jason Santa Maria‘s stripped-down visual rethink was perfect for the magazine and is imitated, written about, and stolen outright to this day. It was a great design for our web magazine because it was created in response to the magazine’s content. It didn’t work as well for the conference because its design wasn’t driven by the kind of content a conference site publishes. But it was the right conference design for 2005 because the goal at that time was to create a strong brand uniting the long-running web design magazine with the new web design conference that sprang from it.

New goals for a new environment

In 2009, it’s less important to bolt the conference to the magazine by using the same layout for both: by now, most people who attend or have thought about attending An Event Apart know it is the A List Apart web design conference. What’s important in 2009 is to provide plenty of information about the show, since decisions about conference-going are being made in a financially (and psychologically) constricted environment. In 2005, it was enough to say “A List Apart has a conference.” Today more is needed. Today you need plenty of content to explain to the person who controls the purse strings just what you will learn and why a different conference wouldn’t be the same or “just as good.”

The redesign therefore began with a content strategy. The new design and new architecture fell out of that.

Action photos and high contrast

The other thing I went for—again, in conscious opposition to the beautifully understated previous design—was impact. I wanted this design to feel big and spacious (even on an iPhone’s screen) and to wow you with, for lack of a better word, a sense of eventfulness. And I think the big beautiful location images and the unafraid use of high contrast help achieve that.

Reinforcing the high contrast and helping to paint an event-focused picture, wherever possible I used action shots of our amazing speakers holding forth from the stage, rather than the more typical friendly backyard amateur head shot used on every other conference site (including the previous version of ours). I wanted to create excitement about the presentations these brilliant people will be making, and live action stage photos seemed like the way to do that. After all, if I’m going to see Elvis Costello perform, I want to see a picture of him onstage with his guitar—not a friendly down-to-earth shot of him taking out the garbage or hugging his nephews.

So that’s a quick overview of the redesign. The store is now open for all four shows and the complete Seattle show schedule is available for your viewing pleasure. I hope to see some of you in 2009 at our intensely educational two-day conference for people who make websites.

[tags]aneventapart, design, redesign, relaunch, webdesign, conference, events, HTML5, ericmeyer, zeldman[/tags]

Real type on the web?

A proposal for a fonts working group is under discussion at the W3C. The minutes of a small meeting held on Thursday 23 October include a condensed, corrected transcription of a discussion between Sampo Kaasila (Bitstream), Mike Champion (Microsoft), John Daggett (Mozilla), Håkon Wium Lie (Opera), Liam Quin (W3C), Bert Bos (W3C), Alex Mogilevsky (Microsoft), Josh Soref (Nokia), Vladimir Levantovsky (Monotype), Klaas Bals (Inventive Designers), and Richard Ishida (W3C).

The meeting started with a discussion of Microsoft’s EOT (Embedded OpenType) versus raw fonts. Bert Bos, style activity lead and co-creator of CSS, has beautifully summarized the relevant pros and cons discussed.

For those just catching up with the issue of real type on the web, here’s a bone-simple intro:

  1. CSS provides a mechanism for embedding real fonts on your website, and some browsers support it, but its use probably violates your licensing agreement with the type foundry, and may also cause security problems on an end-user’s computer.
  2. Microsoft’s EOT (based on the same standard CSS mechanism) works harder to avoid violating your licensing agreement, and has long worked in Internet Explorer, but is not supported in other browsers, is not foolproof vis-a-vis type foundry licensing rules, and may also cause PC security problems.

The proposed fonts working group hopes to navigate the technical and business problems of providing real fonts on the web, and in its first meeting came up with a potential compromise proposal before lunch.

Like everyone these days, the W3C is feeling a financial pinch, which means, if a real fonts working group is formed, its size and scope will necessarily be somewhat limited. That could be a good thing, since small groups work more efficiently than large groups. But a financial constraint on the number of invited experts could make for tough going where some details are concerned—and with typography, as with web technology, the details are everything.

I advise every web designer who cares about typography and web standards—that’s all of you, right?—to read the minutes of this remarkable first gathering, and to keep watching the skies.

[tags]web typography, typography, standards, webstandards, W3C, fonts, embedded, @fontface, EOT, workinggroup[/tags]

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]

The Survey for People Who Make Websites

It’s back, it’s improved, and it’s hungry for your data. It’s A List Apart’s second annual survey for people who make websites.

I took it! And so should you. The Survey for People Who Make Websites.

Last year nearly 33,000 of you took the survey, enabling us to begin figuring out what kinds of job titles, salaries, and work situations are common in our field.

This year’s survey corrects many of last year’s mistakes, with more detailed and numerous questions for freelance contractors and owners of (or partners in) small web businesses. There are also better international categories, and many other improvements recommended by those who took the survey last year.

Please take the survey and encourage your friends and colleagues who make websites to do likewise.

[Comments off. Pings on.]

[tags]survey, web design survey, webdesign, webdevelopment, professional, alistapart[/tags]

Around the Word with Web Talent

My first book didn’t sell very well but it had an effect on people’s hearts. Web designers around the world circulated a single copy of Taking Your Talent to the Web, adding their autographs, drawings, photos, and other verbal and visual messages to every page—even the covers and spine.

While unpacking from the office move, I found this special world-traveled copy of the book and snapped a few pages at random. Some people who signed this book went on to do amazing things on the web. Others lowered their profiles but continued to do work of quality and significance. Still others simply disappeared. (At least they disappeared from the worldwide web design community.) I love every one of them. Thank you all again.

A photo spread on Flickr Around the Word with Web Talent.

[tags]webdesign, community, talent, takingyourtalenttotheweb, newriders, publishing, book, books, zeldman, writing, dreamless[/tags]

AEA Boston 2008 session notes

Early, initial linkage and reviews. Let us know what we missed!

Functioning Form – An Event Apart: Understanding Web Design

Luke Wroblewski: “Jeffrey Zeldman’s Understanding Web Design talk at An Event Apart Boston 2008 highlighted factors that made it challenging to explain the value and perspective of Web designers but still managed to offer a way to describe the field.”

Functioning Form – An Event Apart: The Lessons of CSS Frameworks

Luke Wroblewski: “At An Event Apart Boston 2008, Eric Meyer walked through common characteristics of several Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) frameworks and outlined lessons that can be learned from their structure.”

Functioning Form – An Event Apart: Good Design Ain’t Easy

Luke Wroblewski: “Jason Santa Maria’s Good Design Ain’t Easy talk at An Event Apart 2008 argued for deeper graphic resonance in the presentation of content online.”

KarlynMorissette.com: An Event Apart: Day one schedule

Karyln is an educator who attended An Event Apart Boston 2008, sat in the front row, and took fabulous notes. This summary post links to her individual notes from each session of day one.

Karlyn’s session notes are informative, opinionated, and fun to read, and include photos of speakers and presentations. Well worth your time!

KarlynMorissette.com: An Event Apart: Day two schedule

Karyln assesses day one and posts links to her individual notes from each session of day two (except for the last session, as “you had to be there” for the live critiques).

Idiot Banter: An Event Apart session notes

Notes from all sessions.

Slide sharing

Luke Wroblewski – An Event Apart: Web Application Hierarchy

“In my Web Application Hierarchy presentation at An Event Apart Boston 2008, I walked through the importance of visual hierarchy, visual principles for developing effective hierarchies, and utilizing applications of visual hierarchy to communicate central messages, guide actions, and present information. Download the slides from my presentation.”

Quirksmode: AEA Boston slides

From Peter-Paul Koch’s presentation on unobtrusive scripting.

[tags]aneventapart, design, webdesign, conference, aeaboston08, session notes, downloads[/tags]

Art direction on the web?

On Tuesday morning, while Malarkey was furiously getting himself uninvited to Håkon Lie‘s Christmas parties, and oneself was busy publishing the latest issue of A List Apart, and the jungle drums spoke of nothing but Firefox 3, Jason Santa Maria quietly slipped a torpedo into the harbor.

Jason didn’t just redesign his website, he issued a call to arms. And what he called for was real art direction on the web.

Now, over the years, plenty of others have called for art direction on the web, and some have achieved it. Quite famously, starting in September 1996, Derek Powazek achieved it with the original {fray}, an independent, non-commercial, personal storytelling site featuring the finest writers and illustrators on the web, not a few of whom {fray} discovered and launched. Stories like Lance Arthur’s A Little Black Death, Molly Steenson’s Pulling a Geographic (now sadly stuck in a loop), and Rebecca Eisenberg’s Mugged weren’t just compellingly written; they were compellingly written and art directed. The drama of viewing and wondering what the next page held was part of the reading experience, as it is in visually leading print magazines like Seed and Wired.

{fray} was a magnificent achievement and still is, and if design officialdom didn’t recognize it at the time, and hasn’t recognized it since, the fault lies with officialdom.

But {fray} was not only a labor of love, it was also a labor of labor—each page lovingly hand crafted in the browser-centric HTML of the time. And today we are modern and streamlined, not only in our markup, but in our means of production. We’re all about blogs and zines, templates and CMS platforms. Nobody but weird Unibomber-like hermits and Tantek hand-codes individual pages anymore.

And it is to that environment—to our environment—that Jason’s redesign speaks, calling for real art direction in the context of template-and-CMS-based publications.

Well, here is my experiment: a very simple setup for fast design and art direction around content. I’m approaching this is much the same way one would approach the design of a magazine: a system for the way content gets handled, but every layout and story can take on a look of their own within that system.

It’s just a blog, like any blog, although better looking than most. Housed on what is essentially a beefed-up open source blogging platform. Beefed up just enough to allow the writer/designer to change colors, typefaces, and the position and shape of copy blocks on a per-post basis as needed.

Speaking of beef, where is it? Where are all these posts with unique layouts within an overarching and unifying system of design? They have yet to be written and produced. But I’ve seen the comps and know some of what is coming, and it is going to be a lovely, drawn-out feast.

And even if it were not half as lovely as it will be—if Jason, instead of being one of our leading web designers, were a visual illiterate—the idea would still matter, and this proof of concept would still merit our gratitude.

[tags]artdirection, webdesign, jasonsantamaria, derekpowazek,{fray}[/tags]