Join Jeffrey Zeldman for an in-depth discussion in this video The early web, part of Jeffrey Zeldman: 20 years of Web Design and Community.
(applause) - Thank you. So, I'm on an airplane, and the person next to me asks what I do, and I find it very hard to answer. I don't know what to say about what I do, because the words feel wrong, and nobody outside our industry has a clue what we do or why it matters, and this isn't just a little Jane Austen comedy of manners, it's actually a serious problem, when I realize that the person next to me, the person who doesn't get what I do, could be my next boss or my next client.
So, how can we help other people actually understand and begin to value what we do? How can we help them care about it almost as much as we do? When I first saw the web, I had been using AOL, America Online, for about two years, and America Online was pretty, and it was friendly and fun. It was a guided experience, and when I saw a website in Mosaic, I thought, well this will never last.
I had no idea that that was going to be my life. I looked at it. It's like falling in love with someone that you hate the first time you meet them. I looked at it and said, this will never last. AOL will kill this. This is just horrible. And the websites that I checked at the time were really terrible. People were using the web to share research papers or to publish rants or have some other very nerdy thing, which is still great and so cool.
I made this thing I called, Jeffrey Zeldman presents that was based on the old Alfred Hitchcock show, and my friend, Steve, took a picture of me facing sideways and holding my hands like this. I didn't have that much competition, and I was always educating. I was always. The first thing I put on the web was, Ask Dr. Web, which was a series of tutorials I wrote to tell other designers, developers, plumbers, whoever, how to make websites.
There was a lot to learn. There were like 11 tags in HTML. - I started making websites in sort of mid to late 1990's, and Jeffrey was just one of those sites you were bound to come across. - I think if you were working on the web, during like, I don't know, a 10-year block or so there, it was really hard not to be aware of him, and in particular, you know, the web started out as a lot of people trying things, and there wasn't really great central sources.
So, what happened was, there was a lot of individual voices. - In the 1990's, building a webpage was really basic. They were just sort of, here are some paragraphs, here are some tables, here are some images. It was not the designed experience that we know now. When tables began introduced, all the designers went, ding, ding, ding. We can hack these tables to create column layouts. And so, we latched onto tables and putting designs in tables and nesting tables inside of tables and tables inside of tables, tables, tables, and they were these really sort of thorny, ugly things.
- It was cool if you had flashing images on your website. If you had the man with the pickax, under construction sign. If you had marquee, a scrolling marquee, it was cool. It was so basic, that there almost wasn't any design. We all went crazy over stupid things like small pixel fonts, where you could barely read anything. It was like tiny tiny fonts to read stuff. - We only had 216 colors, right, the web-safe colors, and screen resolutions, yeah, 640 x 480, maybe 800 x 600.
That seems really limiting, if you're coming from the world of print, but Jeffrey, when you went to his site, zeldman.com, he would use that pixely-limited palette to make something really quite beautiful in its own way, and in a more web-native way, rather than trying to just imitate print. It's like embracing the medium, which I think he's always been really good at, and I guess that's why also there's always this really nice narrative structure to almost everything he does. He's good at, you know, spotting the narratives and relaying them, which is really important, because developers and designers kind of have their heads down, stuck in their work, and we can forget, you know, why we're doing this, or we can forget the bigger picture, you know, the unbroken chain that we're part of, from the early web, from those first days of the web, that we're continuing that work.
Yeah, Jeffrey's really good at bringing out that narrative.