Web stars speak
/ Interview with Andy Budd
Andy Budd is a user experience designer and web standards developer living
and working in Brighton, England. As the creative director of web design
consultancy Clearleft, he enjoys
building attractive, accessible and standards compliant websites. His online
home can be found on his blog, where
he writes about modern web design practices.
Andy is a regular speaker at international design conferences, workshops
and training events, as well as organizing the UK’s first web
2.0 conference. Passionate about the quality of education in the industry,
Andy runs SkillSwap, a free community
training and networking project. Andy also helped set up The
Web Standards Awards, a project that aims to recognize websites for
their use of web standards.
Andy is the author of CSS Mastery:
Advanced Web Standards Solutions where he outlines modern web design
best practice. He is also co-author of Blog Design Solution where he describes
how to set-up, design and install your first weblog. Both of these books
will be available in spring.
When he’s not building websites, Andy is a keen travel photographer.
Never happier than when he’s diving some remote tropical atoll, Andy
is also a qualified PADI dive instructor and retired shark wrangler.
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were you first introduced to the internet?
I first started using the Internet in 1996 while traveling around Asia.
A service called Hotmail
had just launched which allowed you to contact other people using this thing
called e-mail without needing an ISP.
Prior to this, if you wanted to contact home you’d either have to
place an expensive long distance call, or send a letter that would take
weeks, and possibly months to arrive. Keeping in touch with other travelers
was even more difficult, and usually involved leaving messages on guesthouse
notice boards or at Poste
I remember a fellow backpacker taking me to one the many cyber-cafes
springing up, and showing me how to sign-up for a Hotmail account. After
that, whenever you’d meet somebody, you’d exchange your hotmail
address, and could arrange to meet up further down the line, be that Singapore,
Bali or Sydney.
you remember your first impression of the internet?
My first impression of the Internet, or more specifically the World Wide
Web, was shaped by WebCrawler.
For those of you too young to remember, WebCrawler was one of the first
big search engines, before the likes of Google appeared.
Back then I didn’t really understand the Web and actually thought
WebCrawler was the Internet! And yes, there was a time
when I used to visit WebCrawler and type in www.hotmail.com in
order to visit that site.
Oh the shame!
are an *user experience expert*, what exactly does it mean?
In relation to the Web, a user experience designer is somebody who designs
the user’s entire experience, rather than just the visual aspect.
So this includes designing the site structure, navigation, and user interaction
as well as the visual design.
It’s basically the combination of information architecture, interaction
design, usability engineering, and graphic design.
In many ways it’s similar to being an architect. You draw up the
blueprints, plan how the building will be used, create the visual style,
and ensure everything works correctly.
was your initial profession?
Well I studied Aeronautical engineering at University, but the less said
about that the better. When I graduated I bummed around the world for a
bit teaching scuba diving, before settling back down in the UK as a web
So I guess technically speaking web design has been my only true profession.
is your current profession?
I currently run a small user experience consultancy called Clearleft
with my friends and colleagues, Jeremy
Keith and Richard Rutter.
are a geek head and a writer. When did your love for code & technology
My interest in computers started from an early age, and I was the first
person in school with their own home computer, albeit a Sinclair
Spectrum . Very soon I was able to print my name over and over again
on screen, learning the joys of the infinite loop. More importantly I kicked
ass at Gauntlet,
possibly the best game ever written.
makes for a good web site?
The most important thing is useful or interesting content. Sadly this is
the one area that most people neglect, choosing instead to re-purpose existing
material or leaving it to the office junior to write. Content creation goes
hand-in-hand with building sites with the user - their needs and their goals
- in mind.
Sadly this too is often neglected, and instead most sites are built with
the commissioning company in mind.
did you first get involved with web standards?
I learnt web design by reading sites like Webmonkey
Dr Web. I remember first hearing about CSS through an article on Webmonkey
Stylesheet Tutorial; and was hooked. Rather than messing around with
font tags and other annoying presentational elements, you could control
it all from a single, site wide file. This had the potential to make life
so much easier for web designers, so I wanted to learn as much as I could.
Sadly there wasn’t much information out there. Luckily, when Dr
Web hung up his HTML stethoscope, he started a new site called A List
Apart which became the focal point for the web standards movement.
do web standards relate to a designer's day-to-day activities?
After the initial learning curve, standards really do make your life as
a web designer a lot easier. I won’t go into the details as we’ll
be here all day, so you’ll just have to take my word on that one.
did you first get involved in content publishing?
While searching for CSS sites I came across a site called Adactio.
I noticed the owner was also from Brighton so we got chatting about web
standards. The site was a new type of personal site called a “blog”
and the site’s owner, one Jeremy Keith, encouraged me to set up my
own. I installed MovableType, created a CSS based layout, and posted it
to CSS discuss for feedback.
Jeffrey Zeldman picked up the site and
I was suddenly flooded with visitors. Not knowing what to do I started writing
about web design and web standards, and have been blogging ever since.
and why did you get about writing a book?
With its simple syntax and logical naming convention, CSS is a relatively
easy language to learn. The difficulty lies not with the language itself
– although there are a few complicated concepts to grapple with –
but with the vast number of tips and techniques floating around. Most of
this information is distributed across the web in blog posts and other articles.
However if you don’t follow the CSS blogs, it is extremely difficult
for new developers to learn this information. I wanted to write a book that
drew together everything I’d learnt over the past five years to make
it easier for people to really get to grips with CSS.
makes for a good web team?
A good mix of skills and experience make for a well-rounded team. However
while expertise in a particular language or technique is important, these
things can be learnt. What’s more important are softer skills like
good communication and the ability to write well. It’s also important
to make sure you have a friendly and supportive environment where people
feel trusted and valued.
what is *inspiration*?
It’s that aha moment when an idea seems to come out of nowhere
and present itself to you.
how you sell 'standards' to a client?
The simple answer is that I don’t. Standards aren’t an optional
extra you have to convince clients about. All of our sites are built using
web standards, so we don’t do it any other way. Furthermore, unless
the client is tech savvy and already has an interest in standards, I don’t
believe the issue should even come up.
Most clients aren’t interested in the underlying technology used,
just as most homeowners don’t care about the type of concrete used
for the foundation of their house. If you hire a professional you expect
them to take care of all these technical issues and make the best possible
choices on your behalf.
The truth is, only other web developers care about this stuff, and that’s
the way it should be. Clients are much more interested in their sites achieving
the desired objectives, and as professionals, this is what we should focus
on during client discussions.
Where the issue of standards does crop up is when you are trying to convince
other members of your internal team to adopt web standards, and this is
where you can cite all of the benefits such as bandwidth savings, improved
workflow, and developer independence.
this why you got involved in founding the The Web Standards Awards?
When I first got into web standards, there weren’t many examples
of good design around. Most enthusiasts were coders rather than designers,
so CSS had a reputation of being boxy and dull. I started keeping a list
of all the well-designed
sites I could find, which I still keep to this day. I wanted to turn
this into some kind of showcase, but never had the time. Then I was approached
by a really nice guy called Johan
Edlund who shared his idea of a showcase site with me.
This was in the days before sites like the CSS
Vault so there was nothing of its kind around. I thought this was a
fantastic idea so kept bugging Johan to finish the site so I could blog
about it. However Johan was really busy so myself and Cameron
Adams offered to help him finish. By the time we’d got everything
together the CSS Vault had already launched, but we still have the distinction
of being the second big CSS design showcase on the web.
The Web Standards Awards was extremely successful project and still attracts
a lot of traffic. Sadly, due to other commitments, the site has fallen into
neglect. As such, we recently took the decision to close the doors for a
while and give the site a rest.
have been invited to many web related events. Can you tell us why?
You mean conferences and stuff? Well I hope it’s because I’m
an interesting and enthusiastic speaker, but you’d need to speak to
the conference organizers or attendees about that one. What I can say is
that I really love the opportunity of speaking at conferences and hope I
continue to be invited. It’s a great way to spread the word of user-experience
design and web standards, as well as an excellent way to meet other designers
you do workshops (Skillswap). Why are you passionate about the quality of
education in the industry?
Well I’ve actually been running SkillSwap
for over two years, and we’ve recently re-launched the site to allow
people to set-up and run their own regional events. The idea came from watching
how people on my local web design mailing list would go out of their way
to help other developers. I decided to set up a local peer-to-peer training
network where the local community could help train itself for free.
Around every 6 weeks, somebody will give a talk on a subject that interests
them. We’ve had presentations ranging from an introduction to Flash,
to hard-core object oriented programming. We’ve had all kinds of people
talk, from first time speakers through to international stars such as Dave
Shea and Molly Holzschag. These events
are a great way to share knowledge and build a community, so if any of your
readers fancy setting something up themselves, please visit the site. It
takes hard work and dedication to organize these events, but it pays dividends.
On top of the community work, we also do a lot of professional training.
Theses can range from public workshops on Ajax and CSS, through to bespoke
courses for in-house teams. We also run a conference in the UK called d.Construct
that focuses on web application development. Last years inaugural event
was a huge success, with tickets selling out in less than 30 minutes.
We had some fantastic speakers from organizations like Yahoo!, the BBC
and the EFF, podcasts of which are still
available online. We are just in the process of organizing this year’s
event, which will be even bigger and better than the last. Unlike many other
web 2.0 conferences, we want to make the event affordable to companies and
To help keep ticket prices down, if any of your readers work for organizations
that would like to sponsor the event, please get in touch.
was the catalytic thought that gave birth to Clearleft?
It was a number of pub conversations over the course of a year, often after
one SkillSwap event or another. Jeremy, Richard and I realized that we all
had a similar outlook on the web as well as a complimentary set of skills.
Setting up Clearleft seemed like the logical step, and we’ve not looked
what the internet means to you.
One word. Communication.
3 qualities necessary to succeed.
Perseverance, perseverance and…
…oh, sod it, I can’t be bothered
a one line counsel to newbies.
The best quality you can have in this industry is curiosity.
is the single achievement that makes you most proud?
My biggest single achievement is probably my
book. It was extremely hard work, and I went through a lot of battles
to get it finished, some that I won and some that I lost. However I’m
very proud of the result and overjoyed with people’s response.
there were no budget limitations - which single dream project would you
Ask me again in 12 months ;-)
is missing most in our industry?
In all honesty it’s business skills. People get into the industry
because they love design or development. However to run a successful company
you need more than just talent. You also need to understand how to market
yourself, price your work, sell your services and manage your business.
Sadly this is an area that programmers and creative have little experience
of, so many businesses struggle.
your view, explain what is convergence?
The coming together of things.
Seriously though, people have been talking about convergence for years.
It’s one of those buzzwords that marketing departments love but has
little meaning to anybody else.
the www an international network?
The web is definitely an international network, with English as the de
facto language. However this strength is also its weakness, as it provides
a barrier for entry and causes ghettoisation. For instance, you can probably
name a string of American or English bloggers, but how many German or Japanese
bloggers do you know? Probably not that many.
us what the future (net) looks like.
That really depends on whether companies like Microsoft get their way.
My personal feeling is the web probably won’t change that much in
the next 10 years. The development of XHTML and CSS has stalled, or slowed
down to a crawl, and while some browsers are innovating, it’s not
widespread enough to make a difference.
I think we will end up reaching a plateau – if we haven’t already
done so – and future innovation will be incremental at best.
However if Windows
Presentation Foundation takes off, we could start to see a blurring
of the distinction between desktop and web based applications. This in turn
could lead one step closer to the web becoming a true application platform.
It’s a fascinating proposition, but like many, I don’t want
a single company owning the building blocks of the web.
I hope I’m wrong, but I do worry that the standards community have
been so focused on the immediate fight, they may not have noticed the 800
pound gorilla in the room. However lets hope that, like most Microsoft innovations,
it actually turns out to be a dwarf in a monkey suite.