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.

CSS3 media queries plus fluid grids and flexible images gave birth to responsive web design (thanks, Beep!). Internet Explorer 9 (that’s right, the browser by Microsoft we’ve spent years grousing about) kicked ass on web standards, inspiring a 10K Apart contest that celebrated what designers and developers could achieve with just 10K of standards-compliant HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. IE9 also kicked ass on type rendering, stimulating debates as to which platform offers the best reading experience for the first time since Macintosh System 7.

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.

Web fonts were everywhere—from the W3C to small personal and large commercial websites—thanks to pioneering syntax constructions by Paul Irish and Richard Fink, fine open-source products like the Font Squirrel @Font-Face Generator, open-source liberal font licensing like FontSpring’s, and terrific service platforms led by Typekit and including Fontdeck, Webtype, Typotheque, and Kernest.

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:

iPad as the New Flash 17 October 2010
Masturbatory novelty is not a business strategy.
Flash, iPad, and Standards 1 February 2010
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.
An InDesign for HTML and CSS? 5 July 2010
while our current tools can certainly stand improvement, no company will ever create “the modern day equivalent of Illustrator and PageMaker for CSS, HTML5 and JavaScript.” The assumption that a such thing is possible suggests a lack of understanding.
Stop Chasing Followers 21 April 2010
The web is not a game of “eyeballs.” Never has been, never will be. Influence matters, numbers don’t.
Crowdsourcing Dickens 23 March 2010
Like it says.
My Love/Hate Affair with Typekit 22 March 2010
Like it says.
You Cannot Copyright A Tweet 25 February 2010
Like it says.
Free Advice: Show Up Early 5 February 2010
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.

Outside Reading

A few things I wrote elsewhere might repay your interest as well:

The Future of Web Standards 26 September, for .net Magazine
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?
Style vs. Design written in 1999 and slightly revised in 2005, for Adobe
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.

Mandy Brown (Typekit, A Book Apart) on The Big Web Show

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.

Dana Chisnell, usability expert, on Episode 33

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.

Testing Content (A List Apart 320)

WHETHER THE PURPOSE of your site is to convince people to do something, to buy something, or simply to inform, testing only whether they can find information or complete transactions is a missed opportunity: Is the content appropriate for the audience? Can they read and understand what you’ve written? Angela Colter shows how to predict whether your content will work (without users) and test whether it does work (with users). While you can’t test every sentence on your site, you don’t need to. Focus on tasks that are critical to your users and your business. Learn how to test the content to find out if and where your site falls short.

A List Apart: Testing Content by ANGELA COLTER.

Et tu, Jon Stewart?

The iTunes Store now features a Daily Show app. When you click to purchase it, the store tells you it doesn’t exist/isn’t available under this name.

Apparently, Apple or MTV Networks has withdrawn the app—and the news never made it to the database. How is this possible?

The error message indicates that the app “may be available” with a different price or “elsewhere on the store.” Neither of these possibilities turns out to be true.

Imagine a shoe store with special shoes highlighted in the window. When you try to buy them, the clerk says you can’t, but they “may be available” elsewhere in the store for a different price.

Somewhere, Steve Krug is quietly weeping.

Anatomy of the Goodreads.com Friend Spam Dark Pattern

Goodreads.com is social cataloging service for books. In this post you will see how they’ve used the friend spam dark pattern, but how they’ve also failed to make it go viral. This makes it interesting to carry out a post mortem and work out what they should have done.”

Anatomy of the Goodreads.com Friend Spam Dark Pattern

(Hat tip: Andrew Travers.)

Touch-based App Design for Toddlers

As always, Luke Wroblewski nails it:  

When kids interact with software they explore and engage with anything that looks interesting. Especially if it looks like content. Graphical user interface components don’t.

Consider the example of Dr. Seuss’s ABC book on the iPad. The intro screen uses colorful blobs to bring attention to large hit targets. But tap on one of these elements and up pops a standard modal menu asking you to select from one of three options. Modal menu dialogs and kids don’t mix.

More at lukew.com.

Awesome web apps in 10k or less

The 10K Apart Challenge had a simple premise: Could you build a complete web application using less than 10 kilobytes? … A joint effort between An Event Apart and MIX Online, the 10K Apart reaped 367 web applications in 28 days—everything from casual games to RIAs—that demonstrate, even with their tiny footprints, what is truly possible with modern [web] standards.

Read about the winning entries: 10K Apart – IEBlog.

Support the families of the fallen, if Facebook lets you.

ONSTAR WILL DONATE up to $250,000 to the families of police officers killed in the line of duty. For every person who fans OnStar, they will donate a dollar to the families. This is a great cause; I encourage you to fan Onstar and help the families of the fallen.

Sadly, I can’t do so myself, as Facebook has told me I have too many friends and fan pages.

How many friends is too many? Whom should I remove? Which fan pages should I unlike, if I could manage Facebook likes?

Here’s the nuttier part. Although I can’t add friends or pages, people can still add me. Every day at least half a dozen people do so. Some of them may have attended An Event Apart. Some may like A List Apart or A Book Apart. Others may have read Designing With Web Standards. Or this website. In some cases I know why people are reaching out to me; in others I don’t. This doesn’t bother me. I pretty much always say yes to new Facebook friends.

My reward for contributing significantly to Facebook’s content and networks is that I can never add another friend or fan another page (although anyone can add me as a friend).

Fanning Onstar to help the families of the fallen is much more important than this silly problem. I don’t lose sleep worrying about the friends I can no longer make on Facebook. I’m not complaining for personal reasons. I just wanted to point out—for my friends who work at Facebook and read this site—that Facebook’s rules about friends are arbitrary, incomprehensible, and broken. And in this case, this foolishness hurts (however slightly) the families of fallen officers. And that’s really not right.

Managing Facebook Like. Or not.

I’M ON FACEBOOK. I want to see everything I supposedly “like” and prune the list of things I don’t. There should be a page where I can do this—that’s UX Design 101—but instead there’s just a sidebar box on my profile page showing a rotating, random sampling of liked items. The box is fine as an outward-facing device: on my profile page, it gives visitors a teasing hint of some of the cool stuff a deep guy like me digs. But inward-facing-wise, as a tool for me to manage my likes, it’s useless.

At the top of sidebar box, there’s text stating that I currently have “372 likes.” The text is a hyperlink. Here’s what should happen when I click that link: I should be taken to a page listing my likes (or the first, say, 100 of my likes, with a pagination tool). Each liked item should link to its corresponding Facebook page in case I need to refresh my memory about it. (This is the one part Facebook actually gets right.) More importantly, each liked item should be preceded by a checkbox. I should be able to check off 50 items on the page that I no longer like, and press a button allowing me to delete them all at once.

A number of elegant variations will occur to even the least experienced interface designer at this point: Perhaps there’s a drop-down allowing me to choose functions other than deletion; perhaps there’s a link to “select all” or de-select all; and so on. Such variations could make Facebook’s hypothetical best-practice “like management” page easier, faster, or more pleasant to use. But they are pretty much beside the point, as Facebook does not provide a like management page when I click that stupid link.

When I click that link, what I get instead of a useful, simple management page—the kind we’ve been building in hypertext for over 15 years—is a small, in-page pop-up window, with a scrolling sidebar … because, like the sidebar box, this window is also a tease instead of a tool.

Inside that scrolling box is every item I’ve liked. I have to scroll to see anything beyond the first handful of liked items. There are no checkboxes. There is no master switch to delete one or more items. There isn’t even an in-place deletion button beside each listed item, like the primitive edit tool in the first iPhone 3G.

No, my friends. There’s nothing.

If I want to delete a liked item, get this! I have to click the item’s hyperlink, go to the individual item page, and then hunt around on that page in search of a tiny link that would let me “unlike” that item. If I manage to find that link and unlike that one item, there’s no confirmation dialog, and I’m not returned to the floating box, because the item’s like page doesn’t know about the box.

All that JavaScript, and no connections. All those pages, and not even the most basic tools.

And nobody complains. Why? Because nobody really uses liked items. Indeed nobody really uses Facebook, except to post links and photos and comment on their friends’ links and photos. Liked items are for advertisers, they’re not for you. In Facebook’s estimation, you don’t need to remove a page you no longer like, because you are never going to visit it anyway.

Hey, they have the stats, they know what their users do and don’t do.

Facebook is a charnel house of features that appeal to advertisers and businesses without actually being used, supported by tools that don’t work, for people who don’t care.

Now I, uh, like Facebook fine, for the same reasons you do (if you do), and I generally ignore its well-branded but otherwise abortive gestures toward key features that have made it famous without actually doing a damned thing—“like” being the people’s Exhibit A. But as a designer, it bothers me, not only because badly designed things bother designers, but because badly designed things in a highly successful product spur a lust for imitation. I don’t want our clients to think “like” works. I don’t want them desiring similarly broken functionality on sites we design for them. I don’t want them thinking users don’t need tools that work, simply because millions of users don’t complain about broken tools on Facebook. Tools like like and its sad little pop-up.

Me no like.