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]

Daily Reports from 1997 on

Our “Twelve Years of Web 1.0 Goodness” theme continues with a mini-retrospective of Daily Reports from 1997 on. (Earlier Reports are lost due to over-writing.) You don’t need the WayBack machine to go way back in zeldman.com history. Enjoy these representative Daily Report pages from …

Damn, that’s good eatin’. There are thousands of entries; these are just some I found while clicking idly along. As I look at them, I mostly focus on column width, font, text size, and color. I can’t bring myself to read them (although I’m sure some are okay). What is the value, anyway, of an old blog entry? Compared to an old song, an old valentine, not much. What an odd activity for so much human energy to have been channeled into.

Related

Since 1995
Twelve years of juicy Web 1.0 Goodness.™

[tags]blogs, blogging, daily report, blog history, zeldman, zeldman.com[/tags]

Conference speaker’s pledge

WEARING this attractive six-pointed star on my sleeve signifies my pledge to abide by a code of conduct. Presently the code of conduct is a draft, but we hope, by working together, to one day turn it into a second draft.

While speaking to you from this podium, I pledge the following:

  • I will not yodel.
  • I will not introduce my first slide by saying, “Here is my first slide.”
  • I will not conclude the discussion of my first slide by asking, “Any questions about my first slide?”
  • I will not ridicule my fellow presenters, not even the shallow idiots.
  • I will not become a womb of light.
  • I will not guess the weight of randomly selected audience members.
  • I will wear comfortable slacks.
  • I will not activate an under-seat “tingler” at the moment of greatest suspense.
  • I will not reveal the ending of the final Harry Potter novel, or that the lady in “The Crying Game” is a dude.
  • When I think about you, I will not touch myself.

Of course, sometimes, I might need to yodel, or even touch myself. Wearing the Gallagher Hammer-and-Watermelon Badge signifies that my presentation will be “anything goes.” You folks in the first five rows, button up your overcoats.

[tags]code of conduct[/tags]

The profession that dare not speak its name

I took it! And so should you. The Web Design Survey, 2007.

Question: If web design makes the new information age possible—if it creates new markets and new products, generates significant global cash flow, changes the way companies and non-profits interact with the public, and employs untold legions of specialists—why, until now, hasn’t anybody tried to find out more about it as an industry?

Hypothesis: No one has tried to measure web design because web design has been a hidden profession.

The hypothesis is neither far-fetched nor particularly insightful. If you think about it, it’s obvious. Web design has been hidden because its workers have, for the most part, been masked by old business and old media categories. Call it death by org chart:

  • A producer, designer, and developer collaborate daily on their non-profit’s rather unwieldy website. The producer’s business card claims she is an Associate Communications Coordinator. The designer’s title is Art Director. The developer is called an Assistant Director of IT. All three are really web professionals—but nobody calls them that, and nobody at the organization solicits their opinions except on small, technical matters. This, even though the website handles nearly all public communication and fund-raising, and these three are the only people in the organization who know about usability and design.
  • On paper, a large law firm employs only one web employee despite having a vast public website and an even bigger intranet site. Her title is webmaster, although she is really a graphic designer with HTML, CSS, PHP, and usability expertise. On the corporate org chart, she reports to one of the partners, who is charged with supervising the website in his free time. He knows nothing about websites, so she handles everything. Once a month they have lunch; once a year she gets a nice raise. Because she reports to an attorney, she is part of Legal.
  • On paper, a daily news magazine employs just one “web” employee. His title is webmaster, although he is really a developer, and he is slowly being squeezed out. The actual web development work—and there is a ton of it, every day—is performed by two IT staffers. A half dozen other folks work on page templates and site image production; on paper, they are graphic designers. The site is directed by a committee representing the editorial, advertising, and marketing departments. But regardless of their placement on the org chart, they are really web people, making web content and web layout decisions that are then executed by the “graphic designers” and “IT guys.” In all, nearly fifteen workers toil over the magazine’s website each day, yet the magazine’s web “staff” consists of one guy who’s about to take an early retirement.

There are many self-proclaimed freelance web designers and developers, and many staff people with those (and related) titles, but there are also hundreds of thousands of “hidden” web designers and developers, and this partly accounts for the business world’s indifference to us.

But the hidden workers are coming out of the shadows. Over 12,000 people filled out The Web Design Survey during its first 24 hours online. Average completion time was 8 minutes, 45 seconds. Not a bad start. Keep spreading the word.

[tags]webdesign, survey, web design survey, ala, alistapart, design, development[/tags]

The Web Design Survey

A few days back, we remarked on the strange absence of real data about web design and the designers, developers, IAs, writers, project managers, and other specialists and hybrids who do this work. In all the years people have been creating websites, nobody bothered to gather statistics about who does this work, using what skills, under what conditions, and for what kinds of compensation.

In the absence of statistics specific to our field, commissioning research got us only so far. It was time to take the next step.

I took it! And so should you. The Web Design Survey, 2007.

Presenting A List Apart’s first annual web design survey. The information it collects will help us form a long overdue picture of the ways web design is really practiced around the globe. The more people who complete the survey, the richer and more detailed the picture will become.

Depending on how you answer it, the survey has up to 37 questions, nearly all of them multiple choice. A fluent English speaker should be able to complete the survey in ten minutes or less.

In structuring the sections on employment, we patterned certain questions along the lines established by previous surveys undertaken by AIGA and The Information Architecture Institute. The similarity will afford easier comparisons across the three surveys. This comparability will be useful because some “web designers” are also (or primarily) designers, and thus also fall under AIGA’s umbrella, while other “web designers” are primarily information architects.

Hosted by An Event Apart, the survey will remain open until 22 May, 2007. After we close it, we’ll slice and dice the data and present our findings in a future issue of A List Apart.

Help us increase accurate knowledge about—and deepen respect for—the profession of web design. Take the survey and spread the word. (You might even win a free ticket to An Event Apart, a 30GB video iPod, an Event Apart jump drive, or a funky A List Apart T-shirt.)

Also in this issue of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

The Long Hallway

by Jonathan Follett

In the virtual conference room, no one can hear you scream. Social networking enables knowledge workers like us to build virtual companies with no office space and little overhead. But can we make them succeed? Follett dissects the skills required to create, manage, and grow the virtual firm.

Contrast and Meaning

by Andy Rutledge

Yes, Virginia, design does matter. Better web page layouts aren’t only about aesthetics. A layout with clear hierarchies can turn scanners to readers, and readers to members. Learn how visual contrast can turn lifeless web pages into sizzling calls to action.

[tags]webdesign, survey, design, development, compensation, business, alistapart, AndyRutledge, JonathanFollett, longhallway, thelonghallway[/tags]

Noware

I’m on one of the oldest DSL installations in New York City—you should see the copper in my closet. It is also one of slowest DSL connections still in active use in the world, I believe. Maximum throughput never exceeds 32 KB/second.

The syrup-slow pace keeps me honest as a web designer: if our page weights cause pain, I feel it and we fix it. Still, when every YouTube video stutters, and every emusic.com preview times out, maybe it’s time for a speed boost.

After An Event Apart Boston, I ordered a DSL speed upgrade. I should have harpooned myself repeatedly in the thigh. It would have hurt less and been quicker.

No matter who you choose for an ISP (I use the Mac-friendly company Speakeasy), upgrading DSL service in New York City almost certainly means working with Covad and Verizon. Those two companies installed my original DSL network back in the go-go, dot-com 90s, and it was up to them to flip the switches once again.

It’s been an amusing two weeks of reboots and service calls—of voice mail that never hangs up, and an internet connection that never connects. For your pleasure, I will share two conversations that actually took place:

The phone call

Two weeks in, the DSL technician from Verizon phones me.

He asks what the problem is.

I say, doesn’t he know what the problem is?

He says nobody tells him anything. This turns out to be true.

He doesn’t know I’m a Verizon customer.

He doesn’t know Verizon works with Covad and Speakeasy to provide DSL.

I ask if he is the guy in charge of DSL for Verizon and he says yes.

He asks what the problem is.

I explain that the modem isn’t getting an IP address, and there is no internet connection—not even when you manually enter all the IP data.

He says, “So you have a synch problem.”

I say, because he seems to want this, “Yes. I have a synch problem.”

He says he’ll be right over.

This really happened

Using my phone, the Verizon technician calls Covad to initiate tests. The Covad operator tells the Verizon technician to hang up at once.

“No wonder he doesn’t have the internet if you’re using his phone,” the Covad operator says.

“What are you talking about? That’s a feature of DSL, that you have an internet connection even when you’re on the phone,” the Verizon technician explains to the Covad operator.

This conversation really happens. I’m right there.

Noware

Adam Greenfield has famously said, “The age of ubiquitous computing is here: a computing without computers, where information processing has diffused into everyday life, and virtually disappeared from view.”

I believe him. But meantime, I need to use computers and phone lines.

During the blackout of 2003, when there was no electricity in the northeast, and no water in New York City apartment buildings above the sixth floor, Adam Greenfield less famously told me, “Infrastructure’s a bitch.”

Adam Greenfield is right.

Women in web design: just the stats

The underrepresentation of women and minorities in the information technology workforce is like the weather: everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything.

In February 2007, Jason Kottke called our community on its inertia by publishing information showing the low percentage of female speakers at conferences about design, technology, and the web. One conference he cited was An Event Apart, which I founded with Eric Meyer.

How can conference organizers, employers and educators help our field better reflect the world we live in? One problem in deciding what to do about the issue is that, as is so often the case with matters of equality and justice, surprisingly little is known about the phenomenon or its causes. Feelings and anecdotes are plentiful, facts are scarce.

So An Event Apart commissioned a fact-finding mission. We hired researchers at The New York Public Library to find out everything that is actually known about the percentage of women in our field, and their positions relative to their male colleagues. Because such research could go on indefinitely, we assigned the project a budget and time-frame; researchers worked within those constraints.

The data they mined concerned women and minorities in the information technology (IT) workforce. IT was as close as we could come to our specific field. There is no data on web design and web designers. Web design is twelve years old, employs hundreds of thousands (if not millions), and generates billions, so you’d think there would be some basic research data available on it, but there ain’t. (Maybe A List Apart will gather such data one day, perhaps in collaboration with a logical partner like Boxes and Arrows.)

So the first disclaimer is that our research covers IT, not just web design. The second is that we’re still sifting the data we received. This is nothing like a final report. If a final report emerges, it will come from An Event Apart.

All that out of the way, the picture that emerges is disturbing:

  • Men outnumber women in this workforce by over three to one.
  • The percentage of women employed in the field is declining instead of growing.
  • Women who participate in the field may not be promoted as often or as high as their male colleagues.

Here, briefly cited, is a small portion of “Untapped Talent: Diversity, Competition, and America’s High Tech Future,” a 21 June 2007 special report by the Information Technology Association of America:

This study by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) finds that women and most racial minorities remain significantly underrepresented in today’s U.S information technology (IT) workforce. By examining data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Current Population Surveys, this report, like previous ITA diversity studies conducted in 1998 and 2003, documents the percentages of women and minorities in BLS occupational classifications that comprise the IT workforce in 2004 and compares them to previous years to determine the progression and regression of diversity. The data presentation is followed by a discussion of possible barriers to entry for underrepresented groups and solutions to overcoming those barriers. The report also highlights successful public- and private-sector groups that encourage more diversity and support women and minorities in IT.

The news here is not good: The percentage of women in the IT workforce has declined by 18.5% since 1996, from a high of 41% in 1996 to 32.4% in 2004. This is true even while the percentage of women in the overall workforce remained relatively unchanged. Women are also far less likely to return to the IT workforce….

The declining representation of women is due largely to the fact that one out of every three women in the IT workforce fall into administrative job categories that have experienced significant overall declines in recent years. When those categories are excluded from the analysis, the percentage of women in IT drops from 32.4% to 24.9%. The figures represent no progress in the numbers of women in the professional or management ranks from the relatively low 25.4% mark achieved in 2002. At best, the data suggest that the number of all women in the IT industry is dropping substantially; at worst, these statistics illustrate a situation in which women are failing to advance in the managerial and professional ranks and the IT industry is failing to draw on a critical talent base.

Clearly, there is much to be done. Stay tuned.

[tags]diversity, IT, design, webdesign, women, workforce[/tags]

Where are the Women? Where are the Links?

Nothing delights web designers more than a friendly discussion on women in design and technology. One version of this perennial crowd-pleaser runs, “Where are all the women?” AKA “Why don’t more women participate in design/technology?” The discussion may then fault men for making design or technology seem “hard” or “unattractive”—as if women avoid doing things that are hard, a proposition that’s as ludicrous as it is sexist.

A more accurate variation on this theme acknowledges that there are truckloads of busy, competent women in design (or technology), and asks why women’s achievements in these fields go grotesquely under-reported and under-recognized. That is a fair and important question but we are not here to answer it. Nor are we here to address the creepy predatory behavior to which prominent women in our field are often subjected.

We are here because a postcard from the Art Directors Club alerted me to “The Woman Vanguard,” an ADC [Art Directors Club] Young Guns Live workshop and presentation moderated by the wonderful Debbie Millman, sponsored by Adobe, and apparently featuring the work and thoughts of some leading young female art directors.

That sounded good to me and might to some of you, too, so I decided to learn more by visiting the Art Directors Club’s website and potentially sharing what I learned. And there, hope shattered.

I would link to a page about this event if I could find one on the site. But there are, as near as I can determine, no “pages” on the site. It’s all Flash text (pixellated 1997 style) in squat little iframes. You are always, essentially, on the home page. If you’re lucky enough to stumble onto what you came looking for, you won’t be able to bookmark it or share it. I could spend an hour discussing what’s wrong with this site, but so could anyone reading this. You all know this. Why don’t the site’s creators?

The Art Directors Club’s site was designed by R/GA, an agency run and founded by visionaries. I respect them immensely as art directors and filmmakers. Respect doesn’t cover it. I am in awe of their founder and of their years of achievement in their realms of expertise. But they have no business designing websites, if this is the best they can do on behalf of a leading organization whose purpose is to recognize and promote visual culture.

Information architecture. Usability. Accessibility. Web standards. If you don’t know about these things, stop designing websites until you have learned. Competence in graphic design is merely a baseline; it does not qualify you to create user experiences for the web.

Every time I think I can stop talking about these obvious, simple truths, some crazy bad 90s style train wreck hits me headlong and makes me weep anew.

[tags]ux, ia, webdesign, design, userexperience, usability, adc, artdirectorsclub[/tags]

Comments are the lifeblood of the blogosphere

I spent the latter half of last week with my dad (photos). I did not bring a laptop, nor did I use any of his computers to access the internet. The trip was about dad, not about dad between e-mails.

When I returned to New York City, 193 comments awaited me in the moderation queue. 191 were spam. Some concerned a young lady. Others promoted medications. Two of the 193 comments were actually relevant to my site’s content, although they were trackbacks, not comments. (By the way, Wikipedia, which is it? TrackBack, with an intercap, or Trackback, without? Wikipedia’s trackback entry has it both ways.)

I use Askimet to control comment spam, and although it missed the 191 spam comments previously mentioned, it did flag as spam an additional ten comments, eight of which were spam. The other two were actual reader comments—the only real comments that came in while I was away. Askimet works for most users. Nothing works for me. But I digress.

Executive Summary: Of 203 comments received in a three-day period, two were comments (falsely flagged as spam), two others were trackbacks, and the rest were spam, although 191 of them were not identified as such. If comments are a site’s lifeblood, my site is having a stroke. (Which, by the way, was a popular verb in 42 of the spam comments I received.)

If I wrote more frequently, I would not get less spam, but I would enjoy a higher proportion of actual comments. I wrote every day, several times a day, for years here before comment systems, let alone blogging tools, were available. These days I have less time to write here or anywhere. But I will write more, promise.

I would get much less spam if my site were less frequently linked to and visited, but who wants a less-linked, less-visited site?

I would get no spam if I turned off comments, but I would also get no comments. And comments, real comments, are good.

Or so they tell me.

Comments off.

Kidding.

[tags]blogs, blogging, blogosphere, comments, spam, commentspam[/tags]

From Bulgaria With Love

An Event Apart Boston 2007 was the best attended show since Mr Meyer and I founded our design conference scarcely sixteen months ago. Attendees came from as far away as Singapore and India. They hailed from Bulgaria (2), Canada (12), Estonia (1), Finland (2), India (1), Ireland (1), Latvia (1), Singapore (1), Sweden (1), the UK (3), and the US (510).

In all, 546 web artisans descended on Boston for our two-day event. The engagement and commitment of this audience were electric. Rather than waste pixels on my impressions of the show, I submit these third-party posts and artifacts:

Photos and slide shows

Flickr Event Apart Boston 2007 photo pool
Featuring swag, special effects, and the elusive decopus.
Ethan Marcotte’s Event Apart slides
Viewing slides without seeing the speaker’s live presentation is like trying to understand world events by looking at a photo of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Nonetheless, here are the slides from “Web Standards Stole My Truck!”
Dan Cederholm’s Event Apart slides
Beautiful slides (same disclaimer applies) plus a nice little post.

Posts and commentary

Pelennor Fields Day One
Pelennor Fields Day Two
Matt Winckler’s quick summaries and reviews of the presentations. “The goal is to provide a few-sentence summary of each talk, followed by my quick rating on a scale of 1 to 10, followed again by my brief explanation of the rating.”
stevekarsch.com: An Event Apart, Day One
stevekarsch.com: An Event Apart, Day Two
Steve Karsch’s notes make you feel as if you were there.
Chausse.org: Thoughts from An Event Apart
“An Event Apart Boston was a great experience. Whenever I’m at a conference, I get an insatiable urge to drop whatever I’m doing with my life and become an expert at whatever the speaker’s talking about. Anyway, a few notes.”
An Event Apart Boston – from the Aten Blog
Justin Toupin, co-founder and design lead for Aten Design Group, reviews the show: “The conference was amazing. Nine expert speakers presented on a range of topics from the conceptual to the practical. I’ve never been so happy to sit in one place for so long.”
Ed’s Development Blog: Back from AEA
Ed Higgins: “It was the first conference I’ve been to that I’ve been sad about it ending. Typically the last day of most conferences just drags… At AEA, every session was gold and I wish it could’ve lasted longer.”
AEA Boston, Day One: Jeffrey Zeldman’s Writing the User Interface
Cromulent Code: write-up of “Writing the User Interface,” my talk on Day One of An Event Apart Boston 2007. “How text contributes to a site/s usability and branding.”
Grapefeed: An Event Apart
Grapefeed’s experiences at An Event Apart Boston included a nerve-grinding, last-minute scramble to an alternate train station when the Back Bay station was sealed off because of a gas leak. (Same thing happened to me.)
ivantohelpyou: Notes from An Event Apart, Boston, Day
Blow by blow impressions.
impending post explosion
Stellargirl: “Just got back from An Event Apart Boston… I totally feel like the kid in that Far Side cartoon who says, ‘May I be excused? My brain is full.’”
days without a job: An Event Apart – Boston
“First day of a two day conference was great. We were told that there were more than 500 attendees!”
Zeldman Gem of the Day
Hardly a gem, but this excerpt captures part of the thrust of my talk on “Selling Design.”
Cameron Moll: AEA Boston
Highlights from the perspective of a (great) speaker.
Adobe’s Scott Fegette: CS3 Launch at An Event Apart
“I’ve been answering questions all day at An Event Apart about the new CS3 products. Even better, I gave away … three advance copies of CS3 Web Premium to three lucky attendees. An Event Apart is a really great mix of disciplines all centering on site design and development. I’ve talked to educators, government developers, indie web production shops, animators and video pros- just in the last hour alone.” (Adobe was a sponsor of An Event Apart Boston.)
Meyerweb: After Boston
Event Apart co-founder Eric Meyer: “I see the attendees at AEA as the craftsmen and women of the web. Sure, there are shops mass-producing sites, the way a factory churns out cheap clocks. That’s fine if you just want something to put on your nightstand. But if you want an elegant, finely tuned work of art that you’d hang in a prominent place, a clock that is as much a point of pride as a timepiece—you find a craftsman. And that’s who came to Boston. That’s who comes to An Event Apart.”

[tags]aneventapart, aeaboston07, aeaboston2007[/tags]