The Big Web Show Episode No. 44: Designer Sarah Parmenter

Watch or listen to Episode No. 44, featuring Sarah Parmenter.

SARAH PARMENTER (@sazzy, sazzy.co.uk) is our guest on The Big Web Show Episode 44, available for your listening and dancing pleasure at 5by5.tv/bigwebshow/44.

Sarah owns You Know Who, a small design studio based in Leigh-on-Sea, specializing in the User Interface Design of websites, iPhone, and iPad applications.

Her wide-ranging discussion with co-host Dan Benjamin and me includes the thin line between sharing and oversharing on Twitter, yourself as your brand, the virtues of smallness and honesty, coping with stalkers and sexism, running iOS workshops, native vs. web design, the connection between acting and client services, and much more.

The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) records live every Thursday at 3:00 PM Eastern. Edited episodes can be watched afterwards, often within hours of recording, via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web. Subscribe and enjoy!

You are all in publishing!

ON SUNDAY, while leading a discussion on the future of web design and publishing, I noticed a slightly confused look appearing on some faces in the audience. The discussion had been billed as “Jeffrey Zeldman’s Awesome Internet Design Panel,” and I thought perhaps there was a disconnect for some in the audience between “design” and such topics as where content comes from and who pays for it.

So I asked, “Who here is in publishing?”

A few hands were gently raised.

Uh-huh. “And how many of you work on the web?”

Every right hand in the room shot up.

“You are all in publishing,” I explained.

Now, I like a good rounded corner talk as much as the next designer. I’ve given my share of them. Also of line height and measure, color and contrast, how to design things that don’t work in old versions of Internet Explorer, and so on. In the practice of web and interaction design, there will always be a place for craft discussions—for craft is execution, and ideas without execution are songs without music, meaningless.

But right now (and always) there is a need for design to also be about the big strategic issues. And right now, as much as design is wrestling with open vs. proprietary formats and the old challenges of new devices, design is also very much in the service of applications and publishing. Who gets content, who pays for it, how it is distributed (and how evenly), the balance between broadcast and conversation, editor and user—these are the issues of this moment, and it is designers even more than editors who will answer these riddles.

Questions, Please: Jeffrey Zeldman’s Awesome Internet Design Panel today at SXSW Interactive

HEY, YOU WITH THE STARS in your eyes. Yes, you, the all too necessary SXSW Interactive attendee. Got questions about the present and future of web design and publishing for me or the illustrious panelists on Jeffrey Zeldman’s Awesome Internet Design Panel at SXSW Interactive 2011? You do? Bravo! Post them on Twitter using hashtag #jzsxsw and we’ll answer the good ones at 5:00 PM in Big Ballroom D of the Austin Convention Center.

Topics include platform wars (native, web, and hybrid, or welcome back to 1999), web fonts, mobile is the new widescreen, how to succeed in the new publishing, responsive design, HTML5, Flash, East Coast West Coast beefs, whatever happened to…?, and many, many more.

Comments are off here so you’ll post your questions on Twitter.

The panel will be live sketched and live recorded for later partial or full broadcast via sxsw.com. In-person attendees, arrive early for best seats. Don’t eat the brown acid.

Episode 39: Crowd Fusion’s Brian Alvey live on The Big Web Show

Brian Alvey

BRIAN ALVEY (home, Twitter) is our guest on The Big Web Show Episode 39, recording live Thursday, February 16, at 12:00 PM Eastern at 5by5.tv/live.

Brian is CEO of Crowd Fusion, a publishing platform that combines popular applications like blogging, wikis, tagging and workflow management, and a leader in the content management world. He co-founded Weblogs, Inc.—home to Engadget, Autoblog, TUAW and more—and built the Blogsmith platform, both of which were acquired by Aol and are essential to their current strategy. Brian has been putting big brands on the web since 1995 when he designed the first TV Guide website and helped BusinessWeek leap from Aol to the web.

Brian built database-driven web applications and content management systems for many large companies in the 1990’s including Intel, J.D. Edwards, Deloitte & Touche and The McGraw-Hill Companies. His 1999 Tech-Engine site was a “skinnable HotJobs” which powered over 200 online career centers including XML.com, Perl.com, O’Reilly & Associates Network, DevShed, and Computer User magazine.

He has been the art director of three print magazines (I met him in 1995 when he was art director for “Net Surfer” or something like that) and was the Chief Technology Officer of Rising Tide Studios where he developed The Venture Reporter Network, which is now a Dow Jones property.

In 2003, Brian invented and launched Blogstakes, a sweepstakes application for the blogging community. He is a former Happy Cog partner of mine; at Happy Cog, Brian built content management systems for customers including Capgemini, A List Apart, and the Kansas City Chiefs. He was also the creator and host of the Meet The Makers conference, a series of talk show-style events that were so compelling, they helped inspired me to create An Event Apart with Eric Meyer.

And I’ll stop there. Ladies and gentlemen, a legend and true creative force in this medium. Please join us at tomorrow on 5by5.tv/live for a lively and wide-ranging discussion.

The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) records live every Thursday at 12:00 PM Eastern. Edited episodes can be watched afterwards, often within hours of recording, via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web. Subscribe and enjoy!

The Big Web Show #39: Brian Alvey.

A List Apart: Smartphone Browser Landscape

USERS EXPECT WEBSITES to work on their mobile phones. In two to three years, mobile support will become standard for any site. Web developers must add mobile web development to their skill set or risk losing clients. How do you make websites mobile compatible? The simple answer is to test on all mobile devices and fix any problems you encounter. But with at least ten operating systems and fifteen browsers out there, it is impossible to do that. Nor can we test only in iPhone and Android and expect to serve our market. PPK surveys the mobile web market, as well as phone platforms and their browsers, and shows how to set up a mobile test bed that works.

A List Apart: Smartphone Browser Landscape by Peter-Paul Koch

Illustration by Kevin Cornell for A List Apart

iPad as the new Flash


Jeffrey Zeldman Presents

iPad. Never have so many embraced a great product for exactly the wrong reasons.

Too many designers and publishers see the iPad as an opportunity to do all the wrong things—things they once did in Flash—without the taint of Flash.

In the minds of many, the iPad is like Flash that pays. You can cram traditional publishing content into an overwrought, novelty Flash interface as The New York Times once did with its T magazine. You may win a design award but nobody will pay you for that content. Ah, but do the same thing on the iPad instead, and subscribers will pay—maybe not enough to save publishing, but enough to keep the content coming and at least some journalists, editors, and art directors employed.

It’s hard to argue with money and jobs, and I wouldn’t dream of doing so.

Alas, the early success of a few publications—publications so good they would doubtless survive with or without iPad—is creating a stampede that will not help most magazines and interfaces that will not please most readers.

Everything we’ve learned in the past decade about preferring open standards to proprietary platforms and user-focused interfaces to masturbatory ones is forgotten as designers and publishers once again scramble to create novelty interfaces no one but them cares about.

While some of this will lead to useful innovation, particularly in the area of gestural interfaces, that same innovation can just as readily be accomplished on websites built with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript—and the advantage of creating websites instead of iPad apps is that websites work for everyone, on browsers and devices at all price points. That, after all, is the point of the web. It’s the point of web standards and progressive enhancement.

Luke Wroblewski’s Touch Gesture Reference Guide gives designers plenty of ammunition to create dynamic user experiences that work on a wide variety of mobile phones and devices (including iPad) while these same sites can use traditional desktop browser effects like hover to offer equally rich experiences on non-touch-enabled browsers. Unless your organization’s business model includes turning a profit by hiring redundant, competing teams, “Write once, publish everywhere” makes more economic sense than “Write once, publish to iPad. Write again, publish to Kindle. Write again, publish to some other device.”

I’m not against the iPad. I love my iPad. It’s great for storing and reading books, for browsing websites, for listening to music and watching films, for editing texts, presentations, and spreadsheets, for displaying family photos, and on and on. It’s nearly all the stuff I love about my Mac plus a great ePub reader slipped into a little glass notebook I play like a Theremin.

I’m not against iPad apps. Twitterific for iPad is by far the best way to use Twitter. After all, Twitter is really an internet service, not a website; Twitter’s own site, while leaps ahead of where it used to be, is hardly the most useful or delightful way to access its service. Gowalla for iPad is my constant companion. I dread the idea of traveling without it. And there are plenty of other great iPad apps I love, from Bloom, an “endless music machine” by Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers, to Articles, which turns Wikipedia into an elegant reading experience, to Mellotronics for iPad, an uncannily accurate Mellotron simulator packed with 13 authentic voices—“the same production tapes featured on Strawberry Fields Forever” and other classic tracks (not to mention tracks by nouveau retro bands like Eels).

There are apps that need to be apps, demand to be apps, and I admire and learn from them like every other designer who’s alive at this moment.

I’m just not sold on what the magazines are doing. Masturbatory novelty is not a business strategy.

The future of web standards

Jeffrey Zeldman on the future of web standards.

“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 newer, more mature, more ubiquitous web?”

The Future of Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman

Originally written for .net magazine, Issue No. 206, published 17 August in UK and this month in the US in “Practical Web Design” Magazine. Now you can read the article even if you can’t get your hands on these print magazines.

See also: I Guest-Edit .net magazine.

HTML5, CSS3 default templates

Free for use in all web projects, professional or personal, HTML5 Reset by Monkey Do! is a set of HTML5 and CSS templates that jumpstart web development by removing the styling native to each browser, establishing basic HTML structures (title, header, footer, etc.), clearing floats, correcting for IE problems, and more.

Most of us who design websites begin every project with bits and pieces of this kind of code, but developer Tim Murtaugh, who created these files and who modestly thanks everyone in the universe, has struck a near-ideal balance. In these lean, simple files, without fuss or clutter, he manages to give us the best-practices equivalent of everything but the kitchen sink.

Tim Murtaugh sits beside me at Happy Cog, so I’ve seen him use these very files (and earlier versions of them) to quickly code advanced websites. If you’re up to speed on all the new hotness, these files will help you stay that way and work faster. If you’re still learning (and who isn’t?) about HTML5, CSS3, and browser workarounds, studying these files and Tim’s notes about them will help you become a more knowledgeable web designer slash developer. (We need a better name for what we do.)

My daughter calls Mr Murtaugh “Tim the giant.” With the release of this little package, he earns the moniker. Highly recommended.

10K Apart – inspire the web!

Just launched and just wonderful! The 10K Apart contest (“Inspire the web with just 10K”) presented by MIX Online and An Event Apart hearkens back to Stewart Butterfield’s 5k Contest of yesteryear while anticipating the HTML5-powered web of tomorrow … and encouraging us to design that web today.

We want beauty. We want utility. We want excitement. And we want it all under 10K:

HTML5 For Web Designers

Prizes, we got prizes! One grand prize winner will receive registration to An Event Apart plus $3,000 cash and a copy of HTML5 For Web Designers. Three runners-up (Best Design, Best Technical, and People’s Choice) will win free registration to An Event Apart plus a $1000 Visa cash card and HTML5 For Web Designers. Nine honorable mentions will receive HTML5 For Web Designers.

The judging panel that will evaluate all this awesomeness is made up of Jeremy Keith, Nicole Sullivan, Eric Meyer, Whitney Hess, and yours truly.

Sorry, no back-end, this is a client-side contest only.

Check the 10K Apart site for more info. Happy designing and developing!

An InDesign for HTML and CSS?

In “CSS is the new Photoshop” (?), Adobe’s John Nack correctly observes, as have many of us, that “Cascading Style Sheets can create a great deal of artwork now, without reliance on bitmap graphics.” Nack quotes Shawn Blanc, one of several concurrent authors of the phrase “CSS is the new Photoshop,” who cites as evidence Louis Harboe’s iOS icons and Jeff Batterton’s iPhone, both designed entirely in CSS and both only viewable in the latest Webkit browsers, Safari 5 and Google Chrome 5.

He’s not alone: Håkon Wium Lie from Opera predicts that CSS3 could eliminate half the images used on the Web. You can use various graphical tools to generate things like CSS gradients and rounded corners. As people can do more and more in code, it makes sense to ask whether even to use Photoshop in designing Web content.

I think Adobe should be freaking out a bit, but in a constructive way.

So far, so good. But Nack’s “constructive” suggestion for Adobe, quoting Michael Slade, is to create “the modern day equivalent of Illustrator and PageMaker for CSS, HTML5 and JavaScript.”

Nack acknowledges that this will be difficult. I propose that it will be impossible. Says Nack:

As I noted the other day, “Almost no one would look inside, say, an EPS file and harrumph, ‘Well, that’s not how I’d write PostScript’–but they absolutely do that with HTML.”

Well, there is a reason they absolutely do that with HTML. PostScript is a programming language designed to describe page layouts and text shapes in a world of known, fixed dimensions (the world of print), with no underlying semantics. PostScript doesn’t care whether an element is a paragraph, a headline, or a list item. It doesn’t care if a bit of content on one page cites another bit of content on a different page. PostScript is a visual plotting language. And HTML is anything but.

HTML is a language with roots in library science. It doesn’t know or care what content looks like. (Even HTML5 doesn’t care what content looks like.) Neither a tool like Photoshop, which is all about pixels, nor a tool like Illustrator, which is all about vectors, can generate semantic HTML, because the visual and the semantic are two different things.

Moreover, authoring good HTML and CSS is an art, just as authoring good poetry or designing beautiful comps in Photoshop is an art. Expecting Photoshop to write the kind of markup and CSS you and I write at our best is like challenging TextMate to convert semantic HTML into a visually appropriate and aesthetically pleasing layout. Certain kinds of human creativity and expertise cannot be reproduced by machines. Yes, there are machines that create music, and a composer like Brian Eno can program such systems to create somewhat interesting aural landscapes, but such music can never be the Eroica or “This Land is Your Land,” because there is no algorithm with the creative and life experience of Beethoven or Woody Guthrie.

Adobe already has a fine product in the code arena. Some hand coders knock Dreamweaver, but it does about as good a job as is possible of converting groupings of meaningless pixels into chunks of valid code. It is unreasonable to expect more than that from a tool that begins by importing a multi-layered Photoshop comp. Of course you can do much more with Dreamweaver if you use its code merely as a starting point, or if you use it simply as a hand-coding environment. But that’s the point. Some things, to be done right, must be done by the human mind.

There’s something to what Nack says. Photoshop could be made friendlier to serious web designers. Adobe could also stop ignoring Fireworks, as Fireworks is a better starting place for web design. They might even interview serious, standards-oriented web designers and start from scratch, as a new tool will suffer from fewer political constraints and user expectations than a beloved existing product with deep features and multiple audiences.

But while our current tools can certainly stand improvement, no company will ever create “the modern day equivalent of Illustrator and PageMaker for CSS, HTML5 and JavaScript.” The very assumption that a such thing is possible suggests a lack of understanding of the professionalism, wisdom, and experience required to create good HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Fortunately, a better understanding is easy to come by.