Join Jeffrey Zeldman for an in-depth discussion in this video Building community, part of Jeffrey Zeldman: 20 years of Web Design and Community.
(music) - Ten years ago, Jeffrey rallied the entire web industry as a community. And since then, he's also been creating several other communities. One is through the A Book Apart book franchise, which itself is a way to reach a large web community. But also through the An Event Apart conferences, where, you know, 400 or 500 people gather together to hear about, you know, the sort of latest ideas. And there's something special about gathering people in the same room, that, you know, I think like a lot of the best conferences, some of the best conversations happen between the attendees.
- One of the things that I always tell people about Jeffrey, is I call him like the Miles Davis of web design. Because he has this unique talent for finding individuals in the community, and bringing them forward. And both with A List Apart and An Event Apart, I was asked to contribute. I don't know what process, you know, underlies that, but if you look at his ability to find people in the community and give them recognition, and kind of bring their ideas to a much wider audience, that's immensely valuable. - I think Jeffrey likes to think of himself like a DJ, right, and he's like putting together a playlist of people.
And again that's, you know, he knows the right people to get, he knows who's going to be good, and he evolves it over time. He sees, "What does the industry need to hear now?" You know, that's the kind of stuff you hear at An Event Apart, has changed over time in the same way that it's the kind of stuff you read at A List Apart, has changed over time. - As I look back, in particular at the year 2010, in Seattle at An Event Apart, where Ethan Marcotte did the first talk on responsive web design. I did the first talk on Mobile First. And I think Kristina Halvorson did a content strategy thing there.
And I look back on that, which is now four years ago, and there's a lot of ideas that still to this day people are sorting through and working out. - He's like the All-Seeing Eye. He sees everything, hears everything, watches people for small social interactions, and I think he's really good at picking people who not only know their stuff and are fantastic at articulating elements that the rest of the community would find helpful, but he's also good at picking, in my opinion, nice, humble people who will take the time to sit with people at events like An Event Apart, and have lunch with other attendees and sit and explain how they got started.
He doesn't just pick people who are fantastic at what they do, he picks people who are also humble and nice people, along with it, which actually is quite a talent. - Jeffrey is not particularly a practicing designer anymore. He's not in the code, working on the html and the css. And in some sense, he's passed that baton of actually building the web to another generation. Instead, he's taken on a role as kind of the godfather of the web, of helping to identify voices and shape from a high level what the web might be.
- I remember a few years ago, when html 5 was kind of on the rise. It was very confusing for everyone. So Jeffrey kind of put the bat signal in the sky, and called a bunch of people together to New York, where he lives. He's like, "Why don't we all get together "and just try and get our heads around this?" I was very honored to be included amongst those people, just a handful of people. So that was a really, sort of Jeffrey thing to do, to realize like, "I don't understand this stuff. "Let me get together some of these other "people who also don't understand it, "but together, you know, as a community, "we'll figure this stuff out." - It just makes you feel safe that someone else, even if you haven't, if you're not up to the standard that he's at, someone else has got this, for the minute, and maybe you can chip in along the way.
Maybe you can help and add something to it. But for the most part, someone else has laid all the foundations for us to then add to, which is extraordinary. - When I got my first New York agency job, within a week I found a partner, Jerry Vaglio, who they were using at the time. They were some older, not very talented art directors were sometimes throwing him a crumb, but basically they were using him as a pair of hands, and using him in the mat room. This guy was amazing.
I just thought, "Wow, he's so much more talented than me. "I would love to work with this guy." No matter what I'm working on, I'm always looking for people who are better than I am to excite me to be better than I am, and who I can collaborate with. One of the gifts that I've been given in my life and in my career, is the ability to recognize talent early on, surround myself with talented people, and promote them. And you know, I've helped some people become household names, and I'm very proud of that. I try to find a person with the right message, and put them in front of the right audience in the venue that's best for that audience.
For example, the first vehicle for Ethan Marcotte's responsive web design idea was a talk he gave at An Event Apart. And when I saw that, I knew that that was so important that it had to go two places immediately. It had to go on the web. A short version had to go on the web, so everyone would get it. And he wrote the article, and it was on A List Apart, and that was amazing. And like everyone saw that. Within a week, people were redesigning their websites. Was amazing that that idea had so much traction. And I also knew it had to be a book, because there was more depth to it.
You needed an article to basically say, "Here's an idea. "Think it's neat? "Here's three ways to get going. "Go! "Have fun!" And then you need this book to say, "Let's really think about what the "web really is, the ebb and flow of the web. "And let's really get into depth about the philosophy of "why we do the work we do, how we can make it "work better for more people across all devices." They all work together because it's all about getting this information out to the communities, spreading these ideas. Secondarily, these are businesses, but primarily, these are idea machines.
I went through a personal crisis in the 90s, and I had a problem, and I was in a 12-step program, and it really helped me change my life. And what they teach you in the program, is basically you keep it by giving it away. And that thinking was very top of mind to me, when I started doing web design. "Well, if I just learned this, this is cool. "Someone else will want to know this, too." So today, 20 years later, things like A Book Apart, A List Apart, An Event Apart, are extensions of that basic instinct of always just keep making sure that you're sharing with others.