The earliest websites were minimal in the extreme, but without the style and flair to make a virtue of their simplicity. 37signals and Kottke pioneered the combination of simplicity with deft design sense. Cardigan made it art.
Although it is never popular, never the dominant trend, rarely wins design awards, and almost never earns acclaim from designers, design stripped down to its essentials is always a good idea, and especially on the web, where every byte counts. We salute the old and new practitioners of minimalist web design, and solicit your thoughts on pioneers or present practitioners who combine a minimalist aesthetic with significant design chops.
I’m designing from the content out. Meaning that I designed the middle of the page (the part you read) first. Because that’s what this site is about.
When I was satisfied that it was not only readable but actually encouraged reading, I brought in colors and started working on the footer. (The colors, I need not point out to longtime visitors, hearken back to the zeldman.com brand as it was in the 1990s.)
The footer, I reckoned, was the right place for my literary and software products.
I designed the grid in my head, verified it on sketch paper, and laid out the footer bits in Photoshop just to make sure they fit and looked right. Essentially, though, this is a design process that takes place outside Photoshop. That is, it starts in my head, gets interpreted via CSS, viewed in a browser, and tweaked.
Do not interpret this as me dumping on Photoshop. I love Photoshop and could not live or work without it. But especially for a simple site focused on reading, I find it quicker and easier to tweak font settings in code than to laboriously render pages in Photoshop.
If you view source, I haven’t optimized the CSS. (There’s no sense in doing so yet, as I still have to design the top of the page.)
I thought about waiting till I was finished before showing anything. That, after all, is what any sensible designer would do. But this site has a long history of redesigning in public, and the current design has been with us at least four years too long. Since I can’t snap my fingers and change it, sharing is the next best thing.
I wrote this book in 2001 for print designers whose clients want websites, print art directors who’d like to move into full–time web and interaction design, homepage creators who are ready to turn pro, and professionals who seek to deepen their web skills and understanding.
Here we are in 2009, and print designers and art directors are scrambling to move into web and interaction design.
The dot-com crash killed this book. Now it lives again. While browser references and modem speeds may reek of 2001, much of the advice about transitioning to the web still holds true.
Attention, K-Mart shoppers. The PDF now includes proper Acrobat bookmarks, courtesy of Robert Black. Thanks, Robert!
Tiny URL, Big Trouble
Joshua Schachter explains how URL shorteners like TinyURL, bit.ly, etc., originally created to prevent long URLs from breaking in 1990s e-mail clients, and now used primarily as a means of monetizing someone else’s content, are bad:
They “add another layer of indirection to an already creaky system, [making what] used to be transparent … opaque,” slowing down web use by adding needless lookups, and potentially disguising spam.
Shorteners “steal search juice” from the original publishers. (For example, with the Digg bar and Digg short URL, your content makes Digg more valuable and your site less valuable; the more content you create, the richer you make Digg.)
“A new and potentially unreliable middleman now sits between the link and its destination. And the long-term archivability of the hyperlink now depends on the health of a third party.”
Anyone who creates web content should read Joshua’s post. I’m sold and will dial way back on my use of the zeldman.com short URL. The question remains, what to do when you need to paste a long, cumbersome link into a 140-character service like Twitter. (If you do nothing, Twitter itself will shorten the link via TinyURL.)
[tags]tim murtaugh, mike pick, seed, seedmagazine[/tags]
Web Standards Test: Top 100 Sites
While working on the third edition of Designing With Web Standards, I decided to visit Alexa’s Top 100 US Sites to see how many of the top 100 use valid markup, how many nearly validate (i.e. would validate if not for an error or two), and which DOCTYPEs predominate. Even with a fistful of porn sites in the mix, it was dull work: click a link, load the home page, run a validation bookmarklet, record the result.
I had no expectations. I made no assumptions. I just clicked and tested.
Such tests tell us little
I make no claims about what I found. If all the home pages of the top 100 sites were valid, it would not mean that the pages beneath the home page level were valid, nor would it prove that the sites were authored semantically. (An HTML 4.0 table layout with no semantics can validate; so can a site composed entirely of non-semantic divs with presentational labels.)
Validation is not the be-all of standards-based design; it merely indicates that the markup, whatever its semantic quality may be, complies with the requirements of a particular standard. Conversely, lack of validation does not prove lack of interest in web standards: ads and other third-party content can wreck a once-valid template, as can later third-party development work.
Moreover, nothing causal or predictive can be determined from these results. If 25% of the top 100 sites validated in my test, it would not mean that 25% of all sites on the web validate.
And I got nothing like 25%.
Enough disclaimers. On with the test.
Seven percent validate
On this day, in this test, seven out of 100 “top US” sites validated:
The Pirate Bay (#68), “the world’s largest BitTorrent tracker,” goes in and out of validation. When it validates, it’s a beautiful thing, and it belongs on the list. But when it goes out of validation, it can quickly stack up ten errors or more. (Validation Link)
Google (#1) does not validate or declare a DOCTYPE.
Yahoo (#2) does not validate or declare a DOCTYPE.
YouTube (#3) does not validate but at least declares that it is HTML 4.01 Transitional. Progress!
A surprising number of sites that do not come close to validating declare a DOCTYPE of XHTML 1.0 Strict. For instance, Twitter (#93) is authored in XHTML 1.0 Strict, although it contains seven errors.
This preference for Strict among non-validating sites suggests that at one point these sites were made over by standards-aware developers; but that any standards improvements made to these sites were lost by subsequent developers. (It doesn’t prove this; it merely suggests.) Another possibility is that some developers use tools that are more standards-aware than they are. (For instance, a developer with little to no knowledge of web standards might use a tool that defaults to the XHTML 1.0 Strict DOCTYPE.)
Some sites that used to validate (such as Blogger.com, previously designed by Douglas Bowman, and Reference.com, previously designed by Happy Cog) no longer do so; maintaining standards or design compliance may not have been important to new owners or new directors.
Every website faces two key questions: 1. What content do we have at hand? 2. What content should we produce? Answering those questions is the domain of the content strategist. Alas, real content strategy gets as little respect today as information architecture did in 1995. MacIntyre defines the roles, tools, and value of this emerging user experience specialist.
It’s time to stop pretending content is somebody else’s problem. If content strategy is all that stands between us and the next fix-it-later copy draft or beautifully polished but meaningless site launch, it’s time to take up the torch—time to make content matter. Halvorson tells how to understand, learn, practice, and plan for content strategy.
Announcing the second annual Blue Beanie Day. Please join us on Friday, November 28, 2008 to show your support for web standards and accessibility.
Participating’s easy: get your picture taken wearing a blue toque or beanie. On November 28, switch your profile picture in Facebook, Twitter, et al., and post your royal blueness to the Blue Beanie Day 2008 photo group at Flickr. That’s all there is to it!
A List Apart, for people who make websites, is slowly changing course.
For most of its decade of publication, ALA has been the leading journal of standards-based web design. Initially a lonely voice in the desert, we taught CSS layout before browsers correctly supported it, and helped The WaSP persuade browser makers to do the right thing. Once browsers’ standards support was up to snuff, we educated and excited designers and developers about standards-based design, preaching accessibility, teaching semantic markup, and helping you strategize how to sell this new way of designing websites to your clients, coworkers, and boss.
Web standards are in our DNA and will always be a core part of our editorial focus. Standards fans, never fear. We will not abandon our post. But since late 2005, we have consciously begun steering ALA back to its earliest roots as a magazine for all people who make websites—writers, architects, strategists, researchers, and yes, even marketers and clients as well as designers and developers. This means that, along with issues that focus on new methods and subtleties of markup and layout, we will also publish issues that discuss practical and sometimes theoretical aspects of user experience design, from the implications of ubiquitous computing to keeping communities civil.
The trick is to bring our huge group of highly passionate readers along for the ride. My wife likens it to piloting the Queen Mary. (Q. How do you make the Queen Mary turn left? A. Very, very slowly.)
We review hundreds of articles and publish dozens. Some web magazines seem to have those proportions reversed, and some readers don’t seem to mind, and that’s fine. But any content you see in ALA has been vetted and deeply massaged by the toughest editorial team in the business. And when you see a new “design tech” article in our pages, you can be sure it has passed muster with our hard-ass technical editors.
Moreover, the fields of meaningful new CSS tricks have mostly yielded their fuels. We’ve done that. We’ve done it together with you. While a few new lodes of value undoubtedly remain to be tapped, we as a community, and as individuals who wish to grow as designers, need to absorb new knowledge. ALA will continue to be a place where you can do that.
When we began focusing on web standards in 1998, we were told we were wasting readers’ time on impractical crap of little value to working designers and developers. But we kept on anyway, and the things we learned and taught are now mainstream and workaday. While we apologize to readers who are again being made irritable by our insistence on occasionally presenting material that does not fall directly within their comfort zone, we hope that this experiment will prove to be of value in the end.