THIS MORNING Contents Magazine launched the beginning of something both good and important: a set of guidelines that could lead to a safer world for user-created content.
Contents believes (and I agree) that products and services which make a business of our stuff—the photos, posts, and comments that we share on their platforms—need to treat our content like it matters. Not like junk that can be flushed the moment a product or service gets acquired or goes under.
On the web, popularity waxes and wanes; beloved services come and go. AOL was once mighty. MySpace was unstoppable. Nobody expected Geocities, Delicious, or Gowalla to just disappear, taking our stories, photos, and memories with them. But that’s what happens on the web. Tomorrow it could be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Flickr. We can continue to blindly trust these companies with our family histories, and continue to mourn when they disappear, taking our data with them. Or we can demand something better.
Contents and its small team of advisors have devised three simple rules customer-content-driven services and apps should follow to respect and protect our content:
- Treat our data like it matters. Keep it secure and protect our privacy, of course—but also maintain serious backups and respect our choice to delete any information we’ve contributed.
- No upload without download. Build in export capabilities from day one.
- If you close a system, support data rescue. Provide one financial quarter’s notice between announcing the shutdown and destroying any user-contributed content, public or private, and offer data export during this period. And beyond that three months? Make user-contributed content available for media-cost purchase for one year after shutdown.
You may see this as a pipe dream. Why should a big, successful company like Facebook listen to us? But citizen movements have accomplished plenty in the past, from bringing web standards to our web browsers, to peacefully overthrowing unpopular governments.
I’m on board with the new Contents guidelines and I hope you will be, too. If enough of us raise enough of a sustained fuss over a sufficient period, things will change.
99designs, the Australian company that has made a fortune soliciting spec work (“crowd sourced graphic design”) from naive designers, and selling $99 logo customizations to small businesses, has just invested $460,000 in a new service:
Tweaky, “the marketplace for website customization,” is the ultimate connector between companies that need quick, simple adjustments to their websites, and designer/developers seeking extra income via no-brainer side work.
The premise is simple: Want to add a subscription come-on to your site but don’t know the first thing about HTML, and don’t have the budget to hire a designer or studio? Tweaky will change your site for $25. Need to update the copyright information in your footer, but don’t know how to do it? Tweaky will handle it for you for $25. Need to add a sidebar to your website? Tweaky will do it for $25. Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger.
Tweaky sounds like the perfect service for the harried small business owner who needs to make one or two quick adjustments to an existing website, has limited time and means, and needs the changes to be made professionally. The last bit is most important: there’s a difference between hiring a designer to make your logo bigger, and doing it yourself when you’re not a designer, don’t own Photoshop, aren’t expert in HTML and CSS, and so on. Tweaky’s promise is that only qualified designer/developers will be hired to make your $25 tweaks. My guess is that, at least initially, Tweaky will draw on the same community that currently participates in 99designs’s “design contests” (spec work), or at least it will solicit designers from that pool.
Crowd sourcing design is unethical (read Design Is A Job and Design Professionalism if you’re unfamiliar with the standards of conduct in a professional designer/client relationship—or, for now, just read this tweet, and read these two great books later), so I disapprove of 99designs, but its new child appears to have been born sinless. While some designers, possibly including the authors of the aforementioned texts, will dislike the notion of Tweaky on principle, I don’t think designers or studios will lose customers to a $25 tweak service. I don’t think it’s exploitation to accept $25 to change a link in a footer (assuming the designer gets the bulk of the fee). And I don’t think a client with an existing website should have to pay several thousand dollars engaging a designer simply to make a wee adjustment to her site. Tweaky offers customers access to real designers for quick jobs, and offers designers a work and revenue stream. That seems okay to me.
Caveat emptor: I haven’t hired Tweaky (no need), don’t know how they evaluate designer/developers before admitting them to their freelance labor pool, don’t know how much of a customer’s $25 ends up in a designer’s pocket, and can’t speak to the quality of their concierge service and follow-through. But I find their business model unobjectionable and intelligent—it fills a designer’s need for extra work and a customer’s need for quick turnaround on no-brainer mini-projects. Truth to tell, I’ve heard talk of similar networks in the works, and would not be surprised to see competitors to Tweaky sprout up soon enough. It’s the economy, smarty.
THANK YOU for the screen shot. I was actually already aware that the type on my site is big. I designed it that way. And while I’m grateful for your kind desire to help me, I actually do know how the site looks in a browser with default settings on a desktop computer. I am fortunate enough to own a desktop computer. Moreover, I work in a design studio where we have several of them.
This is my personal site. There are many like it, but this one is mine. Designers with personal sites should experiment with new layout models when they can. Before I got busy with one thing and another, I used to redesign this site practically every other week. Sometimes the designs experimented with pitifully low contrast. Other times the type was absurdly small. I experimented with the technology that’s used to create web layouts, and with various notions of web “page” design and content presentation. I’m still doing that, I just don’t get to do it as often.
Many people who’ve visited this site since the redesign have commented on the big type. It’s hard to miss. After all, words are practically the only feature I haven’t removed. Some of the people say they love it. Others are undecided. Many are still processing. A few say they hate it and suggest I’ve lost my mind—although nobody until you has suggested I simply didn’t have access to a computer and therefore didn’t know what I was designing. This design may be good, bad, or indifferent but it is not accidental.
A few people who hate this design have asked if I’ve heard of responsive web design. I have indeed. I was there when Ethan Marcotte invented it, I published his ground-breaking article (and, later, his book, which I read in draft half a dozen times and which I still turn to for reference and pleasure), and I’ve had the privilege of seeing Ethan lecture and lead workshops on the topic about 40 times over the past three years. We’ve incorporated responsive design in our studio’s practice, and I’ve talked about it myself on various stages in three countries. I’m even using elements of it in this design, although you’d have to view source and think hard to understand how, and I don’t feel like explaining that part yet.
This redesign is a response to ebooks, to web type, to mobile, and to wonderful applications like Instapaper and Readability that address the problem of most websites’ pointlessly cluttered interfaces and content-hostile text layouts by actually removing the designer from the equation. (That’s not all these apps do, but it’s one benefit of using them, and it indicates how pathetic much of our web design is when our visitors increasingly turn to third party applications simply to read our sites’ content. It also suggests that those who don’t design for readers might soon not be designing for anyone.)
This redesign is deliberately over the top, but new ideas often exaggerate to make a point. It’s over the top but not unusable nor, in my opinion, unbeautiful. How can passages set in Georgia and headlines in Franklin be anything but beautiful? I love seeing my words this big. It encourages me to write better and more often.
If this were a client site, I wouldn’t push the boundaries this far. If this were a client site, I’d worry that maybe a third of the initial responses to the redesign were negative. Hell, let’s get real: if this were a client site, I wouldn’t have removed as much secondary functionality and I certainly wouldn’t have set the type this big. But this is my personal site. There are many like it, but this one is mine. And on this one, I get to try designs that are idea-driven and make statements. On this one, I get to flounder and occasionally flop. If this design turns out to be a hideous mistake, I’ll probably eventually realize that and change it. (It’s going to change eventually, anyway. This is the web. No design is for the ages, not even Douglas Bowman’s great Minima.)
But for right now, I don’t think this design is a mistake. I think it is a harbinger. We can’t keep designing as we used to if we want people to engage with our content. We can’t keep charging for ads that our layouts train readers to ignore. We can’t focus so much on technology that we forget the web is often, and quite gloriously, a transaction between reader and writer.
Most of you reading this already know these things and already think about them each time you’re asked to create a new digital experience. But even our best clients can sometimes push back, and even our most thrilling projects typically contain some element of compromise. A personal site is where you don’t have to compromise. Even if you lose some readers. Even if some people hate what you’ve done. Even if others wonder why you aren’t doing what everyone else who knows what’s what is doing.
I don’t think you will see much type quite this big but I do think you will see more single-column sites with bigger type coming soon to a desktop and device near you. For a certain kind of content, bigger type and a simpler layout just make sense, regardless of screen size. You don’t even have to use Typekit or its brothers to experiment with big type (awesome as those services are). In today’s monitors and operating systems, yesterday’s classic web fonts—the ones that come with most everyone’s computer—can look pretty danged gorgeous at large sizes. Try tired old Times New Roman. You might be surprised.
The present day designer refuses to die.
IN ISSUE No. 350 of A List Apart for people who make websites: keep your web type looking right across browsers, platforms, and devices; let users do stuff on your site even when they’re offline.
by ALAN STEARNS
Browsers can do terrible things to type. If text is styled as bold or italic and the typeface family does not include a bold or italic font, browsers will compensate by trying to create bold and italic styles themselves. The results are an awkward mimicry of real type design, and can be especially atrocious with web fonts. Adobe’s Alan Stearns shares quick tips and techniques to ensure that your @font-face rules match the weight and styles of the fonts, and that you have a @font-face rule for every style your content uses. If you’re taking the time to choose a beautiful web font for your site, you owe it to yourself and your users to make certain you’re actually using the web font — and only the web font — to display your site’s content in all its glory.
by JAKE ARCHIBALD
We’re better connected than we’ve ever been, but we’re not always connected. ApplicationCache lets users interact with their data even when they’re offline, but with great power come great gotchas. For instance, files always come from the ApplicationCache, even when the user is online. Oh, and in certain circumstances, a browser won’t know that that the online content has changed — causing the user to keep getting old content. And, oh yes, depending on how you cache your resources, non-cached resources may not load even when the user is online. Lanyrd’s Jake Archibald illuminates the hazards of ApplicationCache and shares strategies, techniques, and code workarounds to maximize the pleasure and minimize the pain for user and developer alike. All this, plus a demo. Dig in.
Illustration by Kevin Cornell for A List Apart
CO-FOUNDER of Mule Design and raconteur Mike Monteiro wants to help you do your job better. From contracts to selling design, from working with clients to working with each other, his brief book Design Is A Job is packed with knowledge you need to know. This is one of the most in-demand titles we at A Book Apart have yet published, and the long, long wait for its release (and yours) is finally over!
— Enjoy an exclusive Preview of Design Is A Job in Issue No. 348 of A List Apart, for people who make websites.
— Buy Design Is A Job directly from the makers at A Book Apart.
Also of interest:
IF YOU couldn’t be among us for An Event Apart Seattle 2012 Day 1 on Monday, 2 April 2012, these notes by the illustrious Luke Wroblewski will almost make you feel you were there:
Content First – Jeffrey Zeldman
In his opening keynote at An Event Apart in Seattle, WA 2012 Jeffrey Zeldman talked about the need to keep content front and center in websites and the web design process.
Big Type Little Type – Jon Tan
In his Big Type, Little Type talk at An Event Apart in Seattle, WA 2012 Jon Tan talked about important considerations for font setting and selection on the web.
Silo-Busting with Scenarios – Kim Goodwin
In her Silo-Busting with Scenarios talk at An Event Apart in Seattle, WA 2012 Kim Goodwin described the value of using scenarios as a design tool and walked through an example of how to do so.
Five Dangerous Ideas = Scott Berkun
In his Five Dangerous Ideas talk at An Event Apart in Seattle, WA 2012 Scott Berkun outlined truths about how the world works that creatives don’t like to talk about.
Adaptive Web Content – Karen McGrane
In her presentation at An Event Apart in Seattle WA 2012 Karen McGrane discussed the need for structured content on the web.
Rolling Up Our Responsive Sleeves – Ethan Marcotte
In his Rolling Up Our Responsive Sleeves talk at An Event Apart in Seattle, WA 2012 Ethan Marcotte walked through ways to tackle thorny issues in responsive design layouts, media, advertising, and more.
Watch http://www.lukew.com/ff?tag=aeaseattle2012 for notes on Day II, beginning momentarily.
AEA swag thermos (part of the complete 2012 swag set) illustrated by the magnificent Kevin Cornell for An Event Apart.
TOMORROW, WHICH IS also my birthday, I begin teaching “Selling Design” to second-year students in the MFA Interaction Design program at School of Visual Arts, New York. Liz Danzico and Steve Heller created and direct the MFA program, and this is my second year teaching this class, whose curriculum I pull out of my little blue beanie.
In this class we explore collaboration and persuasion for interaction designers. Whether you work in a startup, studio, or traditional company; whether you design print, products, purely digital experiences, or any combination thereof; whether you’re the sole proprietor, part of a tightly focused team, or a link in a long chain of connected professionals, it is only by collaborating skillfully with others—and persuading them tactfully and convincingly when points of view differ and yours is right—that you can hope to create designs that make a dent in the universe.
During this spring semester, we’ll explore collaboration and persuasion from many points of view, and hear from (and interact with) many accomplished designers who will serve as special guest speakers. For our opening get-acquainted session, we’ll focus on texts that explore the some of the most basic, traditional (and rarely taught) aspects of design professionalism from the worlds of web, interaction, and print design:
by Jeff Gothelf – A List Apart
- Draw together
- Show raw work (frequently)
- Teach the discipline
- Be transparent
- Take credit for your wins
by Cassie McDaniel – A List Apart
- Critique as collaborative tool
- Presenting designs
- What is good feedback?
- Negotiate criticism
- The designer as collaborator
by Aarron Walter – A List Apart
- Personality is the platform for emotion
- A history of personality in design
- Creating a design persona for your website [or other project]
- Tapbots: Robot love
- Caronmade: octopi, unicorns, and mustachios
- Housing Works: a name with a face
- The power of personality
by Andy Rutledge
You should read this entire brief book, but for now, sample these bits:
by Sam Harrison – HOW Magazine
Dyson is used as an example of a product that currently dominates the market, even though nobody initially believed in the inventor’s idea. Lessons:
- Tell a personal story
- Create emotional experiences for decision makers
- See what’s behind rejections
by Arfa Mirza, Smashing Magazine
- Understand the nature of your client
- Have a rationale for every part of your design
- Show the best design options only
- Defend your design, but don’t become defensive
- Solicit good feedback and benefit from it
by Jacob Cass – Just Creative
Narrative of standing up to new-client pressure to do something against the designer’s self-interest, or which devalues design. Story told here is about money but it could be about any designer/client conflict in which the designer needs to gently educate the client. (Some designer/client conflicts require the client to educate the designer, but that’s another matter.)
by Jacob Cass – Just Creative
Basic article outlines ten background materials any designer (not just logo designers) should prepare to encourage confidence on the client’s part:
- Positive testimonials
- A thorough design process
- Awards won/published work
- A strong portfolio
- Design affiliations
- Great customer service
- Business Professionalism
- Appropriate questions
THE FIRST THING I got about the web was its ability to empower the maker. The year was 1995, and I was tinkering at my first website. The medium was raw and ugly, like a forceps baby; yet even in its blind, howling state, it made me a writer, a designer, and a publisher — ambitions which had eluded me during more than a decade of underachieving desert wanderings.
I say “it made me” but I made it, too. You get the power by using it. Nobody confers it on you.
I also got that the power was not for me alone: it was conferred in equal measure on everyone with whom I worked, although not everyone would have the time or desire to use the power fully.
The luckiest makers
Empowerment and desire. It takes extraordinary commitment, luck, and talent to become a maker in, say, music or film, because the production and distribution costs and risks in these fields almost always demand rich outside investors and tightly controlling corporate structures. (Film has held up better than music under these conditions.)
Music and film fill my life, and, from afar, I love many artists involved in these enterprises. But they are mostly closed to you and me, where the web is wide open, and always has been. We all know gifted, hard working musicians who deserve wide acclaim but do not receive it, even after decades of toil. The web is far kinder to makers.
To care is to share
Not only does the web make publishers of those willing to put in the work, it also makes most of us free sharers of our hard-won trade, craft, and business secrets. The minute we grab hold of a new angle on design, interaction, code, or content, we share it with a friend — or with friends we haven’t met yet. This sharing started in news groups and message boards, and flowered on what came to be called blogs, but it can also slip the bounds of its containing medium, empowering makers to create books, meet-ups, magazines, conferences, products, you name it. It is tough to break into traditional book publishing the normal way but comparatively easy to do it from the web, provided you have put in the early work of community building.
The beauty is that the community building doesn’t feel like work; it feels like goofing off with your friends (because, mostly, it is). You don’t have to turn your readers into customers. Indeed, if you feel like you’re turning your readers into customers, you’re doing it wrong.
If you see a chance, take it
The corollary to all this empowerment is that it’s up to each of us to do something positive with it. I sometimes become impatient when members of our community spend their energy publicly lamenting that a website about cats isn’t about dogs. Their energy would be so much better spent starting bow-wow.com. The feeling that something is missing from a beloved online resource (or conference, or product) can be a wonderful motivator to start your own. I created A List Apart because I felt that webmonkey.com wasn’t enough about design and highfive.com was too much about it. If this porridge is too hot and that porridge is too cold, I better make some fresh, eh?
I apologize if I sometimes seem snippy with whiners. My goal is never to make anyone feel bad, especially not anyone in this community. My message to my peers since the days of “Ask Dr Web” has always been: “you can do this! Go do it.” That is still what I say to you all.