Blood and Bone


Jeffrey Zeldman Presents

MY EX-WIFE is one of my heroes. Six years ago today, during 33 hours of labor in a stiflingly hot room, she brought forth our daughter. When my body rebels in the gym, I think of her courage and push out another rep. When a lift or stretch hurts, I remember what she did and breathe through the pain. From her and those long moments, I learned mind over matter. From witnessing and helping during those 33 hours, I learned that life is blood and bone, and that we can achieve anything if we push hard enough.

Thank you, Carrie, for that lesson and for this girl. Happy sixth birthday, dearest Ava. And, by wonderful coincidence and similar courage and marvels, joyous first day on earth, Nash Thomas Hoy. Fill your lungs and holler, boy!

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.

The Great Salami Caper

In the late 1980s, while making efforts to move to New York City, I came up with the winning ad campaign for Hebrew National Kosher Salami. Only I didn’t win.

Hebrew National held a contest to see if people outside Madison Avenue could come up with a great ad idea for their 83% fat free salami. The grand prize was $83,000.

Even in New York, $83,000 would have more than covered a moving van, broker’s fee, and first and last month’s rent.

But creating the winning ad carried a benefit even bigger than the cash for someone like me who was trying to break into New York advertising. I’d worked for a couple of years at Washington, DC-area ad agencies, one of them pretty good, but that and my portfolio bought me nothing in the competitive New York advertising job market of the late 1980s. There were kids coming out of school with better portfolios than mine.

Winning that contest, I believed at the time, would make a New York ad agency take me seriously.

My then-girlfriend Eva S and I submitted an ad built around the headline, “You should be so fat.”


Well, we never heard back after entering the contest, and months passed the way they do.

I continued to drive back and forth from DC to NYC looking for jobs and an apartment.

A couple of times I flew to New York for an interview in the middle of my work day. I told my DC-area-agency creative director I was seeing a doctor. I still feel bad about that lie.

One day I open a magazine, and there’s a picture of an athletic woman wearing a leotard, working out.

The headline reads, “You should be so lean.”


Lean. You should be so lean.

It was our concept made safe. “You should be so lean” was a faster read and a much less interesting idea.

Hebrew National had said in the contest rules that, in the event of duplicate ideas, they would pick the one that was best executed. I am certain today that several people submitted similar ideas and Hebrew National and its agency chose the best-looking comp, which was not mine. Quite probably the winner even wrote “You should be so lean.” All perfectly ethical.

But at the time I was sure that we had gotten ripped off.

So I confided in the president of the DC-area agency where I worked—like he needed another reason to fire me—and asked him if I should sue Hebrew National.

I sought this advice while buying a drink for the president of the agency when I should have been at my desk, working. I figured if the president of the agency was spending the afternoon in a bar, he wouldn’t mind his peon employee doing likewise.

I was thirsty and not very bright. A while later, for many reasons, the agency let me go, surprising absolutely no one but me.

But meantime I’m in the bar buying my boss a drink on his time.

He tells me something I’ll never forget: a big company has lawyers on retainer, and you don’t.


Icon: For Love of Barbie

When I was twenty, Barbie was a symbol of oppression with obvious food issues. No way would a future child of mine identify with that.

When I was twenty, “princess” was another word for “child of oppressor.” Monarchs went with pogroms and capitalists.

If I ever had a daughter, she would be one of the people. Or a leader of the people. Or an anarchist. Or most probably an artist. Art was problematic because it also went with corporate capitalism (when not going steady with poverty) but at least the few artists who made money disdained it, if only publicly.

Twenty wasn’t easy.


When I was twenty, when I considered bringing a child into this world of wrong, I pictured her enjoying organic produce and healthy ethnic cuisines.

Decades and chameleon lives later, I was married and we were expecting.

After our daughter was born, I suggested raising her vegetarian. It seemed wrong to feed an angel on the blood and limbs of slaughtered animals. Her mother said she’d go along with the vegetarian angle as long as I did the research and committed to preparing fresh, nutritionally balanced meals that supplied every nutrient our child would need.

So she eats meat.

Mostly she eats french fries.

She sometimes eats at McDonald’s. Also she eats candy and plays with Barbies. She says she is Barbie’s biggest fan. Soon after learning to say Dada and Mama, she asked if she was a princess. We said yes.


What used to be my elegant teakwood dining table is now the staging area for a Barbie apartment. The Barbie pool, Barbie camping van, and Barbie salon that comprise the “apartment” barely leave room for the Barbies, Stacies, and Kellys who make use of these facilities.

The princess turns six in September. She’s working on the party guest list and we’ve already decided on her birthday present: a Barbie house.

Barbie is now fifty. But fifty is the new 49. There’s a reason she’s stuck around all these decades. Turns out it has nothing to do with theory and everything to do with girls.


P.S. Hint to my people: when you go to barbie.com, enable Flash.


It’s a process

After finishing her late-night snack, she left the empty bowl beside her in the bed “for Emile’s spirit to nibble on.”


Choose Death


When I returned from Boston, my little white dog was much sicker. It’s the lungs. There’s a constant honking gasp, except when he’s sleeping. The doctors said this would happen, they just didn’t say when. Despite the constant meds and steady love, there comes a time when the animal can’t breathe—and nothing medical can be done, other than the merciful horrible.

So today is the day. I feared it on the afternoon I came home and I knew it for sure last night. Where there is life there is hope, until there is no hope. It’s time for Emile to go gently to foreversleep.

If my daughter wasn’t with me, I’d have taken him in for the procedure yesterday. As it is, to minimize my daughter’s trauma, I’ll have to squeeze it in today, while she is at school. Death on a schedule: between my workout at 9:00 and my first business appointment. Tears at eleven.

At this second, little Emile sits comfortably on his dirty red cushion, cleaning himself after a hearty breakfast of flavorless hypoallergenic food stuffed with pills. His breathing is normal enough to fill me with guilt, hesitation, and denial. Is there still hope?


Boston Bound

Plane travel versus train travel, that sort of thing.

Morning finds me bound by train for Boston, capital of Massachusetts, land of Puritans, patriots, and host of the original Tea Party. Center of high technology and higher education. Where the John Hancock Tower signs its name in the clouds, and the sky-scraping Prudential Tower adds a whole new meaning to the term, “high finance.” Beantown. Cradle of liberty, Athens of America, the walking city, and five-time host to An Event Apart, which may be America’s leading web design conference. (You see what I did there?)

Over 500 advanced web design professionals will join co-host Eric Meyer and me in Boston’s beautiful Back Bay for two jam-packed days of learning and inspiration with Dan Cederholm, Andy Clarke, Kristina Halvorson, Jeremy Keith, Ethan Marcotte, Jared Spool, Nicole Sullivan, Jeff Veen, Aarron Walter, and Luke Wroblewski.

If you can’t attend the sold-out show, which begins Monday, May 24, you can follow the live Tweetage via the souped-up, socially-enriched, aesthetically tricked out new version of A Feed Apart, whose lights go on this Sunday, May 23. Our thanks to developers Nick Sergeant, Pete Karl II, and their expanded creative team including Steve Losh and Ali M. Ali. We and they will have more to say about the project soon. For now, you can always read our 2009 interview with Nick and Pete or sneak a peek on Dribbble.

There’s also a Flickr photo group and an interstitial playlist, so you can ogle and hum along from your favorite cubicle or armchair.

See you around The Hub or right here on the world wide internets.


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.