Among the messages I receive via this site’s contact form, I was thrilled to see a letter that began thusly:
I stumbled upon your site today and was quite impressed. I really liked the design. Did you make it yourself?
Yes, Jennifer, I did. I made it myself. How kind of you to inquire.
The note then went on to inform me about a non-profit library website similar to Bartleby, “except its far better organized and user friendly.”
The grammatically daft “its” is key to making the message seem like it was written by an average person and not by an internet marketer.
I love the smell of guestbook spam in the morning.
Appreciating web design; setting type
We have what we think is a special issue of A List Apart for people who make websites.
Every responsible web designer has theories about how best to serve type on the web. In How to Size Text in CSS, Richard Rutter puts the theories to the test, conducting experiments to determine the best of all best practices for setting type on the web. Richard’s recommendation lets designers reliably control text size and the vertical grid, while leaving readers free to resize text.
And in Understanding Web Design, I explain why cultural and business leaders mistake web design for something it’s not; show how these misunderstandings retard critical discourse and prevent projects from reaching their greatest potential; and provide a framework for better design through clearer understanding.
Plus, from October 2001, we resurrect Typography Matters by Erin Kissane, the magazine’s editor, who is currently on sabbatical.
A Business Week slide show, “Thinking Outside the Design Box,” profiles “10 professionals working at the very edges of their disciplines in order to redefine their industries.” Included are designers Lisa Strausfeld of Pentagram, who helped design the interface for One Laptop Per Child; Robin Chase, the founder of Zipcar; and (ulp!) me.
I’m in there because they needed a pretty face, and because of the whole web standards thing.
The piece is part of “Cutting-Edge Designers 2007,” a Business Week Special Report focusing on innovation that arises out of crossing disciplines and combining technologies.
It’s worth reading, which is lucky, because I would have blogged it no matter what.
Our “Twelve Years of Web 1.0 Goodness” theme continues with a mini-retrospective of Daily Reports from 1997 on. (Earlier Reports are lost due to over-writing.) You don’t need the WayBack machine to go way back in zeldman.com history. Enjoy these representative Daily Report pages from …
Damn, that’s good eatin’. There are thousands of entries; these are just some I found while clicking idly along. As I look at them, I mostly focus on column width, font, text size, and color. I can’t bring myself to read them (although I’m sure some are okay). What is the value, anyway, of an old blog entry? Compared to an old song, an old valentine, not much. What an odd activity for so much human energy to have been channeled into.
15 Minutes (interviews with movie stars and “cyber stars,” 1996–1999)
Ask Dr Web (an early guide to designing websites; taken offline because the presentational HTML techniques it advocated have long since become outdated thanks to web standards)
Mr Jenkins’s Last Martini (1996, the web’s first alcoholic haiku contest)
… and all the other juicy Web 1.0 Goodness™. Not to mention a couple dozen discarded designs, legions of obsolete splash pages, and a certain Daily Report that was initially dumped onto a page called coming.html and maintained daily and steadily for years before it became conscious of itself, acquired a title, and moved to the site’s front page.
The web found me and claimed me. Everything else followed. Maybe you feel that way, too. Thank you for what you bring to the web, and thank you for twelve years or your part of it.
I spent the latter half of last week with my dad (photos). I did not bring a laptop, nor did I use any of his computers to access the internet. The trip was about dad, not about dad between e-mails.
When I returned to New York City, 193 comments awaited me in the moderation queue. 191 were spam. Some concerned a young lady. Others promoted medications. Two of the 193 comments were actually relevant to my site’s content, although they were trackbacks, not comments. (By the way, Wikipedia, which is it? TrackBack, with an intercap, or Trackback, without? Wikipedia’s trackback entry has it both ways.)
I use Askimet to control comment spam, and although it missed the 191 spam comments previously mentioned, it did flag as spam an additional ten comments, eight of which were spam. The other two were actual reader comments—the only real comments that came in while I was away. Askimet works for most users. Nothing works for me. But I digress.
Executive Summary: Of 203 comments received in a three-day period, two were comments (falsely flagged as spam), two others were trackbacks, and the rest were spam, although 191 of them were not identified as such. If comments are a site’s lifeblood, my site is having a stroke. (Which, by the way, was a popular verb in 42 of the spam comments I received.)
If I wrote more frequently, I would not get less spam, but I would enjoy a higher proportion of actual comments. I wrote every day, several times a day, for years here before comment systems, let alone blogging tools, were available. These days I have less time to write here or anywhere. But I will write more, promise.
I would get much less spam if my site were less frequently linked to and visited, but who wants a less-linked, less-visited site?
I would get no spam if I turned off comments, but I would also get no comments. And comments, real comments, are good.
Standardistas adore the Mozilla Firefox browser for its advanced support of web standards. (How good is it? The Web Standards Project considered declaring victory and closing shop when Netscape Corp. announced in 1999 that it would heed our advice and dump its non-compliant software in favor of the Gecko rendering engine that powers Firefox today.)
Though Firefox and related Mozilla browsers deserve credit for their unsurpassed handling of everything from the Document Object Model to MIME types, Firefox’s way with text leaves much to be desired, as the following screen shots show. Indeed, if reading is mostly what you do on the web, and if accurate typography makes reading more of a pleasure and less of a strain, then Apple’s Safari is superior to Firefox.
Lucida, Test One: with genuine italics
Zeldman.com is designed to be read in Lucida Grande, and the site originally listed “Lucida Grande” first in its style sheet. Alas, Lucida Grande lacks true italics. Fortunately, Lucida Sans has them. In a version of our style sheets used to capture the following screen shots, we’ve listed Lucida Sans first, Lucida Grande second, and substitutes thereafter. Both browers handle the site like a dream—but it is only a good dream in Safari. Open the screen shots in tabs:
In Firefox, why does the text “now in its second edition. I can’t” display midway between roman and bold, and why is it so poorly antialiased? Apparently, Firefox bungles roman text that follows italics.
In Firefox, why doesn’t hyphenation work? My gosh, people, it’s nearly 2007. IE5/Mac supported hyphenation.
Lucida, Test Two: using a font that lacks italics
Remember: Lucida Grande does not have italics; Lucida Sans does. But as Test One showed, Firefox can’t handle Lucida Sans correctly. So we’ve revised the style sheet. With Lucida Grande listed first in the style sheet, and Lucida Sans deleted, Safari still trounces Firefox. The experience of reading text is smoothly beautiful in Safari, much less so in Firefox.
Both browsers fake the italics. But Firefox does the job crudely: a child could tell that its “italics” are faked. (Firefox slants the roman text.) By contrast, Safari fakes its italics so well (by substituting a true italic from the next available listed font that contains one) that only graphic designers and type hounds will realize that the font they’re viewing contains no true italics. See reader comments for delicious details.
In Firefox, hyphenation still does not work.
It’s worth pointing out that these tests were done on Macintosh computers, which are known for their superior handling of text, and that Lucida is not some strange face chosen to prove a point. It is the default font in Mac OS X (not to mention on apple.com). Moreover, Lucida Sans Unicode, the first Unicode encoded font, shipped with Windows NT 3.1 and comes standard with all Microsoft Windows versions since Windows 98.
When I showed a friend and fellow designer these simple tests as I was working on them, he asked if I had reported “the bug” to the makers of Mozilla. But as I count it, there are multiple, overlapping Firefox bugs happening here—too many to fit into a bug-report form. I suspect that the problems have to do with Mozilla’s reliance on its cross-platform display environment. If you scuttle what an individual operating system does well in favor of what a cross-platform environment does poorly, you get what we’re seeing here. It’s not good enough.
Inferences for best practices
If your content will sometimes include italicized text, you naturally want to specify a font that contains italics. That’s just common sense. Unfortunately, as our screen shots have shown, common sense works against you here, because Firefox, although superior to other browsers in many ways, handles text like a drunken fry-cook.
When you specify the font that contains genuine italics (as we did in Test One), Firefox mishandles the roman text that abuts italicized words. When you replace that font with one that contains no italic (Test Two), Firefox fakes the italics crudely, but overall display and legibility are better than the unusable results of Test One.
Obviously there are fewer problems if you limit your website to Verdana and Georgia, but more constraints on typography are not what the web needs.
Discussion is now closed. Thanks to all who shared.
Every ten years, whether I need it or not, I take a couple weeks’ vacation. Here I go again. I’m going to a place where there is no high-speed internet access. Indeed, there is no low-speed internet access. There is not even Wi-fi in the local Starbucks. Perhaps because there is no local Starbucks. No man is an island but a man can go to one, and that is what I am doing. Will I survive two weeks without constant intravenous-drip email and RSS? Come back in two weeks and find out.
P.S. As this site’s comments are moderated, and as moderation requires my presence, if you haven’t posted a comment here before, you won’t be able to do so now. I will brood about this while lolling on the sand.