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Advocacy Archiving Browsers Community Design glamorous HTML industry javascript launches links Off My Lawn! people Publications Responsive Web Design Standards State of the Web Stories The Profession W3C Web Design Web Design History Web Standards Websites

He Built This City: The Return of Glenn Davis

You may not know his name, but he played a huge part in creating the web you take for granted today. 

As the first person to realize, way back in 1994, that the emerging web could be a playground, he created Cool Site of the Day as a single-focused blog dedicated to surfacing interesting sites, thereby demonstrating the web’s potential while creating its first viral content. (As an example, traffic from his followers, or, as we called them back then, readers, brought NASA’s web server to its knees.)

He co-founded The Web Standards Project, which succeeded in bringing standards to our browsers at a time when browser makers saw the web as a software market to be dominated, and not a precious commons to be nurtured.

He anticipated responsive web design by more than 20 years with his formulation of Liquid, Ice, and Jello as the three possible ways a designer could negotiate the need for meaningful layout vis-a-vis the unknowns of the user’s browsing environment.

He taught the web DHTML through his educational Project Cool Site. 

And then, like a handful of other vital contributors to the early web (e.g. Todd Fahrner and Dean Allen), he vanished from the scene he’d played so large a role in creating.

He’s ba-ack

Glenn Davis wasn’t always missed. Like many other creators of culture, he is autistic and can be abrasive and socially unclueful without realizing it. Before he was diagnosed, some people said Glenn was an a**hole—and some no doubt still will say that. I think of him as too big for any room that would have him. And I’m talking about him here because he is talking about himself (and the history of the early web) on his new website, Verevolf.

If you go there, start with the introduction, and, if it speaks to you, read his stories and consider sharing your own. That’s how we did it in the early days, and it’s still a fine way to do it—maybe even the best way.

I knew Glenn, I worked with him and a lot of other talented people on The Web Standards Project (you’re welcome!), and it’s my opinion that—if you’re interested in how the web got to be the web, or if you were around at the time and are curious about a fellow survivor—you might enjoy yourself.

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Advertising client services Design glamorous industry

Fear of getting noticed

Back when I was in advertising, one of my team’s clients was a well-known Irish Airline. They could only afford an 1/8th-page ad in the travel section of the paper. But my partners and I didn’t think creativity was dependent on budget. We were determined to deliver great ads for them—ads that would make a viewer look, even though the ad was tiny and was surrounded by other ads.

So we created a standout campaign for them—the kind that would not simply be noticed, but would also make travel-focused consumers smile and encourage them to buy tickets.

We blew up our tiny layouts and mounted the enlargements on illustration board, for an impactful creative presentation when we met to show the client the work.

The great day came. The work was good, and we had rehearsed our presentation to perfection. We booked the conference room, had the client’s favorite snacks and beverages spread out when they arrived, and sold our little hearts out as we presented.

Silence.

The lead client blinked, cleared his throat, and finally said, in a thick Irish brogue:

“I’m afraid it’s far too clever for our needs. It calls too much attention to itself on the page,” he explained—as if getting a distracted newspaper reader to notice his company’s message was a bad thing.

The lead client asked us to set “Ireland $399” in bold type, stick a shamrock in one of the 9s, and call it a day.



Fear of getting noticed is a terrible thing. It’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Clickbait headlines get a deservedly bad rap in digital marketing, but you know what else should get a bad rap? Blind, boring, infinitely ignorable links and titles, that’s what.

Crafting messages that get noticed and acted upon by their intended audience—the people for whom you create your company’s digital products in the first place—isn’t a crime. It’s your job.


Hat tip to Mark Mazut and Tim Irwin, my fellow passengers on the above disaster. Bit o’ nostalgia for those who remember The Ad Graveyard.

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art art direction creativity Design Designers experience Illustration industry New York City NYC people Portfolios Startups Stories Web Design

Looking Back, Looking Ahead: artist Dan Licht

Illustration by Dan Licht: a scary cowboy smoking a stogie and sloshing his drink. His eyes are red and he looks like he's itching for a fight.
Illustration by Dan Licht
Illustration by Dan Licht.

In 1999, I had the good fortune to work alongside Dan Licht at an NYC digital startup called SenseNet, RIP. Back then, although still in his early 20s, Dan was already an accomplished art director and digital designer. Today he’s a fantastic comics illustrator, artist, and creative director. Check his recent art on Instagram and his client work at Daniel V. Licht dot com.

A heroic letter carrier is pictured sending letters on their way in this illustration by Dan Licht. The picture has a great deal of energy, and the action is all flying toward you, the viewer.
“Protect the U.S. Postal Service,” a 2020 illustration by Dan Licht.
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Advocacy automattic Blogs and Blogging Brands Community Design industry Own your content software Standards Web Design Web Standards wordpress

Enabling Folks to Express Themselves on the Web: State of the Word 2021

Screenshot of slide highlighting the four phases of WordPress Gutenberg.

Not only are we enabling folks to express themselves uniquely on the web, unlike the cookie cutter looks that all the social sites try to put you into. We’re doing it in a way which is standards-based, interoperable, based on open source, and increases the amount of freedom on the web.

—Matt Mullenweg, State of the Word 

In a live address, Automattic’s Matt Mullenweg

  • Introduces Openverse (an opt-in content commons);
  • Announces that WordPress’s beginner-friendly Learn.Wordpress.org is now available in 21 languages;
  • Philosophizes about Web3 and the “decentralized web” —which, despite big company colonization attempts, is really what the web has always been;
  • Extols the virtues of Open Source;
  • And more. 

Watch the 2021 #StateoftheWord annual keynote address on YouTube. It’s two hours long, so bring popcorn.

Selected Additional Reactions & Commentary

Hat tips to Chenda Ngak, Reyes Martínez, and Josepha Haden.

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Design

#SpotifyWrapped

She’s Got It by The Leonard Simpson Duo; Mittrom by Mach-Hommy & Earl Sweatshirt; Open the Brain by Quelle Chris; Snake Oil Scientist by Marlowe; and Aunties Steak & Rice Hold the Cabbage by Camoflauge Monk (from Chopin Prelude in E Minor by Les Baxter). #SpotifyWrapped

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Accessibility Best practices Blue Beanie Day Design W3C Web Design Web Standards

Blue Beanie Day 2021

Photo of astronaut David Bowman from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 wearing a blue beanie in support of web standards.

Blue Beanie Day in support of web standards is celebrated around the world on November 30. Hey, that’s today.

So how can you help? Glad you asked! Take a self-portrait wearing a blue beanie (toque, tuque, cap) and post it to your website and social media channels with the hashtag #BlueBeanieDay.

And for that extra extra, slap a blue beanie on your web and social media avatars, as well.

Do this on November 30 as a reminder to design accessible, web-standards-based websites 365 days a year. Thank you. Love you.

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My Night With Essl

Mike Essl and I discuss his portfolio.
Mike Essl and I discuss his portfolio on Night 2 of An Event Apart Online Together Fall Summit.

Herewith, a scene from last night’s interview with legendary web & book designer (and Dean of The Cooper Union School of Art) Mike Essl, who shared his portfolio, career highlights, early web design history, and more. Fun!

If you get a chance to meet, work with, or learn from Mike, take it. He’s brilliant, hilarious, warmly human, and one of the most creative people you’ll ever have the good fortune to know. 

Mike Essl

So ended Day 2 of An Event Apart Online Together Fall Summit 2021. Day 3 begins in less than two hours. You can still join us … or watch later On Demand.

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Design

Not one of us

Even people who didn’t get deathly ill. Who aren’t still struggling to recover. Who didn’t lose a loved one—or more than one. Who didn’t bear the brunt of it because of their race and class. Who didn’t lose a job because of it. 

Those who didn’t miss out on senior year. Or the play. Or the prom, quinceanera, or bat mitzvah. Those who didn’t sit alone for months. Didn’t shutter their family’s business. Didn’t die of a curable disease because the hospital was full. 

Even those who had enough to eat and someone to talk to. Who did not lose their homes. Those whose animals survived. 

Even the lucky ones who had internet access and books and music. And who, when a vaccine came along, had access to it, and were not dissuaded by madness.

Even the most privileged among us are living with trauma.

Not one of us has escaped. Not one is unchanged.

Take a moment to be gentle with yourself, and with all whom you encounter. Even the monsters are crying inside.

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"Digital Curation" art direction creativity Design Desktops editorial Fun interface Layout links Microblogging music Nonsense social media software The Mind User Experience Weird

Rediscovering music

Apropos of nothing in particular, I present my all-time listening (first 5.25 rows) and more recent listening:

Drag slider: at left, my all-time listening; at right, more recent listening.

Because I’m weird that way: Sometimes I’ll listen extensively to a particular artist from my collection whom I might not have played in a while, simply to bump them higher in the mosaic or reposition them for a more pleasing composition.

If Spotify exposes you to new music, Last.fm helps remind you of great music in your existing collection that may have slipped your mind. (Not an advertisement. I use last.fm and get great pleasure from how it helps me discover and fuss with my music, as I once spent hours in the old days stacking and rearranging my LPs and tapes.)

And that’s how I stay out of the pool halls.


Public Service P.S: If you do decide to try last.fm, please, by all means, pay the small monthly subscription fee if you can. Doing so supports the under-resourced team that keeps the service going. It also removes the ads, making the site usable (the ads are a nightmare), and gives you the option to view your music as a visual grid, like those shown in my screenshots. The grid-view makes the site. It gives you, not just a visual record collection, but a visual artist collection, if you’ll allow the conceit. I love it.

An earlier version of this post also appears on my Facebook stream.

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Design

Spring Summit 2021

In a few hours, we’ll kick off Day 1 of An Event Apart Online Together: Spring Summit, a three-day web design conference for front-end and UX professionals, starring fifteen extraordinary speakers. If you’ve signed up to join us, I look forward to learning and chatting with you. If you can’t attend, you’re welcome to follow along on Twitter via hashtag #AEAOT.

Speakers at An Event Apart Online Together Spring Summit 2021, a UX and front-end web design conference.

P.S. Be sure to check out our Speaker Resources for attendees (and folks following along).

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Best practices Browsers Code Design development Future-Friendly HTML Ideas industry Internship IXD Layout links Multi-Device Responsive Web Design software Standards State of the Web User Experience UX Web Design Web Design History Web Standards Websites

Saving Your Web Workflows with Prototyping

Our static tools and linear workflows aren’t the right fit for the flexible, diverse reality of today’s Web. Making prototyping a central element of your workflows will radically change how you approach problem solution and save you a lot of headaches – and money. But most importantly, you will be creating the right products and features in a way that resonates with the true nature of the Web. A discourse on processes, flexibility, the Web as a material, and how we build things.

Saving Your Web Workflows with Prototyping – Matthias Ott
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A List Apart Code Design Web Design

Service Worker With A Smile

Jeremy Wagner’s “Now THAT’S What I Call Service Worker!” provides innovative techniques to harness the power of Progressive Web Apps with smaller HTML payloads and better performance for repeat visitors.

Categories
Design

Web designer’s gold

Deborah Edwards-Oñoro publishes a goldmine of web design how-to and troubleshooting info at Lireo Designs. Among her recent gems:

Categories
Advertising Best practices business Design

The dogs won’t eat it

My father used to tell this story to his project management students.

The executives of a dog food company were holding a meeting.

“The new label design tested through the roof!” said the VP of Marketing. “In double blind tests, it outperformed our B and C designs across all demos.”

“Unprompted recall has doubled since our last campaign,” the VP of Advertising chimed in. “Our ‘Share the Love’ theme line has gone viral.”

“‘Dog Mommies’ in key ethnic demos responded favorably to the new, ‘organic’ ingredients,” added the VP of Research. “The ‘fresh chunk of love’ concept is going over like gangbusters.”

“Our new ‘green’ delivery chain efficiencies look like a winner,” said the Director of PR and the Chief Scientist in unison. “We’re a cinch to win Green Co of the Month in Green Business Magazine.”

“So why,” asked the CEO, “are sales trending down?”

The executives looked blankly at one another. Finally the youngest of them spoke up.

“The dogs won’t eat it,” she explained.

No amount of marketing can save a bad product.


Photo by Victor Grabarczyk on Unsplash

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Best practices Blogs and Blogging business Design wordpress

See me speak: WordPress.com Growth Summit

WordPress.com is holding its first virtual conference, I’m speaking there, and you’re invited. The WordPress.com Growth Summit is a two-day live event where you can learn to build and grow your site, “from start to scale.” To make it as inclusive as possible, the event will take place twice, with live sessions accessible to all Earth’s time zones:

  • In the Americas, Europe, Middle East, and Africa, the conference is August 11-12 from 11:00am–4:00pm EDT (15:00–20:00 UTC).
  • For attendees in the Asia Pacific region, the event is August 12-13 from 11:00am–4:00pm JST (02:00–07:00 UTC).
  • Can’t attend all of the sessions you’re interested in? No problem. The WordPress.com events team will record them all and make them available to you after the event.

diverse group of speakers will share tips on creating your site, aligning it to your business goals, finding an audience, building and nurturing an organic fan community, and more. 

As for me, I’ll co-host “Blogging and Podcasting: Defining Success” with the amazing Jason Snell. Here’s how we describe our panel:

There are almost as many ways to succeed at blogging and podcasting as there are bloggers and podcasters. In a lively discussion full of plentiful tips and takeaways, industry veterans Jason Snell (The Incomparable, Six Colors) and Jeffrey Zeldman (A List Apart, WordPress.com) will teach you how to:

  • Define your mission;
  • Craft and govern content;
  • Understand and cultivate your audience;
  • Maintain authenticity;
  • React to change.

You’ll also learn when and how to diversify, and how to make money with paywalls, stores, advertising, and more.

Explore the entire schedule of breakout sessions, demos, keynotes, panels, and talks.

It’s only $79 to attend if you order your ticket by Friday, July 31. On top of which, zeldman.com fans get an additional 20% discount with code Jeffrey20

After July 31, the ticket price will be $99. So register today.

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