Ten Years Ago on the Web

2006 DOESN’T seem forever ago until I remember that we were tracking IE7 bugsworrying about the RSS feed validator, and viewing Drupal as an accessibility-and-web-standards-positive platform, at the time. Pundits were claiming bad design was good for the web (just as some still do). Joe Clark was critiquing WCAG 2. “An Inconvenient Truth” was playing in theaters, and many folks were surprised to learn that climate change was a thing.

I was writing the second edition of Designing With Web Standards. My daughter, who is about to turn twelve, was about to turn two. My dad suffered a heart attack. (Relax! Ten years later, he is still around and healthy.) A List Apart had just added a job board. “The revolution will be salaried,” we trumpeted.

Preparing for An Event Apart Atlanta, An Event Apart NYC, and An Event Apart Chicago (sponsored by Jewelboxing! RIP) consumed much of my time and energy. Attendees told us these were good shows, and they were, but you would not recognize them as AEA events today—they were much more homespun. “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” we used to joke. “My mom will sew the costumes and my dad will build the sets.” (It’s a quotation from a 1940s Andy Hardy movie, not a reflection of our personal views about gender roles.)

Jim Coudal, Jason Fried and I had just launched The Deck, an experiment in unobtrusive, discreet web advertising. Over the next ten years, the ad industry pointedly ignored our experiment, in favor of user tracking, popups, and other anti-patterns. Not entirely coincidentally, my studio had just redesigned the website of Advertising Age, the leading journal of the advertising profession.

Other sites we designed that year included Dictionary.com and Gnu Foods. We also worked on Ma.gnolia, a social bookmarking tool with well-thought-out features like Saved Copies (so you never lost a web page, even if it moved or went offline), Bookmark Ratings, Bookmark Privacy, and Groups. We designed the product for our client and developed many of its features. Rest in peace.

I was reading Adam Greenfield’s Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing, a delightfully written text that anticipated and suggested design rules and thinking for our present Internet of Things. It’s a fine book, and one I helped Adam bring to a good publisher. (Clearly, I was itching to break into publishing myself, which I would do with two partners a year or two afterwards.)

In short, it was a year like any other on this wonderful web of ours—full of sound and fury, true, but also rife with innovation and delight.

As part of An Event Apart’s A Decade Apart celebration—commemorating our first ten years as a design and development conference—we asked people we know and love what they were doing professionally ten years ago, in 2006. If you missed parts onetwothree, or four, have a look back.



Webvanta Video: Jeffrey Zeldman on the State of Web Design

From the floor of An Event Apart Seattle 2011:

Jeffrey Zeldman at An Event Apart Seattle 2011.

“Mobile is huge. The iPhone, iPad, and Android are huge. On the one hand, they are standards-facing, because they all support HTML5 and CSS3, so you can create great mobile experiences using web standards. You can create apps using web standards. On the other hand, there is also the temptation to go a proprietary route. In a strange way, although the browsers are much more standards compliant, it seems like we are redoing the browser war. Only now, it’s not the browser wars, it’s platform wars.”

Video interview, plus transcript: Interview with Jeffrey Zeldman on the State of Web Design. Thank you, Michael Slater.

2010: The Year in Web Standards

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.

CSS3 media queries plus fluid grids and flexible images gave birth to responsive web design (thanks, Beep!). Internet Explorer 9 (that’s right, the browser by Microsoft we’ve spent years grousing about) kicked ass on web standards, inspiring a 10K Apart contest that celebrated what designers and developers could achieve with just 10K of standards-compliant HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. IE9 also kicked ass on type rendering, stimulating debates as to which platform offers the best reading experience for the first time since Macintosh System 7.

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.

Web fonts were everywhere—from the W3C to small personal and large commercial websites—thanks to pioneering syntax constructions by Paul Irish and Richard Fink, fine open-source products like the Font Squirrel @Font-Face Generator, open-source liberal font licensing like FontSpring’s, and terrific service platforms led by Typekit and including Fontdeck, Webtype, Typotheque, and Kernest.

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:

iPad as the New Flash 17 October 2010
Masturbatory novelty is not a business strategy.
Flash, iPad, and Standards 1 February 2010
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.
An InDesign for HTML and CSS? 5 July 2010
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 assumption that a such thing is possible suggests a lack of understanding.
Stop Chasing Followers 21 April 2010
The web is not a game of “eyeballs.” Never has been, never will be. Influence matters, numbers don’t.
Crowdsourcing Dickens 23 March 2010
Like it says.
My Love/Hate Affair with Typekit 22 March 2010
Like it says.
You Cannot Copyright A Tweet 25 February 2010
Like it says.
Free Advice: Show Up Early 5 February 2010
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.

Outside Reading

A few things I wrote elsewhere might repay your interest as well:

The Future of Web Standards 26 September, for .net Magazine
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?
Style vs. Design written in 1999 and slightly revised in 2005, for Adobe
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.

Happy New Year, all!

Divitis We Fall

Highlight and Note from Michael Thorne (@mikkelz_za)

“Another classic example of divitis kicks in when a designer catches the ‘tables are bad, CSS is good’ virus and righteously replaces 200 tons of table markup with 200 tons of nested divs.”

Note: Been there. Done that. Never again. #DWWS (via @zeldman)

Amazon Kindle: Michael Thorne shared from Designing with Web Standards.

Blue Beanie Day Haiku Contest – Win Prizes from Peachpit and A Book Apart

ATTENTION, web design geeks, contest fans, standards freaks, HTML5ophiles, CSSistas, grammarians, bookworms, UXers, designers, developers, and budding Haikuists. Can you do this?

Do not tell me I
Am source of your browser woes.
Template validates.

Write a web standards haiku (like that one), and post it on Twitter with the hashtag #bbd4 between now and November 30th—which happens to be the fourth international Blue Beanie Day in support of Web Standards.

Winning haikus will receive free books from Peachpit/New Riders (“Voices That Matter”) and A Book Apart.

Ethan Marcotte, co-author of Designing With Web Standards 3rd Edition and I will determine the winners.

Enter as many haikus as you like. Sorry, only one winning entry per person. Now get out there and haiku your heart out!

See you on Blue Beanie Day.

P.S. An ePub version of Designing With Web Standards 3rd Edition is coming soon to a virtual bookstore near you. Watch this space.

DWWS3e Live on Boagworld

There’s been a lot more opportunities for just thinking outside the very strict design parameters that we usually work with. Then just thinking about not just designing for any particular device but a particular context. Because even if you are on a mobile phone, if you’re viewing something on a subway in the morning versus in the middle of the office at 10:30, your environment sort of dictates how you want to interface with a particular piece of content. That’s really what’s been firing me up as a long term proponent of flexible designs, letting the user dictate the experience. I sort of see that as the next step, thinking beyond the desktop.

Ethan Marcotte and I talk about the third edition of Designing with Web Standards and discuss the future of the web—a podcast by Paul Boag, with full transcription.


It’s that time again. Spring and pheromones are in the air, and 11,000 web geeks are about to descend on beauteous Austin, TX for our industry’s version of the TED Conference plus Spring Break, SXSW Interactive.

Along with nearly all of Happy Cog, I’ll be there. Join us, won’t you?

  • Friday, March 12, at 3:30 PM, come to Battledecks 2010 in Room 18ABCD, where I’ll compete against the likes of Avery Edison, Ted Rheingold, Mike Monteiro, and SeoulBrother Number 1 Albert McMurry to see who can create the best impromptu presentation in response to random slides.
  • Saturday, March 13, at 5:00 PM, open your mind to New Publishing and Web Content, where I’ll explore the creative, strategic, and marketing challenges of print and web (and hybrid) book and magazine publishing with the brilliant Erin Kissane, Lisa Holton, Mandy Brown, and Paul Ford.
  • Also on Saturday, March 13, beginning around 10:00 PM, join the fine folks of Happy Cog and 700 screaming karaoke fans for the best official party of SXSW, Ok! Happy Cog’aoke 2, brought to you by Happy Cog and sponsored by these good folks.
  • Don’t miss the book signing on Sunday, March 14! Swing by the South by Bookstore with your copy of Designing With Web Standards; Ethan Marcotte and I will be glad to scribble on it for you.

The rest of the time, depending on what else is going on, I will probably be findable via my personal SXSW schedule. (Create your own with Sched by MailChimp.) You can also find me on SitBy.Us, a scheduling web app for iPhone or any good web-enabled phone, designed by Weightshift—and bless them and HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for it. Sitby.us members, my schedule is posted at http://sitby.us/zeldman/.

If you can’t be with us at SXSW, please watch this space and my Twitter feed for photos, links, etc.

And if you aren’t attending and couldn’t care less about SXSW, you might want to unplug for the next six days, because the internets, they will be filthy with SXSW tweetage, bloggage, Flickrage, retweets, retumbling &c.

Reviewers Needed

Designing With Web Standards

Greetings book lovers and standardistas everywhere. Designing With Web Standards, 3rd Edition needs your help!

Amazon.com is the primary source of Designing With Web Standards, 3rd Edition. It’s a great website, as we all know. But the reviews on Amazon’s website are hopelessly out of date. They date mostly from the first edition, and the new, third edition is quite a bit different.

Hence this two-part request.

If you’ve read Designing With Web Standards, 3rd Edition, please consider doing the following:

  1. Write a review of the new edition and post it on the Amazon DWWS page.
  2. Read reviews of the new edition on the Amazon DWWS page. If you agree with a review, kindly boost its visibility by clicking the “YES” button in response to the link that asks, “Was this review helpful to you?”

Taking these actions will help the new book break free from the clutter of outdated reviews, and let your colleagues know what you think about modern web design. Thanks!