Thanks for the great feedback, folks. For those who find the orange background objectionable, I’ll offer a user-selectable alternate color scheme, like this one (quick sketch, ignore the color of the printer’s mark at the top, final colors may vary).
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.
At home during this same period, our daughter outgrew last month’s clothes, began swimming, got a big-girl bed, attended and graduated summer camp, stopped being even slightly afraid of school, hung out with her grandma, and advanced so much intellectually and emotionally that it would qualify as science fiction if it weren’t the lived experience of ’most everyone who has kids.
Between all that came the usual tumult of client meetings, client projects, and potential new business, giddily intermingled with the publication of two A List Apart issues. Make that three issues as of tomorrow.
If I had to pick an image to symbolize the month, it would be me on a rerouted slow Amtrak train from Boston to New York, using an iPhone and one finger to peck out a strategic response to an 80 page RFP.
That would have been the image, but now there’s a new one. For now there’s today.
On the calendar it is Happy Cog New York’s moving day. Today I pack up what for 18 years was either my apartment or Happy Cog’s New York City headquarters (and was most often both).
I hit bottom in this place. Ended a short-lived, tragically wrong first marriage. Rebuilt my life one cell at a time. Found self. Found love. Became a web designer. Found the love of my life. Married well, had a magical child. Wrote two books. Made money and lost it a couple of times over. Founded a magazine. Co-founded a movement. Worked for others. Freelanced. Founded an agency. Grew it.
It all happened here.
This gently declining space that has been nothing but an office since December and will soon be nothing at all to me, this place I will empty and vacate in the next few hours, has seen everything from drug withdrawal to the first stirrings of childbirth. Happiness, anguish, farting and honeymoons. Everything. Everything but death.
Even after our family moved, the place was never empty. The heiress to an American fine art legacy came here, to this dump, to talk about a potential project. Two gentlemen who make an extraordinary food product came here many times to discuss how their website redesign was going.
When I wasn’t meeting someone for lunch, I went downstairs to this wonderful little place to take away a small soup and a sandwich, which I ate at my desk while reading nytimes.com. Helming the take-away lunch place are three Indian women who are just the sweetest, nicest people ever. The new studio is just far enough away that I will rarely see these ladies any more. I will miss them.
I will miss Josef, the super here, with his big black brush mustache and gruff, gently-East-European-accented voice. He will miss me, too. He just told me so, while we were arranging for the freight elevator. We were kind to him after his heart attack and he has been kind to us since he arrived—the last in a long series of supers caught between an aging building and a rental agent that prefers not to invest in keeping the place up. The doormen and porters, here, too, some of whom I’ve known for nearly twenty years, my God. Can’t think about that.
I will miss being able to hit the gym whenever I feel like it and shower right in my workplace.
And that is all.
This is the death of something but it is the birth of something more. We take everything with us, all our experiences (until age robs us of them one by one, and even then, they are somewhere—during the worst of my mother’s Alzheimer’s, she reacted, however subtly, to Sinatra). We take everything with us. The stink and glory of this place will stay on me even when we are set up in our slick new space. It will be with me long after the landlord’s collection letters have stopped. This place, what happened here, will live until my head cracks like a coconut, and then some.
Q. I’m searching for your archive. Whenever I find a really good blog, I like to start at the beginning so I can understand better some of what you’re talking about. And I can’t find any link to your archives.
A. Thanks for writing. I started my site in 1995. There weren’t blogging tools back then, hence there aren’t archives in the sense you are describing. I published via hand-coded HTML until around 2004, when I began using WordPress. All my pre-WordPress content is still online; you just have to keep hitting the “PREVIOUS” button to get to it. Sorry about that.
Over the weekend, I added my Ma.gnolia bookmarks feed to my blog post template, such that every post would be followed by links to and descriptions of the last five external web pages to have caught my fancy. Inserting the feed into the template was easy and took all of three minutes.
This morning, I removed the feed.
Why I inserted the feed
From 1995 until around the time Happy Cog worked on the Ma.gnolia design project, one of the things I wrote about here was other people’s websites. I did it because I was passionate about web design, and so were the people who read this site. And of course, writing about other people’s sites also provided a ready form and steady stream of content. From 1995 until about 2001, I wrote here several times a day, and had millions of readers.
Then married life, and a business that grew in spite of my lifelong effort to avoid commercial success, ate into my blogging time. Today I write less frequently and have fewer readers. In an effort to provide linkage even when I don’t have time to write posts, I added my Ma.gnolia feed to my site’s sidebar in 2006. (It’s still there, on my front page. You may need to scroll down to see it.)
A flaw in the design
Not everyone notices the Ma.gnolia feed in my sidebar, due to a flaw—one of many—in the way I redesigned zeldman.com in 2004. (I used to redesign this site several times a year, but haven’t touched it since Spring of 2004.)
When I redesigned zeldman.com in 2004, I thought it would be “neat” to make my sidebar’s linked text almost the same color as the background until you hovered over it. The idea being that the focus was on the site’s content, not all the little crap in the sidebar. The sidebar was like sand, and you, the reader, were like a beachcomber with a metal detector. Hover the metal detector over the sand, and you might find a quarter. Hover over my sidebar, and you might find additional content.
Like most “neat” ideas that aren’t entirely practical, this one required compromise in the execution. The result is a conventional sidebar with low-contrast text. Because of the low contrast, lots of people (including people with certain kinds of dyslexia) pay little attention to the sidebar’s content. So I need to redesign.
But meantime, slipping the Ma.gnolia feed out of the sidebar (on blog posts) and into the body of posts itself seemed like another neat idea. People who’d ignored the Ma.gnolia feed in the sidebar would now, finally, bask in its glory. Every post would end with the last five third-party links I’d reviewed. Neat, neat, neat.
Why I removed the feed
This morning I removed the feed from the body of the blog posts for a technical reason and a design/usability reason.
Technically, as we all know, it’s not a great idea to pull content from a third-party site. The third-party site can be slow. It can get hacked. It can even go down, causing one’s own pages not to finish rendering. (As I write this, Ma.gnolia’s server appears to be taking a little nap—an infrequent occurrence, although the server is often slow. As for my embedded Twitter feed, like yours, it suffers from near-constant narcolepsy.)
And from a design usability perspective, the idea just didn’t gel. For one thing, people would dig up old posts and write comments on them about sites newly added to the Ma.gnolia feed. Owing to the age of the posts, those comments were unlikely to be found by other readers. And as soon as the feed updated, the comments would become nonsensical, because they discussed content no longer found in the post.
Live today from 3:00 to 4:00 pm Eastern Time, I’m this week’s guest on “Design Matters with Debbie Millman,” the leading internet talk radio show on the “challenging and compelling canvas of today’s design world.”
If you listen live today at 3:00 pm ET, you can use a call-in number to participate in the show.
Voted “Most Popular Podcast” by the readers of if! Magazine, “Design Matters with Debbie Millman” is an opinionated internet talk radio show with over 150,000 listeners. Previous guests have included Milton Glaser, Stefan Sagmeister, and Ellen Lupton.
The show is produced in the Empire State Building in NYC.
We’re as pleased as pale punch to welcome web designer, CSS whiz, microformats monger, icon designer, outstanding public speaker, and best-selling CSS-design-book author Dan Cederholm and his freshly redesigned SimpleBits site to The Deck, our advertising network targeting web, design and creative professionals.
Dan is a friend and creative hero of mine (and of yours, too, I bet), and it is a thrill to be able to drop a few pennies in his cup.
The premier advertising network for reaching creative, web and design professionals, The Deck serves up millions of page views each month and is uniquely configured to connect the right marketers to a targeted, influential audience.
Without my permission, Technorati has stuck my photo and its logo in the sidebar of my site’s front page.
Technorati, when it works, provides useful services to blogs and their readers, such as the ability to track third-party responses to a post. (Google Blog Search works the same street, and refreshes more frequently.)
Technorati also indexes “authority,” which is its word for popularity as determined by the number of Technorati users who mark your site as a favorite.
You could configure the script to show your picture and Technorati’s logo but you didn’t have to, and I chose not to.
Technorati called the script an “embed.”
In the last few days, Technorati apparenty converted its “embeds” to “widgets.”
Widgets do more than embeds, and I’m sure they’ll delight some blog owners. But I am not delighted. I wasn’t asked, or even notified. Through investigation (AKA random clicking) I found the widgets page and “customized” my widget not to show my photo and Technorati’s logo (i.e. I manually opted out of something I had previously already opted out of).
Except the opt-out didn’t take. My photo and Technorati’s logo are still stuck in my front page’s sidebar.
I’ll give Technorati a few days to clear its cache (or its head). If there’s still junk in my sidebar come Monday, then it’s adios, Technorati.