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ON SUNDAY, while leading a discussion on the future of web design and publishing, I noticed a slightly confused look appearing on some faces in the audience. The discussion had been billed as “Jeffrey Zeldman’s Awesome Internet Design Panel,” and I thought perhaps there was a disconnect for some in the audience between “design” and such topics as where content comes from and who pays for it.
So I asked, “Who here is in publishing?”
A few hands were gently raised.
Uh-huh. “And how many of you work on the web?”
Every right hand in the room shot up.
“You are all in publishing,” I explained.
Now, I like a good rounded corner talk as much as the next designer. I’ve given my share of them. Also of line height and measure, color and contrast, how to design things that don’t work in old versions of Internet Explorer, and so on. In the practice of web and interaction design, there will always be a place for craft discussions—for craft is execution, and ideas without execution are songs without music, meaningless.
But right now (and always) there is a need for design to also be about the big strategic issues. And right now, as much as design is wrestling with open vs. proprietary formats and the old challenges of new devices, design is also very much in the service of applications and publishing. Who gets content, who pays for it, how it is distributed (and how evenly), the balance between broadcast and conversation, editor and user—these are the issues of this moment, and it is designers even more than editors who will answer these riddles.
BACK IN THE WEB’S Pleistocene period, I received an e-mail from a young content strategist. “Excuse me,” she wrote, “but there is a grammatical error in the current issue of A List Apart.” While I was used to reader mail challenging the ideas in our articles, it was the first time anybody had bothered themselves about the writing. “Would you like to be my copy-editor?” I shot back. “I can’t pay you.”
Within months, Erin Kissane had worked her way up to editor-in-chief. For ten years, she supervised the magazine’s strategic growth, fostered its embrace of multiple disciplines, and interacted skillfully and graciously with the leading minds in web design—our writers. Simultaneously with her editorial work, Erin helped pioneer content strategy for clients large and small, working closely with editors, curators, designers, developers, marketers, you name it. She learned enough about everyone’s jobs to value what they do, get the information great content strategy requires, and sell great content strategy to them—for, like everything else in this business, persuasion is at least half the job.
At last she shares all she has learned. In the past, only her friends, clients, and lucky writers got to know the magic that is Erin Kissane. Now she belongs to the world. We are delighted to present the third volume in the A Book Apart series. Read The Elements of Content Strategy, enjoy it (Erin is a hell of a writer), and go make the web better.
A Book Apart
WHAT A YEAR 2010 has been. It was the year HTML5 and CSS3 broke wide; the year the iPad, iPhone, and Android led designers down the contradictory paths of proprietary application design and standards-based mobile web application design—in both cases focused on user needs, simplicity, and new ways of interacting thanks to small screens and touch-sensitive surfaces.
It was the third year in a row that everyone was talking about content strategy and designers refused to “just comp something up” without first conducting research and developing a user experience strategy.
Even outside the newest, best browsers, things were better than ever. Modernizr and eCSStender brought advanced selectors and @font-face to archaic browsers (not to mention HTML5 and SVG, in the case of Modernizr). Tim Murtaugh and Mike Pick’s HTML5 Reset and Paul Irish’s HTML5 Boilerplate gave us clean starting points for HTML5- and CSS3-powered sites.
Web fonts were everywhere—from the W3C to small personal and large commercial websites—thanks to pioneering syntax constructions by Paul Irish and Richard Fink, fine open-source products like the Font Squirrel @Font-Face Generator,
open-source liberal font licensing like FontSpring’s, and terrific service platforms led by Typekit and including Fontdeck, Webtype, Typotheque, and Kernest.
Print continued its move to networked screens. iPhone found a worthy adversary in Android. Webkit was ubiquitous.
Insights into the new spirit of web design, from a wide variety of extremely smart people, can be seen and heard on The Big Web Show, which Dan Benjamin and I started this year (and which won Video Podcast of the Year in the 2010 .net Awards), on Dan’s other shows on the 5by5 network, on the Workers of the Web podcast by Alan Houser and Eric Anderson, and of course in A List Apart for people who make websites.
Zeldman.com: The Year in Review
A few things I wrote here at zeldman.com this year (some related to web standards and design, some not) may be worth reviewing:
- iPad as the New Flash 17 October 2010
- Masturbatory novelty is not a business strategy.
- Flash, iPad, and Standards 1 February 2010
- Lack of Flash in the iPad (and before that, in the iPhone) is a win for accessible, standards-based design. Not because Flash is bad, but because the increasing popularity of devices that don’t support Flash is going to force recalcitrant web developers to build the semantic HTML layer first.
- An InDesign for HTML and CSS? 5 July 2010
- Stop Chasing Followers 21 April 2010
- The web is not a game of “eyeballs.” Never has been, never will be. Influence matters, numbers don’t.
- Crowdsourcing Dickens 23 March 2010
- Like it says.
- My Love/Hate Affair with Typekit 22 March 2010
- Like it says.
- You Cannot Copyright A Tweet 25 February 2010
- Like it says.
- Free Advice: Show Up Early 5 February 2010
- Love means never having to say you’re sorry, but client services means apologizing every five minutes. Give yourself one less thing to be sorry for. Take some free advice. Show up often, and show up early.
A few things I wrote elsewhere might repay your interest as well:
- The Future of Web Standards 26 September, for .net Magazine
- Cheap, complex devices such as the iPhone and the Droid have come along at precisely the moment when HTML5, CSS3 and web fonts are ready for action; when standards-based web development is no longer relegated to the fringe; and when web designers, no longer content to merely decorate screens, are crafting provocative, multi-platform experiences. Is this the dawn of a new web?
- Style vs. Design written in 1999 and slightly revised in 2005, for Adobe
- When Style is a fetish, sites confuse visitors, hurting users and the companies that paid for the sites. When designers don’t start by asking who will use the site, and what they will use it for, we get meaningless eye candy that gives beauty a bad name.
Happy New Year, all!
Happy Cog president Greg Storey describes the thinking behind our latest little experiment in online publishing and community:
Last week we launched Cognition, a studio blog, that replaced the traditional open-mic text area commenting system with two options: Either post a response via your own Twitter account or link to a post on your own blog.
As the primary instigator, Mr. Storey explains his and the agency’s rationale for doing away with traditional comments:
The problem with most comment threads is that they can reach that useless tipping point very quickly. Without having an active moderator to keep up with all of the various threads it’s practically impossible to provide any sort of conversational value.
Meanwhile we have also informally noticed a decline in blog usage since the wider adoption of Twitter within our community. … Happy Cog loves blogs. … What if we could help bring some life back into the old network by encouraging people to write blog posts when they have more to say than what can fit into one-hundred-and-forty characters?
Read more and comment if you wish: Airbag: Babylon.
“Cheap, complex devices such as the iPhone and the Droid have come along at precisely the moment when HTML5, CSS3 and web fonts are ready for action; when standards-based web development is no longer relegated to the fringe; and when web designers, no longer content to merely decorate screens, are crafting provocative, multi-platform experiences. Is this the dawn of a newer, more mature, more ubiquitous web?”
—The Future of Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman
Originally written for .net magazine, Issue No. 206, published 17 August in UK and this month in the US in “Practical Web Design” Magazine. Now you can read the article even if you can’t get your hands on these print magazines.
See also: I Guest-Edit .net magazine.
In Issue No. 313 of A List Apart for people who make websites: Better content management systems start with content strategy; typographically beauteous web pages may benefit from hyphenation and justification.
by JONATHAN KAHN
Any web project more complex than a blog requires custom CMS design work. It’s tempting to use familiar tools and try to shoehorn content in—but we can’t select the appropriate tool until we’ve figured out the project’s specific needs. So what should a CMS give us, apart from a bunch of features? How can we choose and customize a CMS to fit a project’s needs? How can content strategy help us understand what those needs really are? And what happens a day, a week, or a year after we’ve installed and customized the CMS?
Published in: Content Strategy
by RICHARD FINK
Illustration by Kevin Cornell for A List Apart
The show’s over but the photos linger on. An Event Apart Minneapolis was two days of nonstop brilliance and inspiration. In an environment more than one attendee likened to a “TED of web design,” a dozen of the most exciting speakers and visionaries in our industry explained why this moment in web design is like no other.
If you were there, relive the memories; if you couldn’t attend, steal a glance at some of what you missed: An Event Apart Minneapolis: the photo pool at Flickr.
Next up: An Event Apart DC and San Diego. These shows will not be streamed, simulcast, or repackaged in DVD format. To experience them, you must attend. Tickets are first-come, first-served, and every show this year has sold out. Forewarned is forearmed; we’d love to turn you on.
Photo: Jared Mehle.
As promised, a super-hot update to A Feed Apart, the official feed aggregator for An Event Apart, is up and running for your web design conference pleasure. You can now tweet from inside the application, and can even arrange meet-ups and make other social connections there.
Steve Losh did back-end programming.
If you can’t attend the sold-out show, which begins Monday, May 24, you can follow the live Tweetage from the comfort of your cubicle.
Enjoy An Event Apart Boston 2010 on A Feed Apart.