6 April 2005 10:45 am edt

White is the new #eed

It’s a mere two days old, yet already my alter ego blog Apartness is caught up in controversy. I love it.

After ten years of this kind of publishing, I finally get to enjoy it like a tourist.

It is liberating to be just another blogger. To use someone else’s template design, someone else’s publishing system, and someone else’s plain old industry-standard blog site architecture. To grab photos from flickr, post hurried remarks, and watch smart or snarky comments roll in.

My principles and reputation — those overstuffed trunks — are not at risk on Apartness’s blog.

In short, I am as free as you.

Some have asked why I chose Mr Bowman’s Minima template instead of using one of my own Blogger designs, like Mr Moto Rising. In my opinion, of all the templates all of us designed for Blogger’s relaunch, Mr Bowman’s Minima is the most successful.

It has presence and absence. Like Miso soup, it is a mildly flavorful yet neutral base for any ingredient the chef cares to add. Instead of imposing a personality, it seems to reflect the personality of whoever uses it. This makes Minima the most effective, most product-appropriate blog template design I’ve ever seen. As seemingly simple as it is, I wish I had designed it. Using it is the next best thing to having created it.

In case you need another metaphor, my six-month-old daughter’s wardrobe contains many colorfully adorable outfits, but she looks best in in plain white PJs that let you focus on her instead of on her clothes. Likewise, Minima lets the mind focus on the content being presented rather than on some clever detail of the interface. Its unselfconsciousness is its strength. As webby web design, it is nearly perfect.

That of course is the kind of comment I will continue to make here, and not at Apartness.


4 April 2005 6 pm edt

Vidi, veni, vendors

Looking for a few good tee shirt vendors.


31 March 2005 5 pm est

Linkmania

Party like it’s 1997
Famed Cranbrook Academy of Art gives famed type designer Elliot Earls a mini-site inspired by 90s-style “underground” net art. Don’t miss the nav link rollovers.
Access Matters
New accessibility blog uses a quiz format to seek current best practices in the place where accessibility touches design.
Thinking with Type
We have linked to Ellen Lupton’s Thinking with Type previously, but you failed to show it the proper respect, so we link to it again. Read it, then buy the book. (First sentence: “This is not a book about fonts.”)
waferhack
Oh, no! waferbaby has been hacked! (Note: In Australia, where waferbaby is grown, it is already 1 April.)
Banksy speaks
Everybody’s favorite street artist chats with Reuters.
Newspaper index
Journalist Hans Henrik Lichtenberg’s new Newspaperindex.com claims to index the best newspapers in all countries. If the USA picks are anything to go by, Lichtenberg seems to know what he is doing.
This Hat is a Wig
The creeps made phony flapjacks. Look at the fried eggs! I am going on the airplanes. Link snagged from ever-dependable The Skinny.

30 March 2005 10 am est

A List Apart 197

In a double issue of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

Hybrid CSS Dropdowns
by Eric Shepherd
Yup. It’s yet another CSS dropdown article — but one that resolves many problems associated with common dropdown methods and degrades beautifully. Hybrid CSS dropdowns allow access to all pages, keep the user aware of where she is within the site, and are clean and light to boot. It’s a tasty little vitamin pill, so quit sighing and try it.
Spruced-up Site Maps
by Kim Siever
The clean-n-simple site map gets a nice haircut and and a shoe-shine as Kim Siever shows us how to hook custom bullet styles to troublesome nested lists.

29 March 2005 9 pm est

Weychert lives

Misunderstood genius Rob Weychert, creator of Virtual Stan, has relaunched robweychert.com. Let joy reign. Let columns multipy. Let haikus based on dictionary.com’s Word of the Day flourish.


22 March 2005 5 pm est

Should your blog have a business?

Another favorite panel at this year’s SXSW Interactive was “How to Build Your Brand With Blogs,” hosted by Blog Business Summit’s DL Byron (AKA the Clip-n-Seal® guy). What made this panel for me was a comment by Jim Coudal, founder and chief macher of Coudal Partners, who said:

The question isn’t, “Should your business have a blog?” Of course your business should have a blog. The much more interesting question is, “Should your blog have a business?”

He ought to know. Coudal Partners, a design agency, launched its blog so as to speak more directly with its customers. Soon the blog’s audience grew beyond the agency’s customer base. Creative folks turned to Coudal.com, not because they were working with Coudal Partners, but simply for the pleasure of reading it.

When Coudal Partners, frustrated by the limited options available for custom CD and DVD packaging, solved their problem by inventing Jewelboxing, it occured to them that people who read their blog might like the product as well. They guessed right. Coudal Partners now develops multiple products and is well on its way toward abandoning client services altogether.

Likewise, panelist Jason Fried, whose user experience consultancy developed a blog which begat a readership which began buying the user experience consultancy’s first product, which freed Fried and his friends to pretty much quit the client services racket in favor of product development.

If your web content attracts people like you, you might be able to create something they want. Do it right, and you might be free to quit your day job.


20 March 2005 12 noon | 10 pm est

Userism

Among my favorite panels at this year’s SXSW Interactive was one I’d expected not to love. “The Flash vs. HTML Game Show” sounded as fresh as an old gym sock. I knew the participants to be extremely accomplished, creatively as well as executionally. That’s why I went. I expected to see skilled work. But I didn’t reckon I’d learn much.

Wrong.

Here’s the panel in a nutshell: At the start of Round 3, Google’s Chris Wetherell showed how he’d used web standards to design the Gmail online mail application. (Note, it was web standards, not merely HTML, that powered the “HTML” team.) Next, SpireMedia’s Kevin Conboy showed how he had re-engineered Gmail using Flash instead of HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. The audience then clapped for the efforts of each side. The side we clapped louder for won that round.

I’ve mentioned Chris and Kevin but could have highlighted any of the combatants. You would kill to work with the likes of Eris Free, Vera Fleischer, Jaxxon Repp, and Dunstan Orchard. Everyone on the panel, not least moderator Jane Wells, had a high level of expertise coupled with an engagingly dynamic (or adorably shy) personality. The work was creatively inspiring; the “behind the design” discussions were to the point. But the surprise kick of the panel came from someplace completely different.

What was fresh and unexpected was the way panelists approached their tasks as users. Over and over, from the Flash and the “HTML” side, one heard comments like the following:

“I thought, as a user, what would I like to see here?”

For instance, when both teams reimagined Ludicorp Research’s Yahoo’s Flickr, the panelists in charge began by talking about why they loved the Flickr application — and then discussed (and executed) changes that could make Flickr even better from a user’s perspective. As a bonus surprise, on the night before the panel, the folks at Ludicorp implemented some of the changes made by the HTML team. (Digital) life imitates (virtual) game show.

Thinking like a user. It seems so obvious. But it is not.

When I think back to the many bleeding-edge CSS, DHTML, and Flash presentations I’ve seen or participated in over the years, the motivation was inevitably, “How hard can I push Flash?” or “How many objects can I move on this page?” or “What else can I show you in Firefox that won’t work in IE?”

It was never, “What would the user like?”

Yet in The Flash vs. HTML Game Show, designers with cutting edge skills were more interested in creating great user experiences than in manipulating their chosen technology for its own sake. Nobody on the panel and nobody in the audience thought twice about this user orientation. That is a profound change, and I hope it continues to spread.


10 March 2005 5 pm est

SXSW Bound

Schedule of Zeldman Events

Our little crew is off to Austin TX for another joyous installment of SXSW Interactive. See some of you there!


3 March 2005 10 am est

In today’s Report:
Digital Gallery launches
A great cultural institution puts hundreds of thousands of rare images online, free.
Good job!
A Manhattan-based web shop seeks client-side developers with strong, standards-driven HTML and CSS skills.

Digital Gallery launches

Fashion illustrations and illuminated manuscripts. Civil War photos and Japanese prints. The NYPL Digital Gallery, launched today, provides free access to over 275,000 images (soon to be 500,000) digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the world-renowned New York Public Library collections.

Four years in the making, the project shows how a great cultural institution can use the internet to distribute its richest and rarest content to all comers. Covering the launch in The New York Times, Sarah Boxer writes:

Let the browser beware. The New York Public Library’s collection of prints, maps, posters, photographs, illuminated manuscripts, sheet-music covers, dust jackets, menus and cigarette cards is now online. If you dive in today without knowing why, you might not surface for a long, long time.

Visitors can use the images any way they choose:

You can collect ’em, enlarge ’em, download ’em, print ’em and hang ’em on your wall at home. All are free, unless, of course, you plan to make money on them yourself. (Permission is required.)

Barbara Taranto of the Digital Library Program headed the effort. (The full credits rival those of a major motion picture.) Carrie Bickner Zeldman, who, among other things, managed the technical team that built the software, briefly describes how the publishing system uses XML to ensure fast public delivery.

Good job!

The Daily Report’s longtime pal Tim Murtaugh — he of Cloud King and Pirated Sites fame — informs us that his company is looking to hire standards-aware front end web experts:

IconNicholson, a Manhattan-based web shop, has openings for full-time client-side developers with strong, standards-driven HTML and CSS skills. Experience with JavaScript and server-side languages (ASP, PHP, etc) a plus, but not required. Must have an eye for both design and clean code. Send your resume to Tim Murtaugh [tmurtaugh AT iconnicholson.com] for more information.

IconNicholson has a strong design sensibility, to which Tim and his hires have added a respect for the user’s time and needs. As if that weren’t enough, the agency is housed on the eighth floor of the famous Puck Building, where Soho meets Nolita. Which means you will never lack for a good place to have lunch or a funky bar or gym in which to decompress after work.