Today marks 15 full months that I’ve been working on a side project called Crafd. It’s a community for people who make things by hand: In that time …Resistance makes side projects hard
For more than two decades, patients of an OB/GYN named Robert Hadden warned Columbia University that he was sexually inappropriate and abusive. One …How Columbia Ignored Women, Undermined Prosecutors and Protected a Predator For More Than 20 Years
“The user is never wrong” means, when a user snags on a part of your UX that doesn’t work for her, she’s not making a mistake, she’s doing you a favor.
To benefit from this favor, you must pay vigilant attention, prioritize the discovery, dig deeply enough to understand the problem, and then actually solve it.
In so doing, you will not only be secretly thanking the user who discovered your error, you’ll be aiding all of your users, and ultimately, attracting new ones.
Think about this tomorrow. For today, Happy Labor Day to all who toil.
My daughter Ava has written a new essay about autism, trauma, and the mysteries of socialization.
I used to tell a joke I made up. An American goes to the Vatican on Easter Sunday, joining a huge crowd of worshippers who gaze up in awe at a raised platform. On the platform stands the Pope. Beside him is Liz Danzico.
The American turns to a nearby man and asks, “Excuse me. Who is that with the Holy Father?”
The man answers, “I don’t-a know who’s the guy in the pointy hat, but that’s-a Liz Danzico up there.”
Who will design the next generation of readable, writerly web layouts?
Layouts for sites that are mostly writing. Designed by people who love writing. Where text can be engaging even if it isn’t offset by art or photography. Where text is the point.
With well considered flexible typesetting, modular scaling, and readable measures across a full range of proportions and devices. With optional small details that make reading screens of text a pleasure instead of a chore. With type sizes that are easy to read without needing to zoom in. And with a range of interesting sans and serif fonts (including variable fonts) that support reading and encourage creative exploration where headlines are concerned.
Well? How did we get here?
The web has come along way since design meant crafting UIs in Photoshop and exporting them as sliced GIFs. Flash. SiFR. Table layout. Rebellion and rethinking. Liquid layout. Semantic HTML and CSS layout. Adaptive layout. Responsive layout. Intrinsic layout. Web fonts. Big type and super lightweight UX emphasizing readability was new (and controversial!) in 2012. We’ve long since accepted and improved upon it. Today’s news, magazine, and blog pages are more flexible, readable, and refined than ever before.
So what comes next? For writers, one hopes that what’s next is a fresh crop of small, innovative advancements. Improvements that are felt by readers, even when they aren’t always consciously noticed. Layouts that are not merely legible, but actually feel inevitable, at all sizes and in all contexts.
Beyond outside the box
Services like Typetura may point the way. A marriage of type and tech, Typetura is different from other typesetting methods. An intrinsic typography technology, it “enables you to design with more flexibility, while dramatically reducing code.” Disclaimer: I’m friends with, and have long admired the work of, Typetura founder Scott Kellum. Designing With Web Standards readers will recognize his name from the Kellum Image Replacement days of the early 2000s, but that ain’t the half of what he has done for web design, e.g. inventing dynamic typographic systems, high impact ad formats, new parallax techniques, and fluid typesetting technology. Scott was also the coder, along with Filipe Fortes, of Roger Black’s late, lamented Treesaver technology. But I digress.
The tech is not the point—except in so far as it improves our ability to think beyond our current understanding of what design and layout means. Just as Gutenberg’s printing press was not the point, but it was the point of departure. Initially, the invention of movable type reproduced the writing we already knew (i.e. the King James Bible). But ultimately, by freeing writing and reading from narrow elite circles and bringing it to more (and more diverse) minds, Gutenberg’s invention transformed what writing was and could be—from the invention of newspapers to the fiction of Virginia Woolf to multimedia experiences, and perhaps even to the web.
Let us all to play with Jen Simmons’s intrinsic web layout ideas and Scott Kellum and partners’s Typetura. While we also sketch in pencil and spend time looking at well designed books —printed, bound ones as well as digital publications in various devices. And specifically, not just fabulous coffee table books, but books that you’ve reread over and over, to understand what, beyond the text itself, encourages that reading response. So that, together, we may take the experiences of both reading and writing to the next level.
If you’re new to the interplay between design and code on the open web, or if you just want a refresher, here are some evergreen links for your further learning and pleasure:
- Getting Started with CSS Layout—Rachel Andrew, Smashing Magazine
- CSS Grid Layout—MDN web docs
- Grid by Example—Rachel Andrew
- A Complete Guide to Grid—Chris House, CSS-Tricks
- Practical CSS Grid: Adding Grid to an Existing Design—Eric Meyer, A List Apart
- Jen Simmons Labs
- Layout Land—YouTube
- A Book Apart: The New CSS Layout, by Rachel Andrew
- The Story of CSS Grid, from its Creators—Aaron Gustafson, A List Apart
- Transcript: Intrinsic Web Design with Jen Simmons (The Big Web Show)
- CSS Grid Layout with Rachel Andrew (The Big Web Show)
- My Poynter Style Guide
- Authoritative, Readable, Branded: Report from Poynter Design Challenge, Part 2
When I joined a tech company after working for myself for 20 years, the corporate world had changed in many ways. One, in particular, struck me. My old jobs had existed in environments so laddish and rowdy that even I, as a man, had felt uncomfortable in them. So I’d gotten out.
For 20 years, I ran my own businesses. I prioritized impact over profit. I prized adherence to a set of beliefs over survival. If marketplace disruptions made pivoting to an ugly business model the only way to keep a company going, I shut that company down—even when I wasn’t sure what I would do next.
After shutting down enough of my companies to convince me that maybe “business” wasn’t my strength, what I did next, in 2019, was to join Automattic, Inc.—the people behind WordPress.com, Jetpack, WooCommerce, Simplenote, Tumblr, and other web-based empowerment tools.
It’s nothing like the places where I used to work.
We believe in Open Source. Follow a Creed. Instead of laddishness, we support and even celebrate difference. One way that support flows is through Employee Resource Groups, which we at Automattic call Automattician Resource Groups, or ARGs—so that’s the name I’ll use here.
ARGs are communities, formed around personal identity and situation, where colleagues connect with and support each other and work together toward common goals.
At Automattic, we have several of these ARG communities. Eventually, as the lead of Automattic’s Employer Brand activity, I plan to join them all. Initially, I joined two: Neurodiverseomattic and Queeromattic. I saw myself as an ally. In joining these two ARGs, I hoped to become wiser and kinder; to increase my ability to support, live, and work with family, friends, and colleagues; to deepen my interpersonal skills; and to grow in compassion and understanding.
I accomplished those goals, but I also gained something I hadn’t expected.
It started with Neurodiverseomattic, a group that provides support and resources for neurodivergent Automatticians (including but not limited to autism, ADHD, dyslexia) and their allies.
As the dad of an autistic daughter (who also suffers from an alphabet soup of additional diagnoses), I have the joy of loving, living with, and learning from one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever encountered. But I also have the challenge of supporting someone whose life, through no fault of her own, is often painfully difficult.
I must listen when she needs an ear. Advise when she seeks help—and occasionally when she doesn’t.
Autism, in my daughter’s case, simultaneously includes remarkable, magical, wondrous capabilities, along with painful, mostly social, disabilities.
Some Neurodiverseomattic members are neurodiverse themselves; some are neurotypical but support neurodiverse family members; many, maybe most, are neurodiverse themselves and also support neurodiverse family members.
Over months, the more I shared experiences with members of my ARG, the better I became at meeting the challenges of parenting an autistic, depressed, anxious, dyslexic, artistic, gifted, emotionally intense, profoundly insightful teenager. And the more I came to realize that other members of my family had also been on the spectrum. Like my late father. And maybe my late brother. And, in a different way, my late mom. And…
And the more Ava shared her past experiences of being bullied, misunderstood, abandoned, and confused, the more I realized that I myself had had many of the same feelings and experiences growing up that she was having.
Like Ava, I had gone through a period of crying every day at the thought of going to school. The terror of brutal bullying and the shame of not fighting back. The shock of trusted friends laughing at me, not with me, or pretending not to know me. Lubricating their rise in the social ranks by pretending to find me ridiculous. Or maybe not pretending.
Like Ava, I’d concocted strange fantasies to try to understand why these things happened to me. Had I committed some crime? Was I a mistake? Had my parents been bribing my school friends to pretend to like me, and then run out of money?
So much of what Ava experienced, I had experienced. And so, it seemed, had many of my neurodiverse colleagues who courageously shared their stories.
And, finally, reader, it sank in:
I’m not just the president of hair club for men, I’m also a customer.
I’m on the spectrum. Of course I am. And always have been. Of course. And just never, ever knew.
Once I saw it, I was amazed that I’d never realized or even wondered about it.
Once I saw it, I was grateful to work at a place where we’re afforded the kind of support that can not only help us improve our people skills, but can also introduce us, on a deeper level, to ourselves.
And meanwhile, as an ally, I also joined Queeromattic. Need I say more?
Okay, I will.
The world I grew up in was so homophobic, and the romantic films I grew up watching were so prescriptive, that I got in touch with my heterosexuality long before I reached puberty … and didn’t recognize my queer side for decades.
Not even when I made out with a boy. (Hey, I was drunk.) Or years later, when I made out with another boy. (Hey, I was drunk, and, anyway, he looked like a girl.)
My new self-knowledge is mostly academic. Divorce has freed me of certain illusions, a spiritual practice has brought a taste of inner peace, and aging has eased up on the hormonal gas pedal, so that I no longer confuse attraction for a plan, or feelings for fate. Parenting keeps me plenty busy and fulfilled, and singlehood may not be exciting, but I’ve had enough excitement for multiple lifetimes.
Romantic love is for those still willing to risk everything. I prefer to hold onto what I have left. Because I know it’s a hell of a lot.
Thanks to the wisdom, vulnerability, truthfulness, and compassion of the friends I’ve made through my company’s ARGs, I have come to better know myself. It gives me pride, no pun intended. It even grants me serenity. And for that, I am grateful.
When he was eight years old, my dad taught himself to take apart watches and put them back together. He supported his mother by doing watch repairs at that age out of her little jewelry stand, and a few years later by delivering clothes for a Chinese laundry.
As a laundry delivery boy, he earned no salary—he lived off tips. Emanuel Romano, a starving modern painter and customer of the laundry service, could not afford to tip Murray, but in lieu of cash, he offered to teach the boy how to paint. My father accepted the lessons and painted for most of the rest of his life. (Our home in Pittsburgh would one day be filled with Murray’s paintings. All would be lost in the flood that later destroyed his home.)
In his early years, Murray couldn’t read. He was probably autistic and dyslexic, but nobody back then knew from that. And a public school in Queens in the 1930s was certainly not going to have the resources to help a child with those issues. When beating him didn’t improve his skills, the school labeled him “sub-normal” and stuck him in Special Ed. He would likely have remained there and become a janitor, or a grifter like his father (my grandfather). But one remarkable public school teacher spotted Murray’s gifts. “This boy is brilliant,” he said.
That changed everything.
(Everything except my grandfather, from whom my dad got nothing but violence and psychological cruelty. When Murray was one of two kids from his neighborhood to be accepted into Bronx Science—a rigorously academic public high school specializing in engineering, mathematics, and the sciences—his father said simply, “They’ve made a mistake.”)
Murray enlisted in the Navy at 17 to fight the Nazis, but they surrendered before he reached Germany. The navy then shipped him off to Japan, but the atomic bomb got there first.
On returning after the war, he attended CUNY on the G.I. Bill, studying electrical engineering. He eventually took his Masters—not bad for a slum kid from a poor family. He would go on to work in robotics, fluid hydraulics, and even early typesetting computers. He came the director of a Research & Development laboratory in Pittsburgh, and afterwards, spent 25 years working for himself as an author, consultant, and lecturer.
Below is his biography from twenty years ago. At the time, he was still vigorous, still flying all over the world as a consultant and lecturer. If you wish, you may skip down to the bottom, where I tell what became of him.
Maurice Zeldman, President
A world authority in the field of project management, Mr. Zeldman has consulted and led seminars for over 180 client organizations. His in-company and public seminars have been presented around the world. Advanced project managers use his special techniques to create realistic estimates, time frames, and implementations which enable the completion of these development projects on schedule and within budgets.
Before launching his EMZEE Associates consultancy, Mr. Zeldman served with Rockwell International as the Corporate Director of Technical Development for the Industrial & Marine Divisions. Responsible for all of the division’s new product and process development projects, he designed, built, and staffed an Engineering Development Center for the corporation.
Previously Mr. Zeldman served with Perkin Elmer in the development of an Atomic Absorption Spectrometer, and with American Machine & Foundry as Chief Engineer of the Versatran Robot business venture.
He is the author of “Keeping Technical Projects on Target” and “Robotics: What Every Engineer Should Know.” (Book links at Amazon.)
My mother died in 2000 after seven years with Alzheimer’s.
My father remarried the next year.
His second wife divorced him when he came down with dementia at age 91.
He was also experiencing seizures. While he was hospitalized for one of them, his house flooded, and everything he owned was destroyed.
My brother Pete found our father a clean, decent nursing home to live in.
There, his dementia progressed quickly.
The last time he saw me with my daughter, he mistook her for my wife and asked how we two had met.
He accused the nursing home staff of soiling his underwear while he slept.
He often sneaked out of the facility to buy scissors, which he smuggled back into the home. (Scissors were contraband because the home feared that their demented patients would use the blades to harm themselves. He had no practical use for the scissors, but was incensed at being told he could not have them.)
During the first year of the Covid pandemic, he contracted pneumonia.
He died at age 93 while in palliative care. He was alone.
We laid my brother Pete to rest today. They brought him out in a bespoke coffin his wife Cheryl designed. It had a red top, and its white sides were covered in Pete’s quirky figure drawings. He’d have loved it.
Several of us had written about Pete, and the officiant read our statements to the assembly. Our words were sweet and funny and loving and not at all conventional. (How could they be? The man was anything but.)
Then Pete’s friend Andy Davy delivered the eulogy. It was not about the musician’s musician or the beloved music teacher but the private man: his warmth, his intelligence, the intensity of his friendship.
Cheryl wrote the final tribute. It was the saddest and most beautiful of all. The officiant read it to us so Cheryl would not have to speak.
Then, as the auditorium loudspeakers played—what else?—a Pete Zeldman drum solo, the curtains closed on the lonely little red-topped coffin, and the people rose and filed slowly away.
As the lines between our physical and digital surroundings continue to blur, it’s more important than ever to design usable and accessible content for our ever-expanding array of contexts.
Now, in 2023, we’re thrilled to present Preston’s brilliant follow-up, Immersive Content and Usability, coming April 18.
Armed with this book, you’ll create incisive and inclusive user-centered experiences across augmented, extended, and virtual realities, transforming the physical world into an exciting new canvas for content.
When my mother was pregnant with my younger brother Pete, my father took her to see West Side Story in New York. My mom said every time the orchestra played, Pete kicked in her womb, keeping perfect time. Some people are born to play the drums. Pete played before he was born. He never stopped.
He loved music and courted danger. At age two, one day, he took my father’s LPs out of the record cabinet, spread them on the floor, and walked on them. When my father came home, he spanked Pete. The next day, Pete did the same thing again. And again, my father punished him. Every day it was the same. One day my mother tried to intervene as my brother was just starting to lay out a fresh pile of LPs. “Peter,” she said. “Do you want Daddy to spank you?” My brother shivered in fear. And continued to spread the records on the floor. Finally, my father put a combination lock on his record cabinet. My brother picked the lock.
Pete had his own ideas. Most were better than walking on Dad’s records. Many were brilliant. Some people march to their own drum. Pete marched to a whole set.
You could not stop him. He was full of life, full of energy. My idea of a great summer vacation was inhaling the musty aroma of books in an air conditioned library. But my brother was out from sunup till sundown—running around, making friends, buying candy for all the other kids in the neighborhood out of his tiny allowance. He loved other people. He paid attention to them.
I have a lifetime of stories about him. So does everyone who knew him. He was full of life, full of energy, a clock that never wound down. And now, he’s gone, leaving a Pete Zeldman shaped hole in the universe.
Goodbye, brother. I love you. I will keep your memory close. And maybe when time ends for me, too, I will see you again.
Written for Funeral Service, 31 March, 2023.
Before the present owner, I was a Twitter Blue customer, because I always pay for software—to support its creators and help prevent it from disappearing, as so many great websites and platforms have done over the years.
It wasn’t about the Twitter Blue pro features, to be honest, because they were few and inessential.
For instance, the ability to unsend a tweet for 30 seconds turned out to be more of an annoyance than an asset. Its value could be replicated without the feature, simply by taking a few seconds to reread your post before hitting Send. Most of the time, the feature felt to me like an annoying delay before every tweet went up.
And as Twitter compulsion is closely connected to the dopamine hit of instant gratification—voila! your thought is out there in the world, quick as the firing of a synapse!—waiting 30 seconds soon came to feel like a drag on the experience, not a benefit worth paying for. Like a cigarette that takes thirty seconds to deliver nicotine when you drag on it.
Nevertheless, as long as I had the income to do so, I would have continued to pay, simply to help Twitter keep going.
Because we’ve all seen what happens to beloved platforms after they run for too long on fumes. Investors grab lifeboats. Founders sell to a new owner who rapidly enshittifies the platform. Or the product disappears. Or it lingers as an under-resourced shadow of its former self, like a loved one with a tragically wasting disease. (Something I know far too much about.)
Besides: Twitter, as a town square, was important. Leaving its future health to the mercies of subscription models and advertising was risky enough.
Just as, despite the many obstacles to true representative democracy that threaten my country, it remains my sacred duty to vote, so too—as a user and fellow creator—did it feel like my duty to vote for Twitter’s continued existence with my wallet. (Again, acknowledging the privilege of having employment and at least a modicum of disposable income.)
I won’t rehash the history of the new regime’s dangerous decisions and confounding errors of judgement—and that’s putting it charitably. Or share my anxieties about the Beloved Platform turning into a red-pilled fuckfest of racist, sexist pile-ons.
Even when a longtime web acquaintance persuaded the new owner to “democratize” the blue checkmark by charging for it (and we’ll skip that history, which is still in progress, as well), I kept using Twitter, kept paying my Twitter Blue dues, and kept hoping for the best.
Even as brilliant people with vital jobs got kicked out by the thousands. Even when respected friends and colleagues abandoned Twitter like it was a room that smelled of corpses. Even when each day’s freshly absurd Twitter news cycle conjured disbelief worthy of U.S. Election Night 2016.
“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” I whispered to myself.
“I’ll hang in there,” I said.
As if continuing to use Twitter was some bizarre loyalty test to the platform itself, and not to the ideas and human beings that drove it. Like loyalty to a friend who drives his car into trees while drunk. “I’m not going to abandon him now, he needs help.”
Here comes the punchline: one day Twitter emailed me to say that my Twitter Blue account was being discontinued, but I would soon have the opportunity to pay for an exciting *new* version of Twitter Blue.
Then Twitter emailed me inviting me to roll over my credit card so as to become a member of the new Twitter Blue. Which made me wonder: do I continue to go by the principle of paying for software I use, even when I disapprove of the direction in which a new owner is taking the platform? Or do I register my dislike of that direction by refusing to pay, even if it accelerates the death of the platform? (Whereas I was still hoping for the platform to survive and right itself, no pun intended.)
In the end, and I know I’ll lose many of you here, I decided to keep paying. And now the promised punchline: Twitter was unable to accept my credit card, and the subscription failed.
I tried for maybe 30 minutes.
I’ve successfully used software for over 30 years, and I’ve written a few things about UX and web design and development, so I generally have some idea of what I’m doing when I interact with internet content, and I also know that shopping carts are supposed to work. They’re not supposed to make users think. They’re supposed to make it easy to pay, whether you actually need the product or not.
Yet somehow—I wonder if it had to do with (illegally) firing most of the staff?—Twitter was not able to take my money.
The attempt to subscribe failed. Over and over. Perhaps it was my higher power telling me something. Perhaps it was my unconscious telling me something. But most likely, it was simple engineering and UX incompetence, caused by the removal of almost everyone at Twitter who knew what they were doing.
And the second punchline? I still have my blue checkmark. Which I’ve had since, like, 2006, or whenever the original Twitter first bestowed it. I guess because I’m of some small note in my field.
Of course, for all of having 322K followers, almost nobody sees my tweets, as the stats (and lack of engagement) plainly show me.
So either most of my 322K followers have abandoned the platform, or the algorithm works to minimize my footprint. And, theoretically, that latter situation would change if I paid Twitter the monthly $8—or, I believe it has gone up to $11, now, with price increases over time part of this week’s strategy to frighten folks into subscribing while they can still afford do so.
But I tried to give Twitter my money, even when I had Enormous Doubts that it was the right thing to do. And they simply wouldn’t take it. La de da. And for now I’m content to wait, peck my posts into the maw of the blind white whale, and see what changes next.
Twitter Blue, Twitter Blues, Twitter blew it.
Dear Fund donors —
This is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to write. Pete is still with us, but has decided that he cannot fight this fight any longer. Here is a window into what I have witnessed behind the scenes: I have never seen someone battle in such a heroic way in my life. Starting last summer when we first discovered that there were possible cures available for the very deadly pancreatic cancer he has, Pete was informed that if he tolerated the Abraxane/GEM chemo protocol that he was on, and if his numbers continued to fall, he would be a good candidate for the trial at the end of the year. In an effort to continue to be in the trial he essentially poisoned himself, refusing to complain or change course, with a 100% dosage for over 6 months (apparently a very rare thing) to get himself to the finish line when the next trial was scheduled to start.
He was hospitalised more than once with septicaemia due to the toxic levels of chemo in his body. He compared it to a Russian-style nerve agent poisoning. His glorious brain went deeper and deeper into a state of confusion and he had trouble thinking straight. His body started falling apart and his usually exquisite sense of ultimate limb and body control started to abandon him, and he began to take frightening falls. But this reaction to the chemo was all in service of his making it to the trial so he continued on, even though the whole thing was devastating and brutal.
When the time for the trial came, when we launched this GoFundMe, we were threading a needle. He had gone off the chemo to give his broken body and mind a break. The original lab in Portugal that was going to do the trial did not have their new lab ready and so sent him to a new-to-our-team lab in Germany. Pete’s team in the UK waited quite a while to put him back on a chemo protocol. When they did put him back on, they chose a protocol that had been more tolerable for him during his first bout in 2021, when they were trying to get him operable (and did!). As this chemo pause and shift to a new team was taking place, his once very low cancer markers were rapidly, more rapidly than anyone thought would have happened, rising in his body.
He was recently put back on Folfirinox, his once well-tolerated chemo protocol, and he just could not spend another day on it. It was terrible for him. The lab in Germany did the initial evaluation of his tumour and blood at a cost of €16k from this GoFundMe fund (which cannot be refunded), and found things there that have given them some optimism, but the vaccine takes 10-12 weeks to produce, and without a chemo protocol keeping him alive, he more than likely doesn’t have those weeks left to wait.
He is being put in palliative care now. The world is losing one of the greatest musicians, rhythmic theorists and just lovely and decent human beings ever to exist. I am heartbroken. I have been privileged to have met him when I was 19. We were a romantic couple when we were kids, from the time I was 20 until I was 25. We were in 2 amazing bands together. And he has allowed me to go on this illness and end-of-life journey with him. He is truly a hero to me.
His wife Cheryl is a beautiful human being. They have been together for 20 years. They adore one another. She is the perfect partner for him. Calm and loving. Understanding and kind. Smart and practical. I’ve seen over the years how much he loves her. I am heartbroken for her too.
He’s been extremely nervous about this GoFundMe should we have needed to halt it for any reason. He’s been incredibly touched by everyone’s beautiful, kind and loving contributions to his health and well being. We have been discussing a strategy regarding the remaining money in the fund, and are going to work out an amortisation based upon everyone’s overall contribution to the fund, and will refund according to percentage. This is Pete and Cheryl’s wish for the monies.
That is all I can say at the moment. I am in a great deal of personal pain, but that is to be expected because it is perfectly in proportion to the amount of love I have felt for Pete in every role he has played in my life. If you haven’t taken a moment to look at the videos of him playing polyrhythmic drums and explaining what he’s playing as he’s playing it, please do that now. Then, if you’re so moved, you can send him a message about it while he’s still here. I know he’d appreciate that.
I love the smell of my neighbor’s weed in the morning.
And evening. Seven days a week, God bless him.
A grocery delivery guy dropping food at my apartment Thursday morning thought it was my weed and complimented me on the quality.
Twenty-nine-and-a-half years sober. I still enjoy the smell.
My longtime friend and former collaborative partner Craig Hockenberry bids a dignified adieu to Twitterific, Twitter, and his mom … and calls for a standards-based universal timeline. — The Shit Show