Presenting the ALA Summer Reading Issue—our favorite articles from 355 issues of A List Apart.
Philosophy of Web Design
ALA 58: April 7th, 2000
Over 11 years after publication John Allsopp’s piece on web philosophy still resonates. Web designers often bemoan the malleable nature of the web, which seems to defy our efforts at strict control over layout and typography. But maybe the problem is not the web. Maybe the problem is us. John Allsopp looks at web design through the prism of the Tao Te Ching, and decides that designers should let the web be the web. An article twelve years ahead of its time, whose wisdom continues to illuminate the path forward. —Ed.
ALA 249: November 20th, 2007
We’ll have better web design when we stop asking it to be something it’s not, and start appreciating it for what it is. It’s not print, not video, not a poster—and that’s not a problem. Find out why cultural and business leaders misunderstand web design, and learn which other forms it most usefully resembles.
ALA 206: October 24th, 2005
The difference between redesigns that make you look busy and give your stakeholders something else to argue about, and strategic overhauls that reposition your brand and help you set and reach business goals. Still quoted in board meetings, and, more importantly, still practiced, this call to arms changed how many of us approach projects and understand our job. —Ed.
Web Standards (Historical)
ALA 99: February 16th, 2001
In a year or two, all sites will be designed with standards that separate structure from presentation (or they will be built with Flash 7). We can watch our skills grow obsolete, or start learning standards-based techniques. In fact, since the latest versions of IE, Navigator, and Opera already support many web standards, if we are willing to let go of the notion that backward compatibility is a virtue, we can stop making excuses and start using these standards now. At ALA, beginning with Issue No. 99, we’ve done just that. Join us. The battle cry that led to modern web design. —Ed.
ALA 253: February 19th, 2008
Version targeting will allow Microsoft to reach new heights of standards compliance where CSS and (especially) scripting are concerned. But to benefit from it, developers must explicitly opt in. That’s just not right, says Jeremy Keith. And it’s doomed to fail, because standardistas, by their very nature, will refuse to opt in.
ALA 233: February 26th, 2007
To validate or not to validate; that is the question. Ethan Marcotte helps us to re-examine our approach to standards advocacy and how we can better educate our clients on the benefits of web standards.
ALA 309: July 6th, 2010
Vendor prefixes: threat or menace? As browser support (including in IE9) encourages more of us to dive into CSS3, vendor prefixes such as
-webkit-animation may challenge our consciences, along with our patience. But while nobody particularly enjoys writing the same thing four or five times in a row, prefixes may actually accelerate the advancement and refinement of CSS. King of CSS Eric Meyer explains why.
ALA 302: March 9, 2010
E-books aren’t going to replace books. E-books are books, merely with a different form. More and more often, that form is ePub, a format powered by standard XHTML. As such, ePub can benefit from our nearly ten years’ experience building standards-compliant websites. That’s great news for publishers and standards-aware web designers. Great news for readers, too. Joe Clark explains the simple why and how.
Responsive and Mobile
ALA 279: March 3rd, 2009
How awesome would it be if you could combine the aesthetic rigor and clarity of fixed-width, grid-based layouts with the device- and screen size independence and user-focused flexibility of fluid layouts? Completely awesome, that’s how awesome. And with a little cunning and a tad of easy math, Ethan Marcotte gets it done. We smell a trend in the offing.
ALA 306: May 25th, 2010
Designers have coveted print for its precision layouts, lamenting the varying user contexts on the web that compromise their designs. Ethan Marcotte advocates we shift our design thinking to appropriate these constraints: using fluid grids, flexible images, and media queries, he shows us how to embrace the “ebb and flow of things” with responsive web design. This child of Allsop’s “Dao of Web Design” has changed and is still changing our industry. —Ed.
ALA 244: August 28th, 2007
Craig Hockenberry offers detailed guidance on tuning your site for the hot new phone, and making changes that can enhance even non-iPhone-users’ experience. The first article on adjusting web content for a new category of smartphone, published one week after the iPhone debuted. —Ed.
ALA 312: August 17th, 2010
Design and Layout (Historical)
ALA 173: March 5th, 2004
ALA 160: October 20th, 2003
Image-driven, visually compelling user interfaces. Text-based, semantic markup. Now you can have both! Douglas Bowman’s sliding doors method of CSS design offers sophisticated graphics that squash and stretch while delivering meaningful XHTML text. Have your cake and eat it, too! Until CSS3 made it superfluous, this was the thinking designer’s favorite way to create those coveted rounded corner effects. —Ed.
ALA 244: August 28th, 2007
Ten years ago, H¥kon Wium Lie and Bert Bos gave us typographic control over web pages via CSS. But Verdana and Georgia take us only so far. Now H¥kon shows us how to take web design out of the typographic ghetto, by harnessing the power of real TrueType fonts. The A List Apart article that birthed modern web fonts and web font services, e.g., Typekit. —Ed.
ALA 296: November 17th, 2009
Web fonts are here. Now that browsers support real fonts in web pages and we can license complete typefaces for such use, it’s time to think pragmatically about how to use real fonts in our web projects. Above all, we need to know how our type renders in screens, in web browsers. To that end, Tim Brown has created Web Font Specimen, a handy, free resource web designers and type designers can use to see how typefaces will look on the web.
ALA 296: November 17th, 2009
Until now, chances are that if we dropped text onto a web page in a system font at a reasonable size, it was legible. But with many typefaces about to be freed for use on websites, choosing the right ones to complement a site’s design will be far more challenging. Many faces to which we’ll soon have access were never meant for screen use, either because they’re aesthetically unsuitable or because they’re just plain illegible. Jason Santa Maria presents qualities and methods to keep in mind as we venture into the widening world of web type.
ALA 327: May 3rd, 2011
Designing with modular scales is one way to make more conscious, meaningful choices about measurement on the web. Modular scales work with—not against—responsive design and grids, provide a sensible alternative to basing our compositions on viewport limitations du jour, and help us achieve a visual harmony not found in compositions that use arbitrary, conventional, or easily divisible numbers.
ALA 326: April 19th, 2011
Bookmarklet apps like Instapaper and Readability point to a future where content is no longer stuck in websites, but floats in orbit around users. And we’re halfway there. Content shifting lets a user take content from one context (e.g., your website) to another (e.g., Instapaper). Before content can be shifted, it must be correctly identified, uprooted from its source, and tied to a user. But content shifting, as powerful as it is, is only the beginning. Discover what’s possible when content is liberated.
ALA 274: December 16th, 2008
It’s time to stop pretending content is somebody else’s problem. If content strategy is all that stands between us and the next fix-it-later copy draft or beautifully polished but meaningless site launch, it’s time to take up the torch—time to make content matter. Halvorson tells how to understand, learn, practice, and plan for content strategy.
ALA 128: November 23rd, 2001
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.
ALA 278: February 17th, 2009
As web designers, we concern ourselves with how users move from page to page, but forget the needs of those whose purpose is to be still. Learn the design techniques that create a mental space for reading. Use typographic signals to help users shift from looking to reading, from skimming along to concentrating. Limit distractions; pay attention to the details that make text readable; and consider chronology by providing transitions for each of the three phases of the online reading experience.
How we work
ALA 305: May 4th, 2010
We have the power to bestow our abilities onto the things around us. By being conscious of our tools, habits, and spaces, and actively conditioning them to help us behave the way we want to behave, maybe we can more efficiently tap into the thousands of hours of creative genius embedded in our everyday objects. Maybe we’ll be able to maximize the capabilities that new technologies afford us without being overwhelmed by the distractions. And, just maybe, we’ll remember what it feels like to be utterly engrossed in our daily work.
ALA 283: May 5th, 2009
The Wisdom of Crowds (WOC) theory does not mean that people are smart in groups—they’re not. Anyone who’s seen an angry mob knows it. But crowds, presented with the right challenge and the right interface, can be wise. When it works, the crowd is wiser, in fact, than any single participant.
ALA 280: March 24th, 2009
A key to running successful “social networking sites” is to remember that they’re just communities. All communities, online or off, have one thing in common: members want to belong—to feel like part of something larger than themselves. Communicating effectively, setting clear and specific expectations, mentoring contributors, playing with trends, offering rewards, and praising liberally (but not excessively) can harness your members’ innate desires—and nurture great content in the process.
ALA 258: May 6th, 2008
Q. What technology do you need to build the next Flickr? A. Trick question. What you need to build the next Flickr is people. George Oates, a key member of the core team that shaped the Flickr community, shares lessons that can help you grow yours.
Enjoy this reading list as an epub
Huzzah! The ALA 2012 Summer Reading Issue is available as a Readlist, suitable for reading on Kindle, iPhone, iPad, Readmill, or other e-book reader.