“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.”
HEY, YOU WITH THE STARS in your eyes. Yes, you, the all too necessary SXSW Interactive attendee. Got questions about the present and future of web design and publishing for me or the illustrious panelists on Jeffrey Zeldman’s Awesome Internet Design Panel at SXSW Interactive 2011? You do? Bravo! Post them on Twitter using hashtag #jzsxsw and we’ll answer the good ones at 5:00 PM in Big Ballroom D of the Austin Convention Center.
Topics include platform wars (native, web, and hybrid, or welcome back to 1999), web fonts, mobile is the new widescreen, how to succeed in the new publishing, responsive design, HTML5, Flash, East Coast West Coast beefs, whatever happened to…?, and many, many more.
Comments are off here so you’ll post your questions on Twitter.
The panel will be live sketched and live recorded for later partial or full broadcast via sxsw.com. In-person attendees, arrive early for best seats. Don’t eat the brown acid.
Hence the HTML5 logo effort, intended as an identity system for all the hot new standards technologies—and initially bogged down by a controversy in our circle about theW3C muddying the waters. The actual muddying began when Steve Jobs announced Apple’s support for HTML5 by pointing to web stuff created with CSS3. In other words, the inaccurate use of “HTML5” to cover HTML and non-HTML technologies coincided with the surge of interest in those technologies under that inaccurate label. Which is why some thought leaders in our community have reckoned that the business community’s confusion about what HTML5 actually means doesn’t matter so much, as long as they are clamoring for great sites, accessibly designed with web standards—and as long as developers know the difference between HTML5 and, say, CSS3.
In any case, soon after the standards digerati declared the HTML5 banner launch a communications fiasco, it emerged that the launch was actually merely a communications snafu.
An updated FAQ makes it clear that HTML5 means HTML5, that CSS3 is not part of the HTML5 specification, and so on. The W3C’s clarification allows the standards organization to have it both ways in a fashion acceptable to all. In times past, the W3C argued passionately within its own walls during the creation of web standards, only to passively release them as “recommendations” to a world that often ignored them—the development of XHTML 2 in the pure absence of worldly interest was probably the culmination of that phase. But today’s W3C has learned better. It has learned to engage its constituents and to seek approval beyond its immediate constituents—i.e. to reach out to the business community, not just to the authors of O’Reilly and Peachpit books. Its “HTML5” identity effort represents a reasonable and meritorious effort to cash in on, prolong, and extend the world’s already keen interest in HTML5 and related technologies and practices. Meantime, the little FAQ page and other minor editorial clarifications allow the W3C to pacify its knowledgeable critics and duck the charge that it is blurring the lines between HTML, CSS, and other technologies.
Now that the story appears to be heading purposefully in a single direction, a kink in the works was inevitable.
That kink is also not surprising and not entirely unanticipated. Just when the W3C figures out that HTML5 is hot, the WHAT Working Group (the splinter group that created the actual HTML5 specification in the first place) has decided that HTML is the new HTML5:
The HTML specification will henceforth just be known as “HTML”, with the URL http://whatwg.org/html. (We will also continue to maintain the Web Applications 1.0 specification that contains HTML and a number of related APIs like Web Storage, Web Workers, and Server-Sent Events.)
The WHATWG HTML spec can now be considered a “living standard”. It’s more mature than any version of the HTML specification to date, so it made no sense for us to keep referring to it as merely a draft. We will no longer be following the “snapshot” model of spec development, with the occasional “call for comments”, “call for implementations”, and so forth.
Those who are surprised should remember that the HTML5 doctype references “HTML” with no version number. In the thinking of its creators, HTML5 was always just HTML. It looked backward (the first web page ever written would be valid HTML5 with the addition of a doctype) and forward. It would continue to evolve. The WHAT WG gave itself the job of steering and updating HTML, while the W3C took on the task of maintaining milestones (a task it will continue to perform).
In practice, the WHATWG has basically been operating like this for years, and indeed we were going to change the name last year but ended up deciding to wait a bit since people still used the term “HTML5” a lot. However, the term is now basically being used to mean anything Web-standards-related, so it’s time to move on!
To those inside the circle of trust, there is no contradiction here. The W3C will doubtless continue to market HTML5, and, for a time, design technologists will continue to write HTML5 books and teach HTML5 classes, if only to acknowledge HTML’s new capabilities and to clearly mark the break from the technologies and practices of the past. Eventually, quite probably, the WHAT WG’s view will take hold, and we will view HTML as a living specification.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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?
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.
The 10K Apart Challenge had a simple premise: Could you build a complete web application using less than 10 kilobytes? … A joint effort between An Event Apart and MIX Online, the 10K Apart reaped 367 web applications in 28 days—everything from casual games to RIAs—that demonstrate, even with their tiny footprints, what is truly possible with modern [web] standards.
iPad. Never have so many embraced a great product for exactly the wrong reasons.
Too many designers and publishers see the iPad as an opportunity to do all the wrong things—things they once did in Flash—without the taint of Flash.
In the minds of many, the iPad is like Flash that pays. You can cram traditional publishing content into an overwrought, novelty Flash interface as The New York Times once did with its T magazine. You may win a design award but nobody will pay you for that content. Ah, but do the same thing on the iPad instead, and subscribers will pay—maybe not enough to save publishing, but enough to keep the content coming and at least some journalists, editors, and art directors employed.
It’s hard to argue with money and jobs, and I wouldn’t dream of doing so.
Alas, the early success of a few publications—publications so good they would doubtless survive with or without iPad—is creating a stampede that will not help most magazines and interfaces that will not please most readers.
Everything we’ve learned in the past decade about preferring open standards to proprietary platforms and user-focused interfaces to masturbatory ones is forgotten as designers and publishers once again scramble to create novelty interfaces no one but them cares about.
Luke Wroblewski’s Touch Gesture Reference Guide gives designers plenty of ammunition to create dynamic user experiences that work on a wide variety of mobile phones and devices (including iPad) while these same sites can use traditional desktop browser effects like hover to offer equally rich experiences on non-touch-enabled browsers. Unless your organization’s business model includes turning a profit by hiring redundant, competing teams, “Write once, publish everywhere” makes more economic sense than “Write once, publish to iPad. Write again, publish to Kindle. Write again, publish to some other device.”
I’m not against the iPad. I love my iPad. It’s great for storing and reading books, for browsing websites, for listening to music and watching films, for editing texts, presentations, and spreadsheets, for displaying family photos, and on and on. It’s nearly all the stuff I love about my Mac plus a great ePub reader slipped into a little glass notebook I play like a Theremin.
I’m not against iPad apps. Twitterific for iPad is by far the best way to use Twitter. After all, Twitter is really an internet service, not a website; Twitter’s own site, while leaps ahead of where it used to be, is hardly the most useful or delightful way to access its service. Gowalla for iPad is my constant companion. I dread the idea of traveling without it. And there are plenty of other great iPad apps I love, from Bloom, an “endless music machine” by Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers, to Articles, which turns Wikipedia into an elegant reading experience, to Mellotronics for iPad, an uncannily accurate Mellotron simulator packed with 13 authentic voices—“the same production tapes featured on Strawberry Fields Forever” and other classic tracks (not to mention tracks by nouveau retro bands like Eels).
There are apps that need to be apps, demand to be apps, and I admire and learn from them like every other designer who’s alive at this moment.
I’m just not sold on what the magazines are doing. Masturbatory novelty is not a business strategy.
“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?”
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.
A List Apart and .net magazine have long admired each other. So when .net editor Dan Oliver did me the great honor of asking if I wished to guest edit an issue, I saluted smartly. The result is now arriving in subscriber post boxes and will soon flood Her Majesty’s newsstands.
In .net magazine Issue No. 206, on sale 17th August in UK (and next month in the US, where it goes by the name “Practical Web Design”), we examine how new standards like CSS3 and HTML5, new devices like iPhone and Droid, and maturing UX disciplines like content strategy are converging to create new opportunities for web designers and the web users we serve:
Exult as Luke Wroblewski shows how the explosive growth of mobile lets us stop bowing to committees and refocus on features customers need.
Marvel as Ethan Marcotte explains how fluid grids, flexible images, and CSS3 media queries help us create precise yet context-sensitive layouts that change to fit the device and screen on which they’re viewed.
Delight as Kristina Halvorson tells how to achieve better design through coherent content wrangling.
Thrill as Andy Hume shows how to sell wary clients on cutting-edge design methods never before possible.
Geek out as Tim Van Damme shows how progressive enhancement and CSS3 make for sexy experiences in today’s most capable browsers—and damned fine experiences in those that are less web-standards-savvy.
You can also read my article, which asks the musical question:
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?
Today’s web is about interacting with your users wherever they are, whenever they have a minute to spare. New code and new ideas for a new time are what the new issue of .net magazine captures. There has never been a better time to create websites. Enjoy!
Photo by Daniel Byrne for .net magazine. All rights reserved.
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.
Morning finds me bound by train for Boston, capital of Massachusetts, land of Puritans, patriots, and host of the original Tea Party. Center of high technology and higher education. Where the John Hancock Tower signs its name in the clouds, and the sky-scraping Prudential Tower adds a whole new meaning to the term, “high finance.” Beantown. Cradle of liberty, Athens of America, the walking city, and five-time host to An Event Apart, which may be America’s leading web design conference. (You see what I did there?)
Over 500 advanced web design professionals will join co-host Eric Meyer and me in Boston’s beautiful Back Bay for two jam-packed days of learning and inspiration with Dan Cederholm, Andy Clarke, Kristina Halvorson, Jeremy Keith, Ethan Marcotte, Jared Spool, Nicole Sullivan, Jeff Veen, Aarron Walter, and Luke Wroblewski.
If you can’t attend the sold-out show, which begins Monday, May 24, you can follow the live Tweetage via the souped-up, socially-enriched, aesthetically tricked out new version of A Feed Apart, whose lights go on this Sunday, May 23. Our thanks to developers Nick Sergeant, Pete Karl II, and their expanded creative team including Steve Losh and Ali M. Ali. We and they will have more to say about the project soon. For now, you can always read our 2009 interview with Nick and Pete or sneak a peek on Dribbble.
And so do my iPhone and your iPad. All it took was a bit o’ the old Richard Fink syntax and a quick drive through the Font Squirrel @Font-Face Kit Generator (featuring Base 64 encoding and SVG generation) to bring the joy and wonder of fast, optimized, semi-bulletproof web fonts to Safari, Firefox, Opera, Chrome, iPhone, and Apple’s latest religious device.
Haven’t checked IE7, IE8, IE9, or iPad yet; photos welcome. (Post on Flickr and link here.)
What I learned:
? Even if manufacturer supplies “web font” versions with web license purchase, it’s better to roll your own web font files as long as this doesn’t violate the license.
THE DEATHS of Leslie Harpold and Brad Graham, in addition to being tragic and horrible and sad, have highlighted the questionable long-term viability of blogs, personal sites, and web magazines as legitimate artistic and literary expressions. (Read this, by Rogers Cadenhead.)
Cool URIs don’t change, they just fade away. When you die, nobody pays your hosting company, and your work disappears. Like that.
Now, not every blog post or “Top 10 Ways to Make Money on the Internet” piece deserves to live forever. But there’s gold among the dross, and there are web publications that we would do well to preserve for historical purposes. We are not clairvoyants, so we cannot say which fledgling, presently little-read web publications will matter to future historians. Thus logic and the cultural imperative urge us to preserve them all. But how?
The death of the good in the jaws of time is not limited to internet publications, of course. Film decays, books (even really good ones) constantly go out of print, digital formats perish. Recorded music that does not immediately find an audience disappears from the earth.
Digital subscriptions were supposed to replace microfilm, but American libraries, which knew we were racing toward recession years before the actual global crisis came, stopped being able to pay for digital newspaper and magazine descriptions nearly a decade ago. Many also (even fancy, famous ones) can no longer collect—or can only collect in a limited fashion. Historians and scholars have access to every issue of every newspaper and journal written during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, but can access only a comparative handful of papers covering the election of Barack Obama.
Thanks to budget shortfalls and format wars, our traditional media, literature, and arts are perishing faster than ever before. Nothing conceived by the human mind, except Heaven and nuclear winter, is eternal.
Still, when it comes to instant disposability, web stuff is in a category all its own.
Unlike with other digital expressions, format is not the problem: HTML, CSS, and backward-compatible web browsers will be with us forever. The problem is, authors pay for their own hosting.
(There are other problems: the total creative output of someone I follow is likely distributed across multiple social networks as well as a personal site and Twitter feed. How to connect those dots when the person has passed on? But let’s leave that to the side for the moment.)
A suggestion for a business. Sooner or later, some hosting company is going to figure out that it can provide a service and make a killing (as it were) by offering ten-, twenty-, and hundred-year packets of posthumous hosting.
A hundred years is not eternity, but you are not Shakespeare, and it’s a start.
Back in 2000, CSS co-creator Bert Bos set out to explain the W3C’s design principles—“to make explicit what the developers in the various W3C working groups mean when they invoke words like efficiency, maintainability, accessibility, extensibility, learnability, simplicity, [and] longevity….”
Eventually published in 2003, the essay, although ostensibly concerned with explaining W3C working group principles to the uninitiated, actually articulates the key principle that separates great design from the muck we normally wade through. It also serves as a warning to Bert’s fellow W3C wizards not to seek the dark magic of abstract purity at the expense of the common good. Tragically for these wizards, and for we who use their technologies, it is a warning some developers of W3C specifications continue to overlook.
Design is for people
In his introduction, Bert summarizes the humanistic value that is supposed to be at the core of every web standard:
Contrary to appearances, the W3C specifications are for the most part not designed for computers, but for people. … Most of the formats are in fact compromises between human-readability and computer efficiency….
But why do we want people to read them at all? Because all our specs are incomplete. Because people, usually other people than the original developers, have to add to them….
For the same reason we try to keep the specifications of reasonable size. They must describe a useful chunk of technology, but not one that is too large for an individual to understand.
Over the succeeding 25 web pages (the article is chunked out in pamphlet-sized pages, each devoted to a single principle such as “maintainability” and “robustness”) Bert clearly, plainly, and humbly articulates a series of rather profound ideas that are key to the web’s growth and that might apply equally admirably to realms of human endeavor beyond the web.
The Web now runs on HTML, HTTP and URLs, none of which existed before the ’90s. But it isn’t just because of the quality of these new formats and protocols that the Web took off. In fact, the original HTTP was a worse protocol than, e.g., Gopher or FTP in its capabilities….
And that fact shows nicely what made the Web possible at all: it didn’t try to replace things that already worked, it only added new modules, that fit in the existing infrastructure. …
And nowadays (the year 2000), it may look like everything is XML and HTTP, but that impression is only because the “old” stuff is so well integrated that you forget about it: there is no replacement for e-mail or Usenet, for JPEG or MPEG, and many other essential parts of the Web.
He then warns:
There is, unfortunately, a tendency in every standards organization, W3C not excluded, to replace everything that was created by others with things developed in-house. It is the not-invented-here syndrome, a feeling that things that were not developed “for the Web” are somehow inferior. And that “we” can do better than “them.” But even if that is true, maybe the improvement still isn’t worth spending a working group’s resources on.
Shrinkage and seduction
In his gentle way, Bert seems to be speaking directly to his W3C peers, who may not always share his and Håkon‘s humanism. For, despite what designers new to CSS, struggling for the first time with concepts like “float” and the box model may think, Bert and Håkon designed the web’s layout language to be easy to learn, teach, implement, maintain, and (eventually) extend. They also designed CSS not to overwhelm the newcomer with advanced power at the cost of profound complexity. (“CSS stops short of even more powerful features that programmers use in their programming languages: macros, variables, symbolic constants, conditionals, expressions over variables, etc. That is because these things give power-users a lot of rope, but less experienced users will unwittingly hang themselves; or, more likely, be so scared that they won’t even touch CSS. It’s a balance.”)
This striving to be understood and used by the inexperienced is the underlying principle of all good design, from the iPhone to the Eames chair. It’s what Jared Spool would call usability and you and I may consider the heart of design. When anything new is created, be it a website, a service, or a web markup language, there is a gap between what the creator knows (which is everything about how it’s supposed to work), and what you and I know (which is nothing). The goal of design is to shrink this ignorance gap while seducing us into leaping across it.
What were once vices are now habits
You can see this principle at work in CSS, whose simplicity allowed us to learn it. Although we now rail against the limitations of CSS 1 and even CSS 2.1, what we are really complaining about is the slow pace of CSS 3 and the greater slowness with which browser makers (some more than others) adopt bits of it.
Note that at one time we would have railed against browser makers who implemented parts of a specification that was still under development; now we admire them. Note, too, that it has taken well over a decade for developers to understand and browsers to support basic CSS, and it is only from the perspective of the experienced customer who craves more that advanced web designers now cry out for immediate CSS 3 adoption and chafe against the “restrictions” of current CSS as universally supported in all browsers, including IE8.
If CSS had initially offered the power, depth, and complexity that CSS 3 promises, we would still be designing with tables or Flash. Even assuming a browser had existed that could demonstrate the power of CSS 3, the complexity of the specification would have daunted everyone but Eric Meyer, had CSS 1 not come out of the gate first.
The future of the future of standards
It was the practical simplicity of CSS that enabled browser engineers to implement it and tempted designers to use (and then evangelize) it. In contrast, it was the seeming complexity and detachment from practical workaday concerns that doomed XHTML 2, while XHTML 1.0 remains a valid spec that will likely still be working when you and I have retired (assuming retirement will be possible in our lifetime—but that’s another story).
And yet, compared to some W3C specs in progress, XHTML 2 was a model of accessible, practical, down-to-earth usability.
To the extent that W3C specifications remain modular, practical, and accessible to the non-PhD in computer science, they will be adopted by browser makers and the marketplace. The farther they depart from the principles Bert articulated, the sooner they will peter out into nothingness, and the likelier we are to face a crisis in which web standards once again detach from the direction in which the web is actually moving, and the medium is given over to incompatible, proprietary technologies.