ALA 272: Accessible web video, better 404

In Issue No. 272 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

This is How the Web Gets Regulated

by JOE CLARK

As in finance, so on the web: self-regulation has failed. Nearly ten years after specifications first required it, video captioning can barely be said to exist on the web. The big players, while swollen with self-congratulation, are technically incompetent, and nobody else is even trying. So what will it take to support the human and legal rights of hearing impaired web users? It just might take the law, says Joe Clark.

A More Useful 404

by DEAN FRICKEY

When broken links frustrate your site’s visitors, a typical 404 page explains what went wrong and provides links that may relate to the visitor’s quest. That’s good, but now you can do better. With Dean Frickey’s custom 404, when something’s amiss, pertinent information is sent not only to the visitor, but to the developer—so that, in many cases, the problem can be fixed! A better 404 means never having to say you’re sorry.

[tags]alistapart, closedcaptioning, captioning, captions, webvideo, video, accessible, accessibility, 404, error, reporting, usability, programming, design, webdesign, webdevelopment[/tags]

Is your (website’s) underwear showing?

It’s astounding how many web designers forget to specify a background color on their site. They’ll spend months iterating wireframes and design comps; write CSS hacks for browsers predating this century; test their work on everything from Blackberries to old Macs running System 7; and of course they’ll validate their markup and style sheets. But after all that, they’ll forget to apply a background color to their site, and they won’t think to check for it.

To see it in action, set your browser’s default background color to magenta, or something equally piquant. Then visit websites. You may be surprised.

If you find a site with its underwear showing, please share it in the new Underwear showing (web design) group on Flickr.

[tags]design, webdesign, underwear, showing, color, backgroundcolor, interface, interfacedesign, errors[/tags]

ALA 271: words and scripts that work

The fundamental things apply in Issue no. 271 of A List Apart, for people who make websites. Erin Kissane tells how non-writers (i.e. the people who write most of the stuff on the web) can make every word count in “Writing Content that Works for a Living.” And Aaron Gustafson wraps our introductory series on progressive enhancement with a look at the thinking behind (and best practices for executing) “Progressive Enhancement with JavaScript.”

[tags]alistapart, progressiveenhancement, writing, fortheweb[/tags]

An Event Apart Chicago sells out

An Event Apart Chicago, the final AEA event of 2008, has sold out. If you’ve already secured a seat for this remarkable two-day web design conference, we look forward to seeing you October 13–14 at the Sheraton Towers Chicago—along with Andy Clarke, Sarah Nelson, Robert Hoekman Jr., Jason Fried, Cameron Moll, Rob Weychert, Derek Powazek, Curt Cloninger, Jason Santa Maria, Jeffrey Veen, and your hosts, Eric Meyer and Jeffrey Zeldman (that’s me).

If you’ve missed the opportunity to join us this year, we’ll announce An Event Apart’s 2009 schedule on Wednesday, October 1, 2008. Stay tuned.

Update: An Event Apart has announced the first cities in its 2009 schedule.

[tags]aneventapart, webdesign, conference, conferences[/tags]

ALA 268: rethinking standards

Q. Why did the semantic web cross the road?
A. @#$% you!

Issue No. 268 of A List Apart fine-tunes the mechanics of progressive enhancement and rethinks the assumptions of standards-based design:

Web Standards 2008: Three Circles of Hell

by MOLLY E. HOLZSCHLAG

Standards promised to keep the web from fragmenting. But as the web standards movement advances in several directions at once, and as communication between those seeking to advance the web grows fractious, are our standards losing their relevance, and their ability to foster an accessible, interoperable web for all?

Test-Driven Progressive Enhancement

by SCOTT JEHL

Starting with semantic HTML, and layering enhancements using JavaScript and CSS, is supposed to create good experiences for all. Alas, enhancements still find their way to aging browsers and under-featured mobile devices that don’t parse them properly. What’s a developer to do? Scott Jehl makes the case for capabilities testing.

Comments off.

[tags]alistapart, progressiveenhancement, webstandards[/tags]

A List Apart is changing

A List Apart, for people who make websites, is slowly changing course.

For most of its decade of publication, ALA has been the leading journal of standards-based web design. Initially a lonely voice in the desert, we taught CSS layout before browsers correctly supported it, and helped The WaSP persuade browser makers to do the right thing. Once browsers’ standards support was up to snuff, we educated and excited designers and developers about standards-based design, preaching accessibility, teaching semantic markup, and helping you strategize how to sell this new way of designing websites to your clients, coworkers, and boss.

Most famously, over the years, writers for ALA have presented the design community with one amazing and powerfully useful new CSS technique after another. Initially radically new techniques that are now part of the vocabulary of all web designers include Paul Sowden’s “Alternative Styles,” Mark Newhouse’s list-based navigation, Eric Meyer’s intro to print styles, Douglas Bowman’s “Sliding Doors,” Dave Shea’s “CSS Sprites,” Dan Cederholm’s “Faux Columns,” Patrick Griffiths and Dan Webb’s “Suckerfish Dropdowns,” Drew McLellan’s “Flash Satay,” and so on and so on. There are literally too many great ones to name here. (Newcomers to standards-based design, check Erin Lynch’s “The ALA Primer Part Two: Resources For Beginners“.)

Web standards are in our DNA and will always be a core part of our editorial focus. Standards fans, never fear. We will not abandon our post. But since late 2005, we have consciously begun steering ALA back to its earliest roots as a magazine for all people who make websites—writers, architects, strategists, researchers, and yes, even marketers and clients as well as designers and developers. This means that, along with issues that focus on new methods and subtleties of markup and layout, we will also publish issues that discuss practical and sometimes theoretical aspects of user experience design, from the implications of ubiquitous computing to keeping communities civil.

The trick is to bring our huge group of highly passionate readers along for the ride. My wife likens it to piloting the Queen Mary. (Q. How do you make the Queen Mary turn left? A. Very, very slowly.)

The slow, deliberate, gradual introduction of articles on business and theory has not pleased all of ALA’s readers, some of whom may unrealistically wish that every issue would present them with the equivalent of a new “Sliding Doors.” It is possible, of course, to publish one CSS (or JavaScript or Jquery) article after another, and to do so on an almost daily basis. We could do that. Certainly we get enough submissions. The trouble is that most articles of this kind are either edge cases of limited utility, or derivatives that do not break significant new ground. (Either that, or they are flawed in our estimation, e.g. relying on dozens of non-semantic divs to create a moderately pleasing, minor visual effect.)

We review hundreds of articles and publish dozens. Some web magazines seem to have those proportions reversed, and some readers don’t seem to mind, and that’s fine. But any content you see in ALA has been vetted and deeply massaged by the toughest editorial team in the business. And when you see a new “design tech” article in our pages, you can be sure it has passed muster with our hard-ass technical editors.

Moreover, the fields of meaningful new CSS tricks have mostly yielded their fuels. We’ve done that. We’ve done it together with you. While a few new lodes of value undoubtedly remain to be tapped, we as a community, and as individuals who wish to grow as designers, need to absorb new knowledge. ALA will continue to be a place where you can do that.

When we began focusing on web standards in 1998, we were told we were wasting readers’ time on impractical crap of little value to working designers and developers. But we kept on anyway, and the things we learned and taught are now mainstream and workaday. While we apologize to readers who are again being made irritable by our insistence on occasionally presenting material that does not fall directly within their comfort zone, we hope that this experiment will prove to be of value in the end.

[tags]alistapart, webdesign, magazine, editorial, content, focus, change, publishing, standards, webstandards, css, design, layout, userexperience[/tags]

Dear AIGA, where are the web designers?

Dear AIGA:

I am a member in good standing and was honored to be part of the AIGA site redesign.

I received your email about the AIGA Business and Design Conference and am impressed with the speakers at the main show, as well as the 20/20 presenters. You have chosen brilliant talents who have made major contributions; with such speakers, the conference will undoubtedly be an illuminating and brilliant success.

But in reading the mini-biographies of the presenters, I can’t help noticing that for all the brand directors, creative directors, Jungian analysts, and print designers, one rather significant specimen of the profession is missing. Where are the web (or if you insist, the interaction) designers?

I am probably missing someone, but I count two people with web experience, and neither gets more than 60 seconds of stage time.

In my years as a web designer, I’ve worked with dozens and met thousands of gifted, passionate design professionals who would surely love to spend three days soaking up graphic design brilliance at an event like Gain.

But if no one on the stage shares their experience—and if one of the two speakers with web experience thinks the web is a crude medium where second-rate designers create unmemorable and mediocre works—AIGA is unlikely to reach this audience.

I need hardly add that this audience makes up an ever increasing percentage of the design profession, and performs work that is global in impact.

If you exclude us from the conversation, the conversation may end up excluding you.

Comments are now closed, but you can read what other people had to say.

[tags]AIGA, webdesign, GAIN, conference[/tags]

The lessons of September 11, 2002

On September 11, 2002, I found myself in a place as strange as Vegas. I was there to speak at a web conference. They must have gotten a good deal on the rooms, it being the first anniversary of the attacks.

“They’re holding a conference on September 11th?” I had shouted aloud on receiving my emailed invitation to speak at the show. “How could they?”

And how could I, as a New Yorker, respond to such an invitation?

But people told me if we couldn’t hold web design conferences on September 11th, then the terrorists had won. People said many stupid things back then and still do. I don’t know why I heard wisdom, or the call of duty, in this sophistry. But off I went, persuaded that I was somehow taking a stand against the people who had so grievously harmed us.

On September 10th, I gave my talk to a roomful of hungover IT professionals. On September 11th, I slouched around the conference site at Caesars Palace feeling absurd and unreal and painfully missing the woman who is now my wife. (I love you, honey.)

In New York, George Bush was laying a wreath at Ground Zero. In Las Vegas, I was lying on a sedan chair, watching the animated flag on the JumboTron outside the Bellagio. The pixelated call to patriotism felt not merely inadequate but crazily beside the point. Its 60-second cycle seemed to proclaim that our enemies may fly our planes into our buildings, but damn it, we have big-screen animation.

Many of our subsequent responses to 9/11 have felt like that giant LCD—gung-ho about the wrong things, a garish distraction to keep us from seeing and solving our real problems. But on September 11, 2002, I only knew that it was not patriotic or wise to have left my woman alone in New York City on that day.

And that JumboTrons suck.

And that I hate Vegas.

[tags]myglamorouslife, september11, 9/11, anniversary, webdesign, conferences, lasvegas[/tags]

Tracking Elections From the Ground Up

PollTrack is a new website that combines poll tracking data and written analysis to decipher “what voters are actually thinking and feeling” in the lead-up to the election. The site is not complete: sections are unfinished, artwork is rough, and usability problems involving labeling (“Today’s Map Today”) have yet to be sorted. But though the paint is not dry, the site’s potential fascinates.

The Presidential Race section includes a three-layered map showing current poll averages, projected averages in the coming weeks, and projected election day averages. It’s nail-biting stuff.

Commentary by Maurice Berger complements the visual data, explaining what the polls reveal or analyzing the way events in the news affect how the country says it intends to vote. Berger is a cultural historian, curator, art critic, and the author of numerous books, including White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness.

The site needs, and will no doubt acquire, polish. Copy is required to help the first-time user understand what the site is about and make better use of its features. The design feels more like a wireframe than a layout, and the stock photos on the home page are unneeded and poorly chosen. Intended to humanize, they merely cause the site to feel generic—and it is anything but.

But these are fixable problems, and almost beside the point. What matters is that PollTrack delivers insights and information on the most important election in years.

[tags]polling, election, vote, websites, webdesign[/tags]