Category Archives: Free Advice

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!

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.

Web Design and Fitness

Three times a week I work out hard with a trainer at a gym. It’s like sex. I don’t mean it feels good. On the contrary, it hurts. And I don’t mean there’s cuddling after. What makes my hard workouts like sex is that they’re followed by a spacey bliss in which there is no atom of desire. When I’m lying on that post-workout stretching table, gazing vaguely at the ceiling, Christina Hendricks could sashay by wearing a G-string made of thousand dollar bills and carrying a plate of spaghetti, and there’s nothing I would want from her.

Our industry rewards long hours in the cubicle and for many of us, it shows—especially as we get older.

Sometimes I wonder whether I became soft because of what I do, or chose what I do because it suits a lifestyle in which “physical activity” means answering the door when the pizza guy arrives.

For years I worked out three times a week, but with no results—partly because I didn’t know what I was doing, and the rest because when it got tough or boring, I quit. Hence the trainer.

The good client

My trainer tells me what to do next and I just do it. She’s the expert, I’m the client. I value her wisdom and experience and try to make each session a learning experience as well as a cardiovascular one.

I’m fortunate to have had good and bad clients. I know how to be a good client. The real value of a client services relationship isn’t what happens during the hours when client and consultant work together; it’s about what happens after. Like everything meaningful in life, the client services relationship is about change.

We don’t create taxonomies, layouts, content strategies and templates as a one-time deal, so the client’s content and design can be frozen in amber. We create them so the client has a framework for continuing to evolve their website into the future, with or without our help. Good clients know this. And they also know that, regardless of time and budget, we can’t do everything for them.

They know that it’s better to concentrate on getting a few things right than to try to cram every conceivable wish and feature into their time with us. Trying to do everything is a way to achieve nothing. Focus, concentration and form are what’s important. Consistency is what’s important. It’s all about the process. As in client services, so at the gym. End analogy.

Modest goals, steady commitment

I’m never going to look like Arnold, and that’s not my goal. My goal is to live a bit longer, and to enjoy life more. I already enjoy walking upstairs a lot more than I used to. Even when I’m alone on a Sunday afternoon, I’m more likely to do something physical (even if it’s just taking a photo walk instead of sitting at the computer) than I was two months ago.

And when I do sit at the computer, I’m more alert, more focused, less likely to need an artificial stimulant to get through my day.

There’s nothing special about what I’m doing, except that I’m doing it. Some old friends and some people I work with inspired me by their example. To them, thanks. Also to my ex, who advised me to give myself this gift.

Starting this weekend, I’ll be in Boston for An Event Apart. Travel usually translates to bad (i.e. overly rich) eating, which can undermine a fitness regime. Between creamy Boston clam chowder and the piles of candies and cakes with which our event planner Marci punctuates An Event Apart sessions, temptation will be everywhere. And while I can’t promise to be perfect, I will strive to put my heart before my sweet tooth.

Free advice: show up early

Delay happens. The train is late, the flight is cancelled, the traffic is murder. Travel is the leading edge of entropy, and entropy is the universe’s final comment on the meaning of it all. If the universe is expanding and there are snow delays on Route 1, it’s not your fault that you’re 15 minutes late to the meeting, right?

Don’t be so quick to excuse yourself. If 80% of success is just showing up, 90% is showing up early.

It’s hard for the client to sympathize with your lateness when she, who had farther to travel, managed to make the meeting on time. No matter how well you tell your story about the newbie cab driver who thought you said 114th Street, the client still sat waiting for you for twenty minutes after denying herself a Starbuck’s so she would be on time. Everyone in the room is a grownup, and, on the surface, your lateness isn’t an issue. But although nothing will be said, somehow the meeting will not turn out as well as expected.

Of course the conference organizers care that you, their keynote speaker, spent the night in the airport because of a cancelled flight. As sensitive human beings, they’d love to upgrade your room to a suite, hire you a masseuse, and send you to bed. But as business people who spent the morning juggling their schedule and making impromptu excuses to attendees because their keynote speaker showed up late, they will never hire you again.

How can a client blame you for a cab driver’s mistake? How can a conference organizer hold you accountable for an airline’s cancelled flight?

They can do it because lateness is part of the order of things, and grownup professionals plan for it, just as they plan for budget shortfalls and extra rounds of revision.

If you plan to arrive early, then you are covered when circumstances beyond your control conspire to make you late.

This is simple and obvious but many otherwise brilliant professionals clearly don’t think about it. The result is that they often arrive late. It’s never their fault, and yet it’s always the same people who are late.

I’m a bleeding heart. If your pet turtle dies, I’ll give you a month’s paid vacation. But promptness is a duty we owe people who pay for our services. So here’s some free advice. Give yourself more time to arrive than you reasonably need. If you work uptown and you have a meeting downtown in two hours, head downtown now. If you’re speaking on the opposite side of the continent early Monday morning, fly out Saturday, not Sunday. That way, you’ll be where you’re supposed to be, no matter what obstacles the weather, the airlines, and the TSA throw your way.

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.


Free advice: buy a dongle

There is still no Wi-Fi on the northeast corridor Amtrak trains that carry hundreds of thousands of business travelers each day. So quit whining and get a USB 3G modem. It’s free with monthly service, which is tax-deductible. For the $60/month I pay Verizon, I can connect my laptop to the internet from any train, bus, boat, lounge, lobby, conference room, coffee shop, or just about any other environment to which modern business takes me.