AS PUBLISHER of A List Apart for people who make websites, I’m delighted to present our second annual ALA Summer Reading Issue—a deep pool of editor’s picks from the recent archives of A List Apart, sprinkled with some of our favorite outside links.
If you’re designing, developing, strategizing, or creating content for today’s multi-device web, these are the articles you need to read.
Same as last year, this issue is also available as a Readlist, suitable for beach reading on Kindle, iPhone, iPad, Readmill, or other ebook reader. So what are you waiting for? Dive in!
You redesign the website for an airline, but who is designing the check-in machines, the CRM systems used by call center staff, the print materials, or the policies the cabin crew must adhere to? Like it or not, these channels are part of the overall user experience. Your website or mobile app might be great on its own, but customers experience services in totality, and base their judgments on how well everything works together. Learn to design beyond the screen. By creating visual and tangible artifacts that can be experienced and tested, you can build a bridge between business and design.
Delivering bad news is hard, but it’s part of life and business. We notify customers when we’re out of a product they want to buy, and we send warnings when people violate our companies’ terms of service. God forbid we have to send a system alert because our database was hacked, affecting every one of our users. But these things happen to the best of us. Can you be the bearer of bad news in a way that respects your customers? Learn how to create empathetic content for tricky situations, and shape your internal culture to foster human values of support, respect, and empathy.
Ever taken apart a digital map? Worked with a map as a critical part of your design? Developed tricks, hacks, workarounds, or progressive enhancements for maps? Walk through a design process to implement a modern-day web map. Let’s make maps part of the collective conversation we have as designers.
If you want to grow in a sustainable, satisfying way, then you need to pay attention to how you’re growing, not just how much. After all, a bigger company isn’t necessarily a better one. Let’s look at four common pitfalls of growth in the design industry, and how to avoid them.
IN EPISODE No. 86 of The Big Web Show, I interview Monkey Do studio’s Michael Pick and Tim Murtaugh.
Mike, Tim, and I discuss the A List Apart redesign, responsive images and type, CSS Zen Garden, organic design processes, the future of CMS systems, designing a food truck app, and more.
TIM MURTAUGH has been building web sites since 1997 and specializes in delivering standards-based HTML5/CSS templates. His eye for design and serious affinity for clean code allow him to painlessly integrate his templates into larger systems without sacrificing user experience or aesthetics. Tim started in the non-profit world, moved on to start-ups, shifted to an agency, upgraded to publishing, and from thence: Monkey Do. Tim can be found on Twitter at @murtaugh.
This episode of The Big Web Show is sponsored by Shutterstock.com. Get 30% off any package with discount code “BIGWEBSHOW3.”
Adding half a second to a search results page can decrease traffic and ad revenues by 20 percent, says a Google study. For every additional 100 milliseconds of load time, sales decrease by 1 percent, Amazon finds. Users expect pages to load in two seconds—and after three seconds, up to 40 percent will simply leave. The message is clear: we must make performance optimization a fundamental part of how we design, build, and test every site we create—for every device. Design for performance; measure the results.
Welcome to the third epoch in web performance optimization: symbol fonts. Everything from bullets and arrows to feed and social media icons can now be bundled into a single, tiny font file that can be cached and rendered at various sizes without needing multiple images or colors. This has the same caching and file size benefits as a CSS sprite, plus additional benefits we’re only now realizing with high-resolution displays. Discover the advantages and explore the challenges you’ll encounter when using a symbol font.
ON JANUARY 25, for the fifth time since 1998, we overhauled A List Apart, the periodical for people who make websites. In addition to its traditional well-vetted articles, the new 5.0 model sports fresh streams of content in a responsive format designed by Mike Pick and Tim Murtaugh. If you are just joining us, here are some of the highlights from the first ten days:
We’ve introduced opinion columns by some of the smartest people we know in this industry. They’ll appear between issues at the rate of one or two per week.
Looking Beyond User-Centered Design – an A List Apart column by Cennydd Bowles: “To treat design as a science is to retreat to the illusory safety of numbers, where designers are mostly seen as agents of skewing the odds in your favor. This can start a race to the bottom…”
Picture Yourself in a Boat on a River – an A List Apart column by Derek Powazek: “Welcome to Fertile Medium, an advice column for people who live online. Each edition, I’ll take a question from you about living and building social spaces online, and do my best to answer.”
Windows on the Web – an A List Apart column by Karen McGrane: “It’s time to stop imagining that smartphones, tablets, and desktops are containers that each hold their own content, optimized for a particular browsing or reading experience. Users don’t think of it that way. Instead, users imagine that each device is its own window onto the web.”
In A List Apart Issue No. 367, Peter-Paul Koch, Lyza Danger Gardner, Luke Wroblewski, and Stephanie Rieger explain why Apple’s new iPad Mini creates a vexing situation for designers and developers who create flexible, multi-device experiences.
Each week, new devices appear with varying screen sizes, pixel densities, input types, and more. As developers and designers, we agree to use standards to mark up, style, and program what we create. Browser makers in turn agree to support those standards and set defaults appropriately, so we can hold up our end of the deal. This agreement has never been more important.
That’s why it hurts when a device or browser maker does something that goes against our agreement—especially when they’re a visible and trusted friend of the web like Apple. Read Vexing Viewports and contribute to the discussion.
Jason’s elegant redesign of A List Apart and its brand in 2005, together with the master stroke of bringing in Kevin Cornell as illustrator, brought the magazine new fame, new readers, and new respect. Over seven great years, his attention to detail, lack of pretension, and cheerful, can-do attitude has made working on ALA a pleasure. Jason was also a key member of the strategic team that envisioned ALA’s upcoming content expansion—about which, more will be revealed when the site relaunches in January.
Jason will continue at ALA as a contributing writer and as designer of A Book Apart (“brief books for people who make websites”), of which he is also a co-founder.
While good localization boosts conversion rates, bad or partial translation may ruin a user experience, giving people an uneasy feeling about the whole company. If we care equally about all our users, it’s time we learn what it takes to get it right.
Thirty-one percent of Americans who access the internet from a mobile device say that’s the way they always or mostly go online. For this group, if your content doesn’t exist on mobile, it doesn’t exist at all. The U.S. government has responded with a broad initiative to make federal website content mobile-friendly. Karen McGrane explains why this matters—and what you can learn from it.
Making your content mobile-ready isn’t easy, but if you take the time now to examine your content and structure it for maximum flexibility and reuse, you’ll have stripped away all the bad, irrelevant bits, and be better prepared the next time a new gadget rolls around. This excerpt from Karen McGrane’s new book, Content Strategy for Mobile, will help you get started.
Help Hurricane Sandy relief efforts
Fifteen percent of sales of Karen McGrane’s Content Strategy for Mobile and other A Book Apart books sold today will go to the Red Cross in its effort to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy.
IN A VERY special issue of A List Apart for people who make websites, Paul Robert Lloyd asks us to put the “design” back in “responsive design” and seek out a genuine web aesthetic. And Dave Rupert shares ways to be thoughtful, not knee-jerk, about high-pixel-density displays, in Mo’ Pixels Mo’ Problems.
To be sure we’re designing the right experience for the right audience, there’s no substitute for research conducted with actual users. Like any research method, though, usability testing has its drawbacks. Most importantly, it isn’t cheap. Fortunately, there are other usability research methods at our disposal. The standouts, expert review and heuristic evaluation, are easy to add to a design and development process almost regardless of budget or resource concerns. Explore these techniques, learn their advantages and disadvantages, and get the low-down on how to include them in your projects.
Whether we prototype, write, design, develop, or test as part of building the web, we’re creating something hundreds, thousands, or maybe even millions of people will use. But how do we know that we’re creating the right enhancements for the web, at the right time, and for the right customers? Because our client or boss asked us to? And how do they know? Enter product management for the web—bridging the gap between leadership and customers on one side, and the user experience, content strategy, design, and development team on the other. Learn to set priorities that gradually but steadily make your product (and the web) better.
SINCE 1998, A List Apart has explored the design, development, and meaning of web content, with a special focus on web standards and best practices.
She helped ALA anticipate the important ideas in the rapidly changing fields of web design, web development, user experience, and content strategy, and continued the magazine’s tradition of pioneering and promoting best practices, while also broadening the kinds of stories we covered. Behind the scenes, she also updated our processes; coaxed the best work possible out of authors and staff; remembered birthdays and anticipated conflicts before feelings could get hurt; and more. She led us and mothered us, and she will be missed. You can follow Krista on Twitter, benefit from her user advocacy at Automattic, and continue to be enlightened by her via Contents Magazine. Thank you, Krista.
Currently a consultant under her own shingle, Sara previously spent a half-dozen years working in agencies, mainly at Off Madison Ave, where she started as a web writer and became the director of interactive content and marketing strategy. Although her A List Apart editorship does not officially begin until August, Sara has already dived in behind the scenes. She is whip-smart and a pleasure to know.
While historically, it’s been difficult at best to create print-quality PDF books from markup alone, CSS3 now brings us the Paged Media Module, which targets print book formatting. “Paged” media exists as finite pages, like books and magazines, rather than as long scrolling stretches of text, like most websites. With a single CSS stylesheet, publishers can take XHTML source content and turn it into a laid-out, print-ready PDF. You can take your XHTML source, bypass desktop page layout software like Adobe InDesign, and package it as an ePub file. It’s a lightweight and adaptable workflow, which gets you beautiful books faster. Nellie McKesson, eBook Operations Manager at O’Reilly Media, explains how to build books with CSS3.
Grizzled job hunting veterans know too well that a sharp résumé and near-flawless interview may still leave you short of your dream job. Competition is fierce and never wanes. Finding new ways to distinguish yourself in today’s unforgiving economy is vital to a designer/developer’s survival. Happily, web standards whiz and mobile web developer Andrew Hoffman has come up with a dandy differentiator that is just perfect for A List Apart readers. Learn how to author a clean résumé in HTML5/CSS3 that scales well to different viewport sizes, is easy to update and maintain, and will never grow obsolete.