Many try to set trends, but few accomplish setting standards. Jeffrey Zeldman, a web evangelist, is the author of two books, a web designer, chief architect, stunt double and leader of the web standards movement. Founder of Happy Cog Studios and Creative Director of A List Apart, it can be hard to keep track of Zeldman's numerous accomplishments.
You described yourself as a once novelist who wouldn't sell novels, a composer who barely made a living, and a synthesizer-player in a post-punk-techno-surf band with a small but ardent following - do you still dabble in any of your once fields, or feel a fondness to do so again?
I don't miss my recording studio and instruments. The creative challenges of my present work satisfy whatever it is in me that needs to thrash around and make something
for other people to look at or read or listen to.
I would like to have a piano around, mainly so the baby can grow up with music -- not just listening to it, but creating it. I don't mean she needs to become a musician! I just mean, regardless of what she will one day do in life, I want her to have the opportunity to approach art from the inside, not merely as a spectator.
What has since become of your 3 unpublished novels? Will that ever be something you share with the public? Could you tell us a little about your stories?
They stank. You will never see them. I didn't know enough about life to write meaningful fiction. Also, like many young creative people, I was more interested in impressing you with my skill than in telling a compelling story.
The third novel, "Sugar and Snow," written when I was 21, nearly got published by a major imprint, but at the last moment sanity prevailed and I was able to go into a richly satisfying emotional tailspin.
You recently had a child, how has that changed your life and/or your career?
Career? Ha ha ha! My baby is one month old. Taking care of her is a full-time job for her mommy and me. I do as little professional work as possible, none of it extracurricular. If it won't put food on the table, I have no time for it. Literally.
I'm sure that will change, and I think as I watch our baby react to the world -- as I learn how she learns -- it will influence the way I design, write, and think. But at this moment I'm in a baby bubble and nothing else matters.
Do you sometimes feel shock with the roster of accomplishments you've accumulated under your belt? Do you have any specific goals for the near future?
It's nice to have my own business and I'm mostly happy to have had a hand in changing the way many sites are designed and developed, but neither of those things is a particularly big deal.
If I had a goal for the future it might be that next time I come up with an idea for the web, it might be nice if it brought my family some dough. My more successful efforts seem to have benefited the community at large without lining my pocket. That was okay with me then, but now I have a kid.
You also have a long list of involvements, from Communication Arts Interactive Festival to the Addy Awards. Do you have any new involvements at the moments, what are you currently focused on?
I'm sorry to be such a dull interview subject, but 90% my mental energy goes to my baby (and there isn't all that much energy to begin with, as I'm sleep-deprived).
That said, I'm kind of thrilled to be keynoting the upcoming Web Design World in Boston and doing the introductory remarks for SXSW Interactive 2005. Those are tremendous honors. I'm on the advisory board of the upcoming Blog Business Summit
and I think I will also be involved in the next Web Essentials Conference to be held in Australia and the U.S. (I was asked to do the first Web Essentials but the date coincided with our baby's due date.)
I still have half a plan to launch a travelling road show (An Event Apart
), but in the past year I've been so busy -- and the people I wanted to launch it with have also been so busy -- that I'm not sure now if it will happen.
CSS is finally becoming a more recognized piece to the web design process, do you feel that it has reached a strong point of utilization or still remains to have room to grow?
It is becoming the new mainstream layout tool, which is mostly good.
Like everyone who does it, I wish browser support was where it should be. The main problem is that Internet Explorer's development was frozen, on both the PC and Mac platforms, before it was truly good enough. (Not that the other browsers are perfect.) What happens is that you get a layout working beautifully in Mozilla or Safari within a few hours ... and then spend a few days debugging it in the other browsers. You have to jump through your own sphincter to get it to work right. It should not be that hard. It wouldn't be, if we had a competitive browser market. Opera, Mozilla and Safari are continually improving their standards support. IE should be too, but Microsoft doesn't think it has to, and it's hard to argue with a gigantic market share (however that market share was earned).
So CSS adoption has room to grow in two ways:
1.) Those who aren't using it yet eventually will.
2.) Even for people who use it constantly, there is a learning curve, not so much about how the CSS language works, but more about how different CSS rules fail in different browsers for no very good reason. (Recently we had to turn off ITALICS in MSIE/Win to keep it from ripping a layout apart. Italicized words are italicized in all browsers except MSIE/Win, where they are bolded. Stuff like that is unfortunate.)