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Issue № 368

A List Apart 5.0

by Published in State of the Web · 157 Comments

A design that departs from our past and a platform on which to build the future. Welcome to the relaunch of A List Apart, for people who make websites. Content first: We’ve added new kinds of content (with more to come), and we’re publishing more frequently—a lot more frequently. Fear not, we will continue to produce the insightful and important articles you expect from A List Apart, and the biweekly issues they ride in on. Major articles and (mostly) biweekly issues are forever.

But in between those issues, you’ll now find helpful link posts, provocative and insightful blog posts on focused topics, and opinion columns by some of the smartest people we know in this industry. There’s even a column by our friends at the W3C, who need your help to make sure that web standards remain practical, usable, advanced, and forward-thinking. (See the Masthead for a glimpse at our new contributors.)

In the months to come, as our between-issues content becomes as solid and valuable to you as our articles are, we plan to introduce additional and equally useful new kinds of content designed to provide you with more of the information you need most, sometimes even before you know you need it.

The design

Putting the content first, and conceiving of its presentation by default as a fluid series of multi-device encounters, designer Mike Pick and developer Tim Murtaugh have delivered a high-impact, responsive reading experience with the virtues (but not the constraints) of great print design.

As always, the new design flips its predecessor on its head and deepens how we understand ALA as a product and brand. Whereas my original (1998) design sported an “underground club flyer” look appropriate for the wild early days of professional web design, and the most recent (2005) design by Jason Santa Maria cultivated a bookish look and feel indicative of A List Apart’s stature as a time-tested resource, the new design conceives of ALA as a boldly art-directed magazine.

It came from the 1990s: ALA 1.0 illustrations by Jeffrey Zeldman.

To make their task more daunting, I challenged Mike and Tim to think of design non-canonically. What do I mean by that? Sometimes with responsive design, one particular layout (for instance, the desktop browser layout) feels like the “real” design, and smaller-screen experiences become merely usable afterthoughts. I didn’t want that here. Instead I wanted you, our readers, to feel that you’re experiencing the real thing on whichever device or circumstance you happen to encounter it. Of course that should be a goal of any mature approach to responsive web design. In any case, in my opinion, Mike and Tim succeeded brilliantly.

Tying the new design to its predecessor is the flabbergastingly magnificent illustration work of Kevin Cornell, author of Bearskinrug and numerous books and works. For extra juiciness, Kevin’s illustrations are now viewable in higher resolution (including Retina where appropriate)—as is the other artwork that adorns ALA.

ALA 4.0: a 2012 layout by Jason Santa Maria. Click to enlarge.

Fun features: where ALA 4.0 employed a system of dual link colors that changed with each issue we published, ALA 5.0 takes things old-school with blue links. Equally old-timey, we set the body type in good old classic Georgia. (Our Georgia Pro and ITC Franklin are both courtesy of the wizards at Webtype. If it’s wrong to be in love with two web fonts, I don’t want to be right.)

Mike and Tim will address interesting aesthetic decisions and technical challenges of the redesign in subsequent articles and blog posts.

The strategy

We began planning A List Apart 5.0 in November, 2011. Yes, that was fourteen months ago. Slow bakin’ makes good eatin’.

The strategic team that conceived ALA’s new features included producer Tim Murtaugh, former creative director Jason Santa Maria, former editor-in-chief Krista Stevens, former contributing editor Mandy Brown, and yours truly. The work continued under the direction of new editor-in-chief Sara Wachter-Boettcher, designer Mike Pick, developer Tim Murtaugh, and, of course, yours truly.

ALA 5.0 planning meeting. L to R, Jason Santa Maria, Mandy Brown, Krista Stevens, Tim Murtaugh.

In between the two sets of team leaders, UX champ Marcy Mayer conceived and executed detailed wireframes that made the strategists’ visions concrete (or revealed gaps and flaws in those visions), and planned out multiple phases of possible feature rollout. As it always does, the IA has continued to evolve throughout the project as we’ve vetted it against real design, content, and workflow.

A tricked-out build of Expression Engine 2.0 by Tim Murtaugh (who also, with Mike Pick, slaved over the CSS and HTML) powers the new site’s visible and secret features. More will be revealed.

Pirates ship

To launch on time, we have knowingly held off on finessing certain details and (like you do) decided to suppress a few niceties until after the relaunch. If you spot a quirk in the UX logic, an inconsistency in the design hierarchy, or a curious flaw in the CSS, we are probably working on it.

If you are new to A List Apart, welcome! You may want to check out “The ALA Primer: A Guide for New Readers” by Erin Lynch, the “ALA Summer Reading Issue” of 2012 (our favorite articles from 355 issues of A List Apart), and “Findings from the Survey, 2011,” our latest assessment of the profession via data submitted by our readers. 

For more about our design and content history, see “Ten Years,” my 2008 retelling of the magazine’s first decade.

First-time visitor or longtime reader, you’re why we’re here—and we want to know what you think. Tell us how you like the new ALA, and what you hope to see in (and in between) future issues.

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