A List Apart: Findings from the Web Design Survey, 2009

The world knows that the web has changed everything. It is disrupting assumptions and turning art, politics, business, and publishing on their heads every second of every day, in ways we cannot yet see, and at speeds that defy our ability to understand and Google’s power to index it all.

But the world has not yet paid attention to the web designers, developers, project managers, information architects, writers, editors, marketers, educators, and other professionals who make the web what it is. That’s where you and we come in, and it’s what each year’s survey results are all about.

A List Apart: Findings from the Web Design Survey, 2009

The future of web standards

Jeffrey Zeldman on the future of web standards.

“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?”

The Future of Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman

Originally written for .net magazine, Issue No. 206, published 17 August in UK and this month in the US in “Practical Web Design” Magazine. Now you can read the article even if you can’t get your hands on these print magazines.

See also: I Guest-Edit .net magazine.

Episode 18: Roger Black on web type and templates

Roger Black

Legendary art director Roger Black guests on tomorrow’s episode of The Big Web Show, co-hosted by Dan Benjamin and taped in front of a live internet audience.

Roger co-founded the following new companies: Webtype, creators of high-end fonts for online typography; Treesaver, a platform that uses CSS, HTML, JavaScript, and the principles of responsive design to publish beautifully formatted content on any device with a web browser; Ready-Media, which designs templates for newspaper and magazine publishers (and attracts controversy); and Nomad Editions, a series of digital weeklies designed directly for mobile devices.

Roger is also a founding partner in Danilo Black, an international design agency he co-founded with Eduardo Danilo, and The Font Bureau, a leading type foundry he co-founded with David Berlow.

“He pioneered the use of computers in design, cut the best deals, and made himself synonymous with the modern magazine,” wrote Michael Wolff in a New York Magazine profile of Roger back in the 1990s, when Roger was the best-known magazine art director in the world. (Among many others, he designed Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, The New Republic, Fast Company, Advertising Age, and Esquire.)

He also co-founded Interactive Bureau, one of the biggest and most successful web design agencies of the dot-com era.

In his free time, Roger putters around in his award-winning West Texas vacation home made of recycled shipping containers.

Roger Black is an astoundingly prolific creative force; we hope you can join us for this Episode of the show.

The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) is taped 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 taping, via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web.


Photo of Roger Black at Happy Cog by Jeffrey Zeldman.


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.

HTML5, CSS3 default templates

Free for use in all web projects, professional or personal, HTML5 Reset by Monkey Do! is a set of HTML5 and CSS templates that jumpstart web development by removing the styling native to each browser, establishing basic HTML structures (title, header, footer, etc.), clearing floats, correcting for IE problems, and more.

Most of us who design websites begin every project with bits and pieces of this kind of code, but developer Tim Murtaugh, who created these files and who modestly thanks everyone in the universe, has struck a near-ideal balance. In these lean, simple files, without fuss or clutter, he manages to give us the best-practices equivalent of everything but the kitchen sink.

Tim Murtaugh sits beside me at Happy Cog, so I’ve seen him use these very files (and earlier versions of them) to quickly code advanced websites. If you’re up to speed on all the new hotness, these files will help you stay that way and work faster. If you’re still learning (and who isn’t?) about HTML5, CSS3, and browser workarounds, studying these files and Tim’s notes about them will help you become a more knowledgeable web designer slash developer. (We need a better name for what we do.)

My daughter calls Mr Murtaugh “Tim the giant.” With the release of this little package, he earns the moniker. Highly recommended.

The puzzle of Japanese web design


Jeffrey Zeldman Presents

With respect to clarity, simplicity, and boldness of line, the Japanese have been a thousand years ahead of us in fine art and graphic design. Our best painters learned minimalism, cartooning, and much else from the Japanese during the “Orientalism” period of the late 19th century. Before that, western fine art was judged in part on its complexity and detail. And our posters and advertisements! Don’t ask.

Even the way the Japanese design chopsticks reveals this genius for simplicity coupled with a reverence for the natural world. Your Chinese chopstick is all lathe work. It’s about the gloriously smooth finish of the stick. Chinese chopsticks are miniature masterpieces that we tragically toss away after a single use. But they are masterpieces of human skill.

In contrast, the Japanese don’t change the shape of the wood. They simply put a small crack in one side—just enough that you can snap it like a wishbone when you’re ready to use the chopsticks. The Chinese chopstick is about Man and His Craft. The Japanese chopstick is about the sacred, ephemeral beauty of the revealed world.

Given Japan’s world-leading preference for the boldly simple in the applied and graphic arts, it’s puzzling that so many Japanese website designs prize clutter over clarity. The online presence of Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare is typical of the style. See also Japan Airlines, stat.go.jp, mora.jp and so on. Even web consultancies show off their capabilities on sites that are models of this strangely cluttered aesthetic—an aesthetic that is doubly strange coming from a culture that has long prized elegant simplicity.

Certainly, the West has its share of crazy cluttered sites, and there are plenty of big Western internet companies like Yahoo and MySpace that paste the content thickly to the page. But here the cluttered approach to design wins no awards and is considered a sign of design amateurism—a guilty pleasure at best. It is odd that in Japan, land of world-leading minimalism in the traditional arts and design, web users and skilled web design practitioners believe more is more.

SlideShowPro adds HTML5

Todd Dominey at Happy Cog.

Most of us web folk are hybrids of one sort or another, but Todd Dominey was one of the first web designers to combine exceptional graphic design talent with serious mastery of code.

Being so good at both design and development that you could easily earn a fine living doing just one of them is still rare, although it looks like the future of our profession. One of the first serious designers to embrace web standards, Todd was also one of the few who did so while continuing to achieve recognition for his work in Flash. (Daniel Mall, who came later, is another.)

Finally, Todd was one of the first—along with 37signals and Coudal Partners—to abandon an enviably successful client services career in favor of full-time product development, inspiring a generation to do likewise, and helping bring us to our current world of web apps and startups.

A personal project that became an empire

In Todd’s case, the product was SlideShowPro, a project he designed for himself, which has grown to become the web’s most popular photo and video slideshow and gallery viewer. When you visit a photographer’s portfolio website, there’s an excellent chance that SlideShowPro powers its dynamic photo viewing experience. The same is true for the photo and video gallery features of many major newspaper and magazine sites, quite possibly including your favorites.

SlideShowPro

But deliberate lack of Flash support in the iPad and iPhone, while lauded here on February 1, 2010 as 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”), presented a serious problem for developers who use SlideShowPro and readers who enjoy browsing dynamic photo and video galleries.

Mr Dominey has now solved that problem:

SlideShowPro Mobile is an entirely new media player built using HTML5 that doesn’t require the Flash Player plugin and can serve as a fallback for users accessing your web sites using these devices. But it’s not just any fallback — it’s specially designed for touch interfaces and smaller screen sizes. So it looks nothing like the SlideShowPro player and more like a native application that’s intuitive, easy to use, and just feels right.

The best part though is that because SlideShowPro Director (which will be required) publishes the mobile content, you’ll be able to provide the mobile alternative by simply updating the Flash Player embed code in your HTML documents. And just like when using the SlideShowPro player, because Director is behind the scenes, all your photos will be published for the target dimensions of these devices — which gives your users top quality, first generation images. The mobile player will automatically load whatever content is assigned to the Flash version, so the same content will be accessible to any browser accessing your web site.

A public beta will be released in the next weeks. Meanwhile, there is a video demo. There’s also an excellent Question and Answer page that answers questions you may have, whether you’re a SlideShow Pro customer or not. For instance:

Why mobile? Why not desktop?

We believe that (on the desktop) Flash is still the best delivery method for photo/video galleries and slideshows for it provides the most consistent user experience across all browsers and the broadest range of playback and customization options. As HTML5 support matures across all desktop browsers, we’ll continue to look into alternate presentation options.

Into the future!

37signals’ Jason Fried live today on The Big Web Show

I have known 37signals CEO Jason Fried since he was a young copywriter who reminded me of me, only smarter and more confident. Like many of you, with a mixture of awe and pleasure, I have watched him change our industry, along with book publishing and business generally. Dan Benjamin and I are delighted to announce the mercurial Mr Fried as our guest on The Big Web Show. Join us today, 1 July 2010, for the live taping at 1:00 PM ET.

Jason’s official bio is brief, but he can write at length when he wishes: see Rework, Getting Real, and Defensive Web Design, each a classic, and to each of which he was principal co-writer and guiding force. Besides saying no to meetings, contracts, and VC money, Jason and 37signals are famous for godfathering a speedy, iterative form of web application design; for gifting the industry with Ruby on Rails; for creating a suite of beloved (yes, really) business productivity web apps; for mastering and then abandoning client services in favor of making stuff; for somehow, in the midst of all that busyness, churning out tons of fine content on their popular blog; and for being roommates with the equally fantastic Coudal Partners.

Can’t wait to interview Jason Fried in front of a live internet audience today. Hope you’ll join us.

The Big Web Show is taped 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 taping) via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web.

Photo © John Morrison – Subism.com

Episode 7: Jared Spool

The Big Web Show Episode 7, featuring usability guru Jared Spool.

Episode 7 of The Big Web Show is now online for your listening and viewing pleasure. In this most excellent episode, co-host Dan Benjamin and I talk with special guest Jared Spool about usability testing in the real world, with practical advice for designers, UI engineers, and developers alike.

Jared Spool is the founder of User Interface Engineering, the largest usability research organization of its kind in the world. He’s been working in the field of usability and design since 1978, before the term “usability” was ever associated with computers.

The Big Web Show features special guests and topics like the future of publishing, art direction online, content strategy, web fonts and typography, CMS shootouts, HTML5 and CSS3, building an audience, and more.

Watch on our website or via iTunes. If you like the show, review it on iTunes or become a member of the 5by5 network.


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.