Not your father’s standards switch

The DOCTYPE switch isn’t what it used to be.

For most of the past seven years, the DOCTYPE switch stood designers and developers in good stead as a toggle between standards mode and quirks mode. The switch enabled browsers to accurately support the work of responsible designers who cared about accessibility, findability, and lean, semantic markup. It also enabled those same browsers to support the old-fashioned, table-driven junk markup your grandpappy writes.

But when IE7, with its tremendously improved support for standards, “broke the web,” it revealed the flaw in our beloved toggle. The quest was on to find a more reliable ensurer of forward compatibility. Is version targeting the answer?

In Issue No. 251 of A List Apart, for people who make websites, Aaron Gustafson of The Web Standards Project and ALA describes the workings of and logic behind version targeting, a proposed replacement to the DOCTYPE switch. It’s an idea whose simplicity you may admire immediately; or you may, at least initially, want to run screaming in the opposite direction.

That’s how ALA‘s Eric Meyer felt, when he first previewed Aaron’s report. So did I. But we came around—and in “A Standardista’s Journey,” the companion piece to Aaron’s article, Eric explains how his thinking about version targeting evolved.

Microsoft is on board to support version targeting in IE8; they hope other browser makers will do likewise. The Web Standards Project worked with the Redmond company to forge this new path in forward compatible design. It’s with Microsoft’s consent that we unveil version targeting in this issue. In a future issue, we’ll discuss the implications for scripting.

[tags]standards, webstandards, DOCTYPE, DOCTYPE switch, forward compatible, forward compatibility, versionlock, IE8[/tags]

Adios, Technorati?

Without my permission, Technorati has stuck my photo and its logo in the sidebar of my site’s front page.

Technorati, when it works, provides useful services to blogs and their readers, such as the ability to track third-party responses to a post. (Google Blog Search works the same street, and refreshes more frequently.)

Technorati also indexes “authority,” which is its word for popularity as determined by the number of Technorati users who mark your site as a favorite.

Sooner or later, almost everyone with a blog “claims” it on Technorati by inserting a small piece of JavaScript into their template.

Until recently, that small piece of JavaScript helped Technorati keep track of your site, and that was all it did.

You could configure the script to show your picture and Technorati’s logo but you didn’t have to, and I chose not to.

Technorati called the script an “embed.”

In the last few days, Technorati apparenty converted its “embeds” to “widgets.”

Widgets do more than embeds, and I’m sure they’ll delight some blog owners. But I am not delighted. I wasn’t asked, or even notified. Through investigation (AKA random clicking) I found the widgets page and “customized” my widget not to show my photo and Technorati’s logo (i.e. I manually opted out of something I had previously already opted out of).

Except the opt-out didn’t take. My photo and Technorati’s logo are still stuck in my front page’s sidebar.

I’ll give Technorati a few days to clear its cache (or its head). If there’s still junk in my sidebar come Monday, then it’s adios, Technorati.

[tags]technorati, widgets, opt-in, opt-out, blogs, blogging, blogosphere[/tags]

Facts and Opinions about Zeldman

  1. Yesterday I spoke at BusinessWeek and was interviewed for a podcast that airs next week.
  2. Tomorrow I will speak for Carson at Future of Web Design.
  3. I will not be nicely dressed.
  4. That is because the fancy drycleaner—the best in town—has not yet returned the sharp clothes I wore at An Event Apart San Francisco.
  5. Don’t get me wrong. I do have another dress shirt.
  6. But I wore it to BusinessWeek yesterday. Hence, nothing “tailored” that is also clean.
  7. Which means nothing tailored for my meeting today with a client whose business and premises are somewhat traditional.
  8. All because my drycleaner takes longer to clean my dress shirts than my company takes to design a website.
  9. Almost.
  10. I would switch, but the other drycleaners in my neighborhood tend to shrink my shirts and then deny responsibility for the damage.
  11. So. What to wear.
  12. I might go for the Steve Jobs look.
  13. Or I might go for the “Zeldman” look.
  14. Which, admittedly, is not much of a business look.
  15. But I got into this business so I would not have to dress up. That was kind of the point. Learn HTML, and work in your underwear.
  16. Now that I actually have to dress for clients and the public, I have, in the words of Imelda Marcos, nothing to wear.
  17. Although Imelda was talking about shoes and my problem is shirts.
  18. I could buy a new shirt.
  19. If I didn’t have to work today.
  20. Why, yes, I have been using Twitter. Why do you ask?

[tags]zeldman, businessweek, FOWD, futureofwebdesign, carson, aneventapart, aeasf07, mockturtleneck, stevejobs, apple, twitter[/tags]

We live as we dream

My cold is in its second week; I slept less than four hours last night. Yesterday we decided to check out the housing market in our neighborhood and ended up making a bid. Anxiety woke me at 1:00 a.m. and kept me eyeballing the dark ceiling for hours.

Tomorrow, if all goes to plan, we will publish the findings of the web design survey. The findings document alone will weigh in at more than 80 pages. It has been less work than building the pyramids, but I may revise that opinion by the end of the day.

Lots happening. Watch this space.

[tags]alistapart, survey, careers, webdesign, webdesignsurvey, NYC, apartments[/tags]

Just My Type of Site

In i love typography’s carefully curated “15 excellent examples of web typography (part one),” A List Apart, Happy Cog’s twice-monthly magazine for people who make websites, leads the pack at number one. Jason Santa Maria designed this version of A List Apart; Eric Meyer cunningly crafted the CSS; and Kevin Cornell illustrates. Other top-ranking examples of typographic excellence cited include Shaun Inman dot com, FontShop, Jesús Rodríguez Velasco, and Kevin Cornell’s BearskinRug Shop. Congratulations to all 15 extraordinary websites.

[tags]typography, web, design, webdesign, webtypography, webtype, awards, galleries[/tags]

The King of Web Standards

In BusinessWeek, senior writer for Innovation & Design Jessie Scanlon has just published “Jeffrey Zeldman: King of Web Standards.” By any standards (heh heh), it is an accurate and well researched article. By the standards of technology journalism, it is exceptional. It might even help designers who aren’t named Jeffrey Zeldman as they struggle to explain the benefits of web standards to their bosses or clients. At the least, its publication in Business Week will command some business people’s attention, and perhaps their respect.

Avoiding the twin dangers of oversimplification that misleads, and pedantry that bores or confuses, Scanlon informs business readers about the markup and code that underlies websites; what went wrong with it in the early days of the web; and how web standards help ensure “that a Web site can be used by someone using any browser and any Web-enabled device.”

Scanlon communicates this information quickly, so as not to waste a business reader’s time, and clearly, without talking down to the reader. This makes her article, not merely a dandy clipping for my scrapbook, but a useful tool of web standards evangelism.

Contributing to the article with their comments are Jeff Veen, manager of user experience for Google’s web applications and former director of Hotwired.com; NYTimes.com design director, subtraction.com author, and grid-meister Khoi Vinh; and Dan Cederholm, founder of SimpleBits and author of Bulletproof Web Design. Dave Shea’s CSS Zen Garden features prominently as well, and rightfully so.

A right sexy slide show accompanies the article.

And lest a BusinessWeek article lull us into complacency, let us here note that the top 20 blogs as measured by Technorati.com fail validation—including one blog Happy Cog designed. (It was valid when we handed it off to the client.)

[tags]design, webdesign, standards, webstandards, webstandardsproject, WaSP, zeldman, jeffreyzeldman, veen, jeffveen, simplebits, dancederholm, bulletproof, khoivinh, subtraction, wired, hotwired, nytimes, happycog, zengarden, css, csszengarden[/tags]

It’s a dirty job…

And we hope you’ll take it. Happy Cog Philadelphia seeks a fabulous project manager. Must communicate superbly, value great work and great client relationships, respect deadlines and the creative process, enjoy Basecamp and love Philadelphia. Details are available on the 37signals Job Board.

Hi, Mom!

A Business Week slide show, “Thinking Outside the Design Box,” profiles “10 professionals working at the very edges of their disciplines in order to redefine their industries.” Included are designers Lisa Strausfeld of Pentagram, who helped design the interface for One Laptop Per Child; Robin Chase, the founder of Zipcar; and (ulp!) me.

I’m in there because they needed a pretty face, and because of the whole web standards thing.

The piece is part of “Cutting-Edge Designers 2007,” a Business Week Special Report focusing on innovation that arises out of crossing disciplines and combining technologies.

It’s worth reading, which is lucky, because I would have blogged it no matter what.

[tags]design, innovation, businessweek, designers, zeldman[/tags]

Eight points for better e-mail relationships

Campaign Monitor has taken me to task, and I find it hard to dispute their primary contention:

To say as a blanket statement that HTML email impedes communication is an extraordinary generalisation. There are many times when a well designed, and well laid out HTML email can be a lot clearer, easier to scan and overall better experience than the equivalent in plain text.

They’re got a point. Having read and considered Campaign Monitor’s comment and other sensible responses to my 8 June post, I agree that my brush was too broad.

A few well-designed, well-considered, communicating visual elements, in the context of a well-written, time-respecting, communicating HTML e-mail message, sent only to people who have asked to receive it, and formatted to work across applications and platforms, can indeed enhance communication.

Yet unsolicited mail, as all internet users know, makes it hard to use e-mail to communicate with friends, family, and work mates. Trying to defeat spam, we miss messages from business partners and loved ones. Add unsolicited graphics and broken formatting to that mix; send tons of it to a business person who is trying to check e-mail while out of the office, and you have a recipe for road rage on the information superhighway.

Perhaps reasonable people could agree to the eight notions put forward below.

Note: As in my previous post, I’m about to preach to the choir. Designers reading my site and using Campaign Monitor or other fine mail services (such as Deck advertiser MailChimp, cough) already know and practice ’most everything I’m about to recommend. The following is not a pledge. Pledges don’t work. People don’t change their behavior or business practices because someone with a blog asks them to be nice. Okay? So this is not directed at my readers or Campaign Monitor’s customers, who, I believe, will agree:

  1. Unsolicited HTML mail (like unsolicited mail generally) is an abuse. Send HTML formatted mails only to those who’ve opted in. Always offer a text mail version.
  2. Consider making text mail the default, and HTML mail the optional opt-in. Typically, where choice is provided, the HTML option is checked by default. Many users—because they assume the experts who created the web service are looking out for their best interests—don’t change defaults. This doesn’t mean they all actually want HTML mail. If the default switches to text, then you can be reasonably sure that those who opted for HTML mail probably want it.
  3. On your website, provide a sample of your HTML newsletter so people can judge for themselves if it’s something they want to receive.
  4. As in all design, consider every element before adding it. Remove everything that does not help you communicate.
  5. Test. I can’t count the number of banks, e-commerce and travel services that send me HTML-formatted transaction records, receipts, itineraries, and other jim-jams that do not work in my mail platform. These businesses never offer a plain-text version, let alone an opt-in choice with a test link to see if I like what they have to offer and verify that my mail client likes it, too. Broken mail doesn’t win friends and influence customers (except to change vendors). I am likelier to switch travel services than e-mail clients.
  6. Never send bulk e-mail to a list of people who haven’t agreed to receive messages from you. (This, of course, will never happen, but it belongs in the list anyway.)
  7. E-mail blaster product providers, please offer a streamlined option for those who choose to send their subscribers text-only. Don’t make us design HTML mail templates we have no intention of using, and jump through hoops to make sure our users never see the dummy HTML mail format you asked us to create. (Not directed at any company in particular; suggested as a product differentiator slash best practice.)
  8. Learn how HTML mail works (or doesn’t) across as many platforms as possible, and work with the manufacturers to improve support for web standards. This is not my job. I did my job where web standards are concerned (you’re welcome!), and turned over The Web Standards Project to a new generation of leadership. And as I never send HTML formatted mails, not only is it not my job, I wouldn’t even be qualified to do it. But standardistas who are compelled by their clients to create HTML mails (or who choose to do so) are gently urged to do their part in diminishing wasted bandwidth and enhancing semantics.

Related posts

When is e-mail like a bad website?

Nokia sent a friend an HTML e-mail message. I’ve broken it into five screen shots, because it won’t fit on one. E-mail, as a medium, really doesn’t want to carry all this freight.

E-mail is not a platform for design

ASCII means never having to say you’re sorry.

[tags]HTML mail, e-mail, marketing, internet marketing, design[/tags]

E-mail is not a platform for design

All these years of internet use later, HTML mail still sucks. You may think I mean “HTML mail doesn’t work properly in some e-mail clients.” And that statement is certainly true. Companies spend hours crafting layouts that may not work in Eudora or Gmail, or may no longer work in Outlook.

Even in programs that support the crap code used to create these layouts, all that hard visual work will go unseen if the user has unchecked “View HTML Mail” in their preferences.

As for CSS, it is partially supported in some e-mail applications and in web apps like Gmail, but only if you author in nonsemantic table layouts and bandwidth-wasting inline CSS. Which is like using a broken refrigerator to store food at room temperature.

But when I say HTML mail still sucks, I don’t mean it sucks because support for design in e-mail today is like support for standards in web browsers in 1998.

I mean it sucks because nobody needs it. It impedes rather than aids communication.

E-mail was invented so people could quickly exchange text messages over fast or slow or really slow connections, using simple, non-processor-intensive applications on any computing platform, or using phones, or hand-held devices, or almost anything else that can display text and permits typing.

That’s what e-mail is for. That’s why it’s great.

E-mail is not a platform for design. Unlike the web, which also started as an exchange medium for text messages but which benefited from the inclusion of images and other media, e-mail works best when used for its original purpose, as the most basic of content exchange systems.

“Designed” e-mail is just a slightly more polished version of those messages your uncle sends you. Your uncle thinks 18pt bright red Comic Sans looks great, so he sends e-mail messages formatted that way. You cluck your tongue, or sigh, or run de-formatting scripts on every message you receive from him. When your uncle is the “designer,” you “get” why styled mail sucks. It sucks just as much when you design it, even if it looks better than your uncle’s work in the two e-mail programs that support it correctly.

Even though it doesn’t work right in many e-mail applications, and even though many users dislike it, HTML appeals to clients because it’s another place to stick their logo. And it appeals to the kind of designer who thinks everything, even a bullet hurtling toward his own skull, would improve if decorated. I hate that kind of designer almost as much as I hate people who hate design. That kind of designer gives all designers a bad name, and is chiefly responsible for the slightly amused contempt with which many business people view designers, art directors, and “creative” people generally.

Say it with me: HTML is for websites. CSS is for websites. GIFs and JPEGs are for websites.

ASCII means never having to say you’re sorry.

Discussion closed

The conversation has moved on. Feel free to contribute to the follow-up posts.

Related posts

When is e-mail like a bad website?

Nokia sent a friend an HTML e-mail message. I’ve broken it into five screen shots, because it won’t fit on one. E-mail, as a medium, really doesn’t want to carry all this freight.

Eight points for better e-mail relationships

Okay, so under the right circumstances, when people have requested it, e-mail can be a platform for design. Here are eight ways to make it work better (and avoid pissing off people who hate HTML mail).

[tags]HTML mail, e-mail, marketing, internet marketing, design[/tags]