11 Jan 2014 8 am eastern

The joy of content creation (and the hazards of building in someone else’s sandbox)

AN INSPIRING STORY of content creation, which is also, although this particular tale ends happily, a warning about the hazards of building in someone else’s sandbox.

Stampylongnose makes wonderful videos about Minecraft (among other things) and is the first independent content creator in my young daughter’s world. She follows him like you followed your first favorite blogger.

In “1 Million Subscribers Special – From Then To Now,” he shares how he became an independent video producer on the web—how he lost everything when Google arbitrarily pulled the plug—and how the community that loved him, and one great Google admin, fought to restore his work.


“The independent content producer refuses to die.”

Filed under: Community, content, engagement, Google, Publishing, video

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8 Dec 2013 12 pm eastern

Design Is A Relationship

Mike Monteiro

MIKE MONTEIRO is a man on a mission. He wants to improve design by fixing the core of it, which is the relationship between designer and client. Too many of us fear our clients—the people whose money keeps our lights on, and who hire us to solve business problems they can’t solve for themselves. And too many clients are even more frustrated and puzzled by their designers than the designers are by the clients.

It’s the designer’s job to fix this, which is why Mike first wrote Design Is A Job, and spent two years taking the message into conference halls and meeting rooms from New Zealand to New York.

I wish every designer could read this book. I can’t tell you how many friends of mine—many of whom I consider far better designers than I am—struggle every day with terrible anxieties over how a client will react to their work. And the problem isn’t limited to web and interaction designers. Anybody who designs anything burns cycles in fear and acrimony. I too waste hours worrying about the client’s reaction—but a dip into Mike’s first book relaxes me like a warm milk bath, and reminds me that collaboration and persuasion are the essence of my craft and well within my power to execute.

If the designer’s side of things were the only part of the problem Mike had addressed, it would be enough. But there is more:

  • Next Mike will help clients understand what they should expect from a designer and learn how to hire one they can work with. How he will do that is still a secret—although folks attending An Event Apart San Francisco this week will get a clue.
  • Design education is the third leg of the chair, and once he has spread his message to clients, Mike intends to fix that or die trying. As Mike sees it (and I agree) too many design programs turn out students who can defend their work in an academic critique session among their peers, but have no idea how to talk to clients and no comprehension of their problems. We are creating a generation of skilled and talented but only semi-employable designers—designers who, unless they have the luck to learn what their expensive education didn’t teach them, will have miserably frustrating careers and turn out sub-par work that doesn’t solve their clients’ problems.

We web and interaction designers are always seeking to understand our user, and to solve the user’s problems with empathy and compassion. Perhaps we should start with the user who hires us.

Filed under: A Book Apart, Advocacy, An Event Apart, business, Career, client services, clients, conferences, Design, Designers, Education, engagement, people

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27 Mar 2013 10 am eastern

140 Characters is a Joke

THERE IS ALWAYS more to the story than what we are told. I am not omniscient. It is better to light a single candle than to join a lynch mob. Other people’s behavior is not my business. Truth is hard, epigrams are easy. Anything worth saying takes more than 140 characters. Blogging’s not dead. F____ the 140 character morality police.

Filed under: Best practices, Blogs and Blogging, Community, Design, engagement, Responsibility, State of the Web, twitter, writing

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15 Mar 2011 10 am eastern

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.

Filed under: "Digital Curation", Advocacy, Appearances, art direction, Authoring, Best practices, business, Community, conferences, content, content strategy, Design, development, editorial, Education, engagement, Ideas, Micropublishing, Molehill, Platforms, Publications, Publishing, Responsibility, Standards, State of the Web, The Essentials, The Profession, Usability, User Experience, UX, Web Design, Zeldman

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11 Feb 2011 7 am eastern

Teaching at School of Visual Arts

Mike Essl at School of Visual Arts

I teach a class called “Selling Design” in the MFA Interaction Design program at School of Visual Arts in New York.

Although the class’s name focuses on persuasion, it’s really about learning where great ideas come from, recognizing and fostering our best ideas, choosing the right partners to collaborate on those ideas, and finding and growing an audience/market. Persuasion is a key part of all those phases, but we focus on the entire process.

Guest lecturers from various backgrounds contribute their experiences and insights each week.

My students are amazing. They’re about to become the first group to graduate (is that the word for it?) from SVA’s fledgling program created by Liz Danzico and Steve Heller. Hire them if you can. Watch them make their mark.

Teaching at School of Visual Arts is a small but growing set on Flickr documenting our class—and the nearly two years I spent waiting to teach it. (I’m the last faculty member in the two-year program to actually teach a class, as my class is the last in the sequence.)

Filed under: Community, Design, engagement, Teaching

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17 Jan 2011 2 pm eastern

We Didn’t Stop The Fire.

OUR LIBRARY IS BURNING. Copyright extension has banished millions of books to the scrapheap. Digital permanence is a tragically laughable ideal to anyone who remembers the VHS format wars or tries to view Joshua Davis’s 1990s masterpieces on a modern computer. Digital archiving is only as permanent as the next budget cycle—as when libraries switched from microfilm to digital subscriptions and then were forced to cancel the subscriptions during the pre-recession recession. And of course, my digital work vanishes the moment I die or lose the ability to keep hosting it. If you really want to protect your family photos, take them off Flickr and your hard drive, get them on paper, and store them in an airtight box.

Though bits are forever, our medium is mortal, as all but the most naive among us know. And we accept that some of what we hold digitally dear will perish before our eyes. But it irks most especially when people or companies with more money than judgement purchase a thriving online community only to trash it when they can’t figure out how to squeeze a buck out of it. Corporate black thumb is not new to our medium: MGM watered down the Marx Bros; the Saatchis sucked the creative life and half the billings out of the ad agencies they acquired during the 1980s and beyond. But outside the digital world, some corporate purchases and marriages have worked out (think: Disney/Pixar). And with the possible exception of Flickr (better now than the day Yahoo bought it), I can’t think of any online community or publication that has improved as a result of being purchased. Whereas we can all instantly call to mind dozens of wonderful web properties that died or crawled up their own asses as a direct result of new corporate ownership.

My colleague Mandy Brown has written a moving call to arms which, knowingly or unknowingly, invokes the LOCKSS method (“Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe”) of preserving digital content by making copies of it; she encourages us all to become archivists. Even a disorganized ground-level effort such as Mandy proposes will be beneficial—indeed, the less organized, the better. And this is certainly part of the answer. (It’s also what drives my friend Tantek’s own your data efforts; my beef with T is mainly aesthetic.) So, yes, we the people can do our part to help undo the harm uncaring companies cause to our e-ecosystem.

But there is another piece of this which no one is discussing and which I now address specifically to my colleagues who create great digital content and communities:

Stop selling your stuff to corporate jerks. It never works. They always wreck what you’ve spent years making.

Don’t go for the quick payoff. You can make money maintaining your content and serving your community. It won’t be a fat fistful of cash, but that’s okay. You can keep living, keep growing your community, and, over the years, you will earn enough to be safe and comfortable. Besides, most people who get a big payoff blow the money within two years (because it’s not real to them, and because there are always professionals ready to help the rich squander their money). By contrast, if you retain ownership of your community and keep plugging away, you’ll have financial stability and manageable success, and you’ll be able to turn the content over to your juniors when the time comes to retire.

Our library is burning. We didn’t start the fire but we sure don’t have to help fan the flames. You can’t sell out if you don’t sell. Owning your content starts with you.

Filed under: "Digital Curation", Advertising, Advocacy, architecture, Authoring, Best practices, copyright, Corporatism, Culture, democracy, Design, engagement, environment, ethics, The Essentials, The Mind, The Profession, work

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9 Dec 2010 10 am eastern

Wikileaks Cablegate Reactions Roundup

Andy Baio helps us make sense of Wikileaks by providing an absolutely brilliant roundup of facts, coverage, personal responses, and visualizations from around the world.

Andy is a journalist/programmer living in L.A. He works at Expert Labs, helped create Kickstarter and Upcoming, and has made an album, among other things.

Filed under: Culture, Damned Fine Journalism, engagement

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12 Aug 2010 8 am eastern

I guest-edit .net magazine

Web 2.1. Zeldman guest-edits .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.

Filed under: A List Apart, An Event Apart, Announcements, Appearances, Applications, architecture, art direction, Best practices, Browsers, chrome, Code, CSS, CSS3, Damned Fine Journalism, Design, Designers, editorial, Education, engagement, glamorous, Happy Cog™, HTML, HTML5, Ideas, industry, interface, ipad, iphone, launches, Layout, photography, Press, Publications, Publishing, Real type on the web, Responsive Web Design, Standards, State of the Web, The Big Web Show, The Essentials, The Profession, This never happens to Gruber, type, Typography, User Experience, UX, W3C, Web Design, Web Design History, Web Standards, webfonts, webkit, Websites, webtype, writing, Zeldman, zeldman.com

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29 Jul 2010 7 am eastern

Minneapolis Remembered

Eric Meyer at An Event Apart Minneapolis - photo by Jared Mehle

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.

If you were there, relive the memories; if you couldn’t attend, steal a glance at some of what you missed: An Event Apart Minneapolis: the photo pool at Flickr.

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.


Photo: Jared Mehle.

Filed under: A List Apart, An Event Apart, Appearances, Best practices, better-know-a-speaker, conferences, content, content strategy, creativity, CSS, CSS3, Curation, Design, Designers, engagement, eric meyer, Happy Cog™, HTML, HTML5, Ideas, Images, industry, Minneapolis, people, photography, Responsive Web Design, Typography, Usability, User Experience, UX, W3C, Web Design, Web Standards, webfonts, Zeldman

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19 Jul 2010 12 pm eastern

Episode 13: Voices That Matter

Editor Michael Nolan walks writer Aarron Walter through the fine points. Photo: Ari Stiles.

Editor Michael Nolan walks writer Aarron Walter through the fine points. Photo: Ari Stiles.

All our Big Web Show interviews are personal to me and feature people who make a difference in our community, but this week’s guest is especially special. Michael J. Nolan (@mikaln) is the acquisitions editor who “discovered” me, and who has brought to light (or should I say brought to print) more web leaders with distinctive voices and visions than just about anyone out there.

Michael works as a senior editor for Pearson’s New Riders and Peachpit imprints, focusing on web design and development. His first book in the genre, David Siegel’s Creating Killer Websites, was a mega success and jump-started discussion on how to design the web. It was followed by a long list of books from a Who’s Who of digerati, including Jeffrey Veen, Clement Mok, Richard Saul Wurman, Derek Powazek, Jesse James Garrett, Christina Wodtke, Dan Cederholm, Garr Reynolds, Joshua Porter, Dan Brown, Kristina Halvorson, Marty Neumeier, and Jeffrey Zeldman (that’s me!).

Michael is proud of the positive impact books these Voices That Matter have had on the medium, which he sees as humankind’s best last chance to survive and prosper. I’m proud to know Michael and to be his friend.

As always, Big Web Show co-host Dan Benjamin will join me for this special hour of insights into how publishing really works, where it’s going, and how it will survive—plus, I hope, plenty of stories about your favorite authors and designers, and tips on how to identify talent for those who are hiring, and how present yourself as a talented and desirable catch for those who are trying to boost their visibility and career prospects.

Please join us this Thursday, July 22, at 1:00 PM Eastern for the live taping of Episode 13.

The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) is taped live in front of an internet audience every Thursday at 1:00 PM ET on live.5by5.tv. Edited episodes can be watched afterwards (often within hours of taping) via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web.

Filed under: books, Community, editorial, engagement, peachpit, Publications, Publishing, Respect, The Big Web Show, Web Design, Web Design History

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