One blog post is worth a thousand portfolio pieces.

I HIRED JASON SANTA MARIA after reading this post on his site.

The year was 2004. Douglas Bowman, one of my partners on a major project, had just injured himself and was unable to work. I needed someone talented and disciplined enough to jump into Doug’s shoes and brain—to finish Doug’s part of the project as Doug would have finished it.

I lack the ability to emulate other designers (especially classy ones like Douglas Bowman) and I was a Photoshop guy whereas Doug worked in Illustrator, so I knew I needed a freelancer. But who?

A Google search on Illustrator and web design led me to a post by a guy I’d never heard of. The post was enjoyably written and reflected a mature and coherent attitude not simply toward the technique it described, but to the practice of design itself. Yes, the blog itself was intriguingly and skillfully designed, and that certainly didn’t hurt. But what made me hire Jason was not the artistry of his website’s design nor the demonstration that he possessed the technical skill I sought, but the fact that he had an evolved point of view about web design.

Anyone can write a how-to. Not everyone thinks to write a why.

Jason had.

I offered him the thankless task of aping another designer’s style for not a ton of money under extreme time pressure, and to my pleased surprise, he accepted. He did so well, and performed so selflessly, that I hired him for another project, this time one with full creative freedom. I have never regretted those decisions.

Just about everyone I know and work with I first met online. And, although well-done portfolio services have their place, neither I nor anyone at Happy Cog has ever hired someone purely (or even largely) on the basis of their portfolio. It’s all about how you present yourself online. Before I even meet you, do I feel like I know you—or like I wish I knew you?

Have you got a point of view? Are you sharing it?

Progressive enhancement: all you need to know is here

Adaptive Web Design

ONE GLORIOUS AFTERNOON in March, 2006, as a friend and I hurried past Austin’s Downtown Hilton Hotel to catch the next session of the SXSW Interactive Festival, a young stranger arrested our progress. With no introduction or preliminaries, he announced that he was available to speak at An Event Apart, a conference for web designers that Eric Meyer and I had launched three months previously. Turning to my companion with my best impression (which is none too good) of Mr Burns of “The Simpsons,” I asked, “Who is this brash young upstart, Smithers?”

The brash young upstart quickly became an essential colleague. In the months and years that followed, Aaron Gustafson created dazzling front- and back-end code for some of my agency’s most demanding clients. Just as importantly, he brilliantly tech-edited the second and third editions of Designing With Web Standards. The job largely consists of alerting Ethan Marcotte and me to the stuff we don’t know about web standards. I’ll let you think about that one. For five years now, Aaron has also been a tough but fair technical editor for A List Apart magazine, where he helps authors succeed while ensuring that they are truly innovative, that their methods are accessible and semantic, and (thanks to his near-encyclopedic knowledge) that they give all prior art its due. Moreover, Aaron has written seminal pieces for the magazine, and, yes, he has lectured at An Event Apart.

Given my experiences with the man and my admiration for his knowledge and abilities, I was thrilled when Aaron told me the premise of this book and began letting me look at chapters. This isn’t just another web design book. It’s an essential and missing piece of the canon. Our industry has long needed a compendium of best practices in adaptive, standards-based design. And with the rise of mobile, the recent significant improvements in desktop and phone browsers, and the new capabilities that come with HTML5, CSS3, and gestural interfaces, it is even more vital that we who make websites have a reliable resource that tells us how to take advantage of these new capabilities while creating content that works in browsers and devices of all sizes and widely differing capabilities. This book is that resource.

The convergence of these new elements and opportunities is encouraging web professionals to finally design for the web as it always should have been done. Adaptive design is the way, and nobody has a wider command than Aaron of the thinking and techniques required to do it well. In these pages you will find all that thinking and those methods. Never again will you lose a day debating how to do great web design (and create great code) that works for everyone. I plan to give this book to all my students, and to everyone I work with. I encourage you to do likewise. And now, enough preliminaries. Dive in, and enjoy!

Adaptive Web Design: Crafting Rich Experiences with Progressive Enhancement
by Aaron Gustafson
Foreword by Jeffrey Zeldman

Carolyn Wood moves on

CAROLYN WOOD IS LEAVING A List Apart. Over three brilliant years, Carolyn created the position of acquisitions editor and made it shine, bringing the magazine and its readers such articles as Responsive Web Design by Ethan Marcotte, More Meaningful Typography by Tim Brown, Orbital Content by Cameron Koczon, CSS Floats 101 by Noah Stokes, Designing Web Registration Processes for Kids by Debra Levin Gelman, Design Criticism and the Creative Process by Cassie McDaniel, A Simpler Page by Craig Mod, and over 100 others—each of them vital, and at least a dozen of them essential reading for all people who make websites.

Acquisitions editor was not the job Carolyn wanted, but she made it her own, worked on it night and day, and managed the damned difficult feat of running it independently (to keep it agile) while simultaneously informing editor Krista Stevens and me of every move she made. Carolyn also took on the tricky task of conveying initial editorial and technical feedback to writers as they worked to fine-tune submissions. She excelled at this. Writers loved her.

She leaves us to focus on her print magazine work, freelance clients through her content, editorial and design agency Pixelingo, and creative projects. Among those new projects, Carolyn is editor-in-chief of Codex: the journal of Typography, a quarterly print magazine from I Love Typography, and of The Manual, “a new, beautifully crafted journal that takes a fresh look, in print, at design on the web.”

I write this goodbye here because we don’t yet have a place for me to write it on A List Apart. But that will soon change. Change is all, and even difficult change can be good. We will miss you, Carolyn. Good luck!

How to work with a designer who is new to the web and wants to control everything

Q. Working with print designer who is just getting into web and they want to control everything. Any advice on how to deal with them? – @FossilDesigns

A. I ASSUME YOU’RE CODING what your colleague designs. Gently explain how pixel-perfect design falls apart on the web, using visual examples. Start with a design that looks great in the environment it was designed for. Your colleague will smile. “Yes, it does look nice here,” you will agree. Then move on to three or four common environments where that same design breaks or is unpleasant to use. As long as you are not being a jerk about your superior knowledge, your calm, friendly expertise together with a few examples should make your colleague amenable to learning more. At that point, there are dozens of resources in print and on the web. Start with gentle, introductory books and articles. (I wouldn’t plunge your friend into Mobile Boilerplate.) I leave it as an exercise to readers of this page to list articles and books that can help.

If your colleague remains adamant about pixel-perfect design, you’re working with the wrong designer. Relationships only work when respect flows both ways. If your partner will not listen, you need a new partner. If this is a freelance gig, find one. If it’s a job, and you simply can’t get through to your new colleague, involve your boss. Be firm but not threatening. You’re not trying to get your colleague fired, you’re simply trying to resolve a dispute in which only one of you has expertise. If you’re afraid to involve your boss, you’re in the wrong job, and your non-web-savvy colleague is merely a symptom of a larger organizational problem. Get out! You can do better.

Our Jobs In Cyberspace: Craft Vocabulary vs. Storytelling

AFTER ALL THESE YEARS designing websites and applications, I still don’t think in words like “affordance.” And when my colleagues use a word like that, my mental process still clatters to a halt while I seek its meaning in a dusty corner of my brain. (When someone says “affordance,” there’s always a blank where thought stops, and then I see a mental image of a finger pushing a button or stroking a surface. Somehow that one image stands in for everything I know about what “affordance” means, and I’m able to jump back into the discussion and catch up with everyone else.)

Should you ask B.B. King if the lick he just played was in Lydian Mode, he could probably answer you after stopping to think about it. But after all these years playing blues guitar, B.B. King doesn’t say to himself, “I’m going to switch to a Lydian scale here,” he just plays blues. Scales and vocabulary are necessary when we are learning the craft behind our art. But the longer we practice, the more intuitive our work becomes. And as it becomes more intuitive, it disconnects further and further from language and constructs.

This is why young practitioners often argue passionately about theory while older practitioners tell stories and draw pictures.

Of course any practitioner, green or experienced, can create a word to describe the work we are inventing together, just as anyone, young or old, can have the next great idea. And it is most often the young who come up with exciting new ideas in UX and design and on the internet—possibly because they are still exploring theories and trying on identities, while those who work more intuitively may shut themselves off from the noise of new ideas, the better to perfect a long-term vision.

But the nice thing about the experience arc I’m proposing is that it allows younger practitioners to use words like “affordance” when working together to create a website or application (and soon we will stop distinguishing between those two things), while the older, storyteller practitioners use simpler, down-to-earth language to sell the work to clients, investors, or users.

We need both kinds of practitioners—theorists and those for whom everything has become intuitive second nature—just as we need both kinds of communication (craft vocabulary and storytelling) to do Our Jobs in Cyberspace.™ Don’t you think?

Where are you on this arc? Are you the kind of designer who gets fired up from reading a new theory? Or do you sketch and stumble in the dark, guided only by some Tinker Bell twinge in the belly that tells you no, no, no, no, hmm, maybe?

Webvanta Video: Jeffrey Zeldman on the State of Web Design

From the floor of An Event Apart Seattle 2011:

Jeffrey Zeldman at An Event Apart Seattle 2011.

“Mobile is huge. The iPhone, iPad, and Android are huge. On the one hand, they are standards-facing, because they all support HTML5 and CSS3, so you can create great mobile experiences using web standards. You can create apps using web standards. On the other hand, there is also the temptation to go a proprietary route. In a strange way, although the browsers are much more standards compliant, it seems like we are redoing the browser war. Only now, it’s not the browser wars, it’s platform wars.”

Video interview, plus transcript: Interview with Jeffrey Zeldman on the State of Web Design. Thank you, Michael Slater.

You are all in publishing!

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.

Migrating from a conventional Facebook account to a public figure (“fan”) page – a report from the trenches

BECAUSE FACEBOOK LIMITS USERS to 5,000 contacts, I had to migrate from a conventional user account to what used to be called a “fan” page and is now called an “Artist, Band or Public Figure” page. (Page, not account, notice.)

There’s a page on Facebook called “Create a Page” that is supposed to seamlessly migrate from a conventional user account to a public figure (aka “fan”) page.

The page says it will only migrate your connections—it will lose all your content, photos, apps, and so on—and Facebook means it. After migrating, all my stuff is gone. Years of photos, wall posts, blog posts, tweets, you name it. Even the “help” page link is gone once you’ve migrated, so you can’t refer to any help documentation to find out where all your stuff went and if any of it can be saved.

Custom URL breaks on migration

Because of an idiocy in the database, you can’t keep your existing custom URL, since, when you request it, Facebook tells you it is “taken.” My Facebook page was “jzeldman,” but that URL is “taken” by a fellow named “Jeffrey Zeldman,” so I can’t use it on my Jeffrey Zeldman page. So I had to change to a new URL (“JeffreyZeldman”) and now all my admin links (for instance at facebook.com/happycog) are broken, as they point to the old user page instead of the new fan page. At the very least, Facebook should seamlessly redirect from facebook.com/jzeldman (my old URL) to facebook.com/JeffreyZeldman (the new one), but it does not.

So all my other social media sites that point to the old Facebook account need to be updated by hand, and any third-party links will now be broken because Facebook doesn’t let you keep your custom URL during a migration.

Third-party apps disappear completely

Likewise, none of the third-party functionality (Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, RSS, and so on) has migrated from the user page to the fan page, and there is no information explaining how to reconnect these apps.

No reasonable app like the ones I’ve mentioned appears in the “apps” section of the sidebar on my new page. When I look for additional apps, I get treated to a bloated browse of crappy apps nobody on earth uses, whose creators probably made deals with Facebook in hopes that newbies would be persuaded to hook up these contraptions. You can find “PhotoMyButt” but not Flickr.

I, however, use Flickr.

So, since I can’t find it in the big dull browse, I resort to Facebook’s Apps’ “Search” box. Typing Flickr in that box is exciting. Instead of being taken to the Flickr apps on Facebook, I’m treated to endless redirects courtesy of a broken PHP script that loops infinitely forever suffering like Christ on the cross world without end amen while never actually resolving. Each new partial page that loads for an instant before being replaced by the next is undesigned and unbranded and contains only the sentence fragment, “Please stand by, redirecting…”

The devil will see you now.

So much for content

My photos are gone. My existing writing is gone. Facebook does seem to be migrating human beings who were “friends” on my old page, but nothing else works.

Oh my God, I can’t Admin my own page

I can’t Admin my new Facebook page because the “Admin” is “jzeldman” (me at the old account, which Facebook deleted). Perhaps this is why it’s impossible to post content, no apps work, etc. Nice.

Kids, don’t try this at home

All these bugs are probably known to Facebook, and there are probably nice people at Facebook whose job is to execute known secret internal workarounds when helping an actual “celebrity” migrate his or her page. I’m just guessing of course, but it stands to reason that Ashton K or Lady Gaga, if they want a Facebook page, probably don’t have to deal with all this frustrating brokenness. They have people for that.

But I don’t. I’m a web guy. And web stuff should just work.

Like and Friend are broken in Facebook.

I CANNOT LIKE Happy Cog’s new Facebook page, due to Facebook’s unexplained and arbitrary limitation on how many things a user is allowed to Like. In Facebook’s world, it seems I Like too many things, and that’s bad—even though a chief value of Facebook to advertisers is as a platform where users connect to brands by “Liking” them and encouraging their friends to Like them. Breaking the user/Like connection arbitrarily not only frustrates the user, it also runs counter to Facebook’s business model. Moreover, the vaguely worded error message is a lie. No matter how many things I remove from my pile of Likes, I still cannot Like anything new.

So the real problem may be that I have too many “friends” (i.e. colleagues, business contacts, actual friends, and family). I’m allowed 5000 and I have 5000. If you have 5000 friends, you can’t add more friends, because God forbid you help Facebook grow its network beyond an arbitrary cutoff point. Moreover, if you have 5000 friends, you apparently aren’t allowed to Like anything. You have to choose: friends or brands. Like anyone, I choose friends. As a result, I lose value to Facebook’s advertisers, whose products I can no longer Like. This inability to simultaneously Like people and things maps to nothing in the real world and makes no business sense, but here we are.

So Happy Cog has a Facebook page, and I founded Happy Cog, but I cannot like Happy Cog’s Facebook page. Even if I remove everything else I Like from my list of Facebook likes, I will still not be able to Like Happy Cog’s Facebook page, unless I start removing contacts, which I’m unwilling to do for obvious reasons.

If Facebook were an eager young startup, they would quickly fix this problem, which runs counter to all their business interests and is not based on any real system constraints. But, as we all know, Facebook is an insanely successful company, so they have no incentive to fix the things that are broken in their user experience.

I like Facebook. I don’t mind the brain-dead broken parts of Facebook; all web apps have broken, brain-dead parts. That’s what testing and user feedback are for: to find fix broken, brain-dead stuff. I hate, hate, hate thinking Facebook will never fix what is broken and brain-dead in its site used by half a billion people. Say “Amen,” somebody.