#ZEL01, MY FIRST CURATED gift for Quarterly subscribers, has dropped. It contains a book of classic Blue Note jazz LP record cover designs, a jazz LP record (each recipient gets a different one), a framed Mondrian print inspired by that artist’s first encounter with jazz, and a letter from me telling the story behind the gift box.
ZEL01 is all about constraints, a topic close to my heart. When I began designing websites, we had four fonts, one language (HTML), and 16 colors to play with. It wasn’t much … only enough to make magic.
The gifts in ZEL01 exemplify the magic of constraint, reflected through the lens of jazz: from Reid Miles’s two-font, one-spot-color album cover designs for Blue Note records—classics we still turn to for inspiration, more than 50 years after their release—to Piet Mondrian’s jazz- and street-grid-inspired “Broadway Boogie Woogie,” spun from right angles and primary colors.
Thanks to Nora Johnson and her staff at Quarterly for indulging my curatorial whims, and to you early subscribers for believing. I hope you like the package. Another gift comes soon.
IN EPISODE 63 of Triangulation, Leo Laporte, a gracious and knowledgeable podcaster/broadcaster straight outta Petaluma, CA, interviews Your Humble Narrator about web standards history, responsive web design, content first, the state of standards in a multi-device world, and why communists sometimes make lousy band managers.
A Book Apart No. 3: The Elements of Content Strategy, by Erin Kissane
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
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.
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.
Many people still think NYC is this way. It ain’t. I visited NYC as a wide-eyed teenager during this era and met pederasts, opium dealers, and prostitutes without even trying. I visited again as a young man at the end of the decade, goggly over the music scene (which was already packaged and dying).
When I finally moved to NYC in 1988, large parts of it were still pretty ragged. You could cop dope behind The New York Public Library and get shot on Avenue B. You could also accidentally start a fire in your apartment and not get kicked out. Or so I have, uh, read.
For all the dings on his soul, Rudy G really changed this town. He made it much more expensive but also much, much safer and more livable. Today it is one of the safest and most beautiful cities in America. A lot of change in a short time.
As an experiment in new new media thinking, I recently crowdsourced a new new literature version of Charles Dickens’s musty old old old lit chestnut, Great Expectations—the familiar tale of Pip, Ms Havisham, the convict Magwitch, et al.
Creative excellence and spin-worthy results required a pool of 10,000 people who had never read Great Expectations. Fortunately, I had access to 10,000 recent American college graduates, so that was no problem.
To add a dab of pseudoscience and appeal obliquely to the copyleft crowd, I remixed the new work’s leading literary themes with the top 20 Google search queries, using an algorithm I found in the mens room at Penn Station.
The result was a work of pure modern genius, coming soon to an iPad near you. (Profits from the sale will be used to support Smashing Magazine’s footer and sidebar elements.)
Gone was the fusty old title. Gone were the cobwebbed wedding cake and other dare I say emo images. It was goodbye to outdated characters like Joe the blacksmith and the beautiful Estella, farewell to the love story and the whole careful parallel between that thing and that other thing.
Gone too was the tired old indictment of the Victorian class system, and by implication of all economic and social systems that separate man from his brothers in Christ, yada yada. As more than one of my young test subjects volunteered in a follow-up survey, “Heard it.”
In place of these obsolete narrative elements, the students and the prioritized Google searches created, or dare I say curated, a tale as fresh as today’s algorithmically generated headlines.
The results are summarized in the table below.
Old Great Expectations
New Great Expectations
On Christmas Eve, Pip, an orphan being raised by his sister, encounters the convict Magwitch on the marshes.
The convict compels Pip to steal food from his sister’s table, and a file from her husband the blacksmith’s shop. Pip thereby shares the convict’s guilt and sin—but his kindness warms the convict’s heart.
Guy on girl
Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe, abuses him. Her husband loves Pip but is unable to protect him or offer him a future beyond blacksmithing.
Girl on girl (multiple entries)
Pip meets Miss Havisham, an old woman abandoned on her wedding day, who sits in her decrepit house, wearing a yellowing wedding gown, her only companion the beautiful and mysterious girl Estella. Pip falls in love with Estella, but Miss Havisham has trained the girl to break men’s hearts.
Guy on guy
Pip visits Miss Havisham until his apprenticeship with Joe the blacksmith begins. Pip hates being a blacksmith and worries that Estella will see him as common.
Two girls, one guy
Mrs Joe suffers a heart attack that leaves her mute. A kind girl named Biddy comes to take care of Mrs Joe. After Mrs Joe’s death, Biddy and Joe will marry. Meanwhile, Pip comes into an unexpected inheritance and moves to London, where he studies with a tutor and lives with his friend Herbert.
Pip believes Miss Havisham is his benefactor and that she intends him to marry Estella, whom he still adores. Day by day, Estella grows more cruel. Pip never tells her of his love for her.
One stormy night, Pip discovers that his benefactor is not Miss Havisham but the convict Magwitch. The news crushes Pip, but he dutifully allows Magwitch to live with him—worrying, all the while, because Magwitch is a wanted man who will be hanged if discovered.
Miss Havisham repents having wasted her life and perverted Estella. She is caught in a fire. Pip heroically saves her but she later dies from her burns. Soon afterwards, Pip and Herbert try to help Magwitch escape, but Magwitch’s old enemy Compeyson—who happens to be the man who abandoned Miss Havisham at the altar—betrays Magwitch to the authorities. Magwitch and Compeyson struggle. Compeyson dies and Magwitch is taken to prison.
Pip now realizes that Magwitch is a decent man and tries to make Magwitch’s last years happy ones. He also discovers that Magwitch is Estella’s father. Magwitch dies in prison shortly before he was to be executed. Pip tells the dying Magwitch of his love for Estella.
Pip becomes ill and is nursed back to health by Joe, whom Pip recognizes as a good man in spite of his lack of education and “class.” Pip goes into business overseas with Herbert. Eventually he returns to England and visits Joe, who has married Biddy. They have a child named Pip. As the book ends, the middle-aged Pip makes one last visit to Miss Havisham’s house, where he discovers an older and wiser Estella. There is the implication that Pip and Estella may finally be together.