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]

Jubilat!

Darden Studio has relaunched its website and released Jubilat, a fabulous slab serif. We’ve been beta-testing Jubilat all year; it’s my principal typeface for An Event Apart in 2008. (Last year’s principal An Event Apart typeface was Darden Studio’s Freight Sans.) New to Joshua Darden’s work? Try Birra Stout, a free font.

[tags]fonts, typography, darden, dardenfonts, joshuadarden, joshdarden, aneventapart, design, conference[/tags]

Books-a-Million

Pssst. New Happy Cog Studios design. Books-A-Million Online Bookstore. It looks even better when you start using it. Details soon at happycog.com.

Update: A Books-A-Million case study is now available for your reading pleasure at Happy Cog dot com.

[tags]books-a-million, happycog, design, webdesign[/tags]

Zing

John Gruber is right: his four-year-old Daring Fireball essay, Ronco Spray-on Usability, still holds up nicely indeed.

Alas, the notion that usability is the easy part—something you just add on after doing the hard part of writing the code—is hardly limited to the open source community.

There are still many companies that think information architecture holds a mirror up to the org chart.

There are still many web clients who believe it is more important to support an “investment” in a moribund technical platform than to create great user experiences.

There are even (although there are far fewer than there used to be) some designers who think their primary job is to wow the user with their skills.

[tags]design, usability[/tags]

Your US tax dollars at work

The Computing Community Consortium “supports the computing research community in creating compelling research visions and the mechanisms to realize these visions” and steals copyrighted design layouts from A List Apart magazine. (Judging by the color scheme, they stole the layout from Issue No. 254.)

The Computing Community Consortium is supported by National Science Foundation. Maybe if they steal enough layouts they can balance the budget.

Hat tip: Diwaker Gupta.

[tags]alistapart, design, theft, stealing, ethics, nsf.gov, Computing Community Consortium[/tags]

What happened here

It’s been a month for milestones.

On May 31, my site turned 13 years old.

On June 7, making the previous milestone and all others possible, I had 15 years without a drink or drug.

On Saturday June 28, Carrie and I celebrated five years of marriage by hiring a babysitter, eating a meal, and bumming around the east village.

Between these landmarks came a flight to Pittsburgh and back-to-back train trips from New York to Washington DC, and Boston.

In the last-named burg we put on a two-day design conference for people who make websites.

At home during this same period, our daughter outgrew last month’s clothes, began swimming, got a big-girl bed, attended and graduated summer camp, stopped being even slightly afraid of school, hung out with her grandma, and advanced so much intellectually and emotionally that it would qualify as science fiction if it weren’t the lived experience of ’most everyone who has kids.

Between all that came the usual tumult of client meetings, client projects, and potential new business, giddily intermingled with the publication of two A List Apart issues. Make that three issues as of tomorrow.

Been busy.

If I had to pick an image to symbolize the month, it would be me on a rerouted slow Amtrak train from Boston to New York, using an iPhone and one finger to peck out a strategic response to an 80 page RFP.

That would have been the image, but now there’s a new one. For now there’s today.

On the calendar it is Happy Cog New York’s moving day. Today I pack up what for 18 years was either my apartment or Happy Cog’s New York City headquarters (and was most often both).

I hit bottom in this place. Ended a short-lived, tragically wrong first marriage. Rebuilt my life one cell at a time. Found self. Found love. Became a web designer. Found the love of my life. Married well, had a magical child. Wrote two books. Made money and lost it a couple of times over. Founded a magazine. Co-founded a movement. Worked for others. Freelanced. Founded an agency. Grew it.

It all happened here.

This gently declining space that has been nothing but an office since December and will soon be nothing at all to me, this place I will empty and vacate in the next few hours, has seen everything from drug withdrawal to the first stirrings of childbirth. Happiness, anguish, farting and honeymoons. Everything. Everything but death.

Even after our family moved, the place was never empty. The heiress to an American fine art legacy came here, to this dump, to talk about a potential project. Two gentlemen who make an extraordinary food product came here many times to discuss how their website redesign was going.

When I wasn’t meeting someone for lunch, I went downstairs to this wonderful little place to take away a small soup and a sandwich, which I ate at my desk while reading nytimes.com. Helming the take-away lunch place are three Indian women who are just the sweetest, nicest people ever. The new studio is just far enough away that I will rarely see these ladies any more. I will miss them.

I will miss Josef, the super here, with his big black brush mustache and gruff, gently-East-European-accented voice. He will miss me, too. He just told me so, while we were arranging for the freight elevator. We were kind to him after his heart attack and he has been kind to us since he arrived—the last in a long series of supers caught between an aging building and a rental agent that prefers not to invest in keeping the place up. The doormen and porters, here, too, some of whom I’ve known for nearly twenty years, my God. Can’t think about that.

I will miss being able to hit the gym whenever I feel like it and shower right in my workplace.

And that is all.

This is the death of something but it is the birth of something more. We take everything with us, all our experiences (until age robs us of them one by one, and even then, they are somewhere—during the worst of my mother’s Alzheimer’s, she reacted, however subtly, to Sinatra). We take everything with us. The stink and glory of this place will stay on me even when we are set up in our slick new space. It will be with me long after the landlord’s collection letters have stopped. This place, what happened here, will live until my head cracks like a coconut, and then some.

And now I pre-pack. Adieu, adieu.

[tags]happycog, moves, moving, newyork, NYC, design, webdesign, alistapart, wedding, anniversary, zeldman, zeldman.com, 5years, 13years, 15years[/tags]

AEA Boston 2008 session notes

Early, initial linkage and reviews. Let us know what we missed!

Functioning Form – An Event Apart: Understanding Web Design

Luke Wroblewski: “Jeffrey Zeldman’s Understanding Web Design talk at An Event Apart Boston 2008 highlighted factors that made it challenging to explain the value and perspective of Web designers but still managed to offer a way to describe the field.”

Functioning Form – An Event Apart: The Lessons of CSS Frameworks

Luke Wroblewski: “At An Event Apart Boston 2008, Eric Meyer walked through common characteristics of several Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) frameworks and outlined lessons that can be learned from their structure.”

Functioning Form – An Event Apart: Good Design Ain’t Easy

Luke Wroblewski: “Jason Santa Maria’s Good Design Ain’t Easy talk at An Event Apart 2008 argued for deeper graphic resonance in the presentation of content online.”

KarlynMorissette.com: An Event Apart: Day one schedule

Karyln is an educator who attended An Event Apart Boston 2008, sat in the front row, and took fabulous notes. This summary post links to her individual notes from each session of day one.

Karlyn’s session notes are informative, opinionated, and fun to read, and include photos of speakers and presentations. Well worth your time!

KarlynMorissette.com: An Event Apart: Day two schedule

Karyln assesses day one and posts links to her individual notes from each session of day two (except for the last session, as “you had to be there” for the live critiques).

Idiot Banter: An Event Apart session notes

Notes from all sessions.

Slide sharing

Luke Wroblewski – An Event Apart: Web Application Hierarchy

“In my Web Application Hierarchy presentation at An Event Apart Boston 2008, I walked through the importance of visual hierarchy, visual principles for developing effective hierarchies, and utilizing applications of visual hierarchy to communicate central messages, guide actions, and present information. Download the slides from my presentation.”

Quirksmode: AEA Boston slides

From Peter-Paul Koch’s presentation on unobtrusive scripting.

[tags]aneventapart, design, webdesign, conference, aeaboston08, session notes, downloads[/tags]

So long, Boston. We’ll be back.

An Event Apart Boston 2008 is over but the memories and photos linger on.

Eric and I started An Event Apart because we saw the need for a live, concentrated, learning and sharing experience about best practices and inspiration for the standards-based web design community. Thanks to brilliant speakers, phenomenally dedicated and supremely competent staff, and an extraordinary and growing attendee base of passionate practitioners, the show is steadily becoming the thing of which we dreamed.

And the food was pretty good, too.

Thank you for the ideas, jokes, and kick-ass Keynote graphics, Luke, Jeff, Jared, Ethan, ppk, Chris, Andy, Kim, Jason, and Doug.

Thanks also to our wonderful sponsors, Adobe (who gave away six copies of Creative Suite 3), GoodBarry (who packed goodies for everyone), and (mt) Media Temple (who threw a party so good, many people who attended don’t remember having been there).

Most of all, our deep thanks to all who came. Without you, Eric and I would be two lonely crackpots with a theory that web design matters. It will sound insincere because I have a vested interested for saying and thinking this, but you are truly the smartest and coolest “audience” going, and I put audience in quotes because you are so much more than that. So, you know, thanks.

Thank you, Boston. We’ll be back in 2009. (And now, on to San Francisco and Chicago.)

Watch this space for AEA Boston session notes and download links, coming momentarily.

[tags]aneventapart, design, webdesign, conference, aeaboston08[/tags]

Video: Jeff Veen on Data Overload

Live onstage at An Event Apart New Orleans, Jeff Veen explains the magnitude of data we process every hour, and the responsibility of designers to help us make sense of it.

The next An Event Apart conference takes place next Monday and Tuesday in Boston.

[tags]jeffveen, data, google, aneventapart[/tags]

ALA 261: CSS layout redux; in praise of prototyping

In Issue No. 261 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

Faux Absolute Positioning

by Eric Sol

CSS layout is awesome, except when your layout calls for a header, a footer, and columns in between. Use float, and content changes can cause columns to wrap. Use absolute positioning, and your footer can crash into your columns. Add the complexity of drag-and-drop layouts, and a new technique is needed. Enter “faux absolute positioning.” Align every item to a predefined position on the grid (as with absolute positioning), but objects will still affect the normal flow (as with float).

Sketching in Code: the Magic of Prototyping

by David Verba

The rise of Ajax and rich internet applications has thrown the limitations of traditional wireframing into painful relief. When you leave the world of page-based interactions, how do you document all but the simplest interactions? Flowcharts and diagrams don’t work. Prototyping saves the day by focusing on the application and conveying its “magic.” Prototypes can help you sell a decision that is fundamentally or radically different from the client’s current solution or application. Sit a stakeholder down in front of a working prototype and show him or her why your approach is compelling.

[tags]css, layout, ajax, prototyping, information architecture, design, faux absolute positioning, webdesign, alistapart[/tags]