People went nuts. They’d never seen anything like it. Today, of course, intros are a joke. Many designers and developers working today have never even seen a site that started with an intro instead of content. But it became a big thing on the web and helped create the era of Flash—which I then spent years working to destroy.

Your name, plus your original “web name/handle”

L. Jeffrey Zeldman

inch.com/~jeffz, zeldman.com, “Jeffrey Zeldman Presents” (and, later, “apartness”)

Your first web encounter, year etc.

I first encountered the web in 1995, via Netscape 1.1, which, for the first time, enabled web authors to embed GIF images on a web page, and create tiled background images.

What impressed me initially was the ugliness and unprofessionalism of early web pages. “AOL will kill this thing,” I thought, on the grounds that AOL, whatever its shortcomings, at least possessed a look and feel—something the web did not seem to allow.

But by March of that year, I was committed to making the web beautiful and filling it with independent content. My friends Alec Pollak, Steve McCarron, and I had the good luck to be asked to create batmanforever.com, the site for the movie of the same name, featuring Val Kilmer and rubber nipples, and directed by Joel Schumacher. The client, Don Buckley of Warner Bros, was visionary, and encouraged us to ignore all the limitations on what websites were supposed to be.

Years before Flash, our site had an animated intro, courtesy of Steve, who created multiply sized versions of the DC bat, and developer Doug Rice, who wrote a Perl script that swapped images out, one after the other. Imagine: the screen was black, and there was a small bat in the center of it. Suddenly the bat grew a bit larger—as if it were flying toward you. Then it grew larger still. 

People went nuts. They’d never seen anything like it. Today, of course, intros are a joke. Many designers and developers working today have never even seen a site that started with an intro instead of content. But it became a big thing on the web and helped create the era of Flash—which I then spent years working to destroy.

What our readers might recognise you most for, when you first hit the web.

Old-timers might remember “Ask Dr Web,” a web design tutorial I wrote and published for free at inch.com/~jeffz (and soon after at zeldman.com) in 1995. Or they might remember “Pardon My Icons,” a Warholesque, doubtlessly copyright-violating icon set I put out there the same year for fun, and to protest the hideous ugliness of web design at the time.

More people probably noticed “A List Apart,” the web design community I started in 1997 (initially as a mailing list, with Brian Platz), which became a zine slash web magazine in 1998 and is still going strong. Nearly every important idea in modern web design and development got its start in alistapart.com, and we were huge (and popular) advocates for standards-based design.

Which is the other thing. In 1998, Glenn Davis, George Olsen and I started The Web Standards Project, an advocacy group that fought for standards in our browsers. Back then, people thought it made sense to code four nonstandard versions of their site: one each for Netscape 3, Netscape 4, Internet Explorer 3, and Internet Explorer 4.

We argued that sites would reach more people, be more future-friendly, work on more devices, be more findable, and cost less to produce, if browser makers correctly supported HTML and CSS, and if site creators stopped writing proprietary code and switched to semantic, accessible, standard HTML and CSS. We actually created the name “web standards,” since the people who created the specifications merely called them “Recommendations.” Amazingly, browser makers eventually complied with our demands.

Your digital journey since.

I then made evangelizing web standards to designers my personal mission for the next ten years. Among other things, in 2003 I wrote the first edition of Designing With Web Standards (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Designing_with_Web_Standards), one of the most recognized and most influential books in our field.

It’s been translated into 15 languages, has sold umpteen tens of thousands of copies worldwide, and was most recently released in a third edition I coauthored with Ethan Marcotte, my friend, and the father of Responsive Web Design. Designing With Web Standards, along with Dave Shea’s CSS Zen Garden, was the gateway drug to standards-based (e.g. modern) web design.

The book literally changed how people create websites. Most people who know me probably know me as the author of DWWS.

What are you up to now?

I’m a very lucky man. I spend most of my time creating what we in the biz call “content.” Now with columnists and a blog in addition to its traditionally well-vetted articles and issues, A List Apart (http://alistapart.com) continues to explore the design, development, and meaning of web content, with a special focus on web standards and best practices.

Editor-in-chief Sara Wachter-Boettcher, a visionary orchestrator, directs a team of amazing editors, technical editors, acquisitions scouts, and producers.

Our recent redesign by Mike Pick and Tim Murtaugh gives us one of the most readable sites on the web. Check our masthead! (http://alistapart.com/about/masthead) It’s practically a who’s who of web design since 1998.

I’m also the publisher of A Book Apart—Brief Books For People Who Make Websites (http://www.abookapart.com), a craft publishing house I co-founded with Jason Santa Maria and Mandy Brown (emeritus). We’ve published industry-changing guides like Ethan Marcotte’s Responsive Web Design, Luke Wroblewski’s Mobile First, and Mike Monteiro’s Design Is A Job.

Our books make a difference in people’s careers. It’s a thrill to be sitting in the audience at a conference in Oslo, Norway, to be listening to a Norwegian speaker whose language I speak not one word of, and to hear that speaker say phrases like “Mobile First” and “Responsive Web Design” in English.

Our books change the world and help guide the industry, all due to our amazing authors.

Speaking of conferences, in 2007 I co-founded one with the great Eric Meyer, and now An Event Apart (http://aneventapart.com) holds brilliant three-day learning events in nine cities a year.

As host, I get to speak to a vital community of passionately committed designers, developers, and UX/content people, and listen to some of the smartest and most important speakers in the field. AEA is where mission-critical techniques are mastered, and new ideas become industry-wide best practices.

It’s also an incredibly well-run and well-produced event, thanks to Marci Eversole and Toby Malina, who have taken us from a little amateurish meet-up-type event to best-in-class show. Besides speaking, introducing speakers, and documenting the events, my job is to find the best speakers in the world and help them craft the best and most important presentation content they can. 

I’m the chairman of Happy Cog (http://happycog.com), a multi-disciplinary, award-winning, web design, development, and user experience studio I started in 1999, which now has offices in New York, Philadelphia, and Austin, helmed by my partners Greg Hoy and Greg Storey.

We create effective, engaging web environments for amazing clients like Ben & Jerry’s, Zappos, Thomson Reuters, and MTV.

Being chairman means I do very little designing, coding, and other web work any more. Instead I mainly go around beaming at ridiculously talented people half my age. They’re wonderful, committed people who do brilliant work as a team.

The client is always part of that team, and all of us are committed above all to the person who has to use what we create. It’s all about creating a great experience that works for any person, on any device.

Teaching has always been a core component of my professional practice, and for the past five years I’ve had the honor to be a faculty member in the School of Visual Art’s MFA program in Interaction Design (http://interactiondesign.sva.edu).

I’ve been with the two-year program since my friend (and former Happy Cog UX person) Liz Danzico (http://bobulate.com) created it in collaboration with Steven Heller (http://www.hellerbooks.com).

The program “explores the strategic role of interaction design in shaping everyday life, and intends to increase the relevancy of design to business and society so designers can make a difference. It seeks to cultivate interaction design as a discipline and further its visibility as a community of practice.” Our graduates are out there shaking things up at nonprofits, Internet companies, and their own successful start-ups. They inspire me every day.

In my spare time, I run The Big Web Show podcast (“Everything Web That Matters”), do weight training so I can live longer, and take photographs of the architecture of NYC, where I’ve lived since 1988. 

My most important job, and greatest blessing, is raising my daughter Ava, who is nine, and an artist, and lights the universe.

Jeffrey Zeldman... then
Jeffrey Zeldman... then

Jeffrey Zeldman... now
Jeffrey Zeldman... now

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