Webvanta Video: Jeffrey Zeldman on the State of Web Design
From the floor of An Event Apart Seattle 2011:
“Mobile is huge. The iPhone, iPad, and Android are huge. On the one hand, they are standards-facing, because they all support HTML5 and CSS3, so you can create great mobile experiences using web standards. You can create apps using web standards. On the other hand, there is also the temptation to go a proprietary route. In a strange way, although the browsers are much more standards compliant, it seems like we are redoing the browser war. Only now, it’s not the browser wars, it’s platform wars.”
ON SUNDAY, while leading a discussion on the future of web design and publishing, I noticed a slightly confused look appearing on some faces in the audience. The discussion had been billed as “Jeffrey Zeldman’s Awesome Internet Design Panel,” and I thought perhaps there was a disconnect for some in the audience between “design” and such topics as where content comes from and who pays for it.
So I asked, “Who here is in publishing?”
A few hands were gently raised.
Uh-huh. “And how many of you work on the web?”
Every right hand in the room shot up.
“You are all in publishing,” I explained.
Now, I like a good rounded corner talk as much as the next designer. I’ve given my share of them. Also of line height and measure, color and contrast, how to design things that don’t work in old versions of Internet Explorer, and so on. In the practice of web and interaction design, there will always be a place for craft discussions—for craft is execution, and ideas without execution are songs without music, meaningless.
But right now (and always) there is a need for design to also be about the big strategic issues. And right now, as much as design is wrestling with open vs. proprietary formats and the old challenges of new devices, design is also very much in the service of applications and publishing. Who gets content, who pays for it, how it is distributed (and how evenly), the balance between broadcast and conversation, editor and user—these are the issues of this moment, and it is designers even more than editors who will answer these riddles.
Andy is a designer, composer, author, speaker, bonsai artist, capitalist, and co-founder of Unit Interactive. Before entering the design profession, he worked for 12 years as GM of a successful retail chain. Andy writes about various topics on his own sites and he’s an occasional contributor to print and online design publications.
The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) records live every Thursday at 12:00 PM Eastern. Edited episodes can be watched afterwards, often within hours of recording, via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web. Subscribe and enjoy!
OUR LIBRARY IS BURNING. Copyright extension has banished millions of books to the scrapheap. Digital permanence is a tragically laughable ideal to anyone who remembers the VHS format wars or tries to view Joshua Davis’s 1990s masterpieces on a modern computer. Digital archiving is only as permanent as the next budget cycle—as when libraries switched from microfilm to digital subscriptions and then were forced to cancel the subscriptions during the pre-recession recession. And of course, my digital work vanishes the moment I die or lose the ability to keep hosting it. If you really want to protect your family photos, take them off Flickr and your hard drive, get them on paper, and store them in an airtight box.
Though bits are forever, our medium is mortal, as all but the most naive among us know. And we accept that some of what we hold digitally dear will perish before our eyes. But it irks most especially when people or companies with more money than judgement purchase a thriving online community only to trash it when they can’t figure out how to squeeze a buck out of it. Corporate black thumb is not new to our medium: MGM watered down the Marx Bros; the Saatchis sucked the creative life and half the billings out of the ad agencies they acquired during the 1980s and beyond. But outside the digital world, some corporate purchases and marriages have worked out (think: Disney/Pixar). And with the possible exception of Flickr (better now than the day Yahoo bought it), I can’t think of any online community or publication that has improved as a result of being purchased. Whereas we can all instantly call to mind dozens of wonderful web properties that died or crawled up their own asses as a direct result of new corporate ownership.
My colleague Mandy Brown has written a moving call to arms which, knowingly or unknowingly, invokes the LOCKSS method (“Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe”) of preserving digital content by making copies of it; she encourages us all to become archivists. Even a disorganized ground-level effort such as Mandy proposes will be beneficial—indeed, the less organized, the better. And this is certainly part of the answer. (It’s also what drives my friend Tantek’s own your data efforts; my beef with T is mainly aesthetic.) So, yes, we the people can do our part to help undo the harm uncaring companies cause to our e-ecosystem.
But there is another piece of this which no one is discussing and which I now address specifically to my colleagues who create great digital content and communities:
Stop selling your stuff to corporate jerks. It never works. They always wreck what you’ve spent years making.
Don’t go for the quick payoff. You can make money maintaining your content and serving your community. It won’t be a fat fistful of cash, but that’s okay. You can keep living, keep growing your community, and, over the years, you will earn enough to be safe and comfortable. Besides, most people who get a big payoff blow the money within two years (because it’s not real to them, and because there are always professionals ready to help the rich squander their money). By contrast, if you retain ownership of your community and keep plugging away, you’ll have financial stability and manageable success, and you’ll be able to turn the content over to your juniors when the time comes to retire.
Our library is burning. We didn’t start the fire but we sure don’t have to help fan the flames. You can’t sell out if you don’t sell. Owning your content starts with you.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
A few things I wrote elsewhere might repay your interest as well:
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?
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!
The Big Web Show: Mandy Brown is up. Dana Chisnell is next.
BIG WEB SHOW EPISODE 32 is now online for your listening and viewing pleasure. Mandy Brown (Typekit, A Book Apart) joins Dan Benjamin and me to
discuss the value of customer support, the present and future of type on the web, font choice on reader platforms, what traditional print publishers can learn from the new breed of web-based print publishers, why you’ve got to write, and why the future belongs to editors.
Dan and I thank all of you for listening, watching, and contributing your questions and comments in the chat room during the live sessions. You’ve made our little show worthwhile. We promise more thought-provoking questions and more great guests in 2011.
Join us Thursday, 6 January 2011 at 1:00 PM Eastern for the live recording of Episode 33, as Dan and I talk with Dana Chisnell, co-author, Handbook of Usability Testing Second Edition (Wiley, 2008) about her election design usability project for the US Government, plus usable security, researching social interactions mediated by technology, whether UX is a female ghetto, and lots more.
Style versus design, revisited
STYLE VERSUS DESIGN READS like it was written this morning. In fact, I wrote the original version in 1999, when I had a monthly web design column going at Adobe.com. In 2005, Adobe asked if I’d mind updating the piece. I changed a couple of words and they agreed that the revision worked. For although the web had changed tremendously between 1999 and 2005, the issue I addressed in my article had not. This afternoon, while importing some old Ma.gnolia bookmarks into Pinboard, I came upon Adobe’s HTML version of the 2005 revision to “Style vs. Design.” I read it again, and tweeted the link. Within minutes, designers were responding. Many thought the piece was new. For what I said in that article over eleven years ago still rings true, although there are now more designers who see things as I do. It’s nice that a piece of writing about web design could remain relevant for over a decade. But it’s also a bit sad. See what you think.
Top Web Books of 2010
“It’s been a great year for web design books; the best we can remember for a while, in fact!” So begins Goburo’s review of the Top Web Books of 2010. The list is extremely selective, containing only four books. But what books! They are: Andy Clarke’s Hardboiled Web Design (Five Simple Steps); Jeremy Keith’s HTML5 For Web Designers (A Book Apart); Dan Cederholm’s CSS3 For Web Designers (A Book Apart); and Eric Meyer’s Smashing CSS (Wiley and Sons).
I’m thrilled to have had a hand in three of the books, and to be a friend and business partner to the author of the fourth. It may also be worth noting that three of the four books were published by scrappy, indie startup publishing houses.
Congratulations, all. And to you, good reading (and holiday nerd gifting).
Gary Vaynerchuk on The Big Web Show Episode 26
GARY VAYNERCHUK is our guest on Episode #26 of The Big Web Show, taped live before an internet audience at 1:00 PM ET Thursday 4 November at live.5by5.tv. Gary is the creator of Wine Library TV, the author of the New York Times bestselling book Crush It!, and the co-founder with his brother AJ of VaynerMedia, a boutique agency that works with personal brands, consumer brands, and startups.
The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) is recorded live in front of an internet audience every Thursday at 1:00 PM ET 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!