All in

Three Saturdays ago, my father had a heart attack. Last Saturday, we rushed our baby daughter to the emergency room. In-between, my wife had to undergo scary and uncomfortable medical tests.

Everybody is fine, even my dad (truth in advertising: aspirin really can save your life) but my once-brown goatee has gone shock-white.

Everybody is fine, so take a deep breath and savor the unusually high pollen count.

Something else took place in these same tense two weeks: I finished my book. Designing With Web Standards, 2nd Edition (DWWS 2e) left my hands last night and will reach shelves this summer.

When I agreed to write DWWS 2e, I mistook the job for a quick spruce-up. After all, what I’d said in the first edition about the benefits of standards-based design was still true: accessibility and semantics make your content easier to find and faster and cheaper to distribute. And the browser most people used when I wrote the first edition hadn’t changed in five years, so how tough a rewrite could I be facing? I figured I was looking at an updated screenshot or two, a changed URL, and maybe a couple of sticky notes.

About four months into the grueling (but also magically riveting) process, I realized that what I was doing was writing a book.

A lot of 2e will be familiar to the book’s fans, but a lot is new. And new is work. New is infinite wash-loads of work. Messy, exhausting. At some point in the infinite rinsing and lathering I was told the book had to be finished by last night. And so it has been.

I wouldn’t have made it alone. Erin and Ethan were right in there, carrying me.

I finished. I finished while grappling with sudden existential crises involving the people I love most. But then, my mother died while I was finishing my first book. Books kill.

This is me being cheerful after completing a rather strong second edition.

2e! 2e! My father and daughter and wife are well. My book is good. My song is sung.

WCAG 2: the clock is ticking

This week’s A List Apart leads with accessibility expert Joe Clark’s detailed critique of the proposed WCAG 2 guidelines.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0 is an international standard for making sites accessible to people with disabilities. Many nations adhere to WCAG 1.0 as law.

That’s great, except that WCAG 1.0 is seven years old, and parts of it are murkily conceived. The W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) committee has toiled for years to offer a second-generation spec that is clearer and more up-to-date. WCAG 2.0 is the result. It was presented to the web community for comment a few weeks ago and achieves “Candidate Recommendation” status at the end of this month.

Although WCAG 2 has its supporters, and although good people have worked hard on it, Joe Clark believes “the fundamentals of WCAG 2 are nearly impossible for a working standards-compliant developer to understand,” with untestable success criteria and strange new definitions that don’t map to concepts like “page,” “site,” or “valid.”

Because WCAG 1.0 forms the basis of international law and because the standard’s goal is to serve the disabled, the success or failure of WCAG 2 matters to all who use, own, or make websites. Whether you end up agreeing or disagreeing with Joe Clark’s assessment, time is short and the stakes are incredibly high. I urge every web designer to read this article.

Also in this triple issue of A List Apart (and only overshadowed here because the clock on WCAG 2 is ticking) are two other exceptionally fine articles:

World Grows Small: Open Standards for the Global Web

by Molly E. Holzschlag

Molly Holzschlag explains how the practices you already use to create standards-based, accessible websites can serve you in the growing field of internationalization.

Community Creators, Secure Your Code! Part II

by Niklas Bivald

In part two of his two-part series on protecting your community site from malicious cross-site scripting attacks, Niklas Bivald rolls up his trousers and wades into the JavaScript.

A List Apart 215: triple issue

In a big triple issue of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

A More Accessible Map
by Seth Duffey
Nifty web maps powered by Google and Yahoo! APIs are all the rage. And rage is what a visually impaired user may feel when trying to use them. Is there a way to make beautiful web maps accessible? In a word, yes. Techy designers, you won’t want to miss this step-by-step guide.
Community Creators, Secure Your Code!
by Niklas Bivald
Don’t be like MySpace. Well, okay, be like MySpace in attracting millions of users. But don’t be like them in exposing your site and your users to virtual vandals. Protect your community site from malicious cross-site scripting attacks. Part one of a two-part series.
Everyware: Always Crashing in the Same Car
by Adam Greenfield
Ubiquitous computing is coming. In some ways, it’s already here. Shouldn’t we think about what we want it to be? In our last issue, we published the introduction to Adam Greenfield’s Everyware. In this issue, we run the book’s conclusion.

It’s spring in this part of the world, and this issue’s color scheme by art director Jason Santa Maria reflects that pleasing circumstance. (ALA’s color scheme changes every issue, but you knew that.) Production editor Aaron Gustafson contributed significantly to the issue’s editorial content. Watercolor illustration by Kevin Cornell. Editorial assistance by Erin Lynch. Behind-the-scenes system improvements by Dan Benjamin. Erin Kissane edits the magazine. Published by Happy Cog.

Kottke Joins The Deck

As many who follow the blogosphere know, Jason Kottke recently celebrated a joyous event. That’s right, he was added to The Deck, our targeted ad network for creative, web, and design professionals. Kottke.org will begin running Deck ads in May.

I knew Jason Kottke before he was Jason Kottke. I knew him way back when he was doing nifty web stuff like creating a fake “pick your color” page to let buyers of the then-new, first generation iMac choose a color other than Bondi blue for their hot new fashion computer. At the time, the iMac was only available in one color. Maybe Steve Jobs was an early Kottke fan.

Then Kottke turned all his web attention to blogging. It’s safe to say that most of us who blog have learned from him, and none of us is as good as he is. If there had been no blogging, it would have been necessary for Kottke to invent it.

When we started our new ad network, we all thought Kottke would be a great addition. And now he is.

There are several ways to fund high quality publishing on the web. One way is to charge a subscription fee for for some content. If you’re The New York Times or Advertising Age, you can make paid content work, although it will take trial and error to achieve the right mix of paid and free features at the right price.

Another way is to cover your site in paid advertising. Boing-boing does that, and I am fairly confident that they make money. There is an aesthetic cost and a user experience cost to doing it that way, but if you publish content many people want to read, as Boing-Boing does, you can make the multi-ad approach work, like they do.

With The Deck, we are trying something different. We are not charging for content and we are not plastering our pages with ad after ad after ad. Instead, we place just one ad on every page of a Deck site. The ad is drawn from a shallow pool of advertisers whose products we know to be of the highest quality and relevance to our readers. User experience is not diminished, and the reader knows that the product being advertised is deemed trustworthy by publishers the reader trusts.

A List Apart, 37signals, Daring Fireball, Waxy.org, The Morning News, Kottke.org and Coudal Partners make up The Deck. Limited advertising opportunites are currently available May through July.

Happy Cog redesigns Advertising Age

Happy Cog’s redesign of Advertising Age, the leading journal of the advertising profession, debuted on Sunday 9 April 2006.

Along with a complete visual overhaul, the redesign included a restructuring and repositioning. In the past, the print magazine was Advertising Age and the website was, well, a website. But with this redesign, the full editorial experience of Advertising Age comes to the web.

In a welcome message, the magazine’s Scott Donaton writes:

For the first time ever, the full contents of the current issue of Advertising Age will be available online for subscribers on Sunday night, the day before the print edition hits newsstands and in-boxes.

Publishing is changing, advertising is changing, where people get their news is changing, and how publications earn their keep is changing. The journalistic enterprise is no longer one-sided: magazines, while remaining authoritative, must also listen to their readers’ voices — and readers want to know what other readers have to say. On top of all that, there were tough decisions to be made about free versus paid content.

Happy Cog worked closely and intensely with Advertising Age to solve architectural, design, and usability challenges. Considering the vastness of the undertaking (not to mention the fact that all of us are still figuring this stuff out) I think we did all right.

Thanks to Allison Arden and Jason Schmidt and their colleagues at Advertising Age for the opportunity, the thinking, and the support.

For Happy Cog: V.L. Bowls, Rob Weychert, Dan Cederholm, Erin Kissane, and Jason Santa Maria. You are all made of stars.

Everyware

Adam Greenfield has written one of the most provocative books in years. If the right people read it, Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing may do for the coming, computerless computing interface what Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things did for design generally. Like Norman, Greenfield argues for good design not as an aesthetic issue but as an ethical and business imperative. There is an urgency and clarity to every word.

Everyware is both a prescription and a warning. Although films like Minority Report have made such ubicomp staples as the gestural interface look a bit silly, these kinds of interactivity are coming soon to a wall or object near you. Depending on who designs them and by what principles, they will work beautifully or badly. Everyware will enhance our lives by anticipating our needs or it will destroy our privacy — or both.

Besides Don Norman’s book, the other piece of writing I sometimes thought of as I read Everyware was Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Writing in 1937, Benjamin pondered what the existence of photographic reproduction did to the status of the unique work of art. If the Mona Lisa can be reproduced by lithography, what is the value of the Mona Lisa?

It’s not that Greenfield writes like Benjamin (he doesn’t). It’s that both writers see and can describe changes in the world to which their contemporaries are oblivious. Greenfield is a friend and former member of Happy Cog so I have an interest in seeing his book do well. But if I didn’t know him or couldn’t stand him I would still highly recommend this book to anyone who cares about how design and technology are shaping our time.

Year-end blowout

What makes for a good design book?
Lou Rosenfeld, co-creator of information architecture, is looking for people who like to read. Specifically, he is looking for people who like to read about design and user experience. Are you one of them? Then here is your chance to sound off. What vital topics aren’t being covered (or aren’t being covered well) in the design and user experience books you buy? Where are publishers falling down? What are you dying to read? Let Lou know what you think.
Technorati is hiring
Technorati, a real-time search engine that keeps track of what is going on in the blogosphere, seeks a modern web developer, “proficient in state of the art LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) development, with emphasis on PHP and Apache.” More to the point, says Chief Technology Officer Tantek Çelik, the company is looking for one who has kept up with CSS, semantic markup, microformats, and unobtrusive JavaScript.
Even more to the point, Technorati is looking for a smart web person who is tired of big-company bureaucracy, secrecy, and in-fighting, and seeks greater emotional and professional fulfillment—in other words, Technorati is looking for a web person who wants to make a difference. Yes, they really do write job descriptions that way, and not only in San Francisco, where Technorati is based. (Tags: technorati, jobs, webdevelopment.)
Freight for sale
FREIGHT (available from Phil’s Fonts) is a superbly detailed font family created by Brooklyn type designer Joshua Darden. Optimized for screen display, Freight is ideal for web interface design. You can also use it as a default font for such daily computing tasks as reading and writing email—makes a tasty break from Verdana and Georgia. Recent Darden fonts include Meta Headline (created at the behest of Erik Spiekermann and Christian Schwartz) and lovely, funky Omnes.
Kids with cameras

In Calcutta’s red light district, over 7,000 women and girls work as prostitutes. Only one group has a lower standing: their children. Zana Briski became involved in the lives of these children in 1998 when she first began photographing prostitutes in Calcutta. Living in the brothels for months at a time, she quickly developed a relationship with many of the kids who, often terrorized and abused, were drawn to the rare human companionship she offered.

Zana held weekly photography workshops between 2000 and 2003. There the children learned camera basics, lighting, composition, the development of point-of-view, editing, and sequencing for narrative. To Zana’s delight, equipped with inexpensive point-and-shoot 35mm cameras, the children produced incredible work. Their images are explosions of color: self-portraits, family pictures, street scenes, stunning tableaus of Bengali life.

Ruby on Rails podcasts
Audio interviews with David Heinemeier Hansson, who invented Rails and manages it as an open source movement, plus Ruby on Rails heavyweights and pioneers including Dave Thomas, Chad Fowler, Rick Olson, and A List Apart’s Dan Benjamin.
Fairplay defined
Everything you ever wanted to know about the digital rights management technology built into Apple’s iPod, iTunes, and iTunes Music Store. (Except how to turn it off.)

Style vs. Design

With our blessing, the newly launched Adobe Motion Design Center has resurrected our famous article, “Style vs. Design,” originally published in 2000. A few words and references have changed to bring the piece “up to date,” but it is essentially the same article it was five years ago.

First published when web design, buoyed by dot-com dollars, was at its most self-indulgent, the article dared to suggest …

  • That trendy elements are not the same as design
  • That design is communication
  • That most web design is meant to be used
  • That most web design should therefore be usable

It still makes these points and they are still true.

The good news is that in the five years since the article was new, responsible web design has emerged as a practice. And it is being practiced by many people who are first and foremost designers.

The bad news is that college and university design curricula are still mostly about everything but information architecture, usability, application design, user-focused design, accessibility, and web standards.

[tags]zeldman, adobe, style vs. design[/tags]