The Wind-Down

LISTENING to Coltrane. Taking a break after assembling American Girl doll bunk beds. The tuxedo cat has appropriated Ava’s American Girl doll tent as his personal summer house. Ava is making up a song about wishing on a star. End of summer. Happy.

The Amanda Project

Designed by Happy Cog and launched today, The Amanda Project is a social media network, creative writing project, interactive game, and book series combined:

The Amanda Project is the story of Amanda Valentino, told through an interactive website and book series for readers aged 13 & up. On the website, readers are invited to become a part of the story as they help the main characters search for Amanda.

The writing-focused social media network is designed and written as if by characters from the Amanda novels, and encourages readers to enter the novel’s world by joining the search for Amanda, following clues and reading passages that exist only online, and ultimately helping to shape the course of the Amanda narrative across eight novels. (The first Amanda novel—Invisible I, written by Melissa Kantor—comes out 22 September.)

The site developed over a year of intense creative collaboration between Happy Cog and Fourth Story Media, a book publisher and new media company spearheaded by publishing whiz Lisa Holton. Prior to starting Fourth Story, Lisa was was President, Scholastic Trade Publishing and Book Fairs; managed the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; and oversaw development of The 39 Clues. Before that she spent nearly a decade developing numerous bestselling, franchise-launching series at Disney.

Happy Cog‘s New York office developed this project. The team:

Equally vital to the project’s success were Fourth Story’s leaders and partners, including:

  • Lorraine Shanley, Principal Advisor
  • Ariel Aberg-Riger (website, Twitter), Creative Development & Marketing Manager
  • JillEllyn Riley, Editorial Director
  • Dale Robbins, Creative Director
  • David Stack, Director, Digital Partnerships
  • Melissa Kantor, Writer
  • Peter Silsbee, Writer
  • Polly Kanevsky, Art Director
  • Sam Gerstenzang, Technology Consultant

Today’s launch is not the end of our relationship with Fourth Story Media. The Amanda Project will continue to evolve, and Happy Cog will remain an active partner in its direction and growth. We thank our brilliant collaborators and congratulate them on today’s milestone.

Read more

[tags]amanda, amandaproject, theamandaproject, TAP, happycog, design, webdesign, contentstrategy, userexperience, publishing, books, aarongustafson, lizdanzico, erinkissane, whitneyhess, mattgoldenberg, kellymccarthy, jasonsantamaria, jeffreyzeldman, lisaholton, dalerobbins, davidstack, JillEllynRiley, ArielAberg-Riger[/tags]

Pain is my alarm clock

Today the pain woke me at 5:00 AM. One week ago today I had surgery. While most of me has bounced back, parts look like I disagreed with a mule. There is tenderness where a hernia repair botched by NYU interns 20 years ago finally got fixed. There’s throbbing, tumescent, Tim-Burton-directed pain in other places, where other things were done.

Jeffrey Zeldman

The past 12 months have been … interesting. I fired a client. My lead designer in New York decided to strike out on his own. I woke one morning with a toe the size of Cleveland, and after four months of practitioner hot potato, was diagnosed with gout and osteoarthritis. My dad had heart surgery, and airline incompetence got me to his side after it was over. (Fortunately he survived.) One of my businesses yielded a tax bill I couldn’t pay. I required intensive periodontal care. My hernia, supposedly fixed two decades ago, popped open again.

Somewhere in the middle of this—around Thanksgiving—my beloved wife screwed up the courage to confess that she was unhappy.

A year of couples counseling could not save the marriage. We did, however, save the family. Our child is well, we co-parent beautifully, and, with a lot of work on both sides, the ex and I have become good friends. Better friends, maybe, than when we were husband and wife. Friends for life. Lemonade for 200, Alex.

Holding onto yesterday

The dizzying marital sea change dwarfed everything else. At first I was stunned, like an accident victim. During one of the comic episodes of my toe enlargement mystery, I found myself alone in a hospital gown, about to have an MRI. In the mirror I reminded myself of my hospital-gowned father, whose surgery I had just attended. The doctor bustled in to ask me questions before the test. “How you doing,” he said. It took all my strength not to babble, “My wife is leaving me.”

We threw a Christmas party in the studio. My wife and child were among the guests, the wife looking radiant, the child frolicking adorably. I sensed that people viewed me as lucky and successful, and most were happy for me. They didn’t know that I was about to lose the only thing that matters. In the midst of happy celebrants, I felt alone.

During the inauguration of President Obama, while much of the world experienced hope, I focused on Laura Bush standing beside George Bush, and wondered why their marriage endured, while mine was falling apart.

It was like that. Then it got better.

The love you make

One day I realized I could not change what would happen, but I could influence how it happened. I could be the angry denier, hanging onto what no longer exists. Or I could embrace change with love and no conditions. After all, it was not about me, it was about us. And the most important thing was that the most important one of us be protected and continue to feel safe and loved.

Once you figure that out, the rest is easy, if you have a good partner.

By the time I started letting people know about the divorce, I was almost okay with it. I had stopped feeling that things were happening to me, and started taking control of my life. I enjoyed family time and single time. Although my depressed mother had raised me to view self-love as narcissism, I began taking care of myself. I ate sensibly, exercised, saw friends, took time to relax.

As part of that self-care, I opted not to leave unexploded land mines in my system.

During yesterday’s initial follow-up, the surgeon told me I was doing well—recovering fast. I celebrated by walking three miles down Fifth Avenue and meeting a friend for lunch. Then the pain told me to rush home and lie down, and I did as the pain commanded.

The pain that wakes me is good pain. It is the pain of taking care of yourself. The pain of recovery.

[tags]myglamorouslife, zeldman[/tags]

.net interview

There was a point in the 90s when I felt like a sucker for doing HTML and CSS.”

The .net Zeldman interview is available for your downloading pleasure (4.2 MB PDF). For more of the best in web design and development, visit

Update, 27 May 2009

An HTML version of the interview has now been posted on .net’s website.

[tags]webdesign, webdevelopment, magazine, interview, .net, netmag, interview, interviews, zeldman, jeffreyzeldman[/tags]

Redesign template finals

Note: Top left and top right footer elements rotate. ALA element (top middle) changes every two weeks, upon publication. Bottom three elements are static, at least for now.

Thanks to Mark Huot for the rotation script (same one we use on Happy Cog) and Noel Jackson, Daniel Mall, and Media Temple for the love and support.

A couple more templates to go, and then we can build this thing. Can’t wait.

[tags]zeldman,, design, redesign, designingfromthecontentout[/tags]

Alternate color scheme

Thanks for the great feedback, folks. For those who find the orange background objectionable, I’ll offer a user-selectable alternate color scheme, like this one (quick sketch, ignore the color of the printer’s mark at the top, final colors may vary).

[tags]zeldman,, redesign, webdesign, css, code[/tags]

Redesign in progress

Here’s a little something for a Wednesday evening. (Or wherever day and time it is in your part of the world.)

The body and bottom of the next design are now finished. Tomorrow I start working on the top.

Have a look.

Looks extra sweet in iPhone.

I’m designing from the content out. Meaning that I designed the middle of the page (the part you read) first. Because that’s what this site is about.

When I was satisfied that it was not only readable but actually encouraged reading, I brought in colors and started working on the footer. (The colors, I need not point out to longtime visitors, hearken back to the brand as it was in the 1990s.)

The footer, I reckoned, was the right place for my literary and software products.

I designed the grid in my head, verified it on sketch paper, and laid out the footer bits in Photoshop just to make sure they fit and looked right. Essentially, though, this is a design process that takes place outside Photoshop. That is, it starts in my head, gets interpreted via CSS, viewed in a browser, and tweaked.

Do not interpret this as me dumping on Photoshop. I love Photoshop and could not live or work without it. But especially for a simple site focused on reading, I find it quicker and easier to tweak font settings in code than to laboriously render pages in Photoshop.

If you view source, I haven’t optimized the CSS. (There’s no sense in doing so yet, as I still have to design the top of the page.)

I thought about waiting till I was finished before showing anything. That, after all, is what any sensible designer would do. But this site has a long history of redesigning in public, and the current design has been with us at least four years too long. Since I can’t snap my fingers and change it, sharing is the next best thing.

A work in progress. Like ourselves.

[tags]zeldman,, redesign, webdesign, css, code[/tags]

“Taking Your Talent to the Web” is now a free downloadable book

Taking Your Talent To The Web, a guide for the transitioning designer, by L. Jeffrey Zeldman. Hand model: Tim Brown.

RATED FIVE STARS at since the day it was published, Taking Your Talent to the Web (PDF) is now a free downloadable book from

I wrote this book in 2001 for print designers whose clients want websites, print art directors who’d like to move into full–time web and interaction design, homepage creators who are ready to turn pro, and professionals who seek to deepen their web skills and understanding.

Here we are in 2009, and print designers and art directors are scrambling to move into web and interaction design.

The dot-com crash killed this book. Now it lives again. While browser references and modem speeds may reek of 2001, much of the advice about transitioning to the web still holds true.

It’s yours. Enjoy.

Oh, yes, here’s that ancient Amazon page.

Short Link

Update – now with bookmarks

Attention, K-Mart shoppers. The PDF now includes proper Acrobat bookmarks, courtesy of Robert Black. Thanks, Robert!