Big Web Show № 132: Modern Layouts with Jen Simmons

Jen Simmons

THE BIG WEB SHOW is back from its break. My guest this week is Jen Simmons (@jensimmons) of The Web Ahead. We discuss moving beyond cookie-cutter layouts on the web; the ins and outs of podcasting; tradeoffs when designing a website; learning from your users; Jen’s journey from theater to technology; and more. Sponsored by Dreamhost. Enjoy The Big Web Show № 132.

URLS

http://thewebahead.net/81 (great links in the show notes!)
https://twitter.com/jensimmons
http://labs.thewebahead.net/thelayoutsahead/
https://github.com/jensimmons/thelayoutsahead
http://alistapart.com/article/css-shapes-101
https://css-tricks.com/examples/ShapesOfCSS/
http://sarasoueidan.com/blog/css-shapes/index.html
http://thewebahead.net/80
http://www.w3.org/TR/css3-grid-layout/
http://thewebahead.net/49
http://next.zengrids.com
http://www.jensimmons.com/about/
http://www.pagetutor.com/common/bgcolors216.html

A List Apart Issue No. 367: Apple’s Vexing Viewport

In A List Apart Issue No. 367, Peter-Paul Koch, Lyza Danger Gardner, Luke Wroblewski, and Stephanie Rieger explain why Apple’s new iPad Mini creates a vexing situation for designers and developers who create flexible, multi-device experiences.

Each week, new devices appear with varying screen sizes, pixel densities, input types, and more. As developers and designers, we agree to use standards to mark up, style, and program what we create. Browser makers in turn agree to support those standards and set defaults appropriately, so we can hold up our end of the deal. This agreement has never been more important.

That’s why it hurts when a device or browser maker does something that goes against our agreement—especially when they’re a visible and trusted friend of the web like Apple. Read Vexing Viewports and contribute to the discussion.

This issue of the magazine also marks the departure of Jason Santa Maria as creative director after seven years of brilliant design and support.

Jason’s elegant redesign of A List Apart and its brand in 2005, together with the master stroke of bringing in Kevin Cornell as illustrator, brought the magazine new fame, new readers, and new respect. Over seven great years, his attention to detail, lack of pretension, and cheerful, can-do attitude has made working on ALA a pleasure. Jason was also a key member of the strategic team that envisioned ALA’s upcoming content expansion—about which, more will be revealed when the site relaunches in January.

Jason will continue at ALA as a contributing writer and as designer of A Book Apart (“brief books for people who make websites”), of which he is also a co-founder.

Web Design Manifesto 2012

THANK YOU for the screen shot. I was actually already aware that the type on my site is big. I designed it that way. And while I’m grateful for your kind desire to help me, I actually do know how the site looks in a browser with default settings on a desktop computer. I am fortunate enough to own a desktop computer. Moreover, I work in a design studio where we have several of them.

This is my personal site. There are many like it, but this one is mine. Designers with personal sites should experiment with new layout models when they can. Before I got busy with one thing and another, I used to redesign this site practically every other week. Sometimes the designs experimented with pitifully low contrast. Other times the type was absurdly small. I experimented with the technology that’s used to create web layouts, and with various notions of web “page” design and content presentation. I’m still doing that, I just don’t get to do it as often.

Many people who’ve visited this site since the redesign have commented on the big type. It’s hard to miss. After all, words are practically the only feature I haven’t removed. Some of the people say they love it. Others are undecided. Many are still processing. A few say they hate it and suggest I’ve lost my mind—although nobody until you has suggested I simply didn’t have access to a computer and therefore didn’t know what I was designing. This design may be good, bad, or indifferent but it is not accidental.

A few people who hate this design have asked if I’ve heard of responsive web design. I have indeed. I was there when Ethan Marcotte invented it, I published his ground-breaking article (and, later, his book, which I read in draft half a dozen times and which I still turn to for reference and pleasure), and I’ve had the privilege of seeing Ethan lecture and lead workshops on the topic about 40 times over the past three years. We’ve incorporated responsive design in our studio’s practice, and I’ve talked about it myself on various stages in three countries. I’m even using elements of it in this design, although you’d have to view source and think hard to understand how, and I don’t feel like explaining that part yet.

This redesign is a response to ebooks, to web type, to mobile, and to wonderful applications like Instapaper and Readability that address the problem of most websites’ pointlessly cluttered interfaces and content-hostile text layouts by actually removing the designer from the equation. (That’s not all these apps do, but it’s one benefit of using them, and it indicates how pathetic much of our web design is when our visitors increasingly turn to third party applications simply to read our sites’ content. It also suggests that those who don’t design for readers might soon not be designing for anyone.)

This redesign is deliberately over the top, but new ideas often exaggerate to make a point. It’s over the top but not unusable nor, in my opinion, unbeautiful. How can passages set in Georgia and headlines in Franklin be anything but beautiful? I love seeing my words this big. It encourages me to write better and more often.

If this were a client site, I wouldn’t push the boundaries this far. If this were a client site, I’d worry that maybe a third of the initial responses to the redesign were negative. Hell, let’s get real: if this were a client site, I wouldn’t have removed as much secondary functionality and I certainly wouldn’t have set the type this big. But this is my personal site. There are many like it, but this one is mine. And on this one, I get to try designs that are idea-driven and make statements. On this one, I get to flounder and occasionally flop. If this design turns out to be a hideous mistake, I’ll probably eventually realize that and change it. (It’s going to change eventually, anyway. This is the web. No design is for the ages, not even Douglas Bowman’s great Minima.)

But for right now, I don’t think this design is a mistake. I think it is a harbinger. We can’t keep designing as we used to if we want people to engage with our content. We can’t keep charging for ads that our layouts train readers to ignore. We can’t focus so much on technology that we forget the web is often, and quite gloriously, a transaction between reader and writer.

Most of you reading this already know these things and already think about them each time you’re asked to create a new digital experience. But even our best clients can sometimes push back, and even our most thrilling projects typically contain some element of compromise. A personal site is where you don’t have to compromise. Even if you lose some readers. Even if some people hate what you’ve done. Even if others wonder why you aren’t doing what everyone else who knows what’s what is doing.

I don’t think you will see much type quite this big but I do think you will see more single-column sites with bigger type coming soon to a desktop and device near you. For a certain kind of content, bigger type and a simpler layout just make sense, regardless of screen size. You don’t even have to use Typekit or its brothers to experiment with big type (awesome as those services are). In today’s monitors and operating systems, yesterday’s classic web fonts—the ones that come with most everyone’s computer—can look pretty danged gorgeous at large sizes. Try tired old Times New Roman. You might be surprised.

The present day designer refuses to die.


Fluid grids, orientation & resolution independence

IF YOU’VE spent any time building responsive websites with fluid grids, you will have encountered the shock of seeing your beautiful portrait layout distort when viewed in landscape mode (or vice-versa.)

This happens because whilst the layout and embedded content (images, video etc) are sized in relation to the pixel width of the viewport, the typography is not. And whilst it isn’t too difficult to design with enough affordance for the variation caused by the iPad’s 4:3 aspect ratio – most (if not all) Android tablets have 16:9 displays. These screens make the orientation difference even more pronounced.

Responsive News – Fluid grids, orientation & resolution independence.

A List Apart: Responsive Images: How they Almost Worked and What We Need

RESPONSIVE WEB DESIGNERS, don’t miss Mat Marquis’ essential article in today’s A LIST APART, for people who make websites: Responsive Images: How they Almost Worked and What We Need. Mat shows why responsive images as we currently use them don’t quite cut it – and shares a way forward that involves the creation of a shiny new HTML element.


Illustration by Kevin Cornell for A List Apart Magazine.

Boston Globe’s Responsive Redesign. Discuss.

AS EVERY WEB DESIGNER not living under a rock hopefully already knows, The Boston Globe has had a responsive redesign at the hands of some of today’s best designers and developers:

The spare Globe website has a responsive design that adapts to different window sizes, browsers and devices, and it has a built-in Instapaper-type feature that saves articles for reading off various devices on the subway. The overhaul has incorporated the talents of Boston design firms Filament Group, and Upstatement, as well as a large internal team, and pre-empts the need to build separate apps for each device.—New York Observer

As the first responsive redesign of a “real” website (i.e. a large, corporately financed, widely read newspaper site rather than some designer’s blog), the site has the potential to raise public awareness of this flexible, standards-based, multi-platform and user-focused web design approach, and deepen perceptions of its legitimacy, much as Mike Davidson’s standards-based redesign of ESPN.com in 2003 helped convince nonbelievers to take a second look at designing with web standards:

In a major step in the evolution of website design, the Boston Globe relaunched their site today using a Responsive Design approach. For a consistent experience across mobile and desktop browsers, they redesigned the site to add and remove columns to the layout based on the width of your browser window.

This marks the first major, high-traffic, content-heavy website to adopt a responsive design. The lead consultant behind the project is none other than Ethan Marcotte, the designer who wrote the book on responsive design. Much as ESPN changed the way we worked by being one of the first to launch a fully CSS driven site a decade ago, the Boston Globe’s redesign has the potential to completely alter the way we approach web design.—Beaconfire Wire

More work remains to be done. Some sections of the paper have not yet converted, and some site architecture has yet to be refreshed, so it is too early to call the overhaul a complete success. But it is clear that Ethan Marcotte, author of Responsive Web Design and creator of responsive design, together with the geniuses at Filament Group, Upstatement, and the Globe’s internal design/development team have managed to work beautifully together and to solve design problems some of us don’t even know exist.

Congratulations to the Globe for its vision and these designers and developers for their brilliant work.

HTML5, CSS3, UX, Design: Links from An Event Apart Boston 2011

Meeting of the Minds: Ethan Marcotte and AEA attendee discuss the wonders of CSS3. Photo by the incomparable Jim Heid.

Meeting of the Minds: Ethan Marcotte and AEA attendee discuss the wonders of CSS3. Photo by the incomparable Jim Heid.

THE SHOW IS OVER, but the memories, write-ups, demos, and links remain. Enjoy!

An Event Apart Boston 2011 group photo pool

Speakers, attendees, parties, and the wonders of Boston, captured by those who were there.

What Every Designer Should Know (a)

Jeremy Keith quite effectively live-blogs my opening keynote on the particular opportunities of Now in the field of web design, and the skills every designer needs to capitalize on the moment and make great things.

The Password Anti-Pattern

Related to my talk: Jeremy Keith’s original write-up on a notorious but all-too-common practice. If your boss or client tells you to design this pattern, just say no. Design that does not serve users does not serve business.

What Every Designer Should Know (b)

“In his opening keynote … Jeffrey Zeldman talked about the skills and opportunities that should be top of mind for everyone designing on the Web today.” Luke Wroblewski’s write-up.

Whitney Hess: Design Principles — The Philosophy of UX

“As a consultant, [Whitney] spends a lot of time talking about UX and inevitably, the talk turns to deliverables and process but really we should be establishing a philosophy about how to treat people, in the same way that visual design is about establishing a philosophy about how make an impact. Visual design has principles to achieve that: contrast, emphasis, balance, proportion, rhythm, movement, texture, harmony and unity.” In this talk, Whitney proposed a set of 10 principles for UX design.

Veerle Pieters: The Experimental Zone

Live blogging by Jeremy Keith. Veerle, a noted graphic and interaction designer from Belgium, shared her process for discovering design through iteration and experimentation.

Luke Wroblewski: Mobile Web Design Moves

Luke’s live awesomeness cannot be captured in dead written words, but Mr Keith does a splendid job of quickly sketching many of the leading ideas in this key AEA 2011 talk.

See also: funky dance moves with Luke Wroblewski, a very short video I captured as Luke led the crowd in the opening moves of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

Ethan Marcotte: The Responsive Designer’s Workflow (a)

“The next talk here at An Event Apart in Boston is one I’ve really, really, really been looking forward to: it’s a presentation by my hero Ethan Marcotte.”

Ethan Marcotte: The Responsive Designer’s Workflow (b)

Ethan’s amazing talk—a key aspect of design in 2011 and AEA session of note—as captured by the great Luke Wroblewski.

An Event Apart: The Secret Lives of Links—Jared Spool

“In his presentation at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Jared Spool detailed the importance and role of links on Web pages.” No writer can capture Jared Spool’s engaging personality or the quips that produce raucous laughter throughout his sessions, but Luke does an outstanding job of noting the primary ideas Jared shares in this riveting and highly useful UX session.

An Event Apart: All Our Yesterdays—Jeremy Keith

Luke W: “In his All Our Yesterdays presentation at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Jeremy Keith outlined the problem of digital preservation on the Web and provided some strategies for taking a long term view of our Web pages.”

Although it is hard to pick highlights among such great speakers and topics, this talk was a highlight for me. As in, it blew my mind. Several people said it should be a TED talk.

An Event Apart: From Idea to Interface—Aarron Walter

Luke: “In his Idea to Interface presentation at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Aarron Walter encouraged Web designers and developers to tackle their personal projects by walking through examples and ways to jump in. Here are my notes from his talk.”

Links and Resources from “From Idea to Interface”

Compiled by the speaker, links include Design Personas Template and Example, the story behind the illustrations in the presentation created by Mike Rhode, Dribble, Huffduffer, Sketchboards, Mustache for inserting data into your prototypes, Keynote Kung Fu, Mocking Bird, Yahoo Design Patterns, MailChimp Design Pattern Library, Object Oriented CSS by Nicole Sullivan and more!

An Event Apart: CSS3 Animations—Andy Clarke

“In his Smoke Gets In Your Eyes presentation at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Andy Clarke showcased what is possible with CSS3 animations using transitions and transforms in the WebKit browser.” Write-up by the legendary Luke Wroblewski.

Madmanimation

The “Mad Men” opening titles re-created entirely in CSS3 animation. (Currently requires Webkit browser, e.g. Safari, Chrome.)

CSS3 Animation List

Anthony Calzadilla, a key collaborator on the Mad Men CSS3 animation, showcases his works.

Box Shadow Curl

Pure CSS3 box-shadow page curl effect. Mentioned during Ethan Marcotte’s Day 3 session on exploring CSS3.

Multiple CSS Transition Durations

Fascinating article by Anton Peck (who attended the show). Proposed: a solution to a key problem with CSS transitions. (“Even now, my main issue with transitions is that they use the same time-length value for the inbound effect as they do the outbound. For example, when you create a transition on an image with a 1-second duration, you get that length of time for both mousing over, and mousing away from the object. This type of behavior should be avoided, for the sake of the end-user!”)

Everything You Wanted to Know About CSS3 Gradients

Ethan Marcotte: “Hello. I am here to discuss CSS3 gradients. Because, let’s face it, what the web really needed was more gradients.”

Ultimate CSS3 Gradient Generator

Like it says.

Linear Gradients Generator

By the incomparable John Allsopp.

These sessions were not captured

Some of our best talks were not captured by note-takers, at least not to my knowledge. They include:

  1. Eric Meyer: CSS Anarchist’s Cookbook
  2. Mark Boulton: Outing the Mind: Designing Layouts That Think for You
  3. Jeff Veen: Disaster, DNA, and the Fathomless Depth of the Web

It’s possible that the special nature of these presentations made them impossible to capture in session notes. (You had to be there.)

There are also no notes on the two half-day workshop sessions, “Understand HTML5 With Jeremy Keith,” and “Explore CSS3 With Ethan Marcotte.”

What have I missed?

Attendees and followers, below please add the URLs of related educational links, write-ups, and tools I’ve missed here. Thanks!

More Meaningful Typography

TIM BROWN in A LIST APART: A MODULAR SCALE is a sequence of numbers that relate to one another in a meaningful way. Using the golden ratio, for example, we can produce values for a modular scale by multiplying by 1.618 to arrive at the next highest number, or dividing by 1.618 to arrive at the next number down.

By using culturally relevant, historically pleasing ratios to create modular scales and basing the measurements in our compositions on values from those scales, we can achieve a visual harmony not found in layouts that use arbitrary, conventional, or easily divisible numbers.

Read More Meaningful Typography at A List Apart, for people who make websites.

Migrating from a conventional Facebook account to a public figure (“fan”) page – a report from the trenches

BECAUSE FACEBOOK LIMITS USERS to 5,000 contacts, I had to migrate from a conventional user account to what used to be called a “fan” page and is now called an “Artist, Band or Public Figure” page. (Page, not account, notice.)

There’s a page on Facebook called “Create a Page” that is supposed to seamlessly migrate from a conventional user account to a public figure (aka “fan”) page.

The page says it will only migrate your connections—it will lose all your content, photos, apps, and so on—and Facebook means it. After migrating, all my stuff is gone. Years of photos, wall posts, blog posts, tweets, you name it. Even the “help” page link is gone once you’ve migrated, so you can’t refer to any help documentation to find out where all your stuff went and if any of it can be saved.

Custom URL breaks on migration

Because of an idiocy in the database, you can’t keep your existing custom URL, since, when you request it, Facebook tells you it is “taken.” My Facebook page was “jzeldman,” but that URL is “taken” by a fellow named “Jeffrey Zeldman,” so I can’t use it on my Jeffrey Zeldman page. So I had to change to a new URL (“JeffreyZeldman”) and now all my admin links (for instance at facebook.com/happycog) are broken, as they point to the old user page instead of the new fan page. At the very least, Facebook should seamlessly redirect from facebook.com/jzeldman (my old URL) to facebook.com/JeffreyZeldman (the new one), but it does not.

So all my other social media sites that point to the old Facebook account need to be updated by hand, and any third-party links will now be broken because Facebook doesn’t let you keep your custom URL during a migration.

Third-party apps disappear completely

Likewise, none of the third-party functionality (Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, RSS, and so on) has migrated from the user page to the fan page, and there is no information explaining how to reconnect these apps.

No reasonable app like the ones I’ve mentioned appears in the “apps” section of the sidebar on my new page. When I look for additional apps, I get treated to a bloated browse of crappy apps nobody on earth uses, whose creators probably made deals with Facebook in hopes that newbies would be persuaded to hook up these contraptions. You can find “PhotoMyButt” but not Flickr.

I, however, use Flickr.

So, since I can’t find it in the big dull browse, I resort to Facebook’s Apps’ “Search” box. Typing Flickr in that box is exciting. Instead of being taken to the Flickr apps on Facebook, I’m treated to endless redirects courtesy of a broken PHP script that loops infinitely forever suffering like Christ on the cross world without end amen while never actually resolving. Each new partial page that loads for an instant before being replaced by the next is undesigned and unbranded and contains only the sentence fragment, “Please stand by, redirecting…”

The devil will see you now.

So much for content

My photos are gone. My existing writing is gone. Facebook does seem to be migrating human beings who were “friends” on my old page, but nothing else works.

Oh my God, I can’t Admin my own page

I can’t Admin my new Facebook page because the “Admin” is “jzeldman” (me at the old account, which Facebook deleted). Perhaps this is why it’s impossible to post content, no apps work, etc. Nice.

Kids, don’t try this at home

All these bugs are probably known to Facebook, and there are probably nice people at Facebook whose job is to execute known secret internal workarounds when helping an actual “celebrity” migrate his or her page. I’m just guessing of course, but it stands to reason that Ashton K or Lady Gaga, if they want a Facebook page, probably don’t have to deal with all this frustrating brokenness. They have people for that.

But I don’t. I’m a web guy. And web stuff should just work.

Finally, cross-browser visual control over forms.

Now we have something else to be thankful for. Nathan Smith of Sonspring has created a library that gives designers and developers “some measure of control over form elements, without changing them so drastically as to appear foreign in a user’s operating system.” Smith calls his new library Formalize CSS:

I’ve attempted to bridge the gap between various browsers and OS’s, taking the best ideas from each, and implementing what is possible across the board. For the most part, this means most textual form elements have a slight inset, and all buttons look consistent, including the button tag.

For more, including demos, options, screenshots, thanks, and the library itself, read Smith’s write-up at SonSpring | Formalize CSS. Hat tip and happy Thanksgiving to my good friend Aaron Gustafson for sharing this gem.