Liveblogging a session at Iceweb 2006 (; )

Takes the stage at 2006.04.27 13:07. “Afternoon. Everybody’s still awake after lunch?”

This is more of a two-way-conversation type of session, nothing too technical. This is a presentation I did a couple of months ago with my good friend Andy Budd, who is also a designer, at South by Southwest. Unfortunately, Andy couldn’t be here because he got hit by a meteorite on the way to Iceland.

The interesting thing about superheroes is that everybody wants to be one. When I was growing up I never thought I’d be a Web designer. How many here would rather be a superhero than a Web designer? Can I see a show of hands? (Most.) Excellent. In our survey, 85% of people replied that they would prefer to be a superhero. 14% preferred to be a Web designer. And the 1% was Dave Shea, who was both.

Today, because things are moving so quickly means that to be a Web designer means to be a superhero.

Every superhero has an origin. Shaun Inman worked at a copy shop. Molly Holzschlag worked as an exotic dancer. Eric Meyer worked at McDonald’s.

Gone are the days when there was a jack-of-all-trades Web designer who had to know everything [contradicting the theme of this presentation?]. People are specialists these days. Superheroes need superteams: Adaptive Path, Clear Left, Happy Cog.

Heroes tend to be selfless. They do what they do out of the greater good, not for their own benefit. Web-design superheroes also share their knowledge and experience among their peers and communities – blogs, forums, working collectively (as with the 40-odd people on WaSP). Within organizations there are internal evangelists. It can be hard if you’re one or two people passionate about standards or accessibility to change people’s minds inside an organization. They’re doing the Web proud at the moment. We’re seeing a lot of wonderful stuff coming out from people who are just getting their stuff done day after day.

Superheroes are motivated. Each hero tends to have a specific passion or motivation – usability, accessibility, Web standards. I think in order to be a Web design superhero today there has to be passion. You have to be truly motivated and truly passionate about what it is that you’re developing.

Superheroes often lead a double life. My good friend Brothercake, or even the Man in Blue, Cameron Adams, who’s a very talented scripter from Australia. But if you meet Clark Kent in the street, his costume is so convincing, you never might know that he’s Superman. The interesting thing is that they’re just regular guys; they’re just people like us who are doing what they do – well – every day.

They’re also motif-ated. Everybody has their own costume and their own recognizable logo. What’s interesting is how well-known some of these (Web) brands can be. (Only a few in the audience could recognize many standardista logos.)

Everybody needs a super Web site. (Shows Zeldman, Dave Shea, Zen Garden, Bowman, Andy Budd.)

A very important part of being a hero is sharing all of this knowledge and sharing what it is that we’re up to so that we’re not holding on to this information for profit or for any kind of selfish reason. The Web’s such a young medium that we’re effectively making it up as we go along.

What powers do you need?

  1. Super speed. Keep pace with new trends, latest technologies, client expectations (“I want the job tomorrow”).

  2. Super elasticity. Web designers need to stretch themselves very thin for looming deadlines. Maintain a very flexible approach to the type of work that we do and not be fixed to any one kind of methodology or way of working.

  3. Telepathy. We need to be able to see into a client’s mind.

  4. Mind control: To talk clients out of providing Ajax, a splash screen, support for Netscape 4, popup windows.

  5. Empathy: We need to understand what we’re doing and who it is we’re designing for. (Asks for visual designers; very few hands go up.) Visual designers tend to be… not egotistical, but they know what it is they’re trying to put over. They have very strong opinions about design. We’re doing our work for an intended audience. We’re not doing it just for the money; that’s not our customer.

    With all of the Web 2.0 applications on our sites, we don’t necessarily know what’s going on our sites. If a user puts in a U.S. date format in a European application or leaves out an @ sign, we have to account for that. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to use the Web. I don’t like buying books online or booking theatre tickets; I’d really rather have somebody else to do it for me (Molly: “You do”). We really need to keep that in mind.

    How many of you work for a bank (About one-fifth.) Can I talk to you about my mortgage later on?

    I’ve had the unfortunate experience of having to sack clients from time to time. You soon develop a sense about those clients. Any hiccup or problem that might arise can really throw things off the rails.

  6. Precognition: Ways in which technologies are used; new trends in design and technology.

  7. X-ray vision: See the underlying document structure. We tend to look at markup from a presentational point of view. We’re trying to accomplish a particular layout or design, and I believe we have not moved very much further forward from the days of doing conventional table-based layouts. We need to be able to see through that visual presentation layer to understand the semantics of the document. Source order is very important to people who use screen readers, yet most pages are still laid out in a top-to-bottom, left-to-right order. Thinking more and more about the real pure semantic value of the content and the markup that we’re using. People need to start thinking differently about how they approach what they’re doing when they set up an HTML page.

  8. Invulnerability. I know that sometimes on the Web, comments do fly on some of these sites like CSS Vault and Stylegala. It’s also important that we develop a thick skin (maybe not as thick as the Hulk’s), and that we can justify every decision that we can make. We have to move on from thinking that it’s great to have our work published on these sites to knowing we are doing the best possible work that we can.

  9. Vulnerability: Superman’s was kryptonite; mine’s an addiction to nicotine. Everybody’s got something that they wish they could do a little bit better. I don’t have a brain for programming or scripting at all; I’m just not logical. But I know people and work with people who are extremely skilled in that area.

Superheroes have sidekicks.

Web superheroes are there to tell us it is possible to do very exciting and very influential stuff. I’ve been very fortunate to know and work with some amazing people – some names you will know and people who will be presenting here. (Wonder Woman: Molly; Daredevil: me; Mister Fantastic: Dave Shea.)

In order to be a Web design superhero, we should never stop learning how to do things better. By coming to events like this and by doing the things that you’re doing. I think it’s amazing that in a country like Iceland, with around 300,000 population, that we can have a group of people who can come for three days is truly heroic.

(PDF of his slides.)

  1. Question from audience about source-code order. (He asked me the question and I blanked on it.) Says that source-code order is important for handhelds. Think of the no-stylesheet view, he says.

  2. Question: How much time each week do you spend learning about new technologies? He reads blogs (for an unspecified amount of time per week).

  3. Inaudible question from man. Will we ever have perfect parity between browsers, and is that a good idea? Answer: I’ve been very excited about what Microsoft are doing with IE7. I didn’t think we’d be at the state we are now with IE7’s standards support. It’s very encouraging… Microsoft developers have done a tremendous job. What I’m hoping is that, very soon (in a couple of years), all of the modern browsers will be supporting the same core set of standards. At that point, browser manufacturers will be competing not on their proprietary stuff, but on functionality, tools, services, bells ’n’ whistles. I hope that it’s not very long before we can stop worrying too much about rendering in different browsers. Good idea? Doesn’t really concern me, because I don’t think that there is ever going to be one browser, particularly as we move into the mobile arena.

  4. Question from man about Jason Fried and diving into development without massive planning.

  5. Question: What software does he use for his slides? Keynote 3 (which he “craftily hid”), still the trial version.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.04.27 09:08. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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