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.
From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Meow Mix
I’VE TRAINED my cats to think they’re in charge, and to think they exact a tribute of two breakfasts from me each morning.
Initially I feed them each half a small can of salmon. The white cat finishes first, and scratches at the cabinets for more. As if in response, I feed them each a half can of whitefish, exactly as I always intended to. They finish with gusto, convinced that they’ve won.
I am so in client services.
And if you want to know how to succeed in client services, I’ve just told you.
HTML5 vs. HTML
Hence the HTML5 logo effort, intended as an identity system for all the hot new standards technologies—and initially bogged down by a controversy in our circle about theW3C muddying the waters. The actual muddying began when Steve Jobs announced Apple’s support for HTML5 by pointing to web stuff created with CSS3. In other words, the inaccurate use of “HTML5” to cover HTML and non-HTML technologies coincided with the surge of interest in those technologies under that inaccurate label. Which is why some thought leaders in our community have reckoned that the business community’s confusion about what HTML5 actually means doesn’t matter so much, as long as they are clamoring for great sites, accessibly designed with web standards—and as long as developers know the difference between HTML5 and, say, CSS3.
In any case, soon after the standards digerati declared the HTML5 banner launch a communications fiasco, it emerged that the launch was actually merely a communications snafu.
An updated FAQ makes it clear that HTML5 means HTML5, that CSS3 is not part of the HTML5 specification, and so on. The W3C’s clarification allows the standards organization to have it both ways in a fashion acceptable to all. In times past, the W3C argued passionately within its own walls during the creation of web standards, only to passively release them as “recommendations” to a world that often ignored them—the development of XHTML 2 in the pure absence of worldly interest was probably the culmination of that phase. But today’s W3C has learned better. It has learned to engage its constituents and to seek approval beyond its immediate constituents—i.e. to reach out to the business community, not just to the authors of O’Reilly and Peachpit books. Its “HTML5” identity effort represents a reasonable and meritorious effort to cash in on, prolong, and extend the world’s already keen interest in HTML5 and related technologies and practices. Meantime, the little FAQ page and other minor editorial clarifications allow the W3C to pacify its knowledgeable critics and duck the charge that it is blurring the lines between HTML, CSS, and other technologies.
Now that the story appears to be heading purposefully in a single direction, a kink in the works was inevitable.
That kink is also not surprising and not entirely unanticipated. Just when the W3C figures out that HTML5 is hot, the WHAT Working Group (the splinter group that created the actual HTML5 specification in the first place) has decided that HTML is the new HTML5:
The HTML specification will henceforth just be known as “HTML”, with the URL http://whatwg.org/html. (We will also continue to maintain the Web Applications 1.0 specification that contains HTML and a number of related APIs like Web Storage, Web Workers, and Server-Sent Events.)
The WHATWG HTML spec can now be considered a “living standard”. It’s more mature than any version of the HTML specification to date, so it made no sense for us to keep referring to it as merely a draft. We will no longer be following the “snapshot” model of spec development, with the occasional “call for comments”, “call for implementations”, and so forth.
Those who are surprised should remember that the HTML5 doctype references “HTML” with no version number. In the thinking of its creators, HTML5 was always just HTML. It looked backward (the first web page ever written would be valid HTML5 with the addition of a doctype) and forward. It would continue to evolve. The WHAT WG gave itself the job of steering and updating HTML, while the W3C took on the task of maintaining milestones (a task it will continue to perform).
In practice, the WHATWG has basically been operating like this for years, and indeed we were going to change the name last year but ended up deciding to wait a bit since people still used the term “HTML5” a lot. However, the term is now basically being used to mean anything Web-standards-related, so it’s time to move on!
To those inside the circle of trust, there is no contradiction here. The W3C will doubtless continue to market HTML5, and, for a time, design technologists will continue to write HTML5 books and teach HTML5 classes, if only to acknowledge HTML’s new capabilities and to clearly mark the break from the technologies and practices of the past. Eventually, quite probably, the WHAT WG’s view will take hold, and we will view HTML as a living specification.
Meantime, we’ll take 5.
Thanks to J. David Eisenberg for the nudge.
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.
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.
Happy New Year, all!
I guest-edit .net magazine
A List Apart and .net magazine have long admired each other. So when .net editor Dan Oliver did me the great honor of asking if I wished to guest edit an issue, I saluted smartly. The result is now arriving in subscriber post boxes and will soon flood Her Majesty’s newsstands.
In .net magazine Issue No. 206, on sale 17th August in UK (and next month in the US, where it goes by the name “Practical Web Design”), we examine how new standards like CSS3 and HTML5, new devices like iPhone and Droid, and maturing UX disciplines like content strategy are converging to create new opportunities for web designers and the web users we serve:
Exult as Luke Wroblewski shows how the explosive growth of mobile lets us stop bowing to committees and refocus on features customers need.
Marvel as Ethan Marcotte explains how fluid grids, flexible images, and CSS3 media queries help us create precise yet context-sensitive layouts that change to fit the device and screen on which they’re viewed.
Delight as Kristina Halvorson tells how to achieve better design through coherent content wrangling.
Thrill as Andy Hume shows how to sell wary clients on cutting-edge design methods never before possible.
Geek out as Tim Van Damme shows how progressive enhancement and CSS3 make for sexy experiences in today’s most capable browsers—and damned fine experiences in those that are less web-standards-savvy.
You can also read my article, which asks the musical question:
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?
Today’s web is about interacting with your users wherever they are, whenever they have a minute to spare. New code and new ideas for a new time are what the new issue of .net magazine captures. There has never been a better time to create websites. Enjoy!
Photo by Daniel Byrne for .net magazine. All rights reserved.
More information about this remarkable program is available at coopertype.org.
The gorgeous typefaces used on the Coopertype website are FB Franklin Web (Benton Sans) designed by Tobias Frere-Jones & Cyrus Highsmith, and Farnham, designed by Christian Schwartz. The site design is by Nick Sherman of Brooklyn and Font Bureau.
Join co-host Dan Benjamin, Liz, and me live at 1:00 PM EDT today as we discuss web and interaction design education, user experience design, how to structure a program and teach a class, acquiring and editing content, and much more. Watch the live program at live.5by5.tv. Your call-in and chatroom questions and comments are welcome.
Liz Danzico is an independent consultant, and user experience consultant for Happy Cog Studios. She is a columnist for Interactions Magazine, former editor of Boxes and Arrows, former director of experience strategy for AIGA, and former IA director at Barnes & Noble. She directed product development at Daylife and Rodale Digital, and before co-founding the MFA in Interaction Design program with Steven Heller, she taught at the New School University, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Columbia University.
Join us for a very special interview today on The Big Web Show.
A Feed Apart 2.0
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.
WHEN MANDY BROWN, Jason Santa Maria and I formed A Book Apart, one topic burned uppermost in our minds, and there was only one author for the job.
Nothing else, not even “real fonts” or CSS3, has stirred the standards-based design community like the imminent arrival of HTML5. Born out of dissatisfaction with the pacing and politics of the W3C, and conceived for a web of applications (not just documents), this new edition of the web’s lingua franca has in equal measure excited, angered, and confused the web design community.
Win free copies of HTML5 For Web Designers on Gowalla!
Watch Jeremy Keith discuss HTML5 with Dan Benjamin and me live on The Big Web Show this Thursday at 1:00 PM Eastern.
There are other books about HTML5, and there will be many more. There will be 500 page technical books for application developers, whose needs drove much of HTML5’s development. There will be even longer secret books for browser makers, addressing technical challenges that you and I are blessed never to need to think about.
But this is a book for you—you who create web content, who mark up web pages for sense and semantics, and who design accessible interfaces and experiences. Call it your user guide to HTML5. Its goal—one it will share with every title in the forthcoming A Book Apart catalog—is to shed clear light on a tricky subject, and do it fast, so you can get back to work.
As an experiment in new new media thinking, I recently crowdsourced a new new literature version of Charles Dickens’s musty old old old lit chestnut, Great Expectations—the familiar tale of Pip, Ms Havisham, the convict Magwitch, et al.
Creative excellence and spin-worthy results required a pool of 10,000 people who had never read Great Expectations. Fortunately, I had access to 10,000 recent American college graduates, so that was no problem.
To add a dab of pseudoscience and appeal obliquely to the copyleft crowd, I remixed the new work’s leading literary themes with the top 20 Google search queries, using an algorithm I found in the mens room at Penn Station.
The result was a work of pure modern genius, coming soon to an iPad near you. (Profits from the sale will be used to support Smashing Magazine’s footer and sidebar elements.)
Gone was the fusty old title. Gone were the cobwebbed wedding cake and other dare I say emo images. It was goodbye to outdated characters like Joe the blacksmith and the beautiful Estella, farewell to the love story and the whole careful parallel between that thing and that other thing.
Gone too was the tired old indictment of the Victorian class system, and by implication of all economic and social systems that separate man from his brothers in Christ, yada yada. As more than one of my young test subjects volunteered in a follow-up survey, “Heard it.”
In place of these obsolete narrative elements, the students and the prioritized Google searches created, or dare I say curated, a tale as fresh as today’s algorithmically generated headlines.
The results are summarized in the table below.
Old Great Expectations
New Great Expectations
On Christmas Eve, Pip, an orphan being raised by his sister, encounters the convict Magwitch on the marshes.
The convict compels Pip to steal food from his sister’s table, and a file from her husband the blacksmith’s shop. Pip thereby shares the convict’s guilt and sin—but his kindness warms the convict’s heart.
Guy on girl
Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe, abuses him. Her husband loves Pip but is unable to protect him or offer him a future beyond blacksmithing.
Girl on girl (multiple entries)
Pip meets Miss Havisham, an old woman abandoned on her wedding day, who sits in her decrepit house, wearing a yellowing wedding gown, her only companion the beautiful and mysterious girl Estella. Pip falls in love with Estella, but Miss Havisham has trained the girl to break men’s hearts.
Guy on guy
Pip visits Miss Havisham until his apprenticeship with Joe the blacksmith begins. Pip hates being a blacksmith and worries that Estella will see him as common.
Two girls, one guy
Mrs Joe suffers a heart attack that leaves her mute. A kind girl named Biddy comes to take care of Mrs Joe. After Mrs Joe’s death, Biddy and Joe will marry. Meanwhile, Pip comes into an unexpected inheritance and moves to London, where he studies with a tutor and lives with his friend Herbert.
Pip believes Miss Havisham is his benefactor and that she intends him to marry Estella, whom he still adores. Day by day, Estella grows more cruel. Pip never tells her of his love for her.
One stormy night, Pip discovers that his benefactor is not Miss Havisham but the convict Magwitch. The news crushes Pip, but he dutifully allows Magwitch to live with him—worrying, all the while, because Magwitch is a wanted man who will be hanged if discovered.
Miss Havisham repents having wasted her life and perverted Estella. She is caught in a fire. Pip heroically saves her but she later dies from her burns. Soon afterwards, Pip and Herbert try to help Magwitch escape, but Magwitch’s old enemy Compeyson—who happens to be the man who abandoned Miss Havisham at the altar—betrays Magwitch to the authorities. Magwitch and Compeyson struggle. Compeyson dies and Magwitch is taken to prison.
Pip now realizes that Magwitch is a decent man and tries to make Magwitch’s last years happy ones. He also discovers that Magwitch is Estella’s father. Magwitch dies in prison shortly before he was to be executed. Pip tells the dying Magwitch of his love for Estella.
Pip becomes ill and is nursed back to health by Joe, whom Pip recognizes as a good man in spite of his lack of education and “class.” Pip goes into business overseas with Herbert. Eventually he returns to England and visits Joe, who has married Biddy. They have a child named Pip. As the book ends, the middle-aged Pip makes one last visit to Miss Havisham’s house, where he discovers an older and wiser Estella. There is the implication that Pip and Estella may finally be together.