A List Apart dinner at SXSW

25 A List Apart staffers, Happy Cogs, and friends broke bread (well, more accurately, we broke spring rolls) at Mekong River Restaurant in Austin, Texas. Here Peter is seen making sweet love to his noodles. Missing, and missed: Dan Benjamin, Krista Stevens, Erin Lynch, Andrew Fernandez, Tanya Rabourn, and Andrew Kirkpatrick.

[tags]sxsw, sxswsi, sxsw2007, alistapart, happycog[/tags]

Austin Power

As snow falls prettily on the island of Manhattan, Mrs Zeldman and I prepare for our annual junket to sun-baked, star-studded Austin, Texas, accompanied by the keynote speaker of 2025 and cradling the blessed StarTAC. Most of Happy Cog and the A List Apart staff will be there as well, many with speaking roles. Here are a few panels I found (with more to come):

Writing, Better

Ballroom F
Saturday, March 10th
10:00 am – 11:00 am (same time as “A Decade of Style,” below)

If content is king, why don’t designers talk about it? Panelists will discuss what makes for good writing, what each person does to keep fit with verbs and vowels, and what the future might hold for the written word in a world that is being inundated with podcasts and video.

Moderator: Greg Storey

Greg Storey Principal/Creative Dir, Airbag Industries LLC
Bronwyn Jones Mktg Comms, Apple Computer
Erin Kissane Editor, Happy Cog
Ethan Marcotte Vertua Studios

A Decade of Style

Room 19AB
Saturday, March 10th
10:00 am – 11:00 am (same time as “Writing, Better,” above)

A small group of grizzled veterans reflects on a decade of successes, triumphs, failures, disappointments, reversals of fortune, and just plain fun in the world of CSS and web design.

Moderator: Eric Meyer

Molly Holzschlag Pres, Molly.com Inc
Eric Meyer Principal, Complex Spiral Consulting
Chris Wilson IE Platform Architect, Microsoft
Douglas Bowman Visual Design Lead, Google

After the Brief: A Field Guide to Design Inspiration

Room 18ABCD
Saturday, March 10th
11:30 am – 12:30 pm

You’ve received the creative brief; now what? Learn how to draw creative inspiration for your web design projects from a number of likely and unlikely sources.

Moderator: Jason Santa Maria

Jason Santa Maria Creative Dir, Happy Cog Studios
Cameron Moll cameronmoll.com
Rob Weychert Art Dir, Happy Cog Studios

Ruining the User Experience: When JavaScript and Ajax Go Bad

Room 18ABCD
Saturday, March 10th
4:05 pm – 4:30 pm

With the exploding popularity of DOM Scripting, Ajax and JavaScript in general, it’s important to know what to do—and what not to do—when dealing with these technologies.This session will walk you through several real-world examples, pointing out common mistakes that hinder usability, accessibility, and searchwhile teaching you ways to avoid them altogether, either programmatically or simply by altering the way you think about JavaScript-based interactivity.

Aaron Gustafson Sr Web designer/Developer, Easy! Designs LLC
Sarah Nelson Design Strategist, Adaptive Path

Book Signing

SUNDAY, MARCH 11
3:00 pm

I’ll be signing Designing With Web Standards, 2nd Edition in the SXSW Bookstore, located in the Trade Show + Exhibition.

Robert Hoekman Jr. Designing the Obvious
Jeffrey Zeldman Designing With Web Standards, 2nd Edition
Brendan Dawes Analog In, Digital Out
Phil Torrone MAKE Magazine
John Jantsch Duct Tape Marketing-The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide
Marrit Ingman Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health Out With the Diapers
Gina Trapani Lifehacker: 88 Tech Tips
Elliot McGucken Own the Risk: The 45Surf.com Guide to Hero’s Journey Entrepreneurship

Get Unstuck: Moving From 1.0 to 2.0

Room 18ABCD
Monday, March 12th
10:00 am – 11:00 am

Is your team mired in the goo and muck of old-school thinking? Are your designers and developers divided on their approach and about to throw in the towel? This panel features formerly stuck experts as well as those who have helped clients get out of the muck.

Moderator: Liz Danzico

Liz Danzico Director, experience strategy, Daylife
Kristian Bengtsson Creative Dir, FutureLab
Chris Messina Co-founder, Citizen Agency
Luke Wroblewski Principal Designer, Yahoo!
Jeffrey Zeldman Founder and Executive Creative Director, Happy Cog

Preserving our Digital Legacy and the Individual Collector

Room 8ABC
Tuesday, March 13th
11:30 am – 12:30 pm

Many great art, book and manuscript collections survive because an individual had the foresight or good luck to save the good stuff. Libraries and museums owe a debt to individual dealers, collectors and packrats for saving illustrated Czarist plate books from the Soviets, and WWII letters from the trash-heap. Who are today’s collectors? What are they preserving? How will they manage fragile born-digital collections long enough share with future generations?

Moderator: Carrie Bickner (aka Mrs Zeldman)

Carrie Bickner, Director of Education Outreach, The New York Public Library
Josh Greenberg Assoc Dir Research Projects, Center for History & New Media
William Stingone Curator of Manuscripts, The New York Public Library
Megan Winget Professor, UT at Austin

[tags]sxsw, sxswi, austin, texas, mrszeldman, alistapart, happycog[/tags]

An Event Apart Boston sells out

They say agile developers don’t have time for user-centered design. They say web standards and accessibility don’t matter to real-world sites. They say usability is a luxury, good graphic design doesn’t matter, and writing is just something you dump into a template. They are the message board grumblers, the mini-pundits and rainmakers on other people’s parades.

Their view of what matters on the web might be right. But nobody bothered to tell the five hundred-plus designers and developers who have signed up for An Event Apart Boston. The show has now sold out, and the waiting list is a yard long.

The surprisingly robust interest in this event is surely because of our extraordinary speakers. I also see it as evidence that, whatever the nay-sayers may take comfort in believing, the fact is that many people who make websites actually love their users. They love them enough to constantly work at perfecting their craft. They want their markup to support their content, their content to meet their users’ needs, and their design to facilitate that fulfillment.

That’s what your work is about. And mine, too. It’s what motivates every issue of A List Apart, even if not every issue hits the mark. And, now more than ever, it is what we hope to bring to the stage during two days of design and code in Boston’s beautiful Back Bay. To all who are coming, thank you, and let’s rock.

[tags]aneventapart, boston, design, webdesign[/tags]

Happy Cog redesigns, 2/7/2007

Mr Mancini, my high school science teacher, grew a mustache when he began to dye his grey hair black. The dye job progressed by degrees. He was a little grey, then less grey. Nobody noticed; his mustache mesmerized us.

On the day Mr Mancini went all black, he shaved his mustache. All we noticed when he bounced into the classroom was his big, smooth-shaven face. He had to tell us that he’d changed his hair. As a man, he wanted to protect the secret of his vanity, but as a science teacher he felt morally obliged to explain the psychological trick he’d played on us.

Good redesigns work like my teacher’s hair. They are always an opportunity to fix or change a lot of things that aren’t obvious on the pretty new surface. Happy Cog has just redesigned.

It started with a sentence

The new version of Happy Cog’s website had to better convey how our agency’s business has diversified. We are first and always designers for hire. We are also publishers, whose micro-empire is expanding. And we have lately co-founded a high-profile event series.

The old site told the “design for hire” story. The redesign had to tell all three stories.

Usually this would be done by creating a navigation bar with labels like “We design,” “We publish,” and “We present.” But labels don’t connect; they separate. Navigation labels could point to three separate story-lines, but they would not make the case that ours was a holistic enterprise—that our conference, our publications, and our client services business were one.

For some time, I’ve been thinking about the primacy of words in the user interface. A sentence, I felt, could present our three businesses, and by its very nature, connect them in the reader’s mind.

The primary navigation interface had to be a sentence. And so it is.

The drawing board

One sentence led to another. I found it easy to write the new Happy Cog and easy to spin an organic architecture out of the opening sentence. But hell if I could design the thing.

I’d always designed Happy Cog; it was my baby; but every time I opened Photoshop or took crayon to paper, the results were a muddle. Maybe it was because my brain was barreling along on architecture and copy. Or maybe there are only so many times a single designer can take a new look at the same site.

I tapped Jason Santa Maria (or maybe he tapped me). Jason has one of the keenest minds and two of the freshest eyes in the business. He makes legibility beautiful. What the Ramones did with three chords, he does with two system fonts. His designs always spring from the user and the brand proposition.

His first effort sucked. (I was secretly relieved.)

A month later, Jason came back with pretty much the design you now see at happycog.com. (I rejoiced.) The painting at the top, which makes the design, is by A List Apart illustrator Kevin Cornell.

The group

We fleshed out all the pages in Photoshop or as “copy wireframes” and then called on Happy Cog’s Daniel Mall to create lean, semantic markup, beautifully optimized style sheets, and all required PHP and JavaScript contraptions. Dan also set up the WordPress blog.

Dan is as good as anyone I’ve worked with. He is super-fast yet also deeply thoughtful. We spent many a mini-session debating such things as whether the About page and its subsidiaries should include microformats. We decided not.

Mark Huot migrated the new site, a job that involved considerable strategy as well as expertise. Rob Weychert contributed additional art direction and Jon Aldinger offered additional programming.

The redesign tells our story and gives us room to breathe and grow. It is also (I think) quite pretty and thoroughly appropriate. We hope you like it, and we invite you to subscribe to Happy Cog’s RSS feed to stay abreast of all matters Coggish.

Other perspectives

Jason Santa Maria and Daniel Mall have written their perspectives on the Happy Cog redesign. They’re swell! Jason’s writeup includes information about the Happy Cog Philadelphia Open House, featuring the live music of Comhaltas. If you’re around, please visit.

[tags]happycog, design, redesigns, webdesign, jasonsantamaria, danielmall, danmall, zeldman[/tags]

Register for An Event Apart Boston

Registration is now open for An Event Apart Boston 2007. Enjoy two amazing days of design and code plus meals, a party, and a bag of swag for a mere $795 (reg. $895) while early bird savings last. Attend for as little as $745 with a discount code exclusively for zeldman.com readers.

Learn by day, party by night

On An Event Apart’s website, you’ll now find a detailed schedule describing the presentations with which our superstar speakers hope to entertain and enlighten you. From “Web Standards Stole My Truck!” to “Redesigning Your Way out of a Paper Bag,” it’s two stimulating days of best practices and fresh ideas in design, usability, accessibility, markup and code.

Check out that schedule. I’ll wait.

Lest you be overwhelmed by learning too much too soon, we’ll help you unwind (and do a little networking) at the Opening Night Party sponsored by Media Temple. You might even win a prize, courtesy of Adobe, New Riders, or Media Temple.

Hotel savings

Our Boston Events page also includes notes to help you book your hotel room at a specially negotiated discount price.

Located in beautiful and historic Back Bay, the Boston Marriott Copley Place provides in-room, high-speed internet access; laptop safes and coolers; 27-inch color TV with cable movies; luxurious bedding and linens, and more. Best of all, it’s the site of the conference. You can walk out of your room and into the show!

Save more with discount code

During the early bird period, the price for this two-day event is $795. But you can nab an extra $50 off with this discount code exclusively for zeldman.com readers:

AEAZELD

Just enter AEAZELD in An Event Apart’s shopping cart to enjoy those savings immediately. During our early bird period, you’ll pay just $745 for the two days and everything that comes with them.

After February 26, 2007, when the early bird savings ends, the price goes up to $895, and you’ll pay $845 with the discount. Still pretty good for two days with some of the sharpest minds and greatest talents in web design. But why pay more? Book An Event Apart Boston as soon as you can.

Unlimited creativity, limited seating

An Event Apart Boston will be the best conference Eric Meyer and I have yet put together. It will also be this year’s only East Coast Event Apart. Don’t miss it.

Join Eric and me, along with Steve Krug, Andrew Kirkpatrick, Molly Holzschlag, Cameron Moll, Dan Cederholm, Ethan Marcotte, and Jason Santa Maria, for what we modestly believe may be the most exciting and enlightening show in modern web design.

Hurry! Seating is limited and early bird savings end Feb. 26, 2007.

[tags]aneventapart, boston, aneventapartboston07[/tags]

Better Know a Speaker: Steve Krug

You may have heard that An Event Apart is expanding. 2007 will see big, two-day shows in fine, fancy towns like Boston, New Orleans, Chicago, and San Francisco—with more great speakers than before and at a lower ticket price per day.

Steve Krug

Take Boston, and consider but one of our nine featured speakers, Mr. Steve Krug (biography, business website), author of the game-changing usability tome Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, now in its second edition. I can’t believe we got him. I’m still awed that he said yes.

If not for Steve Krug, I wouldn’t so much as speak the word “usability” in the privacy of my home, let alone bandy it about in mixed company. Curt Cloninger memorably expressed what many of us felt when he wrote “Usability experts are from Mars, graphic designers are from Venus” in the July 28, 2000 issue of A List Apart.

Stop and smell the brimstone

Like many design professionals, I rejected usability when I first encountered it. That’s mainly because I first encountered it as a series of rules, put forward by business-oriented, lab-coat-wearing experts who were hostile to the aesthetic component of user experience. Later, the rules would soften. “Only use blue, underlined links” would give way to gentler and more flexible guidelines.

And even before this softening, there was much in the early, fire-and-brimstone approach to usability that was actually of value to web designers. I should have been open-minded enough to benefit from the helpful bits and wink at the rest. But I was too busy defending my creative turf (not to mention reliving old battles with badly run focus groups and cocky account execs) to look closer and see that usability mainly means designing for the people who use my site.

And then along came Mary

Don’t Make Me Think. Starting with his book’s very title, Steve Krug made me see. Advancing from one low-key, guilt-free, common-sense premise to the next, Don’t Make Me Think made me think. And think. Above all, it made me rethink.

Icon from archived Happy Cog projects page (non-hover state).

Consider an archived Happy Cog portfolio page. Ignore the problem of orange-on-orange, which falls more under accessibility than usability. Focus on the page’s unusual means of presenting written content. When you click an icon, relevant text emerges. Click again, and it disappears. For instance, when you gently tap Cate Blanchett, you get text about the Charlotte Gray website we designed for Warner Bros.

It’s nifty stuff—at least for a non-Flash, pre-Ajax site. Or is it? I had fun designing it; other designers had fun reverse-engineering it and adding the same show and hide effects to their pages. I even shared the code in the first edition of Designing With Web Standards, mainly to prove how easy it was to use CSS, JavaScript, and the DOM to create playful interfaces that roughly mimicked the behavior of applications and kiosk-based presentations.

But the page’s usability is awful. How could a visitor possibly know that she is supposed to click an icon to reveal pertinent hidden text? She couldn’t. Hence the explanatory text at the top of the page. If you have to explain how your interface works, maybe you need to rethink the whole thing.

Steve Krug didn’t drop by my house to tell me my design was overwrought and under-thought. And he wouldn’t have put it that way, anyway. He’s way too nice a guy, not to mention way too experienced a consultant, to base his tutelage on insults. But his book woke my conscience and reshaped how I approach my craft.

His book, which you can read during a business flight, makes a convincing case for studying your audience, learning their needs, creating pathways of experience that you hope will meet those needs, and then testing, testing, testing.

Krug convinces because he is witty, and charming, and humble, and mostly because his ideas make sense and ring true. Boiled down, the essence of usability is the same as the essence of all good design: Think more so your users don’t have to think at all.

Design, after all, is about solving problems. Start with your user’s.

Please come to Boston

An Event Apart Boston 2007

My Event Apart co-host Eric Meyer and I don’t know exactly what Steve Krug will talk about on March 26 or 27 on our stage at Marriott Copley Place. We only know we will be privileged to be among his listeners. Registration for An Event Apart Boston 2007 will open in January, 2007. (A lot) more information about the show will be available very soon.

In coming weeks, in these pages, I’ll share what each of our exciting speakers means to me. Meanwhile, enough about me and Steve Krug. What does Steve Krug mean to you?

[tags]aneventapart, Steve Krug, usability, design, webdesign, boston, conferences[/tags]

An Event Apart Austin: Details, Details

Event Apart Austin attendees, this post contains important information about parking, laptops, snacks and lunch, the after-party sponsored by Knowbility, our Flickr photo group, and more. The rest of you, please move along.

About Austin

Austin, capital of Texas, “live music capital of the world,” and the Southwest’s answer to Silicon Valley, is a lively and remarkable town, teeming with history and high-rises, high-tech and dirty low-down blues. Seat of a great university and a million funky taverns, it’s paradise for music lovers and Tex-Mex junkies. Our favorite activity: breakfasting and celebrity-watching at Las Manitas Florist, 211 Congress Avenue (when we can get in). Yes, it’s called “Florist.” No, it’s not a florist, it’s a great Mexican cafe. Welcome to Austin!

Location, Laptops, and Lunch

An Event Apart Austin takes place…

Monday, November 6th, 2006, 9am – 5pm
Alamo Drafthouse Downtown
409 Colorado St. (Corner of 4th and Colorado; Directions and Map)
Austin, TX 78701

Yes, you can bring your laptop. Yes, there will be WI-FI. Yes, there will be chow throughout the day, including vegetarian choices. (Lunch options include veggie pizza, veggie sandwiches and salads. There are plenty of meat options, too.)

The Schedule

An Event Apart Austin runs from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. We have a lot to cover, so the event will start promptly. Arrive early to get a good seat! Doors open at 8:00 am; for best results, plan to show up between 8:00 am and 8:30 am. If you’re driving, leave yourself extra time to find a good parking space. (See the next section for details on parking.)

The day’s schedule is available for your perusal.

Parking

Parking can be a hassle, so come early and give yourself extra time. The Alamo Drafthouse says:

With the ongoing construction and the increased popularity of the warehouse district downtown, parking can be a real challenge. Street parking is still available for the crafty and persistent; we also recommend the parking structure between 3rd and 4th streets on San Antonio. The neighboring restaurants also have valet parking until midnight.

Happy Hour and a Half

An Event Apart Austin will be chock-full of design and code pleasures. But the fun (and the networking) don’t stop at 5:00. Join us after the show for a Happy Hour and a Half featuring complementary cocktails and savory snacks, sponsored by our good friends at Knowbility:

Happy Hour and a Half 6:00 – 7:30
The Belmont
306 W. 6th Street

Entering the Belmont Austin, with its wonderful 60s period decor, is like cruising Las Vegas or Palm Springs with Frank, Dino, and Sammy. Okay, it’s not—but it will be fun, especially after all those hours of brain work. Pull up to a plush banquette, order a free cocktail, and hob-nob with your fellow attendees.

Freebies From our Sponsors

By random drawing, some folks attending An Event Apart Austin will win software, books, or free hosting donated by our wonderful sponsors: Adobe, New Riders/AIGA Press, and Media Temple. Thank you, sponsors!

Join our Flickr Group!

You know you want to! Bring your digital camera and snap away (just be considerate of your fellow attendees). Share your snapshots with other attendees on our Flickr group:

flickr.com/groups/aeaaustin2006

Suggested tags: aneventapart, aneventapart06, aneventapart2006, aneventapartaustin, austin

Disclaimer and Miscellany

Please note that the schedule is subject to change, and that some things are not entirely within our control.

Previous AEA Austin 2006 news

[tags]aneventapart, design, conferences, austin, texas[/tags]

Monday breakfast links

Berners-Lee: reinventing HTML

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web and founder of the W3C, announces reforms:

It is really important to have real developers on the ground involved with the development of HTML. It is also really important to have browser makers intimately involved and committed. And also all the other stakeholders….

Some things are clearer with hindsight of several years. It is necessary to evolve HTML incrementally. The attempt to get the world to switch to XML, including quotes around attribute values and slashes in empty tags and namespaces all at once didn’t work.

9 to 5 = average
To be great in design takes passion and work.
Sending XHTML as text/html Considered Harmful to Feelings
I love this.
Web Directions North
Our Australian friends set up camp in Vancouver, for what looks like a great two-day conference on standards-based design and development (Vancouver Canada, February 6-8 2007). Speakers include Kelly Goto (Gotomobile), Andy Clarke (malarkey), Adrian Holovaty (Chicago Crime, Washington Post), Douglas Bowman (Google Visual Design Lead), Dan Cederholm (SimpleBits), Joe Clark (joeclark.org), Dave Shea (CSS Zen Garden), Cameron Moll (Authentic Boredom), Molly Holzschlag (Molly.com), Veerle Pieters (Veerle’s Blog, Duoh!), Kaitlin Sherwood (Google Maps US Census mashup), Tantek Çelik (Technorati).
Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance
By Andrew Kirkpatrick, Richard Rutter, Christian Heilmann, Jim Thatcher, Cynthia Waddell, et al. Don’t let the unsexy title fool you. Vast and practically all-encompassing, this newly updated classic belongs on every web designer’s shelf. (Better still, open it and read.)
I Cannot Possibly Buy Girl Scout Cookies From Your Daughter at This Time
By Charlie Nadler in McSweeney’s.
Gemini Girl
New women’s blog elegantly designed by Ray McKenzie.
eMusic: 33 Folkways LPs
Thirty-three important Folkways Recordings for download. Louis Bonfa, Mighty Sparrow, Woodie Guthrie, Henry Cowell and more.
On having layout – the concept of hasLayout in IE/Win
Technical but reasonably easy to follow discussion of why Internet Explorer’s rendering of your design may suck differ from your expectations
“Apple’s Backup App is Shit”
God bless SuperDuper.

[tags]W3C, webdirections, accessibility, haslayout, browsers, mcsweeney’s, folkways[/tags]