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Past Blast

We’ve got mail!

Among the pleasures of running an independent personal site is the accidental discovery of an ancient page, such as the version of this site’s contact page from the 1990s that I stumbled onto this morning.

“We’ve got mail!” the old site cheerfully announces, complete with a meaningless header image. The image, like the header and navigation typography, is pixellated to convey “webbiness”—in case you forgot that you were looking at a website in a browser, I guess. “Got mail” is a play on America On-line (kids, ask your parents). “We” is the royal first person plural with which I used to write this site, despite being its sole author. I’d gotten into the habit of “we” from writing copy on entertainment sites for clients like Warner Bros. It made their sites, and mine, seem bigger. It was also an ongoing, self-deprecating joke, although not everyone got it.

As I look at this old page, the copy still feels like me, and it also, if I may say so, anticipates the playful directional body copy of Web 2.0 sites like Flickr by about a decade. (Could be coincidence. Derek Powazek and Heather Champ also wrote jovial instructional copy at the time. Others may have done so as well.)

I’m a lot more ashamed of the design. I’m particularly abashed at:

  • My abysmally stupid effort to straddle the “liquid layout” and “fixed width layout” genres by designing a page that doesn’t work as liquid or fixed. Possibly the only web design ever to put peanut butter and bicycle chains together and call it a sandwich. It should have stayed fixed, and the text and input fields should have matched the width of the illustration and header.
  • Alignment, alignment, alignment.
  • Tiny type with seemingly random hierarchy. In my defense, remember that in those days all type was pixellated. I picked 11px Georgia and 9px Verdana because those sizes looked great in that pixellated world. Still. Feh.

If your old work doesn’t shame you, you’re not growing.

It’s nice to look back and feel that you’ve made progress. When you look at old work, it should suck glaringly and you should cringe painfully. But there should also be some germ within it that you’re not ashamed of—some spark of talent or inspiration that connects to what you do now.

By L. Jeffrey Zeldman

“King of Web Standards”—Bloomberg Businessweek. Author, Designer, Founder. Employer Brand at Automattic. Publisher, & Ava’s dad. Pete’s brother (RIP). He/him.

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