What I’m Reading Right Now

books
Work has quickly returned to the fairly normal breakneck pace. The box office has returned thanks to some surprising numbers from End of Watch, Hotel Transylvania and Taken 2. I’m trying to catch up on some reading, whether blogs books or otherwise and wanted to share some of what I’m reading right now.

First, since I live online, here’s what I’m reading there:

  • First on the list is the terrific new blog from the folks behind Uncrate — GALLIVANT, a travel guide for guys. The site is divided into five categories: Stay, Scarf, Sip, Shop and See. Exposing great hotels, restaurants, bars, stores and locations in cities around the world. Really obsessed with this site right now.
  • Fake TV Character Twitter accounts from Aaron Sorkin TV shows. Love Will McAvoy from HBO’s The Newsroom (who I wish was a real news anchor and debate moderator) and Fake West Wing President Josiah Bartlett. (Consequently, both accounts are actually written by the same guy.)
At work, I’m reading some short reads on new and current approaches to building websites.
  • Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski. A part of the brilliant A Book Apart series and a terrific follow-up to Ethan Marcotte’s Responsive Web Design that I just finished. These books are written by guys who have actually done it. As someone in the middle of a project like this, I’m intrigued by these new approaches.
And the books I’ve recently read or am currently reading for enjoyment:
  • Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. I love Hornby. High Fidelity is one of my all-time favorite books. But for the last several years, while he’s collaborated with Ben Folds and written young adult fiction, he just kinda lost his way. Juliet is really a return to the style that made him famous.
  • Love Wins by Rob Bell. I’m a fan of most stuff that Rob Bell writes. His latest is pretty controversial. Looking forward to reading it. Hoping that it inspires me somewhat.

So what are you reading?

Working with professional idols

The first years of my career came right around the burst of the dot-com bubble. I started working at Perceptive Software as a Marketing Communications Specialist, a writer tasked with serving also as a marketing generalist for a growing software company (during the 6 1/2 years I worked there, the company grew from 18 employees to over 300).

It was obvious at that time that the web was a big deal, but people still didn’t know really what to do with it. I certainly didn’t have a clue what I was doing. While I was in school, the web was still relatively new and while I tested it out (using such scourged softwares as Microsoft FrontPage), I had no idea that I would end up focusing solely on the web as my profession. I was a writer.

My marketing position expanded and contracted several times over the course of my employment at Perceptive Software, but I realized that whenever I spent time building things on the web that I had a lot of fun. I also was beginning to love graphic design, another discipline that intrigued me, but I knew nothing about.

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It was during this time that I discovered my mentor group in the form of the good folks from Happy Cog Studios. Founder Jeffrey Zeldman wrote one of the most important books about the web ever, Designing With Web Standards, which I am holding in the picture above.

Zeldman’s treatise on the adoption of web standards is such an important book that anytime someone asks me how to start “learning web stuff”, Z’s book is where I send them. If you can’t get through his excellently scribed why and how of web standards, you may not want to really “learn web stuff.” Zeldman started as a copywriter, but quickly realized that the web was where it was at.

From Zeldman, I moved onto Cederholm and Meyer and the other important authors who helped to shape the web standards movement of the 2000’s. I read their blogs. I read the blogs they linked to, which exposed me to Santa Maria, Storey, Marcotte, Davidson, Shea and so many others that it became difficult to keep up. But I kept up.

These were the people out there making things happen on the web. Davidson’s redesign of the ESPN website to a standards-based layout saved the company a gajillion dollars in bandwidth expenses (or something like that). Doug Bowman helped Google pick out a color of blue (or not pick one) and now is the creative director at Twitter. These were (and still are) the heavy hitters. Talented designers, thought-leaders and great writers, all of them. I wanted to be like them.

I’m not.

But that’s OK. I’ve spent over a decade working for brands now and those brands need websites. When I worked at Cerner, the company decided to enter into its first major redesign effort in over 5 years and I was a part of it. I remember sitting in the office with my boss and her boss, the Director of Marketing, who asked, “Who should we reach out to for our web project?”

I said, “I don’t know if they’ll do it, but I’d like to reach out to Happy Cog.”

The funny thing about people who don’t know the web all that well…they don’t really know Zeldman and they certainly don’t know Happy Cog. So I had to explain all the stuff I’ve already laid out for you in this long diatribe of a post. Their importance to the industry. How they literally wrote the book on web standards. And so on…

It is a rare occurrence to have the opportunity to work with the people who helped shape your career, especially when those people were internet denizens — people who I looked to and read and studied and who helped form me into the online professional that I am today. But I got that opportunity for a short while at Cerner, working with Greg Storey and his fantastic team out at Happy Cog West. While my time with the team was brief (a few months into the project, the AMC opportunity opened up for me), I learned a lot about what it is to work with your professional idols. It’s an amazing learning experience, but also one where you see that there’s actual hard work behind the scenes to those amazing finished products I had seen and studied over the years. And it isn’t all puppy dogs and cupcakes. Sometimes there are missteps and hardships and crazy things you can’t predict.

But as with any experience, you learn and you move on. I was fortunate enough to make friends with Greg and others from the team and we still keep in touch. We got to hang out at SXSW. We might even work together again if the opportunity arises.

One thing is certain: I would not be in the position that I’m in now without Jeffrey Zeldman and his merry band of Happy Coggers. Their leadership on the web has inspired me and continues to encourage me over the years. They contribute a great deal to the community that is the web and not just because it serves their own interests or sells books (although it certainly does that); they do it because it is good for the web. They push it forward and they make it better.

Whether any of them will actually read this post is uncertain. It doesn’t matter to me. My hope is that some kid who is looking into where to start when it comes to “learning web stuff” will stumble upon my site and take my recommendation to start with Zeldman. (Although, if he’s younger than me, there’s no way that the kid makes it this far in the post.)

And kid, if you did make it all the way through this post and you’re looking for where to go from there, let me know, I’ve got more suggestions.

Looking to barter

Attention concrete and decking companies!

I am looking for someone interested in possibly going back to the old school days when people exchanged services for services instead of money.

Small businesses know that having a good website is a necessity for operations. I am looking to get a concrete patio and a new deck for my backyard. I am willing to donate a fully-functioning website to your business if you’ll install either (or both) of these.

If you’d like to contact me, you can reach me by sending an e-mail to [shane] at this domain dot com.

Designing With Web Standards

Designing with Web Standards (2nd Edition) (Voices That Matter)

Designing with Web Standards
by Jeffrey Zeldman
RATING: 8 out of 10

Ever since I became a web designer, people have been telling me to read this book. DWWS is considered by many to be the seminal tome on how to design sites using CSS, XHTML and a collection of standards set forth by the W3C (The World Wide Web Consortium).

Since I’m a self-taught designer, I am always anxious to read anything that will help me to become better at my job. Thanks to my good friend, Kevin, I didn’t have to buy this book or go to a so-called “library” to pick it up. He had a copy of the newly released second edition for me to borrow.

I’ve been reading this book for what seems like ages and I haven’t breezed through it, but that’s not because it’s a bad book. It’s a great book, in fact. Other things have been going on that have put my reading at a snail’s pace. Plus, I haven’t exactly been diligent about getting into the gym (where I do most of my reading). If I had, I would have finished this book and at least one other by now.

So to the book: Zeldman is a former-copywriter-turned-designer who has literally written the book on the latest revolution in web design, which is to part with presentation, table-based designs in favor of semantic design that separates presentation from structure. Using the suggestions put forth by Zeldman is better for the Internet. It saves bandwidth and ensures that your web sites play well in all browsers.

Zeldman is a great writer and he makes this topic understandable and interesting. Not only that, but he gives you the reasons why it is important, which books sometimes forget to do.

DWWS is a very grood book and I suggest it to anyone who designs web sites. I also suggest reading his personal web site and his side project, A List Apart.