What are web standards?

What are web standards? And why should I care? A fun new clip from the BigThink marathon Zeldman interview. See also this and that. Or just click the “CHANNELS” button in the video above.

[tags]zeldman, webstandards, bigthink, interview[/tags]

ALA Survey Findings Up!

The annual A List Apart survey for people who make websites is the only public source of data on the shifting salaries, titles, job skills, and work satisfactions of full- and part-time, staff and freelance web professionals.

This year’s survey findings, culled from answers provided by over 30,000 ALA readers, are now up for your pleasure on a specially designed website. We’ve sliced and diced the data, making sense of complex interrelationships, and displaying the results in miniature CSS masterworks by Mr Eric Meyer. (More about the CSS.)

This year’s findings paint a clearer picture of the distinctions between full-time and freelance web professionals: how you work, what you earn, and what you love about the job. Interestingly, too, despite the brutality of a global recession that was already in full swing when we offered the survey, most respondents revealed a surprisingly high level of job security, satisfaction, and confidence in the future.

See for yourself. Read the findings.

Comments off. Please comment on ALA.

[tags]alistapart, aneventapart, webdesignsurvey, survey, forpeoplewhomakewebsites, surveyfindings, findings, meyerweb, css, jobskills, titles, webdesign, webdesigners, webdevelopment, webdevelopers, IA, UX, editors, writers, webmasters[/tags]

Improved “Freelance to Agency” podcast

Now with significantly enhanced audio quality, courtesy of Zoomy.net‘s Peter Richardson

Here, for your consideration and pleasure, is the new! improved! audio recording of “From Freelance to Agency: Start Small, Stay Small.” Listen and enjoy.

[tags]design, webdesign, podcast, recording, SXSW, SXSWi, SXSWi09, panels, panel, freelance, agency, smallagency, transition, survival, economy[/tags]

[tags]design, webdesign, podcast, recording, SXSW, SXSWi, SXSWi09, panels, panel, freelance, agency, smallagency, transition, survival, economy[/tags]

“Freelance to Agency” Podcast

PRESENTING the full audio recording of “From Freelance to Agency: Start Small, Stay Small”, a panel at SXSW Interactive 2009 featuring Roger Black (founder of agencies huge and small), Kristina Halvorson (freelancer turned agency head), and Whitney Hess (agency pro turned freelance), and moderated by yours truly.

The panel was about quitting your job (or coping with a layoff), working as a freelancer, collaborating with others, and what to do if your collaboration starts morphing into an agency. We sought to answer questions like these:

  • What business and personal skills are required to start a freelance business or a small agency? Is freelancing or starting a small agency a good fit for my talents and abilities?
  • Is freelancing or starting a small agency the right work solution for me in a scary and rapidly shrinking economy? Can the downsides of this economy work to my advantage as a freelancer or small agency head?
  • I’ve been downsized/laid off/I’m stuck in a dead-end job working longer hours for less money. Should I look for a new job or take the plunge and go freelance?
  • What can I expect in terms of income and financial security if I switch from a staff job to freelancing? What techniques can I use as a freelancer to protect myself from the inevitable ups and downs?
  • How do I attract clients? How much in-advance work do I need to line up before I can quit my job?
  • How do I manage clients? What client expectations that are normal for in-house or big agency work must I deliver on as a freelancer or the head of a small or virtual agency? Which expectations can I discard? How do I tell my client what to expect?
  • Do I need an office? What are the absolute minimum tools I need to start out as a one-person shop?
  • How big can my freelance business grow before I need to recast it as a small agency?
  • What models are out there for starting an agency besides the conventional Inc. model with all its overhead? Which model would work best for me?
  • Who do I know with whom I could start a small or virtual agency? What should I look for in my partners? What should I beware of?
  • If I’m lucky enough to be growing, how do I protect my creative product and my professional reputation while adding new people and taking on more assignments?
  • How big can my agency grow before it sucks? How I can grow a business that’s dedicated to staying small?

Whitney Hess has written a fine wrap-up of the panel, including a collection of tweets raving about it, some of Mike Rohde’s visual coverage, and links to other people’s posts about the panel.

LISTEN to “From Freelance to Agency: Start Small, Stay Small”.

[tags]design, webdesign, podcast, recording, SXSW, SXSWi, SXSWi09, panels, panel, freelance, agency, smallagency, transition, survival, economy[/tags]

Jason Has Left the Building

I owe it all to Douglas Bowman‘s bad back.

Doug and Brian Alvey and Adam Greenfield and I were working on a big client project when Doug’s back went out. He was so sick, he couldn’t work, and it was unclear when he would be able to work again.

As a friend, I was worried about Doug. As a creative director, I was worried about finishing my client’s project.

Doug and I had both done designs. The client liked my design but I’d sold him Doug’s. Now Doug couldn’t finish, and I didn’t trust myself to execute the remaining pages in Doug’s style. I needed someone skilled enough to finish what Doug had started and mature enough to sublimate his own style while still making good design choices.

I had just read “Grey Box Methodology,” a well-written romp through a personal design process. The author was a young designer named Jason Santa Maria. His site looked great, his portfolio was impressive, he had good ideas about design, and the process he had written about lent itself to the technical aspects of finishing Doug’s work.

I wrote to Jason Santa Maria, telling him I had a small freelance project that was probably boring and would bring him no glory, since it required him to design like someone else. Jason was game and said yes. He did a great job and was egoless about it, and he seemed perfectly comfortable working with better established, heavyweight talents. His quick, professional, selfless work kept the project going until Doug was back on his feet.

To reward Jason for what he had done, when a new and juicy assignment came my way, I asked if he wanted to be the project’s lead designer. The rest you can you figure out.

For four and a half years, Jason Santa Maria has been a designer and then a creative director at Happy Cog. In an agency filled with talent, he made a huge personal mark. I’ve trusted him with some of the most important designs we’ve handled, from AIGA to the redesign of A List Apart. He has never let me down, professionally or personally. More than that, his work has expanded my conception of what web design can be.

Four and a half years is a couple of centuries in internet time. For about a year, Jason and I have known that it was getting to be time for him to move on. Not that we had any problem with him or he with us. But just that nearly half a decade is a long time for any designer to spend in one place.

As he has just announced, Jason is leaving Happy Cog. He will stay involved in A List Apart and perhaps a few selected projects, but basically he is out the door and spreading his wings. Godspeed.

[tags]jasonsantamaria, Jason Santa Maria, JSM, Stan, adieu, happycog, design, webdesign[/tags]

An Event Apart redesigned

There’s a new aneventapart.com in town, featuring a 2009 schedule and a reformulated design. I designed the new site and Eric Meyer coded. (Validation freaks, only validator.nu is up to the task of recognizing the HTML 5 DOCTYPE used and validating against it; the validator.w3.org and htmlhelp.com validators can’t do this yet. Eric chose HTML 5 because it permits any element to be an HREF, and this empowered him to solve complex layout problems with simple, semantic markup. Eric, I know, will have loads more to say about this.)

Family branding concerns drove the previous design. Quite simply, the original An Event Apart site launched simultaneously with the 2005 redesign of A List Apart. Jason Santa Maria‘s stripped-down visual rethink was perfect for the magazine and is imitated, written about, and stolen outright to this day. It was a great design for our web magazine because it was created in response to the magazine’s content. It didn’t work as well for the conference because its design wasn’t driven by the kind of content a conference site publishes. But it was the right conference design for 2005 because the goal at that time was to create a strong brand uniting the long-running web design magazine with the new web design conference that sprang from it.

New goals for a new environment

In 2009, it’s less important to bolt the conference to the magazine by using the same layout for both: by now, most people who attend or have thought about attending An Event Apart know it is the A List Apart web design conference. What’s important in 2009 is to provide plenty of information about the show, since decisions about conference-going are being made in a financially (and psychologically) constricted environment. In 2005, it was enough to say “A List Apart has a conference.” Today more is needed. Today you need plenty of content to explain to the person who controls the purse strings just what you will learn and why a different conference wouldn’t be the same or “just as good.”

The redesign therefore began with a content strategy. The new design and new architecture fell out of that.

Action photos and high contrast

The other thing I went for—again, in conscious opposition to the beautifully understated previous design—was impact. I wanted this design to feel big and spacious (even on an iPhone’s screen) and to wow you with, for lack of a better word, a sense of eventfulness. And I think the big beautiful location images and the unafraid use of high contrast help achieve that.

Reinforcing the high contrast and helping to paint an event-focused picture, wherever possible I used action shots of our amazing speakers holding forth from the stage, rather than the more typical friendly backyard amateur head shot used on every other conference site (including the previous version of ours). I wanted to create excitement about the presentations these brilliant people will be making, and live action stage photos seemed like the way to do that. After all, if I’m going to see Elvis Costello perform, I want to see a picture of him onstage with his guitar—not a friendly down-to-earth shot of him taking out the garbage or hugging his nephews.

So that’s a quick overview of the redesign. The store is now open for all four shows and the complete Seattle show schedule is available for your viewing pleasure. I hope to see some of you in 2009 at our intensely educational two-day conference for people who make websites.

[tags]aneventapart, design, redesign, relaunch, webdesign, conference, events, HTML5, ericmeyer, zeldman[/tags]

Time Warner Cable canceling Noggin?

I have a full day’s work to do, but I’m home watching my four-year-old. Thus, this morning, Noggin was on.

“Daddy, what’s that black?” my daughter asked, pointing to the TV.

A black crawl eating 20% of the screen announced that Time Warner Cable, New York City’s virtual monopoly cable provider, will stop broadcasting Noggin at midnight tonight.

Comedy Central (home of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show), MTV, and other Viacom-owned channels will also be lost, the crawl said. But as the parent of a child under five, you’re asleep before The Daily Show comes on, and you haven’t cared about MTV since Run DMC walked this way with Aerosmith.

Time Warner Cable can do what it likes where your personal entertainment needs are concerned. But if they stop broadcasting Noggin, your four-year-old won’t shrug it off. It will be like when great grandma died.

Your mission is clear. You have to save Noggin.

The crawl and the websites of the soon-to-be-cancelled channels list a toll-free 800 number where customers can demand that Time Warner Cable keep Noggin on.

When you call the number, Time Warner announces that it cannot take your call due to “technical difficulties” and hangs up on you.

In its way, it’s kind of brilliant. By not answering their customer feedback number, Time Warner can claim not to have heard from their customers.

Although I subscribe to their overpriced service, I’m no fan. Since I described my frustrations with their fast, high-speed access, Time Warner Cable’s RoadRunner Turbo has continued to pile on the incompetence. This month they sent me a new modem and told me I needed to manually replace my old one. Beside the fact that nothing’s wrong with my old one, the new one isn’t compatible with my set-up, which is wireless.

Time Warner set up the wireless network using their wireless modem, and charges a monthly surcharge for the wireless activity they provide. But they sent me a non-wireless modem as a replacement. A two-man shop in Kazakhstan’s smallest town would not send a non-wireless modem to replace a wireless one. But Time Warner Cable does, because they are a monopoly and under no pressure to offer competent service.

And yet, although Time Warner Cable’s uncountable levels of existential suckage could induce vomiting in a giraffe, reality is never as clear-cut as a crawl on Noggin.

It is obvious that Time Warner Cable and Viacom are playing hardball in a price negotiation. Time Warner wants the Viacom channels cheaper than Viacom wants to sell them. Instead of working out a deal like mensches, the companies are taking their impasse to the public, and playing on the anxieties of parents with young children. Indeed, Viacom appears the guiltier company, since it is Viacom that is running crawls on its channels and popups on its websites, using the kind of language and typography more properly reserved for fake terror threat alerts.

Although Time Warner doesn’t answer its customer feedback number, some of the company’s phone numbers still work, and if you loop your way through a sufficient number of audio menus, you soon hear the company’s claim to be negotiating with Viacom.

If it were only about me, both companies could stuff it.

Will no one think of the children?

[tags]Viacom, Time Warner Cable, Noggin, high-speed access[/tags]

Recession tips for web designers

Now in the coveted 23 December spot at 24 ways: Recession Tips for Web Designers:

Jeffrey Zeldman rounds off our 2008 season with some hard-earned advice for web designers and developers to take into 2009. As the economic climate gets tougher and budgets get cut, our skills need to extend to staying in work, not just completing work won.

[tags]recession, webdesign, business, survival[/tags]

ALA 274: The emerging content strategist

In Issue No. 274 of A List Apart, for people who make websites: a website without a content strategy is like a speeding vehicle without a driver. Learn why content matters and how to do it right.

Content-tious Strategy

by JEFFREY MACINTYRE

Every website faces two key questions: 1. What content do we have at hand? 2. What content should we produce? Answering those questions is the domain of the content strategist. Alas, real content strategy gets as little respect today as information architecture did in 1995. MacIntyre defines the roles, tools, and value of this emerging user experience specialist.

The Discipline of Content Strategy

by KRISTINA HALVORSON

It’s time to stop pretending content is somebody else’s problem. If content strategy is all that stands between us and the next fix-it-later copy draft or beautifully polished but meaningless site launch, it’s time to take up the torch—time to make content matter. Halvorson tells how to understand, learn, practice, and plan for content strategy.

And, in EDITOR’S CHOICE, from July 31, 2007:

Better Writing Through Design

by BRONWYN JONES

How is it that the very foundation of the web, written text, has taken a strategic back seat to design? Bronwyn Jones argues that great web design is not possible without the design of words.

[tags]contentstrategy, content, strategy, content strategy, web, webcontent, webdesign, userexperience, writing, editorial, Kristina Halvorson, Jeffrey Macintyre, Bronwyn Jones, alistapart[/tags]