Making the web more awesome: Karen McGrane on the big web show this week


Karen McGrane, designer of The New York Times website and managing parter at Bond Art + Science is our guest on Episode #25 of The Big Web Show, taped live before an internet audience at 1:00 PM ET Thursday, 28 October at live.5by5.tv.

We will discuss putting publications online (Karen has worked with The Atlantic, The Week, Fast Company, and Conde Nast, and just launched National Journal), the horrifying state of content management, careers in web design and development, running a design business, teaching UX and design, and the explosive web and interaction design scene in New York City, where Karen has long been a major player.

If the internet is more awesome than it was in 1995, Karen would like to claim a very tiny piece of the credit. For more than 15 years Karen has helped create more usable digital products through the power of user experience design and content strategy. Today, as Managing Partner at Bond Art + Science, she develops web strategies and interaction designs for publishers, financial services firms, and healthcare companies.

Prior to starting Bond, Karen built the user-centered design practice at Razorfish in her role as VP and National Lead for User Experience. Karen is also on the faculty of the MFA in Interaction Design program at SVA in New York, where she teaches Design Management, which aims to give students the tools they need to run successful projects, teams, and businesses.

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!

“Similar to You”

IN THE TRADITION of “People who bought ‘Assmasters’ also bought ‘Assmasters II,'” Twitter has chosen four of my Twitter friends and is presenting them to me as being “Similar to You.” Pray what does this odd-in-this-context phrase, with its “Related Products” vibe, mean? Does it mean if I like myself, I would also like these people? Surely not, for I already know that, as demonstrated by the fact that I follow them. Were they chosen for discussing similar subjects (e.g. design, web design, CSS, semantic markup)? Unlikely, as that would imply Google-like keyword data mining and analysis bordering on artificial intelligence.

Then, what? It can’t mean people whose tweets resemble mine, as the Twitter writing style and frequency of the listed friends is purely their own. People with whom I have followers in common? That seems most likely, but it’s just a guess.

I’m curious to know what Twitter and its new CEO (hi, Dick!) mean by this. What is the marketing purpose of this feature? Am I to view Twitter as an informal “personal brand analysis” service? That could be cool for me and for the four people who are “Similar” to me. But surely most users would be uninterested in such a service, unless, unbeknownst to me, nearly everyone who uses Twitter is a marketer who views it primarily as a channel. And most companies don’t spend money developing long-tail features, of interest only to a tiny fraction of their users.

I love Twitter. I wish I’d invented it, and not primarily because if I’d invented it I’d be taking the Japanese women’s gymnastics team on a round-the-world cruise. I wish I’d invented it because it is something really new on the internet, like the web, and filled with potential, like the web. As a designer, I pay attention to Twitter same as I do Apple, Google, Flickr, and Facebook. The new feature intrigues me precisely because its language feels “off” and its purpose eludes me.

Also of interest, although less so: what data is being used, and how is it being analyzed?

What’s your theory?

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.

A List Apart 311: Say No to Clients and Kick Ass

A List Apart Issue No. 311

Something remarkable awaits you in Issue No. 311 of A List Apart for people who make websites. Two wonderfully readable articles tackle the thorny subject of client relationships, providing practices, insights, and tips which, when taken to heart, will help designers, UXers, and (frankly) clients do their jobs better:

One of the toughest parts of the client/designer relationship is that nobody likes to be told “no”—especially not the client who is paying you. But to do your job right, you often have to turn aside requests for what the client wants in favor of what the user really needs. In No One Nos: Learning to Say No to Bad Ideas, Whitney Hess explains when to say no, and how to turn it into a positive experience.

Of course, your ability to speak truth to the client assumes you’ve established a mutually respectful, goal- and team-focused relationship in the first place. And the first place is exactly where to begin establishing just that kind of relationship. In Kick Ass Kickoff Meetings, Kevin M. Hoffman shows how to use the first official meeting to turn a roomful of mutually suspicious turf battlers into an energetic team with shared ownership of the end-product.

Not only are these articles convincing, I know these techniques work, because we use them at Happy Cog.

Also in this issue, ALA illustrator Kevin Cornell outdoes even himself.

Join us, won’t you?

A List Apart explores the design, development, and meaning of web content, with a special focus on web standards and best practices. Explore our articles and topics.

10K Apart – inspire the web!

Just launched and just wonderful! The 10K Apart contest (“Inspire the web with just 10K”) presented by MIX Online and An Event Apart hearkens back to Stewart Butterfield’s 5k Contest of yesteryear while anticipating the HTML5-powered web of tomorrow … and encouraging us to design that web today.

We want beauty. We want utility. We want excitement. And we want it all under 10K:

HTML5 For Web Designers

Prizes, we got prizes! One grand prize winner will receive registration to An Event Apart plus $3,000 cash and a copy of HTML5 For Web Designers. Three runners-up (Best Design, Best Technical, and People’s Choice) will win free registration to An Event Apart plus a $1000 Visa cash card and HTML5 For Web Designers. Nine honorable mentions will receive HTML5 For Web Designers.

The judging panel that will evaluate all this awesomeness is made up of Jeremy Keith, Nicole Sullivan, Eric Meyer, Whitney Hess, and yours truly.

Sorry, no back-end, this is a client-side contest only.

Check the 10K Apart site for more info. Happy designing and developing!

Minneapolis Remembered

Eric Meyer at An Event Apart Minneapolis - photo by Jared Mehle

The show’s over but the photos linger on. An Event Apart Minneapolis was two days of nonstop brilliance and inspiration. In an environment more than one attendee likened to a “TED of web design,” a dozen of the most exciting speakers and visionaries in our industry explained why this moment in web design is like no other.

If you were there, relive the memories; if you couldn’t attend, steal a glance at some of what you missed: An Event Apart Minneapolis: the photo pool at Flickr.

Next up: An Event Apart DC and San Diego. These shows will not be streamed, simulcast, or repackaged in DVD format. To experience them, you must attend. Tickets are first-come, first-served, and every show this year has sold out. Forewarned is forearmed; we’d love to turn you on.


Photo: Jared Mehle.

Responsive design is the new black

Collylogic.com, retooled as responsive design. The wide version.

The blog of Mr Simon Collison, retooled as responsive web design. The wide version.

Collylogic.com, retooled as responsive design. The narrow version.

The blog of Mr Simon Collison, retooled as responsive web design. The narrow version.

See more versions in Mr Collison’s “Media Query Layouts” set on Flickr.

Read the article that started it all. Coming soon as a book by Mr Ethan Marcotte from A Book Apart. (The current A Book Apart book, Mr Jeremy Keith’s HTML5 For Web Designers, ships Friday. Mr Ethan Marcotte will be our guest this Thursday, June 24, on The Big Web Show. Synchronicity. It’s not just an LP by The Police. Kids, ask your parents.)

The beauty of responsive web design becomes obvious when you see your site in smart phones, tablets, and widescreen desktop browsers. It’s as if your site was redesigned to perfectly fit that specific environment. And yet there is but one actual design—a somewhat plastic design, if you will. An extensible design, if you prefer. It’s what some of us were going for with “liquid” web design back in the 1990s, only it doesn’t suck. Powered by CSS media queries, it’s the resurrection of a Dao of Web Design and a spiffy new best practice. All the kids are doing it.

Well, anyway, some of the cool ones are. See also the newly retooled-per-responsive-design Journal by Mr Hicks. Hat tip: Mr Stocks. I obviously have some work to do on this site. And you may on yours.

Seen any good responsive redesigns lately?


Whitney Hess, Ethan Marcotte, and Jason Fried on The Big Web Show

Update! Episode 8, featuring Whitney Hess, is now available for your listening and viewing pleasure at 5by5.tv.

Whitney Hess

This Thursday 17 June at 1:00 PM EDT, join Dan Benjamin and me live on The Big Web Show as we interview Whitney Hess (bio | blog | Twitter) on on the ins and outs of user experience design—from research to wireframes to testing and beyond. Just what goes into making stuff online easier and more pleasurable to use? What kinds of projects (and clients) enable great user experiences, and which have bad UI written all over them? If a tree falls in the forest, will Whitney tweet about it? Join us for these topics and more.

24 June: Ethan Marcotte

Then on Thursday 24 June at 1:00 PM EDT, join us live as we interview Ethan Marcotte (bio | blog | Twitter), co-author of Designing With Web Standards 3rd Edition with me and Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design with Dan Cederholm. We’ll talk about designing and coding for the likes of the Sundance Film Festival and New York Magazine, and the joys of responsive web design, working remotely, and swearing profusely on Twitter.

1 July: Jason Fried

And then on Thursday, 1 July, join us as we coax 37signals CEO Jason Fried (tiny bio | book | book | book | blog | Twitter) into telling us how he really feels about bells and whistles, contracts, meetings, buzzwords, software that requires training, and startups that need investors. The controversial Mr Fried is a true rebel and innovator and one of our favorite people on the internet. Tune in and find out why.

Turn on, Tune in

The Big Web Show is taped live in front of an internet audience Thursdays at live.5by5.tv and can be watched afterwards via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web.