10 May 2012 6 am eastern

My Glamorous Life: The Power Compels You

I DREAMED that my friend Jason Santa Maria took a job at a popular new startup that had exploded onto the world scene seemingly overnight. A fascinating visual interface was largely responsible for the popularity of the company’s new social software product. It was like a Hypercard stack that came toward you. A post full of exciting social significance just for you would appear in a self-contained deck with rounded corners. The next post would pop up on top of the first. The next, on top of that one. And so on. In my dream, people found this back-to-front pop-up effect thrilling for some reason.

Having imagined the interface, I next dreamed that I went to visit the startup. There were so many cubicles, so many shiny people running around, holding morning standups and singing a strange company song, that I could not locate my friend Jason’s desk. Someone grabbed me and told me the founder wanted to see me.


THE FOUNDER was an ordinary looking white guy in his late twenties. I was surprised that he wore beige chinos with a permapress crease. With all the TV and newspaper hubub around his product, I guess I’d expected a more stylish and charismatic presence.

The founder told me he was concerned because his mother, apparently a cofounder or at least an officer of the company, was of the belief that I had contempt for their product and disliked her personally. I assured him that I liked the product. Further, I had never met his mother, never read or heard a word about her, and felt only goodwill toward her, as I bear toward all people in the abstract. I don’t hate people I don’t know.

“It would be cool if you told mom that yourself,” he said. And suddenly two assistants were whisking me off to speak to her directly.


THE AUDITORIUM-SIZED waiting room outside the founder’s mother’s office was filled with at least a thousand people who had come to talk to her before me. They seemed to have been waiting for hours. There was an air of boredom and rapidly thinning patience, mixed with excitement and the kind of carnival atmosphere that surrounds things that blow up suddenly in the press. It felt like the jury selection room for a celebrity murder case. Only much, much bigger.

The two assistants escorted me to the very front of the auditorium, to an empty row of seats abutting the door to the founder’s mother’s private office. “Special treatment,” I thought. I was thrilled to be cutting to the front of the line, apparently as a result of the founder’s directive to his assistants. The front row chairs were reversed, facing back to the rest of the auditorium, so I was put in the somewhat uneasy position of staring out at the mass of people who had been waiting to see the founder’s mother since long before I arrived.

After a while, Ian Jacobs of the W3C was brought to the front of the room and seated near me.

We waited as other people were shown into the founder’s mother’s presence.


AFTER FIVE or six hours of drowsy waiting, I realized that the room was set up to mirror the software’s interface: people from the very back of the auditorium were first in line, and were shown into the founder’s mother’s presence first. Gradually, the hall of applicants emptied from the back to the front. Those of us in the very front of the line were actually the last people of all who would be admitted to the holy presence. It was a smart marketing touch that apparently permeated the company: everything real people did in the building in some way echoed the characteristics of the software interface — from the end of the line coming first, to the way the rounded conference tables echoed the shapes of individual news posts in the software’s back-to-front news deck.

What a smart company, I thought. And what a good joke on me, as I continued to sit there forever, waiting to see someone I’d never met, who held a baseless grudge against me, which it would one day be my task to talk her out of.

Filed under: dreams, Existence, interface, Jason Santa Maria, Small Business, Standards, Startups, State of the Web, The Essentials, The Profession, W3C

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3 Jun 2011 11 am eastern

One blog post is worth a thousand portfolio pieces.

I HIRED JASON SANTA MARIA after reading this post on his site.

The year was 2004. Douglas Bowman, one of my partners on a major project, had just injured himself and was unable to work. I needed someone talented and disciplined enough to jump into Doug’s shoes and brain—to finish Doug’s part of the project as Doug would have finished it.

I lack the ability to emulate other designers (especially classy ones like Douglas Bowman) and I was a Photoshop guy whereas Doug worked in Illustrator, so I knew I needed a freelancer. But who?

A Google search on Illustrator and web design led me to a post by a guy I’d never heard of. The post was enjoyably written and reflected a mature and coherent attitude not simply toward the technique it described, but to the practice of design itself. Yes, the blog itself was intriguingly and skillfully designed, and that certainly didn’t hurt. But what made me hire Jason was not the artistry of his website’s design nor the demonstration that he possessed the technical skill I sought, but the fact that he had an evolved point of view about web design.

Anyone can write a how-to. Not everyone thinks to write a why.

Jason had.

I offered him the thankless task of aping another designer’s style for not a ton of money under extreme time pressure, and to my pleased surprise, he accepted. He did so well, and performed so selflessly, that I hired him for another project, this time one with full creative freedom. I have never regretted those decisions.

Just about everyone I know and work with I first met online. And, although well-done portfolio services have their place, neither I nor anyone at Happy Cog has ever hired someone purely (or even largely) on the basis of their portfolio. It’s all about how you present yourself online. Before I even meet you, do I feel like I know you—or like I wish I knew you?

Have you got a point of view? Are you sharing it?

Filed under: business, Design, Happy Cog™, Jason Santa Maria, The Essentials, Zeldman

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7 Dec 2010 10 am eastern

Episode 30: Jason Santa Maria

Designer Jason Santa Maria

JASON SANTA MARIA (website, Twitter) will be our guest Thursday December 9th, 2010 during Episode No. 30 of The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”), co-hosted by Dan Benjamin and recorded at 1:00 PM Eastern before a live internet audience.

Jason is a self-described Graphic Designer living in sunny Brooklyn, New York. He is the founder and principal of the design studio Mighty, creative director for Typekit, a faculty member in the MFA Interaction Design program at SVA, co-founder of A Book Apart (Brief Books for People Who Make Websites), vice president of AIGA/NY, founder of Typedia, a shared encyclopedia of typefaces online, and creative director for A List Apart for people who make websites. A former designer and creative director at Happy Cog, Jason has worked for clients such as AIGA, The Chicago Tribune, Housing Works, Miramax Films, The New York Stock Exchange, PBS, The United Nations, and WordPress, “focusing on designing websites that maintain a balance of beauty and usability.”

The Big Web Show records live every Thursday at 1:00 PM Eastern on live.5by5.tv. Edited episodes can be watched afterwards, often within hours of recording, via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web. Subscribe and enjoy!

Filed under: Big Web Show, Design, Designers, Jason Santa Maria, The Big Web Show

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13 Jan 2010 3 pm eastern

Lost in Space

Jeffrey Zeldman onstage.

Jeffrey Zeldman onstage at Galapagos Art Space, Brooklyn, New York. Photo by Onno de Jong from last night’s AIGA/NY talk and birthday celebration, curated by Jason Santa Maria.

Filed under: AIGA, Appearances, better-know-a-speaker, cities, Design, glamorous, Happy Cog™, Jason Santa Maria, New York City, NYC, Zeldman

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17 Nov 2009 6 am eastern

Get Real With Real Fonts

A List Apart, for people who make websites.

Web fonts are here. Now what? In Issue No. 296 of A List Apart for people who make websites, Nice Web Type’s Tim Brown debuts Web Font Specimen, a handy, free resource to see how real fonts really look on the web; and Jason Santa Maria discourses on web type, showing how to avoid using fonts that don’t work on the web, and achieve graceful pairings of fonts that do.

Filed under: A List Apart, Design, Fonts, Formats, industry, Jason Santa Maria, Real type on the web, Standards, State of the Web, Tools, Web Type Day, webfonts, webtype

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15 Oct 2009 1 pm eastern

Chicago Deep Dish

Dan Cederholm and Eric Meyer at An Event Apart Chicago 2009. Photo by John Morrison.

For those who couldn’t be there, and for those who were there and seek to savor the memories, here is An Event Apart Chicago, all wrapped up in a pretty bow:

AEA Chicago – official photo set
By John Morrison, subism studios llc. See also (and contribute to) An Event Apart Chicago 2009 Pool, a user group on Flickr.
A Feed Apart Chicago
Live tweeting from the show, captured forever and still being updated. Includes complete blow-by-blow from Whitney Hess.
Luke W’s Notes on the Show
Smart note-taking by Luke Wroblewski, design lead for Yahoo!, frequent AEA speaker, and author of Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks (Rosenfeld Media, 2008):
  1. Jeffrey Zeldman: A Site Redesign
  2. Jason Santa Maria: Thinking Small
  3. Kristina Halvorson: Content First
  4. Dan Brown: Concept Models -A Tool for Planning Websites
  5. Whitney Hess: DIY UX -Give Your Users an Upgrade
  6. Andy Clarke: Walls Come Tumbling Down
  7. Eric Meyer: JavaScript Will Save Us All (not captured)
  8. Aaron Gustafson: Using CSS3 Today with eCSStender (not captured)
  9. Simon Willison: Building Things Fast
  10. Luke Wroblewski: Web Form Design in Action (download slides)
  11. Dan Rubin: Designing Virtual Realism
  12. Dan Cederholm: Progressive Enrichment With CSS3 (not captured)
  13. Three years of An Event Apart Presentations

Note: Comment posting here is a bit wonky at the moment. We are investigating the cause. Normal commenting has been restored. Thank you, Noel Jackson.

Short URL: zeldman.com/?p=2695

Filed under: A List Apart, An Event Apart, Appearances, architecture, art direction, Authoring, Browsers, bugs, Career, Chicago, cities, Code, Community, Compatibility, conferences, content, content strategy, creativity, CSS, Design, development, DOM, downloads, editorial, Education, engagement, eric meyer, events, flickr, Fonts, Formats, glamorous, Happy Cog™, HTML, HTML5, industry, Information architecture, Jason Santa Maria, javascript, Markup, photography, Real type on the web, Scripting, Search, social networking, speaking, spec, Standards, State of the Web

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6 Jan 2009 10 am eastern

Jason Has Left the Building

I owe it all to Douglas Bowman‘s bad back.

Doug and Brian Alvey and Adam Greenfield and I were working on a big client project when Doug’s back went out. He was so sick, he couldn’t work, and it was unclear when he would be able to work again.

As a friend, I was worried about Doug. As a creative director, I was worried about finishing my client’s project.

Doug and I had both done designs. The client liked my design but I’d sold him Doug’s. Now Doug couldn’t finish, and I didn’t trust myself to execute the remaining pages in Doug’s style. I needed someone skilled enough to finish what Doug had started and mature enough to sublimate his own style while still making good design choices.

I had just read “Grey Box Methodology,” a well-written romp through a personal design process. The author was a young designer named Jason Santa Maria. His site looked great, his portfolio was impressive, he had good ideas about design, and the process he had written about lent itself to the technical aspects of finishing Doug’s work.

I wrote to Jason Santa Maria, telling him I had a small freelance project that was probably boring and would bring him no glory, since it required him to design like someone else. Jason was game and said yes. He did a great job and was egoless about it, and he seemed perfectly comfortable working with better established, heavyweight talents. His quick, professional, selfless work kept the project going until Doug was back on his feet.

To reward Jason for what he had done, when a new and juicy assignment came my way, I asked if he wanted to be the project’s lead designer. The rest you can you figure out.

For four and a half years, Jason Santa Maria has been a designer and then a creative director at Happy Cog. In an agency filled with talent, he made a huge personal mark. I’ve trusted him with some of the most important designs we’ve handled, from AIGA to the redesign of A List Apart. He has never let me down, professionally or personally. More than that, his work has expanded my conception of what web design can be.

Four and a half years is a couple of centuries in internet time. For about a year, Jason and I have known that it was getting to be time for him to move on. Not that we had any problem with him or he with us. But just that nearly half a decade is a long time for any designer to spend in one place.

As he has just announced, Jason is leaving Happy Cog. He will stay involved in A List Apart and perhaps a few selected projects, but basically he is out the door and spreading his wings. Godspeed.

[tags]jasonsantamaria, Jason Santa Maria, JSM, Stan, adieu, happycog, design, webdesign[/tags]

Filed under: A List Apart, art direction, client services, creativity, Design, industry, Jason Santa Maria, jobs, Web Design, work, Working

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15 Dec 2008 11 am eastern

Making Modular Layout Systems

Jason Santa Maria details his approach to building a modular system for laying out pages with CSS—“a handy way to predictably tame content without becoming predictable.” Deep tricks of the trade revealed!

[tags]modular, layout, system, css, design, webdesign, jasonsantamaria[/tags]

Filed under: Code, CSS, Design, development, Jason Santa Maria, Web Design

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19 Aug 2008 9 am eastern

Photos from An Event Apart San Francisco

Take a dip in the Flickr photo pool from An Event Apart San Francisco 2008. Day Two is about to begin.

111 Minna Gallery (MediaTemple party)

[tags]aeasf08, aneventapart, webdesign, conference, sanfrancisco[/tags]

Filed under: A List Apart, An Event Apart, cities, Code, conferences, content, creativity, CSS, Design, development, eric meyer, events, experience, Happy Cog™, Ideas, industry, Jason Santa Maria, San Francisco, Usability, User Experience, UX, Web Design, work, Working, Zeldman

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25 Jun 2008 9 am eastern

AEA Boston 2008 session notes

Early, initial linkage and reviews. Let us know what we missed!

Functioning Form – An Event Apart: Understanding Web Design

Luke Wroblewski: “Jeffrey Zeldman’s Understanding Web Design talk at An Event Apart Boston 2008 highlighted factors that made it challenging to explain the value and perspective of Web designers but still managed to offer a way to describe the field.”

Functioning Form – An Event Apart: The Lessons of CSS Frameworks

Luke Wroblewski: “At An Event Apart Boston 2008, Eric Meyer walked through common characteristics of several Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) frameworks and outlined lessons that can be learned from their structure.”

Functioning Form – An Event Apart: Good Design Ain’t Easy

Luke Wroblewski: “Jason Santa Maria’s Good Design Ain’t Easy talk at An Event Apart 2008 argued for deeper graphic resonance in the presentation of content online.”

KarlynMorissette.com: An Event Apart: Day one schedule

Karyln is an educator who attended An Event Apart Boston 2008, sat in the front row, and took fabulous notes. This summary post links to her individual notes from each session of day one.

Karlyn’s session notes are informative, opinionated, and fun to read, and include photos of speakers and presentations. Well worth your time!

KarlynMorissette.com: An Event Apart: Day two schedule

Karyln assesses day one and posts links to her individual notes from each session of day two (except for the last session, as “you had to be there” for the live critiques).

Idiot Banter: An Event Apart session notes

Notes from all sessions.

Slide sharing

Luke Wroblewski – An Event Apart: Web Application Hierarchy

“In my Web Application Hierarchy presentation at An Event Apart Boston 2008, I walked through the importance of visual hierarchy, visual principles for developing effective hierarchies, and utilizing applications of visual hierarchy to communicate central messages, guide actions, and present information. Download the slides from my presentation.”

Quirksmode: AEA Boston slides

From Peter-Paul Koch’s presentation on unobtrusive scripting.

[tags]aneventapart, design, webdesign, conference, aeaboston08, session notes, downloads[/tags]

Filed under: An Event Apart, art direction, Boston, Community, conferences, content, CSS, Design, development, eric meyer, events, experience, Happy Cog™, Ideas, industry, Jason Santa Maria, Layout, links, Standards, style, Travel, UX, Web Design, Zeldman

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