Every year or two a fresh crop of internet blowhards decides design doesn’t matter. Indeed, they proclaim that bad design is good. Not merely is it good, it is the secret to internet wealth and success, they tell us. Whereas, they assure us, user-friendly, brand-appropriate, professional graphic design — or even mere competence — is the royal road to Failureville.
I don’t understand the siren song of this demonstrably idiotic claim. I don’t know why it seduces a new crop of assh*les each year. I only know it does. And then, just as predictably, all the year’s hot young new media designers get in a huff defending design against the fools who attacked it.
Seems to me it might be better to let the anti-design dummies rant themselves out and roll along their happy ignorant path in search of new things to attack. Such as air. Or babies.
Maybe I am jaded. Or maybe it’s hard to get exercised over inanity you’ve seen recur so many times. The assertion that “bad design is good internet” has been made by one set of dorks after another since at least 1995. One prominent consultant aside, nobody can remember who these blowhards were. They charged full bore into obscurity, as dolts generally do.
So to this year’s hot (under the collar) web designers, remember: next year, you will still be designing beautiful websites. And the people who claim that bad design is good? If they’re lucky, they will be selling apples on the street corner.
It’s May Day. A day that honors worker’s rights. So it is only fitting that May Day was also the day of the Canadian Union of Public Employees website reboot. Happy May Day! Happy workers! Happy Canadians! Happy Cog redesigned this site.
In 1993, her brother, my uncle, took me to lunch. We hadn’t seen each other for a while. I was newly sober and raw as a razor burn, but pleased to be coherent and in his company. After some minutes of chit-chat, he leaned forward and said, “I think your mother has Alzheimer’s.”
People emerge from addiction like newborns. I got sober for this? was my immediate, shameful thought. And then:
“Yes,” That Voice Inside Me replied, “you were saved, in part, so you could be present for your mother in her illness.”
And was I present enough? Thirteen years on from my rebirth and my mother’s death sentence, six years on from her passing, I am as confused as any survivor who loves and cannot save.
It is a lousy disease. Especially when you know you’ve got it.
There’s realizing, by the strained smiles that greet you, that you must have said the same thing more than once.
There’s the stage where you’re upset but can’t say why, and people who love you are looking at you with pity, and their pity frightens you and hurts your pride.
You fabricate conflicts with old friends until they stop seeing you, so they will not be there to witness your decline.
Later there is running out of the house, pursued by ghosts.
Then forgetting your grown children’s names. And your husband’s.
Then comes a hideous second infancy.
Then you don’t eat.
At that point you must be placed in a facility. The transition from your home to a “home” is accompanied by the grief, guilt, mourning, rage, and regret of those still actively living. But you are not aware of it.
Or so I hope.
I do not live in the same city as my parents, so showing up involved air travel and schedule coordination — afflictions of the living.
Sometimes my mother came to my city.
The misery was like a layer cake.
There was the time I arrived at the unveiling of my dear aunt’s tombstone to find my mother and father already at the graveside. My mother was crying but did not seem to know for whom.
“Look,” said my father, pointing in my direction in hopes of cheering her up.
My mother looked right at me.
“I know that man,” she said.
A year later she could not talk.
Finally she was like someone in a near-coma. She could sit up. You could wheel her around. That was about it.
“Look, it’s spring,” you would tell her.
“Look, it’s fall, the leaves are changing,” you would tell her.
Near the very end, her hair turned white and she bloated after a lifetime of elegant thinness.
About a month before she died suddenly in her sleep I was visiting her in the Home. She had not spoken for a long time. She did not look you in the eye or notice if you were there. She had stopped eating the ice cream and other treats my father was always bringing her, which she used to eat like a baby from his hands.
Her stereo from home was in the room — another of my father’s ideas — and I popped in a CD she had owned and loved when it was an LP, Frank Sinatra’s “Wee Small Hours.” Not that it would do any good. But you keep trying.
There’s this haunting bluesy saxaphone riff on one of the tracks — a sad, brief volley of notes. Suddenly, as it played, my mother gripped my arm. Then she was gone again. Had it even happened?
Maybe one day I will see her and maybe she will be able to tell me.
She died before September 11th, 2001, and I remember thinking, Well, at least she did not have to see this.
It is a lousy disease, and one of the lousiest things about it is the way it displaces the memories one would prefer to hold onto. My mother was shrewd, smart, compassionate, hilarious, political, artistic, lively — and loved her family almost to a fault. Those are the things I want to remember, and do, when the damned disease isn’t obliterating all memories not related to death and decline.
I am blessed with a wife and daughter. My mother, who would have adored them, does not know them. My daughter resembles me as I resemble my mother. My daughter’s hands and feet are like my mother’s. Her face is like a bust of my mother my grandfather made. I never knew my grandfather although his photograph smiled opaquely at me from my mother’s piano. A painting of my mother adorns one wall of our apartment.
Will my daughter know my mother as anything besides a painting and a ghost? I think so. For there are things I will teach my daughter that only my mother’s son could teach.
A dollar short and two days late, happy birthday, Mom.
It is pure pleasure to announce that famed web designer, developer, author, blogger, and entrepreneur Todd Dominey and fast-rising art director/designer/blogger Jason Santa Maria will join Eric Meyer and me on the speaker’s platform at An Event Apart Atlanta.
Todd Dominey is a living preview of tomorrow’s web designer: busy with client services, but also creating his own products; delivering powerful graphic design but always in the context of what the user needs to see; adept at web standards and Flash.
As for Jason Santa Maria, I hired him at Happy Cog and entrusted him with the redesign of A List Apart, so I think he’s pretty good.
Actually, I think Todd Dominey and Jason Santa Maria rock harder than Metallica and am thrilled that we will have them both on our stage. I hope some of you can join us at An Event Apart Atlanta.
Couldn’t make it to An Event Apart Philadelphia? Curious about what you missed? Our new, two-minute video reveals all. Well, anyway, it reveals what can be shown in two minutes. Shot on location at The Franklin Institute by filmmaker Ian Corey, it’s packed with thrills, chills, and design geekery.
See Zeldman explain why, the more words you have, the less you communicate. See Eric Meyer unveil the code behind last year’s best web layout. (Okay, so I’m prejudiced.) See Jason Santa Maria squeeze genuine typographic goodness out of two utterly common fonts. See lucky attendees win nifty prizes. See the music, hear the light.
Updated 24 January: SMIL video captioning by Andrew Kirkpatrick. Video playback requires QuickTime 7.
Lou Rosenfeld, co-creator of information architecture, is looking for people who like to read. Specifically, he is looking for people who like to read about design and user experience. Are you one of them? Then here is your chance to sound off. What vital topics aren’t being covered (or aren’t being covered well) in the design and user experience books you buy? Where are publishers falling down? What are you dying to read? Let Lou know what you think.
Even more to the point, Technorati is looking for a smart web person who is tired of big-company bureaucracy, secrecy, and in-fighting, and seeks greater emotional and professional fulfillment—in other words, Technorati is looking for a web person who wants to make a difference. Yes, they really do write job descriptions that way, and not only in San Francisco, where Technorati is based. (Tags: technorati, jobs, webdevelopment.)
FREIGHT (available from Phil’s Fonts) is a superbly detailed font family created by Brooklyn type designer Joshua Darden. Optimized for screen display, Freight is ideal for web interface design. You can also use it as a default font for such daily computing tasks as reading and writing email—makes a tasty break from Verdana and Georgia. Recent Darden fonts include Meta Headline (created at the behest of Erik Spiekermann and Christian Schwartz) and lovely, funky Omnes.
In Calcutta’s red light district, over 7,000 women and girls work as prostitutes. Only one group has a lower standing: their children. Zana Briski became involved in the lives of these children in 1998 when she first began photographing prostitutes in Calcutta. Living in the brothels for months at a time, she quickly developed a relationship with many of the kids who, often terrorized and abused, were drawn to the rare human companionship she offered.
Zana held weekly photography workshops between 2000 and 2003. There the children learned camera basics, lighting, composition, the development of point-of-view, editing, and sequencing for narrative. To Zana’s delight, equipped with inexpensive point-and-shoot 35mm cameras, the children produced incredible work. Their images are explosions of color: self-portraits, family pictures, street scenes, stunning tableaus of Bengali life.
Audio interviews with David Heinemeier Hansson, who invented Rails and manages it as an open source movement, plus Ruby on Rails heavyweights and pioneers including Dave Thomas, Chad Fowler, Rick Olson, and A List Apart’s Dan Benjamin.
First we had Flash embedding the automated way. It worked in all browsers but it didn’t validate. Then came Flash Satay and UFO, FlashObject and Hixie’s nested objects. Which techniques are most accessible and most reliable? Macromedia accessibility expert and occasional A List Apart author Andrew Kirkpatrick checked them all out and drew conclusions worth reading.
In the U.S. a mobile phone is a cell phone for making phone calls. In the rest of the world it’s a rich two-way media device. Starting a year ago, renowned designer Kelly Goto began travelling the world researching how handhelds are used today and discovering the emerging principles of ubiquitous computing. Kelly, who is here lecturing at Web Design World, maintains this mobile usability and user experience blog, to which she posts from her handheld camera/phone/whatever.
This beautiful and well-written periodical explores the changing role of science in our global culture. New York’s own Mike Pick and Tim Murtaugh created the clean, elegant, and playful site design (check out the little colored seedlings at the top left).
Got big files to share? Files so big you can’t email them? Files too big even for Basecamp hosting and posting? DropSend has you covered. This fresh-off-the-vine web application by Ryan Carson takes ease of use to a new level, working well and simply as advertised. I use it. Try it, you’ll like it.
In this New York Times Magazine feature, Daniel H. Pink explains folksonomies to the non-digerati. As most people reading this page know, “folksonomy” is IA Thomas Vander Wal’s 2004 coinage for the tag-powered, communal taxonomies that are not merely changing how websites and web products are structured but how information is perceived and categorized all over.
Plazes (beta) is a spanking new web app offering a “grassroot approach to location-aware interaction, using the local network you are connected to as location reference. Plazes allows you to share you location with the people you know and to discover people and plazes around you. It’s the navigation system for your social life and it’s absolutely free.” I’m using it right now and it is cool.
I returned from An Event Apart Philadelphia with a head full of ideas, inspiration, and snot. Walking the snowy Franklin Parkway at 5:30 am after not sleeping for two nights in a row can give you a heck of a head cold. (It wasn’t nervousness about the show that kept me from sleeping; it was my fourteen-month-old’s nighttime restlessness. Will I take the kid on another business trip? You bet.) Mostly I came home happy to have pulled off our first travelling road show and pleased that it seemed to please most who attended.
Attendees came from as far away as Tokyo and London. There were plenty of locals, too. Philadelphia has a tight and engaged design community — you could see it and feel it.
There were problems. We were promised WI-FI for 150 people and barely had bandwidth for half that many. Some seats were more comfortable than others.
But most of the surprises were pleasant. Every attendee got a free book from New Riders—titles by Dan Cederholm, Hillman Curtis, Steve Krug, Marty Neumeier, Jakob Nielsen, Eric Meyer, and yours truly. Twenty people got free web hosting for a year courtesy of Media Temple. AIGA gave away posters, Pixelworthy gave away drinks. The event would not have been half so good without the caring support of these fine sponsors.
The Philadelphia Standards Organization, blogging live, published the day’s schedule, to which we mostly adhered. In future posts here or at aneventapart.com I may talk more about what we covered and why. For now, I’ll defer to my co-host Eric Meyer, our special guest Jason Santa Maria, and various lovely people who came to the show:
AEA Technorati (Technorati has no exclamation point and is not yet a Yahoo! product but the day is young)
No rest for the wicked
I am now at Web Design World, Boston; tomorrow I’ll keynote on web standards and do a session on the radically under-covered subject of writing as interface design. See some of you here and the rest when I return.
Each week leading up to An Event Apart Philadelphia, AIGA talks with founders and guest artists about what attendees can expect from the conference. Subscribe to AIGA’s Podcast Directory RSS feed to stay abreast.
This week, AIGA’s Liz Danzico talks withJason Santa Maria about being An Event Apart’s first guest speaker, his involvement with the first critiques, and upcoming plans for Stan, his virtual persona.
Talk is free, fonts are cheap, and it’s time to refresh your stock (icon) portfolio in today’s Report.
On beyond podcast
AIGA, the professional association for design, kicks off a weekly series of Event Apart-themed interviews with podcast the first, in which AIGA’s Liz Danzico drills your humble narrator on the whos, what, whens, and whys of our upcoming conference. Tune in next week for podcast the second, featuring a man called Meyer.
For the type nerd on your Kwanza list
Indie Fonts, a fantastic showing of 2000 faces from the likes of Chank, Garage Fonts, Test Pilot Collective, and 15 other hot indie foundries (plus 33 fonts on CD) is normally a steal at US $39.95. But if you buy by 14 November it’s available at the ridiculously cheap price of US $19.95.
But wait, there’s more. For $40 you can get Indie Fonts 1 and Indie Fonts 2, featuring work by Mark Simonson Studio, Jukebox, Atomic Media, and many more. Ho, ho, ho!
The corporate world can be ugly. But it just got prettier with 52 finance and commerce icons covering capitalist concepts like transactions, credit, and interest. Newly available from Stockicons at a CFO-friendly US $179 are two add-on sets: Harmony and Contour.
Stockicon sets are designed to be used in commercial works, software projects, and websites, and are brought to you by The Iconfactory.
The unshaken world looked on in horror as school buildings collapsed on children during the Kashmir earthquake. Carrie and I watched a man clawing at rubble because his little girl or boy was somewhere under there. A television journalist, reporting from the scene, said every child in that village had died.
Television journalists report on all kinds of awful events from all kinds of places, and it is part of their job to calmly relate even the most terrible facts. Yet this particular television journalist, standing just a few feet away from the grief-maddened parent, looked as if he, too, had been crying.
Then the 24-hour news cycle turned its attention to the next scandal, the next storm, the next talking point.
But the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India who survived the earthquake don’t have the option to change the channel. Three million are homeless and a harsh mountain winter is setting in. Three million who survived will die in the coming weeks if not enough is done to help them.
It will take money and effort. And both are wanting.
You would think the governments of rich western nations would consider saving three million lives a no-brainer. For one thing, they are human lives, and from our pulpits and benches we constantly and truthfully proclaim that human life is an absolute value.
There are humanitarian reasons to make every effort to save these lives. There are ethical reasons, spiritual reasons, and even (though it is horrible to say so) political reasons, given that most victims are Muslim and the west has, to say the least, not done the best job of winning Muslim friends lately. But that is just logic and ethics and the religious duty of one human being to another, and thus not enough is being done.