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Accessibility An Event Apart Community Design development eric meyer events industry links people Standards

Event Apart Chicago wrap-up

The sights, sounds, and sense of An Event Apart Chicago 2007. Thank you, Chicago. You rocked. (Literally.) An Event Apart San Francisco is our next and final show of the year.

An Event Apart Chicago 2007 Photo Pool
Those who were there share photos in and out of the conference.
Blog reactions to An Event Apart Chicago ’07
Via Technorati.
An Event Apart ’07 Extended Mix
The interstitial playlist from the show.
Middle West
Speaker Dan Cederholm’s recap of the event.

One track continues to rule. It rules because you don’t have to decide where to go and what to miss. But it also rules because the conversations in the hallways and pubs can be centered around the same sessions. There’s no “ah, I missed that one because I saw ______ instead”. There’s a complete shared experience between all attendees, and that’s a very good thing.

Seven Lies in Chicago
Liz Danzico recaps her presentation and answers questions about information architecture.
Best Practices for Web Form Design
Slides from the powerful and incredibly useful talk by Luke W. “I walked through the importance of web forms and a series of design best practices culled from live site analytics, usability testing, eye-tracking studies, and best practice surveys. Including some new research on primary and secondary actions, and dynamic help examples.”
Design Your Way Out of a Paper Bag
Luke W: “Jason Santa Maria’s Design Your Way Out of a Paper Bag highlighted some of his creative process when working on the redesign of popular Web destinations.”
Search Analytics
Luke W: “Lou Rosenfeld’s Search Analytics talk at An Event Apart outlined ways designers and developers could utilize search query logs to uncover insights about their site’s audience and needs.”
7 Lies about Information Architecture
Luke W: “Liz Danzico’s talk at An Event Apart dissected seven often-cited information architecture rules and highlighted counter examples that exposed why these rules might be better suited as design considerations.”
Selling Design
Luke W: “Zeldman discussed the soft skills that enable designers to get great work out in the world.”
KickApps at An Event Apart
Dwayne Oxford: “It’s difficult to walk away from an event like this without a fresh perspective on CSS and the DOM, a head-full of elegant design techniques, and enough inspiration to catapult our work to the next level.”
On An Event Apart Chicago 2007
Brain Freeze on AEA: “Never a boring moment.”
She car go
Speaker, developer and author Jeremy Keith shares his experience of An Event Apart Chicago.

[tags]aeachicago07, aneventapart, aneventapartchicago, chicago, design, web, webdesign, conference, conferences, ux, userexperience, dancederholm, simplebits, lizdanzico, jimcoudal, derekfeatherstone, lousrosenfeld, jeremykeith, lukewroblewski, jasonsantamaria, ericmeyer, zeldman, jeffreyzeldman[/tags]

Categories
An Event Apart Design events family glamorous San Francisco Standards Zeldman

San Francisco, here you come

San Francisco. California’s jewel. America’s prettiest city. Cool fog and hot startups.

I last left San Francisco on September 10th, 2001. It was a good day for flying. I had gone there to speak. Normally when I present at a conference, I stick around, listening to the other speakers and chatting with attendees. But I saw little of that conference and even less of San Francisco, for accompanying me was she who is now my wife. Even from the heights of Coit Tower, I only had eyes for her.

On October 4–5, 2007, I return to the city by the bay for the fourth and final Event Apart conference of 2007. The schedule of presentations, published Monday, outlines a holistic approach to web design rarely seen on conference stages.

There are sessions on writing the user interface and developing effective content strategies (art direction for words, if you will). Sessions on designing and redesigning brands, adding ’zazz to tired layouts, and creating designs that scale to accommodate a thousand users or millions.

Someone who’s actually done it (and at a big company, yet) will share insights on promoting and nurturing standards adoption in the workplace. We’ll find out how CSS really works and what IE7 means to developers. And we’ll learn how to design and structure forms to maximize accessibility, improve semantics, and allow for more flexible styling.

The world’s foremost expert on the subject will tell us what’s wrong with online video captioning (a concern in our increasingly YouTubed world) and how to do it right. And from one of the founders of the usability movement, we’ll gain clues into how people follow the scent of information—and how that knowledge can help us connect users to the content and functions they seek:

…how the quality of links affects whether users click on them; how longer pages actually help users get where they are going faster; the three types of graphics; how users follow a scent; and four ways your design could be blocking their smell.

An Event Apart San Francisco presents one of our most striking speaker line-ups yet: movers from Google and PayPal, shakers from Apple and A List Apart, passionate leaders and experts, all. Plus two big parties, sponsored by Adobe and (mt) Media Temple, where you can network, job-hunt, swap horror stories and phone numbers, or just boogie the night away. Plus breakfasts, lunches, and snacks on both days, and a dandy bag of swag. All for $795 (reg. $895) during the earlybird savings period through September 7th.

Readers of zeldman.com can take an additional $50 off by using the discount code AEAZELD. Enter that code in the discount coupon area of the registration form to get all of AEA San Francisco for $745. Seating is limited and this opportunity won’t last forever. Don’t leave your seat in San Francisco. Tell your corporate overlord or generous uncle about An Event Apart San Francisco 2007 today.

[tags]aneventapart, aeasf07, design, webdesign, webstandards, conferences, seminars, sanfrancisco[/tags]

Categories
Adobe business Design iphone Microsoft Tools

What Apple copied from Microsoft

hCard couldn’t do it. Basecamp couldn’t do it. Web apps from Google and Yahoo that integrate seamlessly with Apple’s iCal, Address Book, and Mail couldn’t do it. My iPhone has done it.

My iPhone has made me stop using calendar, contact, and e-mail applications I’ve used day and night for over a decade, and switch to the free—and in some ways less capable—applications that come bundled with Macintosh OS X.

Changing years of work habits is not easy. Migrating data, in some cases by hand, takes time I don’t have to spare. Yet I’m making these changes of my own will, and happily.

In short, Apple has finally copied something from Microsoft. Or, if you prefer, Apple has learned the marketing psychology lesson that Microsoft got first. For many consumers, convenience is of greater value than choice. A platform built of parts that work together seamlessly beats a self-curated collection of apps that don’t.

That syncing feeling

Microsoft knows this, Adobe knows it, and Apple had learned it by the time they launched the iTunes/iPod cartel. The iPhone creates a similar value proposition for OS X’s bundled communication, contact, and calendar apps.

Maybe all Windows users won’t switch to Macs, but many Mac users will dump Entourage, Eudora, and the like once they sync an iPhone to their computers. What “free” wasn’t enough to achieve, “seamless” just might be. If I can change work habits, anyone can.

Victory is suite

As part of a sexy, seamless software/hardware package, Apple Mail triumphs over more sophisticated e-mail applications for much the same reason Word beat WordPerfect and Adobe Illustrator trumped Macromedia Freehand. (True: Adobe bought Macromedia and chose to discontinue Freehand. But they’re burying Freehand due to lack of resources, not because they fear it.) Word is part of the must-have suite for business professionals, and Illustrator is part of the must-have suite for creative and visual professionals, and you can’t beat the suite. That is what Apple has learned.

What no one can teach Apple is how to make user experience beautifully intuitive and elegant, lending a spirit of fun to even the most mundane task, such as getting contact phone numbers into a phone. With Address Book and an iPhone, it’s not only automatic, it’s a near-physical pleasure.

Nobody does user experience as well as Apple, and nobody but Apple in the consumer market combines beautiful software with drool-inducing hardware. Except during the cloning years, when Apple lay in the abyss, Apple has always combined hardware and software. It killed them during the 1990s OS wars, but it worked like nobody’s business for the iPod and a similar synergy is driving the iPhone.

That I could be persuaded to spend money on an iPhone is unremarkable. After all, the phone shows websites and I’m a web designer; it’s tax-deductible research. What is remarkable to anyone who knows me is that I’m willing to abandon long-used tools and shortcuts to capture these new synergies. This suggests a longer and deeper market for the iPhone than just the gadget-obsessed and early adopters with sufficient disposable income. It’s even possible that, with continued use, the beauty and utility of the iPhone will help sell Macintosh computers to PC users.

It helps that the interface is beautiful as well as intuitive, and that many of the alternatives are neither.

An interface only a mother could love

Discontinued Eudora, the program I’ve abandoned in favor of Mail, is the crone of e-mail, with an interface only a mother could love. Now Up-To-Date and Contact are overly complicated, underly beautiful, and have long showed their age. None of these programs closely follows Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines (HIG). Never mind that the Aqua HIG is incoherent, that many of Apple’s own programs violate or ignore it, and that it neglects to offer modern UI designs and controls, prompting independent developers to create a new set of Human Interface Guidelines to supplement Apple’s. The point is, even in the Classic OS days of mandatory HIG compliance, the three programs I’ve mentioned did not work as Macintosh programs were supposed to. They were cross-platform and proud of it, and a Mac user had to meet them halfway. Nevertheless, they did things other programs couldn’t do, and I used them for that reason.

I continued to use them as time and change and market share conspired against them. I worked like a farmer who refuses to accept that his field has gone fallow.

When Basecamp sent work schedules to my iCal, I manually copied the dates into Now Up-To-Date. When my own web pages spat out standard contact information via hCard, I siphoned the data into Address Book, and then manually copied it into Now Contact, line by line. (Since the fields between programs didn’t match, I could not automate the process via scripting. Now Software made a free mini-application that used to port data between Now Contact and Address Book, but it never worked all that well, and it stopped working altogether in Tiger.)

Computers are supposed to make our lives easier, but everyone knows they do the opposite, and I was so deep into my rut I thought of it as a groove.

The incredible lightness of e-mailing

Change begets change. For years, in Eudora, I kept every e-mail message I received. I kept them all in tidy, named folders and wrote filter rules to automatically sort messages as they were received. Every client, every employee, every friend, every project had its own folder and its own set of filters. I spent at least an hour a day simply managing my e-mail, which is different from reading or responding to it. When the number of open folders became overwhelming, I dragged messages into a new folder called “urgent” or “deal with this” (and then failed to deal with them).

And now? So far, in Mail, I’m answering messages as they come in, and deleting all but the most salient. A client letter outlining technical requirements, I’ll keep. A bunch of messages asking whether we should meet at 9:00 or 10:00, I delete. I feel ten pounds lighter already. I’d like to thank God and the Academy.

[tags]Apple, Address Book, iCal, iPhone, Mail.app, design, interface design, UI design, software design, uidesign, Adobe, Microsoft, integration, suites, hardware[/tags]

Categories
A List Apart Design

ALA 241: better UI, scriptless trick ponies, and the deathly hallows

In Issue No. 241 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

Never Use a Warning When you Mean Undo

by Aza Raskin

Are our web apps as smart as they should be? By failing to account for habituation (the tendency, when presented with a string of repetitive tasks, to keep clicking OK), do our designs cause people to lose their work? Raskin’s simple, foolproof rule solves the problem.

Conflicting Absolute Positions

by Rob Swan

All right, class. Using CSS, produce a liquid layout that contains a fixed-width, scrolling side panel and a flexible, scrolling main panel. Okay, now do it without JavaScript. By chucking an assumption about how CSS works in browsers, Rob Swan provides the way and means.

Plus, in Editor’s Choice, from 23 November 2001:

Reading Design

by Dean Allen

With so many specialists working so hard at their craft, why are so many pages so hard to read? Unabashed text enthusiast Dean Allen thinks designers would benefit from approaching their work as being written rather than assembled.

A List Apart explores the design, development, and meaning of web content, with a special focus on web standards and best practices. Explore our articles or find out more about us.

[tags]alistapart, aza raskin, rob swan, dean allen, UIdesign, undo, CSS, absoluteposition, liquid layout[/tags]

Categories
business Community Design development industry project management Standards

Let there be web divisions

We are still crunching numbers on the Web Design Survey—with over 32,000 responses to 36 questions, there’s a lot to crunch. But in one area, preliminary data supports what anecdotal experience led us to expect: almost no one who makes websites works in their company or organization’s web division. That’s because almost no company or organization has a web division. And that void on the org chart is one reason we have so many bloated, unusable failures where we should be producing great user experiences.

Ponder. No matter how critical the web experience may be to the organization’s mission, the people who design and build those mission-critical sites work in divisions that have nothing to do with the web, and report to leaders whose expertise is unrelated to web design and development.

It’s a startling fact with profound implications—and as such has gone unnoticed by the business community and press.

IT or marketing

From law firms to libraries, from universities to Fortune 500 companies, the organization’s website almost invariably falls under the domain of the IT Department or the Marketing Department, leading to turf wars and other predictable consequences. While many good (and highly capable) people work in IT and marketing, neither area is ideally suited to craft usable websites or to encourage the blossoming of vital web communities.

Competent IT departments handle a dazzling array of technical challenges requiring deep, multi-leveled expertise. But tasks such as equipping 20,000 globally dispersed employees with appropriately configured PCs, or maintaining corporate databases and mail gateways, don’t necessarily map to the skills required to design great user experiences for the web.

Large-scale systems expertise takes a different mindset than what’s needed to write usable guide copy, finesse markup semantics, or design an easy-to-understand user interface employing the lightest and fewest possible graphic images. Moreover, nimble development and support for open standards are not the hallmarks of large IT departments (although undoubtedly there are noble exceptions). Additionally, developers with a background in IT (again, with some exceptions) tend to create from the point of view of technology, rather than that of the user.

What about Marketing?

Organizations that don’t entrust their website to IT tend to hand it to Marketing. The rationale for doing so is easy to see: Marketing has been briefed on the organization’s business goals (at least for the next quarter), and the division is staffed by communications specialists who know at least something about writing and art direction. If nothing else, they know who to hire to write their copy, and they are comfortable telling the in-house graphic designers to make the logo bigger.

Like IT, Marketing has valuable organizational knowledge (plus certain skills) to contribute to any serious web enterprise. The leaders of Marketing, like the leaders of IT, should be frequently consulted in any web effort. But the skills of Marketing, like the skills of IT, don’t necessarily map to what is needed to create great web experiences.

For one thing, as anyone reading this knows, the web is a conversation. Marketing, by contrast, is a monologue. It can be a great monologue—for examples of which, see The One Show Winners or the AIGA Design Archives. But a monologue and conversation are not the same, as an hour spent with your windy Uncle Randolph will remind you.

And then there’s all that messy business with semantic markup, CSS, unobtrusive scripting, card-sorting exercises, HTML run-throughs, involving users in accessibility, and the rest of the skills and experience that don’t fall under Marketing’s purview.

If not them, then who?

Business and non-profit decision makers, for your users’ good, consider this request. Stop separating the members of your web team. Cease distributing them among various (often competitive) divisions led by people with limited web expertise. Let the coders, designers, writers, and others charged with creating and maintaining your web presence work together. Put them in a division that recognizes that your site is not a bastard of your brochures, nor a natural outgrowth of your group calendar. Let there be web divisions.

[tags]webdesign, webdevelopment, design, development, web divisions[/tags]

Categories
business Design Tools

“Maybe” is one option too many

When I’m planning an event, and I use a web service like evite® to send invitations, that web service offers three choices:

  1. Yes, I’ll come
  2. No, I won’t
  3. Maybe—I’m not sure

“Maybe” is one option too many. As a best practice, we should dispense with it, just as we should replace five-star rating systems with four-star ones.

The problem with five-star rating systems

Let users choose from five stars, and they nearly always pick three. Three is the little bear’s porridge, neither too hot nor too cold. Three is neutral—a safe place to hide. Even in the virtual world, where nothing more consequential is being asked than an opinion, many people would rather equivocate than commit.

But present these same users with a four-star spread and you leave them no cover. Two stars out of four is not neutral. Neither is three stars out of four. Any star rating they choose will reflect an actual opinion. There is no place to hide. When there is no place to hide, courage arises out of necessity. Force people out of the brush, and they develop the backbone needed to state an opinion.

The trouble with “maybe”

As data, “maybe” is as useless as a three-star rating in a five-star system—and as hypnotically compelling to users. “Maybe” is a button that begs to be pushed.

Maybe is a magnet for neuroses. It salves guilt complexes and incites passive-aggressive avoidance behaviors.

“Maybe” sometimes means maybe, but it can also mean, “I’m not coming but I don’t want to hurt your feelings.” Or even, “I plan to come but I reserve the right to change my mind at the last minute if something better comes along.” Some people even use maybe to mean, “I won’t make dinner but I’ll come for dessert.”

When you invite twelve people to a restaurant dinner via a web service, at least four will say maybe. Do you reserve a table for twelve? When eight show up and range themselves at opposite ends of the table (“because other people might be joining us”) you have an awkward table filled with gaps. The empty seats haunt the meal, suggesting social failure.

But if you call the restaurant at the last minute to change the reservation to eight, two of the maybes will show up, like ants at a picnic. They’ll have nowhere to sit, and they’ll blame you. (“I told you I might come.”)

How can you know what “maybe” means? In the context of a web service, you can’t. All you can do is phone people and ask whether they’re leaning toward coming or not—in other words, try to move them from a five-star three to a four-star two or three. If they’re the passive-aggressive type, they will continue to evade the snare of commitment. “I’m probably coming,” they’ll say.

What is the solution? Use web services that offer a binary choice: “I’m coming” or “I’m not coming.” If you can’t find such a service, build one. If you run a web service that includes “maybe,” offer an optional two-choice (“no-maybe”) version.

When demand an outright yes or no, people generally supply it. They only equivocate when handed the means to do so. Form is content.

[tags]design, usability, invitations, fourstar, fivestar, rating systems[/tags]

Categories
Design HTML mail industry Standards work

Eight points for better e-mail relationships

Campaign Monitor has taken me to task, and I find it hard to dispute their primary contention:

To say as a blanket statement that HTML email impedes communication is an extraordinary generalisation. There are many times when a well designed, and well laid out HTML email can be a lot clearer, easier to scan and overall better experience than the equivalent in plain text.

They’re got a point. Having read and considered Campaign Monitor’s comment and other sensible responses to my 8 June post, I agree that my brush was too broad.

A few well-designed, well-considered, communicating visual elements, in the context of a well-written, time-respecting, communicating HTML e-mail message, sent only to people who have asked to receive it, and formatted to work across applications and platforms, can indeed enhance communication.

Yet unsolicited mail, as all internet users know, makes it hard to use e-mail to communicate with friends, family, and work mates. Trying to defeat spam, we miss messages from business partners and loved ones. Add unsolicited graphics and broken formatting to that mix; send tons of it to a business person who is trying to check e-mail while out of the office, and you have a recipe for road rage on the information superhighway.

Perhaps reasonable people could agree to the eight notions put forward below.

Note: As in my previous post, I’m about to preach to the choir. Designers reading my site and using Campaign Monitor or other fine mail services (such as Deck advertiser MailChimp, cough) already know and practice ’most everything I’m about to recommend. The following is not a pledge. Pledges don’t work. People don’t change their behavior or business practices because someone with a blog asks them to be nice. Okay? So this is not directed at my readers or Campaign Monitor’s customers, who, I believe, will agree:

  1. Unsolicited HTML mail (like unsolicited mail generally) is an abuse. Send HTML formatted mails only to those who’ve opted in. Always offer a text mail version.
  2. Consider making text mail the default, and HTML mail the optional opt-in. Typically, where choice is provided, the HTML option is checked by default. Many users—because they assume the experts who created the web service are looking out for their best interests—don’t change defaults. This doesn’t mean they all actually want HTML mail. If the default switches to text, then you can be reasonably sure that those who opted for HTML mail probably want it.
  3. On your website, provide a sample of your HTML newsletter so people can judge for themselves if it’s something they want to receive.
  4. As in all design, consider every element before adding it. Remove everything that does not help you communicate.
  5. Test. I can’t count the number of banks, e-commerce and travel services that send me HTML-formatted transaction records, receipts, itineraries, and other jim-jams that do not work in my mail platform. These businesses never offer a plain-text version, let alone an opt-in choice with a test link to see if I like what they have to offer and verify that my mail client likes it, too. Broken mail doesn’t win friends and influence customers (except to change vendors). I am likelier to switch travel services than e-mail clients.
  6. Never send bulk e-mail to a list of people who haven’t agreed to receive messages from you. (This, of course, will never happen, but it belongs in the list anyway.)
  7. E-mail blaster product providers, please offer a streamlined option for those who choose to send their subscribers text-only. Don’t make us design HTML mail templates we have no intention of using, and jump through hoops to make sure our users never see the dummy HTML mail format you asked us to create. (Not directed at any company in particular; suggested as a product differentiator slash best practice.)
  8. Learn how HTML mail works (or doesn’t) across as many platforms as possible, and work with the manufacturers to improve support for web standards. This is not my job. I did my job where web standards are concerned (you’re welcome!), and turned over The Web Standards Project to a new generation of leadership. And as I never send HTML formatted mails, not only is it not my job, I wouldn’t even be qualified to do it. But standardistas who are compelled by their clients to create HTML mails (or who choose to do so) are gently urged to do their part in diminishing wasted bandwidth and enhancing semantics.

Related posts

When is e-mail like a bad website?

Nokia sent a friend an HTML e-mail message. I’ve broken it into five screen shots, because it won’t fit on one. E-mail, as a medium, really doesn’t want to carry all this freight.

E-mail is not a platform for design

ASCII means never having to say you’re sorry.

[tags]HTML mail, e-mail, marketing, internet marketing, design[/tags]

Categories
business Design HTML mail industry Standards work

E-mail is not a platform for design

All these years of internet use later, HTML mail still sucks. You may think I mean “HTML mail doesn’t work properly in some e-mail clients.” And that statement is certainly true. Companies spend hours crafting layouts that may not work in Eudora or Gmail, or may no longer work in Outlook.

Even in programs that support the crap code used to create these layouts, all that hard visual work will go unseen if the user has unchecked “View HTML Mail” in their preferences.

As for CSS, it is partially supported in some e-mail applications and in web apps like Gmail, but only if you author in nonsemantic table layouts and bandwidth-wasting inline CSS. Which is like using a broken refrigerator to store food at room temperature.

But when I say HTML mail still sucks, I don’t mean it sucks because support for design in e-mail today is like support for standards in web browsers in 1998.

I mean it sucks because nobody needs it. It impedes rather than aids communication.

E-mail was invented so people could quickly exchange text messages over fast or slow or really slow connections, using simple, non-processor-intensive applications on any computing platform, or using phones, or hand-held devices, or almost anything else that can display text and permits typing.

That’s what e-mail is for. That’s why it’s great.

E-mail is not a platform for design. Unlike the web, which also started as an exchange medium for text messages but which benefited from the inclusion of images and other media, e-mail works best when used for its original purpose, as the most basic of content exchange systems.

“Designed” e-mail is just a slightly more polished version of those messages your uncle sends you. Your uncle thinks 18pt bright red Comic Sans looks great, so he sends e-mail messages formatted that way. You cluck your tongue, or sigh, or run de-formatting scripts on every message you receive from him. When your uncle is the “designer,” you “get” why styled mail sucks. It sucks just as much when you design it, even if it looks better than your uncle’s work in the two e-mail programs that support it correctly.

Even though it doesn’t work right in many e-mail applications, and even though many users dislike it, HTML appeals to clients because it’s another place to stick their logo. And it appeals to the kind of designer who thinks everything, even a bullet hurtling toward his own skull, would improve if decorated. I hate that kind of designer almost as much as I hate people who hate design. That kind of designer gives all designers a bad name, and is chiefly responsible for the slightly amused contempt with which many business people view designers, art directors, and “creative” people generally.

Say it with me: HTML is for websites. CSS is for websites. GIFs and JPEGs are for websites.

ASCII means never having to say you’re sorry.

Discussion closed

The conversation has moved on. Feel free to contribute to the follow-up posts.

Related posts

When is e-mail like a bad website?

Nokia sent a friend an HTML e-mail message. I’ve broken it into five screen shots, because it won’t fit on one. E-mail, as a medium, really doesn’t want to carry all this freight.

Eight points for better e-mail relationships

Okay, so under the right circumstances, when people have requested it, e-mail can be a platform for design. Here are eight ways to make it work better (and avoid pissing off people who hate HTML mail).

[tags]HTML mail, e-mail, marketing, internet marketing, design[/tags]

Categories
Accessibility An Event Apart Design development events Standards

An Event Apart Chicago 2007

Tickets are now available for An Event Apart Chicago 2007, August 27–28, at the Chicago Marriott Downtown. It’s two days of web standards, best practices, and creative inspiration with…

Plus your hosts:

  • Eric Meyer, author, CSS: The Definitive Guide, Eric Meyer on CSS
  • Jeffrey Zeldman, publisher and creative director, A List Apart, author, Designing With Web Standards

Jam-packed with education and inspiration

On the agenda:

  • Search analytics for fun and profit
  • Secrets of the CSS Jedi
  • Using JavaScript and the DOM without feeling dirty
  • “The seven lies of information architecture”
  • Best practices for form design
  • Writing the user interface
  • Designing your way out of a paper bag

Learn how to use data you didn’t even realize you were collecting, to find out what your users really want. Discover how different forms, fields, and labels make or break interactions. How color, typography, and visual metaphors influence perception of your site and brand. How to make personal projects more successful and daily work-for-hire more fulfilling.

Register early and save

Your Conference Pass includes admission to all sessions at the two-day Chicago conference, snacks and lunch on both days, access to all social events, and a bag of swag. If you register by July 27, it’s yours for $795 ($100 off the standard pricing). Frequent Apartniks (those who’ve attended a previous Event Apart event) save an additional $100. More information is available at aneventapart.com.

[tags]aneventapart, an event apart, chicago, aeachicago07[/tags]

Categories
glamorous industry Tools

The heartbreak of technology

It is an internet connectivity trifecta:

  1. The phone company configured your DSL line wrong.
  2. The new DSL modem supplied by your ISP was a dud.
  3. Your brand-new Airport Extreme wireless router does not work. It’s under warranty, but to get it replaced, you must endure another hour-long session with Apple technical support. You’d rather chew off your own leg. (Update.)

It’s really a fourfecta. The phone company fixed the DSL line, but didn’t tell the ISP. They didn’t even tell their own service technician. Dude showed up to fix a line that wasn’t broken. You wonder what the guys in his Anger Management class had to say about it.

Two and half weeks into the void, a light bulb moment: Maybe it’s the modem. ISP sends new modem, you get your speed bump.

But only when you plug directly into the modem. For your new Airport Extreme wireless router cannot find an IP address even when you enter it manually. Indeed, this remarkably attractive piece of technology cannot be configured in any meaningful way. It cannot even restart without hurting itself.

You read that the new Airport Extreme works great. Alas, there was one lemon in the production line. You got the lemon. Trifecta.

Two faces

You tell PC users you bought an Airport Extreme because it was time for a new router, and Apple computers work best with Apple routers. Besides, Apple has that whole 802.11n thing going. That 802.11n is just so much better than the outdated spec they’re using. They just wouldn’t understand.

You tell Mac users you bought an Airport Extreme to replace a perfectly good third-party router, because OS X 10.4.x is semi-incompatible with third-party routers. All too frequently, one of your OS X 10.4.x Macs becomes unable to find a wireless signal sent by your ancient Linksys router.

You didn’t have to buy the Airport Extreme router. You could fix the compatibility issue by adjusting a setting on the old router. To do so, go to Fresh Kills, dig your old G4 tower out of the landfill, boot into Virtual PC, and log into the old router.

Can’t find the old G4 tower in the landfill? Buy an Airport Extreme. Apple makes it. Their stuff just works.

Support

The Lithium Woman in Apple Technical Support was unable to suggest anything beyond restarting the hardware and sticking a pin in the Reset hole—things you tried many times before breaking down and calling Apple. Why this tech support call took an hour is a mystery. Why it is called “support” is a more profound one.

At the start of the call, you said all you needed was help accessing the Manual Configuration panel to type in the WAN I.P. address, because for some reason the Manual Configuration Panel would not load. But the Lithium Woman made you plug stuff in and unplug stuff and turn stuff on and off for an hour. It was the stuff you’d already done, and you explained that, but that’s how tech support works, so you did it.

At the end of the hour, having sufficiently atoned for your sins, you again asked for help accessing the Manual Configuration Panel, as you needed to type in the WAN I.P. address, and the Manual Configuration Panel just wouldn’t load.

The Lithium Woman said you shouldn’t have to type in an I.P. address.

Impasse.

After a while, feeling bad for her, you offered her a face-saving way of ending the call without having helped you.

You figured, once your new DSL network was set up, your Airport Extreme router would just work.

But let us pause

Most readers stopped after the first paragraph. A few hardy souls made it all the way here. Thanks for sharing the journey.

Die-hards will want to suggest solutions. For them, a few details.

Automatic setup and manual configuration both end in “please try again” error messages.

The router freezes and crashes without ever connecting, suggesting that the problem is software based. We’ve wiped Airport Utility off the hard drive with App Zapper, removed preferences, reinstalled from disk, and run Software Update to download and install the latest version. That kind of reinstall usually does the trick. Not this time.

Resetting the device with a straightened paper clip is the only thing that briefly lets you access Manual Setup. You enter the IP Address, Subnet Mask, Gateway (Router), and DNS Servers. You verify the data. The device restarts itself. You bite your nails. The software congratulates you. You open a browser. You are not online. And you can no longer access or change settings. Unless you restart the device with a straightened paper clip.

Nothing works. You are the proud owner of a piece of modern art. The object is beautiful, but it has no heart. There is no network, no nothing. George and Martha. Sad, sad.

Categories
Accessibility Design Diversity Standards

Where are the Women? Where are the Links?

Nothing delights web designers more than a friendly discussion on women in design and technology. One version of this perennial crowd-pleaser runs, “Where are all the women?” AKA “Why don’t more women participate in design/technology?” The discussion may then fault men for making design or technology seem “hard” or “unattractive”—as if women avoid doing things that are hard, a proposition that’s as ludicrous as it is sexist.

A more accurate variation on this theme acknowledges that there are truckloads of busy, competent women in design (or technology), and asks why women’s achievements in these fields go grotesquely under-reported and under-recognized. That is a fair and important question but we are not here to answer it. Nor are we here to address the creepy predatory behavior to which prominent women in our field are often subjected.

We are here because a postcard from the Art Directors Club alerted me to “The Woman Vanguard,” an ADC [Art Directors Club] Young Guns Live workshop and presentation moderated by the wonderful Debbie Millman, sponsored by Adobe, and apparently featuring the work and thoughts of some leading young female art directors.

That sounded good to me and might to some of you, too, so I decided to learn more by visiting the Art Directors Club’s website and potentially sharing what I learned. And there, hope shattered.

I would link to a page about this event if I could find one on the site. But there are, as near as I can determine, no “pages” on the site. It’s all Flash text (pixellated 1997 style) in squat little iframes. You are always, essentially, on the home page. If you’re lucky enough to stumble onto what you came looking for, you won’t be able to bookmark it or share it. I could spend an hour discussing what’s wrong with this site, but so could anyone reading this. You all know this. Why don’t the site’s creators?

The Art Directors Club’s site was designed by R/GA, an agency run and founded by visionaries. I respect them immensely as art directors and filmmakers. Respect doesn’t cover it. I am in awe of their founder and of their years of achievement in their realms of expertise. But they have no business designing websites, if this is the best they can do on behalf of a leading organization whose purpose is to recognize and promote visual culture.

Information architecture. Usability. Accessibility. Web standards. If you don’t know about these things, stop designing websites until you have learned. Competence in graphic design is merely a baseline; it does not qualify you to create user experiences for the web.

Every time I think I can stop talking about these obvious, simple truths, some crazy bad 90s style train wreck hits me headlong and makes me weep anew.

[tags]ux, ia, webdesign, design, userexperience, usability, adc, artdirectorsclub[/tags]

Categories
Accessibility An Event Apart Boston cities Design development events Standards

From Bulgaria With Love

An Event Apart Boston 2007 was the best attended show since Mr Meyer and I founded our design conference scarcely sixteen months ago. Attendees came from as far away as Singapore and India. They hailed from Bulgaria (2), Canada (12), Estonia (1), Finland (2), India (1), Ireland (1), Latvia (1), Singapore (1), Sweden (1), the UK (3), and the US (510).

In all, 546 web artisans descended on Boston for our two-day event. The engagement and commitment of this audience were electric. Rather than waste pixels on my impressions of the show, I submit these third-party posts and artifacts:

Photos and slide shows

Flickr Event Apart Boston 2007 photo pool
Featuring swag, special effects, and the elusive decopus.
Ethan Marcotte’s Event Apart slides
Viewing slides without seeing the speaker’s live presentation is like trying to understand world events by looking at a photo of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Nonetheless, here are the slides from “Web Standards Stole My Truck!”
Dan Cederholm’s Event Apart slides
Beautiful slides (same disclaimer applies) plus a nice little post.

Posts and commentary

Pelennor Fields Day One
Pelennor Fields Day Two
Matt Winckler’s quick summaries and reviews of the presentations. “The goal is to provide a few-sentence summary of each talk, followed by my quick rating on a scale of 1 to 10, followed again by my brief explanation of the rating.”
stevekarsch.com: An Event Apart, Day One
stevekarsch.com: An Event Apart, Day Two
Steve Karsch’s notes make you feel as if you were there.
Chausse.org: Thoughts from An Event Apart
“An Event Apart Boston was a great experience. Whenever I’m at a conference, I get an insatiable urge to drop whatever I’m doing with my life and become an expert at whatever the speaker’s talking about. Anyway, a few notes.”
An Event Apart Boston – from the Aten Blog
Justin Toupin, co-founder and design lead for Aten Design Group, reviews the show: “The conference was amazing. Nine expert speakers presented on a range of topics from the conceptual to the practical. I’ve never been so happy to sit in one place for so long.”
Ed’s Development Blog: Back from AEA
Ed Higgins: “It was the first conference I’ve been to that I’ve been sad about it ending. Typically the last day of most conferences just drags… At AEA, every session was gold and I wish it could’ve lasted longer.”
AEA Boston, Day One: Jeffrey Zeldman’s Writing the User Interface
Cromulent Code: write-up of “Writing the User Interface,” my talk on Day One of An Event Apart Boston 2007. “How text contributes to a site/s usability and branding.”
Grapefeed: An Event Apart
Grapefeed’s experiences at An Event Apart Boston included a nerve-grinding, last-minute scramble to an alternate train station when the Back Bay station was sealed off because of a gas leak. (Same thing happened to me.)
ivantohelpyou: Notes from An Event Apart, Boston, Day
Blow by blow impressions.
impending post explosion
Stellargirl: “Just got back from An Event Apart Boston… I totally feel like the kid in that Far Side cartoon who says, ‘May I be excused? My brain is full.’”
days without a job: An Event Apart – Boston
“First day of a two day conference was great. We were told that there were more than 500 attendees!”
Zeldman Gem of the Day
Hardly a gem, but this excerpt captures part of the thrust of my talk on “Selling Design.”
Cameron Moll: AEA Boston
Highlights from the perspective of a (great) speaker.
Adobe’s Scott Fegette: CS3 Launch at An Event Apart
“I’ve been answering questions all day at An Event Apart about the new CS3 products. Even better, I gave away … three advance copies of CS3 Web Premium to three lucky attendees. An Event Apart is a really great mix of disciplines all centering on site design and development. I’ve talked to educators, government developers, indie web production shops, animators and video pros- just in the last hour alone.” (Adobe was a sponsor of An Event Apart Boston.)
Meyerweb: After Boston
Event Apart co-founder Eric Meyer: “I see the attendees at AEA as the craftsmen and women of the web. Sure, there are shops mass-producing sites, the way a factory churns out cheap clocks. That’s fine if you just want something to put on your nightstand. But if you want an elegant, finely tuned work of art that you’d hang in a prominent place, a clock that is as much a point of pride as a timepiece—you find a craftsman. And that’s who came to Boston. That’s who comes to An Event Apart.”

[tags]aneventapart, aeaboston07, aeaboston2007[/tags]

Categories
A List Apart Design development Publishing Standards

ALA 234 triple-header

In a triple issue of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

Ruining the User Experience
Anticipating your users’ needs is the key to making a good impression; it’s the little things that matter most. ALA’s technical editor Aaron Gustafson explains why progressive enhancement means good service.
Inside Your Users’ Minds: The Cultural Probe
Drawing on the field of ethnography, Ruth Stalker-Firth introduces a method for studying user behavior and motivations outside the lab.
Cross-Browser Scripting with importNode()
Anthony Holdener explores the world of XML DOM support for web browsers and presents a new technique for cross-browser scripting.

[tags]alistapart, webdesign, ethnography, userexperience, UX, DOM, XML[/tags]

Categories
Accessibility An Event Apart better-know-a-speaker Boston business cities Community Design development events industry Redesigns Standards Tools

Register for An Event Apart Boston

Registration is now open for An Event Apart Boston 2007. Enjoy two amazing days of design and code plus meals, a party, and a bag of swag for a mere $795 (reg. $895) while early bird savings last. Attend for as little as $745 with a discount code exclusively for zeldman.com readers.

Learn by day, party by night

On An Event Apart’s website, you’ll now find a detailed schedule describing the presentations with which our superstar speakers hope to entertain and enlighten you. From “Web Standards Stole My Truck!” to “Redesigning Your Way out of a Paper Bag,” it’s two stimulating days of best practices and fresh ideas in design, usability, accessibility, markup and code.

Check out that schedule. I’ll wait.

Lest you be overwhelmed by learning too much too soon, we’ll help you unwind (and do a little networking) at the Opening Night Party sponsored by Media Temple. You might even win a prize, courtesy of Adobe, New Riders, or Media Temple.

Hotel savings

Our Boston Events page also includes notes to help you book your hotel room at a specially negotiated discount price.

Located in beautiful and historic Back Bay, the Boston Marriott Copley Place provides in-room, high-speed internet access; laptop safes and coolers; 27-inch color TV with cable movies; luxurious bedding and linens, and more. Best of all, it’s the site of the conference. You can walk out of your room and into the show!

Save more with discount code

During the early bird period, the price for this two-day event is $795. But you can nab an extra $50 off with this discount code exclusively for zeldman.com readers:

AEAZELD

Just enter AEAZELD in An Event Apart’s shopping cart to enjoy those savings immediately. During our early bird period, you’ll pay just $745 for the two days and everything that comes with them.

After February 26, 2007, when the early bird savings ends, the price goes up to $895, and you’ll pay $845 with the discount. Still pretty good for two days with some of the sharpest minds and greatest talents in web design. But why pay more? Book An Event Apart Boston as soon as you can.

Unlimited creativity, limited seating

An Event Apart Boston will be the best conference Eric Meyer and I have yet put together. It will also be this year’s only East Coast Event Apart. Don’t miss it.

Join Eric and me, along with Steve Krug, Andrew Kirkpatrick, Molly Holzschlag, Cameron Moll, Dan Cederholm, Ethan Marcotte, and Jason Santa Maria, for what we modestly believe may be the most exciting and enlightening show in modern web design.

Hurry! Seating is limited and early bird savings end Feb. 26, 2007.

[tags]aneventapart, boston, aneventapartboston07[/tags]

Categories
A List Apart Accessibility Design development Standards

Adaptive Layouts, Accessible Forms

It’s the last gasp of 2006, a year whose sweetness will long be remembered. A List Apart celebrates twelve months of international peace and brotherhood with its final issue of the year.

…In which Marc van den Dobbelsteen asks the musical question, how can we manage web layouts that must accommodate devices with viewports as small as 240 pixels and as big as 1680? The old answer, liquid layout, doesn’t cut it:

If you create a liquid layout optimized for a maximum width of 1024 pixels—limiting maximum line-lengths for your text to maintain readability—gaps will appear on a wider screens, and your carefully balanced layout will break. On a tiny-screened PDA, your text and images will be compressed into a crowded content sandwich. No designer wants that. If vector-based layouts were technically possible on a wide range of browsers, we could use a single generic layout that looked exactly the same on all screen sizes. Since that’s more fictional than feasible, we have to find another way.

That other way is to define layout and appearance for a series of screen-width ranges, then match these layouts with the user’s viewport size. (You can even change layouts automagically as the user’s viewport size changes.) Learn how in “Switchy McLayout: An Adaptive Layout Technique.”

Then dive into Mike Brittain’s Making Compact Forms More Accessible for a smart way to solve the usability and accessibility challenges posed by today’s complex, tightly spaced forms.

Forms pose a series of usability and accessibility challenges, many of which are made more complex when you need to build a form to fit into a small space. Tightly spaced forms can look great on paper, but they often ignore accessibility issues altogether. … In this article, we’ll create a compact form that provides a high degree of accessibility, despite its reduced size.

This issue was produced by Erin Lynch and edited by Erin Kissane. Thanks and praise to technical editor Ethan Marcotte, who pulled flaming swords out of the rock. Kevin Cornell, The Web’s Leading Illustrator™, crafted the delicate visual poems that accompany our articles. Doctor Santa Maria art directed.

A list Apart T-shirts are still available and make an excellent holiday gift. A List Apart is a founding member of The Deck, the premier advertising network for reaching web and design professionals. Skiddle-dee doo-dee idle dum!

[tags]alistapart, accessibility, design, development, usability, forms, layouts, adaptive[/tags]