IT’S BEEN CALLED the Gig Economy, Freelance Nation, the Rise of the Creative Class, and the e-conomy, with the “e” standing for electronic, entrepreneurial, or perhaps eclectic. Everywhere we look, we can see the U.S. workforce undergoing a massive change. No longer do we work at the same company for 25 years, waiting for the gold watch, expecting the benefits and security that come with full-time employment. We’re no longer simply lawyers, or photographers, or writers. Instead, we’re part-time lawyers-cum- amateur photographers who write on the side.
Today, careers consist of piecing together various types of work, juggling multiple clients, learning to be marketing and accounting experts, and creating offices in bedrooms/coffee shops/coworking spaces. Independent workers abound. We call them freelancers, contractors, sole proprietors, consultants, temps, and the self-employed.
And, perhaps most surprisingly, many of them love it.
IN A GORGEOUSLY PACED ESSAY at n+1, “the magazine that believes history isn’t over just yet,” an amazing young (22?) writer named Alice Gregory reviews a novel by Gary Shteyngart while simultaneously describing her exhausted and shattered mental life as a Twitter- and Tumblr-following, iPhone-carrying, socializing-while-isolated Internet addict, i.e. modern young person:
This anxiety is about more than failing to keep up with a serialized source, though. It’s also about the primitive pleasure of constant and arbitrary stimulation. That’s why the Facebook newsfeed is no longer shown chronologically. Refresh Facebook ten times and the status updates rearrange themselves in nonsensical, anachronistic patterns. You don’t refresh Facebook to follow a narrative, you refresh to register a change—not to read but to see.
And it’s losing track of this distinction—between reading and seeing—that’s so shameful. It’s like being demoted from the category of thinking, caring human to a sort of rat that doesn’t know why he needs to tap that button, just that he does.
Sometimes I can almost visualize parts of myself, the ones I’m most proud of, atrophying. I wish I had an app to monitor it! I notice that my thoughts are homeopathic, that they mirror content I wish I weren’t reading. I catch myself performing hideous, futuristic gestures, like that “hilarious” moment three seconds into an intimate embrace in which I realize I’m literally rubbing my iPhone screen across his spine.
YOU FIND ME ENSCONCED in the fabulous Buckhead, Atlanta Intercontinental Hotel, preparing to unleash An Event Apart Atlanta 2011, three days of design, code, and content strategy for people who make websites. Eric Meyer and I co-founded our traveling web conference in December, 2005; in 2006 we chose Atlanta for our second event, and it was the worst show we’ve ever done. We hosted at Turner Field, not realizing that half the audience would be forced to crane their necks around pillars if they wanted to see our speakers or the screen on which slides were projected.
Also not realizing that Turner Field’s promised contractual ability to deliver Wi-Fi was more theoretical than factual: the venue’s A/V guy spent the entire show trying to get an internet connection going. You could watch audience members twitchily check their laptops for email every fourteen seconds, then make the “no internet” face that is not unlike the face addicts make when the crack dealer is late, then check their laptops again.
The food was good, our speakers (including local hero Todd Dominey) had wise lessons to impart, and most attendees had a pretty good time, but Eric and I still shudder to remember everything that went wrong with that gig.
Not to jinx anything, but times have changed. We are now a major three-day event, thanks to a kick-ass staff and the wonderful community that has made this show its home. We thank you from the bottoms of our big grateful hearts.
I will see several hundred of you for the next three days. Those not attending may follow along:
Jeremy Keith quite effectively live-blogs my opening keynote on the particular opportunities of Now in the field of web design, and the skills every designer needs to capitalize on the moment and make great things.
Related to my talk: Jeremy Keith’s original write-up on a notorious but all-too-common practice. If your boss or client tells you to design this pattern, just say no. Design that does not serve users does not serve business.
“As a consultant, [Whitney] spends a lot of time talking about UX and inevitably, the talk turns to deliverables and process but really we should be establishing a philosophy about how to treat people, in the same way that visual design is about establishing a philosophy about how make an impact. Visual design has principles to achieve that: contrast, emphasis, balance, proportion, rhythm, movement, texture, harmony and unity.” In this talk, Whitney proposed a set of 10 principles for UX design.
“In his presentation at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Jared Spool detailed the importance and role of links on Web pages.” No writer can capture Jared Spool’s engaging personality or the quips that produce raucous laughter throughout his sessions, but Luke does an outstanding job of noting the primary ideas Jared shares in this riveting and highly useful UX session.
Luke W: “In his All Our Yesterdays presentation at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Jeremy Keith outlined the problem of digital preservation on the Web and provided some strategies for taking a long term view of our Web pages.”
Although it is hard to pick highlights among such great speakers and topics, this talk was a highlight for me. As in, it blew my mind. Several people said it should be a TED talk.
Luke: “In his Idea to Interface presentation at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Aarron Walter encouraged Web designers and developers to tackle their personal projects by walking through examples and ways to jump in. Here are my notes from his talk.”
Compiled by the speaker, links include Design Personas Template and Example, the story behind the illustrations in the presentation created by Mike Rhode, Dribble, Huffduffer, Sketchboards, Mustache for inserting data into your prototypes, Keynote Kung Fu, Mocking Bird, Yahoo Design Patterns, MailChimp Design Pattern Library, Object Oriented CSS by Nicole Sullivan and more!
“In his Smoke Gets In Your Eyes presentation at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Andy Clarke showcased what is possible with CSS3 animations using transitions and transforms in the WebKit browser.” Write-up by the legendary Luke Wroblewski.
Fascinating article by Anton Peck (who attended the show). Proposed: a solution to a key problem with CSS transitions. (“Even now, my main issue with transitions is that they use the same time-length value for the inbound effect as they do the outbound. For example, when you create a transition on an image with a 1-second duration, you get that length of time for both mousing over, and mousing away from the object. This type of behavior should be avoided, for the sake of the end-user!”)
The teacher who chastised you for “mindless doodling” was wrong on both counts. Far from shutting down the mind, the act of doodling engages the brain in the kind of visual sense-making people have practiced for over 30,000 years. Doodling sharpens concentration, increases retention, and enhances access to the problem solving unconscious. It activates the portions of the visual cortex that allow us to see mental imagery and manipulate concepts, and unifies three major learning modalities—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Doodle Revolution leader Sunni Brown introduces strategic doodling and presents the ABCs of our shared visual alphabet.
You don’t have to be a great singer to write a great song—just ask Bob Dylan. Likewise, you needn’t be a Leonardo to draw your way to more and better ideas. Sketching helps you generate concepts quickly, exploring alternatives rapidly and at no cost of resources. The looseness of a sketch removes inhibitions, granting clients and colleagues permission to consider and challenge the ideas it represents. Mike Rohde outlines the practice, surveys the tools, and shares ways to become confident with this method of brainstorming, regardless of your level of artistic ability.
WHAT A YEAR 2010 has been. It was the year HTML5 and CSS3 broke wide; the year the iPad, iPhone, and Android led designers down the contradictory paths of proprietary application design and standards-based mobile web application design—in both cases focused on user needs, simplicity, and new ways of interacting thanks to small screens and touch-sensitive surfaces.
It was the third year in a row that everyone was talking about content strategy and designers refused to “just comp something up” without first conducting research and developing a user experience strategy.
Even outside the newest, best browsers, things were better than ever. Modernizr and eCSStender brought advanced selectors and @font-face to archaic browsers (not to mention HTML5 and SVG, in the case of Modernizr). Tim Murtaugh and Mike Pick’s HTML5 Reset and Paul Irish’s HTML5 Boilerplate gave us clean starting points for HTML5- and CSS3-powered sites.
Print continued its move to networked screens. iPhone found a worthy adversary in Android. Webkit was ubiquitous.
Insights into the new spirit of web design, from a wide variety of extremely smart people, can be seen and heard on The Big Web Show, which Dan Benjamin and I started this year (and which won Video Podcast of the Year in the 2010 .net Awards), on Dan’s other shows on the 5by5 network, on the Workers of the Web podcast by Alan Houser and Eric Anderson, and of course in A List Apart for people who make websites.
Zeldman.com: The Year in Review
A few things I wrote here at zeldman.com this year (some related to web standards and design, some not) may be worth reviewing:
Lack of Flash in the iPad (and before that, in the iPhone) is a win for accessible, standards-based design. Not because Flash is bad, but because the increasing popularity of devices that don’t support Flash is going to force recalcitrant web developers to build the semantic HTML layer first.
Love means never having to say you’re sorry, but client services means apologizing every five minutes. Give yourself one less thing to be sorry for. Take some free advice. Show up often, and show up early.
A few things I wrote elsewhere might repay your interest as well:
Cheap, complex devices such as the iPhone and the Droid have come along at precisely the moment when HTML5, CSS3 and web fonts are ready for action; when standards-based web development is no longer relegated to the fringe; and when web designers, no longer content to merely decorate screens, are crafting provocative, multi-platform experiences. Is this the dawn of a new web?
When Style is a fetish, sites confuse visitors, hurting users and the companies that paid for the sites. When designers don’t start by asking who will use the site, and what they will use it for, we get meaningless eye candy that gives beauty a bad name.
The 10K Apart Challenge had a simple premise: Could you build a complete web application using less than 10 kilobytes? … A joint effort between An Event Apart and MIX Online, the 10K Apart reaped 367 web applications in 28 days—everything from casual games to RIAs—that demonstrate, even with their tiny footprints, what is truly possible with modern [web] standards.
The show’s over but the photos linger on. An Event Apart Minneapolis was two days of nonstop brilliance and inspiration. In an environment more than one attendee likened to a “TED of web design,” a dozen of the most exciting speakers and visionaries in our industry explained why this moment in web design is like no other.
Next up: An Event Apart DC and San Diego. These shows will not be streamed, simulcast, or repackaged in DVD format. To experience them, you must attend. Tickets are first-come, first-served, and every show this year has sold out. Forewarned is forearmed; we’d love to turn you on.
Most of us web folk are hybrids of one sort or another, but Todd Dominey was one of the first web designers to combine exceptional graphic design talent with serious mastery of code.
Being so good at both design and development that you could easily earn a fine living doing just one of them is still rare, although it looks like the future of our profession. One of the first serious designers to embrace web standards, Todd was also one of the few who did so while continuing to achieve recognition for his work in Flash. (Daniel Mall, who came later, is another.)
Finally, Todd was one of the first—along with 37signals and Coudal Partners—to abandon an enviably successful client services career in favor of full-time product development, inspiring a generation to do likewise, and helping bring us to our current world of web apps and startups.
A personal project that became an empire
In Todd’s case, the product was SlideShowPro, a project he designed for himself, which has grown to become the web’s most popular photo and video slideshow and gallery viewer. When you visit a photographer’s portfolio website, there’s an excellent chance that SlideShowPro powers its dynamic photo viewing experience. The same is true for the photo and video gallery features of many major newspaper and magazine sites, quite possibly including your favorites.
But deliberate lack of Flash support in the iPad and iPhone, while lauded here on February 1, 2010 as a win for accessible, standards-based design (“Not because Flash is bad, but because the increasing popularity of devices that don’t support Flash is going to force recalcitrant web developers to build the semantic HTML layer first”), presented a serious problem for developers who use SlideShowPro and readers who enjoy browsing dynamic photo and video galleries.
SlideShowPro Mobile is an entirely new media player built using HTML5 that doesn’t require the Flash Player plugin and can serve as a fallback for users accessing your web sites using these devices. But it’s not just any fallback — it’s specially designed for touch interfaces and smaller screen sizes. So it looks nothing like the SlideShowPro player and more like a native application that’s intuitive, easy to use, and just feels right.
The best part though is that because SlideShowPro Director (which will be required) publishes the mobile content, you’ll be able to provide the mobile alternative by simply updating the Flash Player embed code in your HTML documents. And just like when using the SlideShowPro player, because Director is behind the scenes, all your photos will be published for the target dimensions of these devices — which gives your users top quality, first generation images. The mobile player will automatically load whatever content is assigned to the Flash version, so the same content will be accessible to any browser accessing your web site.
A public beta will be released in the next weeks. Meanwhile, there is a video demo. There’s also an excellent Question and Answer page that answers questions you may have, whether you’re a SlideShow Pro customer or not. For instance:
Why mobile? Why not desktop?
We believe that (on the desktop) Flash is still the best delivery method for photo/video galleries and slideshows for it provides the most consistent user experience across all browsers and the broadest range of playback and customization options. As HTML5 support matures across all desktop browsers, we’ll continue to look into alternate presentation options.
In the late 1980s, while making efforts to move to New York City, I came up with the winning ad campaign for Hebrew National Kosher Salami. Only I didn’t win.
Hebrew National held a contest to see if people outside Madison Avenue could come up with a great ad idea for their 83% fat free salami. The grand prize was $83,000.
Even in New York, $83,000 would have more than covered a moving van, broker’s fee, and first and last month’s rent.
But creating the winning ad carried a benefit even bigger than the cash for someone like me who was trying to break into New York advertising. I’d worked for a couple of years at Washington, DC-area ad agencies, one of them pretty good, but that and my portfolio bought me nothing in the competitive New York advertising job market of the late 1980s. There were kids coming out of school with better portfolios than mine.
Winning that contest, I believed at the time, would make a New York ad agency take me seriously.
My then-girlfriend Eva S and I submitted an ad built around the headline, “You should be so fat.”
Well, we never heard back after entering the contest, and months passed the way they do.
I continued to drive back and forth from DC to NYC looking for jobs and an apartment.
A couple of times I flew to New York for an interview in the middle of my work day. I told my DC-area-agency creative director I was seeing a doctor. I still feel bad about that lie.
One day I open a magazine, and there’s a picture of an athletic woman wearing a leotard, working out.
The headline reads, “You should be so lean.”
Lean. You should be so lean.
It was our concept made safe. “You should be so lean” was a faster read and a much less interesting idea.
Hebrew National had said in the contest rules that, in the event of duplicate ideas, they would pick the one that was best executed. I am certain today that several people submitted similar ideas and Hebrew National and its agency chose the best-looking comp, which was not mine. Quite probably the winner even wrote “You should be so lean.” All perfectly ethical.
But at the time I was sure that we had gotten ripped off.
So I confided in the president of the DC-area agency where I worked—like he needed another reason to fire me—and asked him if I should sue Hebrew National.
I sought this advice while buying a drink for the president of the agency when I should have been at my desk, working. I figured if the president of the agency was spending the afternoon in a bar, he wouldn’t mind his peon employee doing likewise.
I was thirsty and not very bright. A while later, for many reasons, the agency let me go, surprising absolutely no one but me.
But meantime I’m in the bar buying my boss a drink on his time.
He tells me something I’ll never forget: a big company has lawyers on retainer, and you don’t.
As promised, a super-hot update to A Feed Apart, the official feed aggregator for An Event Apart, is up and running for your web design conference pleasure. You can now tweet from inside the application, and can even arrange meet-ups and make other social connections there.