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.
This story is a bit long, but I promise it will be worth it, because it contains the two most important principles every designer must know and take to heart if you intend to do great work anywhere, under almost any circumstances, over the long, long haul of your career.
Inspired by Dori Smith’s recent Facebook post about old-school blogging and the possibility of a “20th Anniversary of Blogging” unconference/relaxacon, I thought it might be fun to poke through the old blog a bit with you, gentle reader. My blog began in 1995, but, for now, you can only page through the entries as far back as August, 1997, as I seem to have neglected to build “previous” page links before that, and may also have overwritten my earliest entries (not realizing, at the time, that you and I might ever want to look back at any of this).
Below, I begin the retrospective in 2004 and work backwards to 1997. (After 2004, I stopped hand-coding each entry and began using WordPress, resulting in this sort of thing. Also after 2004, I stopped redesigning the site every few months, partly, but not exclusively, because I got busier designing other people’s sites. I also stopped redesigning the site every few months because I had become more strategic about design—more interested in design as problem solving, less as making pretty pages. Say, remember when we designed “pages”? But I digress.)
Here, for your pleasure, are some pages from the past:
Silence and Noise?—?“Now that some of us have helped bring standards into the mainstream, wouldn’t it be best to keep them there?”?—?12 August 2004 (the iconic green design) http://www.zeldman.com/daily/0804b.shtml
Typical blog entries?—?on web performance and “the new Samaritans” (designers who recode other people’s sites to be standards-compliant)?—?28 July 2004 (the iconic green design) http://www.zeldman.com/daily/0704e.shtml
MY DAUGHTER cries and begs me not to leave on my business trip. I hold her and tell her I will return soon.
My grandfather died in a plane crash between New York and California. My mother, who was eleven, had begged him not to leave. He lied and told her he would cancel the trip. I never lie to my daughter.
I always thought my grandfather died on a business trip. Two years ago I finally learned he was actually flying to California to divorce my grandmother. My mother never told me.
My grandmother never told her children their father was dead. They figured it out gradually.
When my mother was a young adult, her fiancée died in a plane crash.
My mother was never able to be happy, to feel safe, to trust the world.
One of my jobs is to help my daughter learn to be happy, to feel safe, to trust the world.
It is hard for any parent. Harder when you are divorced. My daughter is sensitive, creative, and has a learning disability. She feels different from other kids. Family is everything to her.
My daughter is everything to me. To support her, I do several jobs. Jobs I love, working with people I love and trust. One of my jobs requires me to travel frequently, staying away for up to a week at a time.
My father worked twelve hours a day to support his family. We grew up in his absence and long shadow.
I am grateful for my daughter’s life and my ability to spend so much time with her. She knows her parents love her and will always be there for her.
I AM Jewish but my parents named me Jesus, which they pronounced Hay-Seuss, with an emphasis on the Hay. You can imagine the joy of being me in public school. First day of kindergarten, Miss Terwilliger called out, “Jesus. Jesus? Jesus!” And I sat there like a stuffed dummy, because I didn’t recognize the name. About the fifth Jesus, I realized she meant me, and cried out, “It’s Hay-Seuss,” with an emphasis on the Hay. Laughter rang in the classroom, followed by beatings at recess. Like my namesake, I was destined to suffer for the sins of others, although in my case it was only for the sins of Mr and Mrs Kaplan.
Little Jesus, Happy At Last—coming in 2015 from Jeffrey Zeldman
YOU FIND ME ENSCONCED in the fabulous Buckhead, Atlanta Intercontinental Hotel, preparing to unleash An Event Apart Atlanta 2011, three days of design, code, and content strategy for people who make websites. Eric Meyer and I co-founded our traveling web conference in December, 2005; in 2006 we chose Atlanta for our second event, and it was the worst show we’ve ever done. We hosted at Turner Field, not realizing that half the audience would be forced to crane their necks around pillars if they wanted to see our speakers or the screen on which slides were projected.
Also not realizing that Turner Field’s promised contractual ability to deliver Wi-Fi was more theoretical than factual: the venue’s A/V guy spent the entire show trying to get an internet connection going. You could watch audience members twitchily check their laptops for email every fourteen seconds, then make the “no internet” face that is not unlike the face addicts make when the crack dealer is late, then check their laptops again.
The food was good, our speakers (including local hero Todd Dominey) had wise lessons to impart, and most attendees had a pretty good time, but Eric and I still shudder to remember everything that went wrong with that gig.
Not to jinx anything, but times have changed. We are now a major three-day event, thanks to a kick-ass staff and the wonderful community that has made this show its home. We thank you from the bottoms of our big grateful hearts.
I will see several hundred of you for the next three days. Those not attending may follow along:
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.
OUR LIBRARY IS BURNING. Copyright extension has banished millions of books to the scrapheap. Digital permanence is a tragically laughable ideal to anyone who remembers the VHS format wars or tries to view Joshua Davis’s 1990s masterpieces on a modern computer. Digital archiving is only as permanent as the next budget cycle—as when libraries switched from microfilm to digital subscriptions and then were forced to cancel the subscriptions during the pre-recession recession. And of course, my digital work vanishes the moment I die or lose the ability to keep hosting it. If you really want to protect your family photos, take them off Flickr and your hard drive, get them on paper, and store them in an airtight box.
Though bits are forever, our medium is mortal, as all but the most naive among us know. And we accept that some of what we hold digitally dear will perish before our eyes. But it irks most especially when people or companies with more money than judgement purchase a thriving online community only to trash it when they can’t figure out how to squeeze a buck out of it. Corporate black thumb is not new to our medium: MGM watered down the Marx Bros; the Saatchis sucked the creative life and half the billings out of the ad agencies they acquired during the 1980s and beyond. But outside the digital world, some corporate purchases and marriages have worked out (think: Disney/Pixar). And with the possible exception of Flickr (better now than the day Yahoo bought it), I can’t think of any online community or publication that has improved as a result of being purchased. Whereas we can all instantly call to mind dozens of wonderful web properties that died or crawled up their own asses as a direct result of new corporate ownership.
My colleague Mandy Brown has written a moving call to arms which, knowingly or unknowingly, invokes the LOCKSS method (“Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe”) of preserving digital content by making copies of it; she encourages us all to become archivists. Even a disorganized ground-level effort such as Mandy proposes will be beneficial—indeed, the less organized, the better. And this is certainly part of the answer. (It’s also what drives my friend Tantek’s own your data efforts; my beef with T is mainly aesthetic.) So, yes, we the people can do our part to help undo the harm uncaring companies cause to our e-ecosystem.
But there is another piece of this which no one is discussing and which I now address specifically to my colleagues who create great digital content and communities:
Stop selling your stuff to corporate jerks. It never works. They always wreck what you’ve spent years making.
Don’t go for the quick payoff. You can make money maintaining your content and serving your community. It won’t be a fat fistful of cash, but that’s okay. You can keep living, keep growing your community, and, over the years, you will earn enough to be safe and comfortable. Besides, most people who get a big payoff blow the money within two years (because it’s not real to them, and because there are always professionals ready to help the rich squander their money). By contrast, if you retain ownership of your community and keep plugging away, you’ll have financial stability and manageable success, and you’ll be able to turn the content over to your juniors when the time comes to retire.
Our library is burning. We didn’t start the fire but we sure don’t have to help fan the flames. You can’t sell out if you don’t sell. Owning your content starts with you.
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.
BIG WEB SHOW EPISODE 32 is now online for your listening and viewing pleasure. Mandy Brown (Typekit, A Book Apart) joins Dan Benjamin and me to
discuss the value of customer support, the present and future of type on the web, font choice on reader platforms, what traditional print publishers can learn from the new breed of web-based print publishers, why you’ve got to write, and why the future belongs to editors.
Dan and I thank all of you for listening, watching, and contributing your questions and comments in the chat room during the live sessions. You’ve made our little show worthwhile. We promise more thought-provoking questions and more great guests in 2011.
Join us Thursday, 6 January 2011 at 1:00 PM Eastern for the live recording of Episode 33, as Dan and I talk with Dana Chisnell, co-author, Handbook of Usability Testing Second Edition (Wiley, 2008) about her election design usability project for the US Government, plus usable security, researching social interactions mediated by technology, whether UX is a female ghetto, and lots more.
“It’s been a great year for web design books; the best we can remember for a while, in fact!” So begins Goburo’s review of the Top Web Books of 2010. The list is extremely selective, containing only four books. But what books! They are: Andy Clarke’s Hardboiled Web Design (Five Simple Steps); Jeremy Keith’s HTML5 For Web Designers (A Book Apart); Dan Cederholm’s CSS3 For Web Designers (A Book Apart); and Eric Meyer’s Smashing CSS (Wiley and Sons).
I’m thrilled to have had a hand in three of the books, and to be a friend and business partner to the author of the fourth. It may also be worth noting that three of the four books were published by scrappy, indie startup publishing houses.
Congratulations, all. And to you, good reading (and holiday nerd gifting).
GARY VAYNERCHUK is our guest on Episode #26 of The Big Web Show, taped live before an internet audience at 1:00 PM ET Thursday 4 November at live.5by5.tv. Gary is the creator of Wine Library TV, the author of the New York Times bestselling book Crush It!, and the co-founder with his brother AJ of VaynerMedia, a boutique agency that works with personal brands, consumer brands, and startups.
The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) is recorded live in front of an internet audience every Thursday at 1:00 PM ET on live.5by5.tv. Edited episodes can be watched afterwards, often within hours of recording, via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web. Subscribe and enjoy!