ALA 259: Career and Content

In Issue No. 259 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

The Cure for Content-Delay Syndrome

by Pepi Ronalds

Clients love to write copy. Well, they love to plan to write it, anyhow. On most web design projects, content is the last thing to be considered (and almost always the last thing to be delivered). We’ll spend hours, weeks, even months, doing user scenarios, site maps, wireframes, designs, schemas, and specifications—but content? It’s a disrespected line item in a schedule: “final content delivered.” Pepi Ronalds proposes a solution to this constant cause of project delays.

Why Did You Hire Me?

by Keith LaFerriere

Landing a new job or client is difficult in this economic climate. Undelivered contractual promises and work environment shortcomings can transform that challenge into a long-term nightmare. Keith LaFerriere shows how to get paid what you’re worth; how to fight for control of your projects using management tools corporate cultures respect (even if they don’t understand your work); and how to tell when it’s time to jump ship.

[tags]alistapart, webdesign, tips, content, writing, editors, editorial, control, career, client services[/tags]

Stick out your tongue

While employed at a famous New York advertising agency twenty years ago, a partner and I created a TV commercial touting an over-the-counter medicine client’s revolutionary new cold and flu remedy for young children.

Only when the shooting and shouting was over did we learn that the product did not, in fact, exist.

The commercial whose every creative detail we’d had to fight for was never going to run.

The client—the marketing side of a product development group—had a budget of $60,000 to spend. So they spent it, even though the R&D side of the product development group had not been able to deliver the product.

It was not a liquid medicine that needed to be measured. It was not a pill that needed to be chewed or swallowed. It was a pill that dissolved instantly on the tongue. Or would have been, if the engineers had been able to create it.

During weeks of presentation, the client rejected campaigns that would have caught the attention of the nation’s parents. The client bought a safe campaign that called less attention to itself, then set about systematically softening its edges. My partner and I wanted to cast like Fellini or Woody Allen. We brought in amazing children of various backgrounds, their faces rich in character. But the client picked cute blonde girls instead.

And so on. Every decision, however small, required approval. Everything was a fight. A ladies-and-gentlemanly fight. A fight that sounded like polite, mutually respectful discussion. A fight with invisible knives.

We won some and we lost some. For all the back-and-forth with the client, the resulting commercial wasn’t bad at all. The first few times anyone—even the guy delivering sandwiches—saw it, they laughed. Afterwards, they smiled. It could have been okay. It could have gotten my partner and me out of that agency and to a better one.

After the shoot was completed, the client told our account executive that the product did not exist and the commercial was never going to run.

The client had known this going in. So why didn’t they let us win more creative battles? Because they wanted something soft and safe to show the boss who had the power of life and death over their budget.

Why did the boss give them $60,000 to produce a commercial for a product that didn’t exist? Because that’s how corporations work. If they didn’t spend advertising dollars in 1988, they wouldn’t get ad dollars in 1989, when (in theory) they would finally have a product to advertise.

Governments, at least the ones I know of, work the same way. Since last night, the city of New York has been paving 34th Street in places it doesn’t need to be paved. Why do they do this? To justify the budget. In a better world, money set aside to pave streets that don’t need paving would be reassigned to something the city actually needs—like affordable housing, or medical care for poor or homeless people. But cities are corporations—that Mike Bloomberg is New York’s mayor merely confirms this—and few corporations are agile enough to rethink budgetary distributions on the basis of changing needs.

Last week, in an airport, on one of the inescapable widescreen TVs set to CNN (and always set to the wrong resolution) I saw a commercial for a revolutionary children’s medicine product that melts instantly on the tongue.

I guess they finally made it.

[tags]advertising, design, artdirection, writing, copywriting, TV, production, commercials, adverts, wisdom, work, experience, budgets, business, waste, government, medicine, OTC, overthecounter, newyork, nyc[/tags]

WordPress 2.5 unleashed

WordPress 2.5, designed by Happy Cog and built by Automattic, has been released. Download and enjoy.

[tags]wordpress, wordpress2.5, 2.5, happycog, automattic, blogs, blogging, tools[/tags]

WordPress 2.5 Preview

Yesterday, Matt Mullenweg opened the kimono on WordPress 2.5, built by Automattic and designed by Happy Cog:

“For the past few months, we’ve been working with our friends at Happy Cog—Jeffrey Zeldman, Jason Santa Maria, and Liz Danzico—to redesign WordPress from the ground-up. The result is a new way of interacting with WordPress that will remain familiar to seasoned users while improving the experience for everyone. This isn’t just a fresh coat of paint—we’ve re-thought the look of WordPress, as well as how it’s organized so that you can forget about the software and focus on your own creative pursuits.”

Although 2.5 is still just in preview, the current build is solid enough to build a house on. I’m using it right now. (You’re soaking in it.)

Most of the buzz I’ve seen so far is enthusiastic about the new features, the new look, and the emphasis on usability.

There’s been some nice early press coverage, too. From a detailed review at Technosailor, “10 Things You Need To Know About WordPress 2.5:”

“By far the most comprehensive change in this release was the complete rethinking of how WordPressers do their administrative tasks. Happy Cog Studios was enlisted to do usability research and testing—with the emphasis being on usability research.”

And this, from Wired Magazine:

“Although WordPress 2.5 includes some nice new features like better plugin management, full-text feeds, and built-in photo galleries, the most immediately obvious change is the sleek new look, which comes courtesy of Jeffery [sic] Zeldman and the Happy Cog design team.”

Much more about WordPress 2.5 will soon be revealed. We love this product—it’s the tool that got me to stop hand-rolling zeldman.com after lo, these many millennia—and we’re thrilled to be part of its rejiggering.

[tags]wordpress, 2.5, happycog, design, redesigns[/tags]

A List Apart 254: Design, Design

Issue No. 254 of A List Apart, for people who make websites, is all about design:

Hamid goes micro

You can begrudge leading new-breed web designer Naz Hamid his colossal design talent. Or you can do what he does: sweat the details.

Design is in the Details
Stop worrying about how good a designer you are, and start worrying about the myriad tiny details that can elevate your work from passable to near-perfect.

Rutledge goes macro

From small details to the big picture: designer Andy Rutledge, never one to lack an opinion or mince a word, challenges our cherished belief that design is synonymous with creativity.

On Creativity
As designers, we’re wrongly perceived as custodians and exponents of creativity. This matters because business currently overvalues creativity. To avoid the inevitable backlash, we must lead our clients’ perceptions.

[tags]alistapart, design, creativity, nazhamid, andyrutledge[/tags]

Monday links

WCAG Samurai
The WCAG Samurai Errata for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 are published as an alternative to WCAG 2. “You may comply with WCAG 2, or with these errata, or with neither, but not with both at once.” Published 26 February 2008. Read the intro first.
Happy Cog Studios at SXSW Interactive
Two hot panels, plus bowling.
Alex King’s Twitter Tools
Integrate your Twitter account with your WordPress blog. Archive your tweets, create a blog post from each tweet, create a daily digest of your tweets, post a tweet in your sidebar, and more.
Chopsticks by Carlos Segura
Brilliant! 51 chopstick bags by Carlos Segura assisted by Ryan Halvorsen. In EPS for your raster or vector pleasure.
Can a Gas Station Really Be Green?
Boston design firm builds green gas station in smoggy LA.
48 Unique Ways To Use WordPress
CMS, city guide, history/timeline site, intranet, movie poster and trailer site, network hub, polling site, Feedburner alternative, Twitter clone, many more.
Misleading Marketing Copy
Words and phrases to avoid if you want an honest relationship with your customers.
Pattern inspiration (Veerle’s Blog)
Design inspiration via wallpaper and tiles.
Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior (on Flickr)
Illustrations from the newly published book by Indi Young (Rosenfeld Media, 2008).
A Speck of Sunlight Is a Town’s Yearly Alarm Clock
On March 8, the sun will rise again in Longyearbyen, the first time since October.
Dockdrop
Free Mac OS X application lets you share files fast. Drag any file or folder onto the Dockdrop dock icon, then choose how you want to send it. Dockdrop uploads it and puts a URL for your upload on the clipboard, ready for pasting into an email, chat program or website.
Official Google Maps API Blog: Google Maps Without the Scripting
The Google Static Maps API provides a simpler way to add maps to your website. Rather than use JavaScript, the Google Static Maps API creates map images on the fly via simple requests to the Static Maps service with HTTP requests.

[tags]zeldman, wcagsamurai, happycog, sxsw, googlemaps, wordpress, veerle, indiyoung, mentalmodels, wcag2, accessibility[/tags]

ALA 252: New library, long hallway

In Issue No. 252 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

Keeping Your Elements’ Kids in Line with Offspring

Alex Bischoff introduces Offspring, a JavaScript library bringing the power of advanced CSS selectors to browsers that can’t quite handle the real thing.

The Rules of Digital Engagement

Jonathan Follett takes another trip down the the long hallway, looking at ways to collaborate, communicate, and manage conflict in virtual space.

[tags]javascript, libraries, longhallway, ala, alistapart, webdesign[/tags]

Comments off. Talk on ALA!

Facebook and your privacy

Months after geeks who hate walled gardens hailed Facebook as the great exception, Facebook announces that it is wholesaling our privacy to any turdball with a dirty nickel to spend. So what else is new? And what do we do about it?

In a titled-for-SEO-rather-than-readers article, “Do Facebook users care about “privacy issues?” What about Doubleclick?,” Eric Eldon defends Facebook’s violation of its users’ privacy on the grounds that not many users have protested.

Some may not have protested because the petition against Facebook’s Beacon advertising feature is hosted by Moveon.org, an organization half of America considers a tool of the Antichrist. Many more may not have protested because they don’t know Facebook is violating their privacy. In a prove-nothing survey, no Facebook user I talked to yesterday was aware of the Facebook privacy concerns.

The New York Times explains what Moveon and members of the Facebook group, Facebook: Stop invading my privacy!, are protesting:

MoveOn is objecting to a new advertising technique that Facebook announced a few weeks ago that posts members’ purchases and activities on other websites in their Facebook profiles. Users can choose not to have the information posted from individual sites, or “opt out,” whereas with most Facebook applications associated with external sites, users must proactively choose to participate, or “opt in.” With the Beacon feature, if a user does not specifically decline participation, his or her Facebook friends will get a “news feed” notice about the purchase.

Back to Eldon. The interesting tidbit in his titled-for-SEO article is the suggestion that MoveOn is protesting the wrong thing, and that the problem goes well beyond Facebook:

Facebook uses the cookie it requires for logging into its site to track what you do on other sites, from what we can tell. These cookies are unique identifiers—code sent to each user’s computer from Facebook, and tracked by Facebook when they visit web pages.

In other words, Facebook tracks what you do when you are on websites other than Facebook, and shares that information with its advertisers and your Facebook friends. Hmm, who else does that sound like?

Google’s Doubleclick and Microsoft’s Atlas ad networks also use cookies to track user actions, and this is a long-standing issue for online privacy advocates. In fact, the U.S. Senate is looking into Doubleclick’s privacy issues now. We have not heard MoveOn comment on cookie tracking as it relates to Beacon or any other company that uses cookies to track users.

Spurious “no comment” jibes aside, Eldon has a point. Even if you feel smug for never having joined Facebook, unless you anonymize all your web browsing sessions, refuse to use or accept cookies, turn off images (in case one of them is a “tracker GIF”), and go into the woods with Ted Nugent and a crossbow, Big Advertising already has your number. It knows where you live, where you shop, and how much porn you download.

But that DoubleClick sins doesn’t excuse Facebook from betraying its members’ trusts.

(And yet, what else should we have expected? Did we really think Facebook’s investors just wanted us to have fun? Did we believe if there was a way to make a dirty dollar, they would scorn it on ethical grounds? This isn’t the Well, people.)

Stipulate that we like using Facebook but that we don’t wish to be denuded for the enrichment of goblins. Beyond joining the group and signing the petition, what do we do?

[tags]facebook, privacy, advertising, web advertising, doubleclick, socialnetworking[/tags]

Don’t sleep here

Makeshift bed at construction site.

The area above Madison Square Park in Manhattan is in a condo- building frenzy. Of course all of Manhattan (and Brooklyn and Queens) is in a condo-building frenzy. But above Madison Square Park there is a particularly feverish keenness to the activity, as the glamor of the Flatiron District moves north to a zone that was formerly best known for its gaudy wig and cheap lingerie wholesalers.

The richie rich are buying, and who can blame them? Proximity to Madison Square Park and the chic shops south of 23rd Street makes for an elegance that is almost Parisian—or at least suggests the possibility of such a way of life.

Huge signs affixed to newly rising high-rises and condo converted prewar office buildings trumpet the glory of living here. But there are other signs, as well.

Barely noticed in the builders’ gold rush, the poorest poor, pushed off the benches of Madison Square Park, take shelter in the very construction sites that signify their doom. When this building is finished, the rich will sleep here. ‘Til then, it’s the poor who do so. And what do they dream?

Related

[tags]americandream, housing, homeless, homelessness, shelter, cities, urbanism, newyork, newyorkcity, NYC, boom, highrises, condos, condosandcoops, nest, citythatneversleeps[/tags]

Say hello to web standards

There’s something new at Apple’s online store: web standards and accessibility.

Apple.com has never lacked for panache. It has always looked more stylish, more elegant, more beautifully designed than most business sites. The site’s combination of utility, seduction, and understated beauty is practically unique—in keeping with the company’s primary point of product differentiation.

But while its beauty and usability have always run ahead of the pack, its underlying source code has not always kept pace. Now the online Apple Store’s inside is as beautiful as its exterior—and as far ahead of the mainstream in web development as a company like Apple needs to be.

One day, all sites will be built like this. View Source for an inspiring glimpse of how semantic and accessible even a grid-based, image-intensive, pixel-perfect site can be.

And next time your boss, client, or IT director annoyingly proclaims that you can’t have great looks and good markup, point them at store.apple.com. Who knows? They might buy you an iPhone or MacBook as a token of thanks.

Opinions are no longer being solicited, but you can read the 101 comments that were shared before we closed the iron door.

[tags]apple, css, markup, accessibility, webstandards, jinabolton, aneventapart, aeasf07[/tags]