Designing The Modern Web

Who Am I?

Congratulations! You're in the Pizza Business!

Design Your Website!

The Dao of Web Design


Well established hierarchies are not easily uprooted;
Closely held beliefs are not easily released;
So ritual enthralls generation after generation.

Tao Te Ching; 38 Ritual

Before the web, there was print. Hundreds of years of print.

Before there was print, there was writing. Thousands of years of writing

It was only natural than that the web borrowed heavily from print

When a new medium borrows from an existing one, some of what it borrows makes sense, but much of the borrowing is thoughtless, "ritual", and often constrains the new medium. Over time, the new medium develops its own conventions, throwing off existing conventions that don't make sense.

This happened with the transition from radio to television

Often referred to as "radio with pictures", early television followed the format of popular radio, even at times narrating scenes that the audience could see as if they could not

It happened with the introduction of music videos as well

Early music videos were mostly the band miming themselves playing a song

In both cases, the thoughtless rituals of their parent mediums were cast off while the ones that made sense to new medium's conventions flourished.

Television evolved genres and formats suited for visual story telling

Artists found that they could visually express themselves and their music in ways other than a mimed concert

Although the web medium sprang from print, print's conventions have for too long overshadowed the realities of the web

The web has been treated as if it were made of paper

It is time for the web, like other new mediums before it, to cast off the constraining rituals of the medium from which it emerged


The sage… accepts the ebb and flow of things,
Nurtures them, but does not own them…

Tao Te Ching; 2 Abstraction

Guess what. The web’s not a laser printer.

Karen McGrane

In Print's Limitation We Find The Web's Strength:


The Way

The Way is shaped by use,
But then the shape is lost.
Do not hold fast to shapes
But let sensation flow into the world
As a river courses down to the sea.

Tao Te Ching; 32 Shapes

Form should follow function

Start with what your pages do, not what they looks like

Regardless of how they got there, users are there for your function, not your form

Users come to your site for the content, so you should design content first.

Your content and your site needs to be predictable in order to be useful.

Your site needs to be fast and reliable in order to be usable.

You need a style that will reflect your brand and can be carried from your content up

Only after all other needs have been met should you focus on visual flair

Visual flair should not negatively affect any of the other needs

Let your design flow from your content

Let your user flow around your site

Tend to any rocks in your stream

Be fluid as water

Look At Your Website

Now Back To Me

Now Back To Your Website

Now Back To Me

Does Form Follow Function?

Is It Easy To Navigate? Predictable?

How Prominent Is Design Flair? Social Media?

Would You Like To Take Another Stab At It?

Content Strategy


Probably the largest shift when designing the modern web is how the process starts

No longer is a picture of a page good enough to get started, we need to start with our content first

Content Strategy is broken up into 5 sections

  1. Project Vision
  2. Content Inventory
  3. Content Audit
  4. Content Modeling
  5. Information Architecture

Project Vision

Before we can know what content will best serve our site, and what features will best serve our content, we need to know what the goal of our project is.

This can be accomplished by writing a Vision Statement

Your vision statement should answer the following questions:

  • Who will use, buy, or consume the product?
  • Who is our target customer?
  • Who will administer and maintain the product?
  • What needs will the product address?
  • What attributes are critical to success?
  • How does the product compare with existing products?
  • What are the unique selling points?

A vision statement provides a single grounding point for all decisions we need to make.

In order to provide for a well-informed electorate who want to stay up-to-date and relate to high quality relevant worldwide news and information on an ever growing array of platforms, our editorial team will utilize an easy-to-use platform that can be accessed from any device from across the world to quickly and effortlessly updated and create new stories.

Content Inventory

A Content Inventory takes an objective, broad strokes look at content currently on a site

Generally built as a spreadsheet, it includes both intrinsic (title, owner, last updated) and analytical (page views, page rank, notes) data

Content Inventories aren't just about pages, they are about the different pieces, or chunks, that go into making those pages

Do not try and inventory all of your pages - that's impossible. Instead only try and realize the truth.

What truth?

There is no page.

There is no page?

Then you will see that it is not the page that matters, it is only your content.

Content is not not just long blobs of text, it's also images, videos, charts, and any other forms of information your user may want from you

We're interested not only in the types of content, but in their attributes as well, the chunks that make a piece of content what it is.

We then record this all in our spreadsheet

Sample Content Inventory

Content Audit

A content audit provides you with a first look at how your content is written as way to suss out if what you currently offer is worth keeping, editing, or removing.

  • Is the content too long, too short, or just right? Can longer content be cut into shorter chunks and still make sense?
  • Is the copy wordy? Does it ramble? Can you clean it up without loosing its meaning?
  • Does each page or chunk get to the point quickly?
  • Is the content even broken up into chunks?
  • Is the content relevant and important?

After evaluating your content, start editing and cutting! Not everything needs to make the final site!

You're now in a position to do a gap analysis of your content

  • Keep as-is
  • Revise and edit to tighten it up
  • Delete because it's irrelevant, not useful, or outdated
  • Create new where new business goals don't meet existing content

Content Model

A content model is an overview of the different types of content available on your site

Each piece of content is modeled to include its attributes, what makes it up, its metadata.

A good content model includes both visible and structural attributes.

Metadata is the new art direction.

Ethan Resnick

Each content type should include the following:

  • Title: of content type
  • Description of content type
  • Benefit Statement written in the form of As [persona], I want [desire] so that [rationale]
  • Value of content type. Will help to prioritize development tasks.
  • Attributes that make up a content type. Should include data limits per attribute, such as character limit or date date format
  • Relationships that the content type has to other types of content



  • Short to long form text with possible accompanying images of recent factual stories


  • As a reader, I want the most up-to-date information about the state of the world so that I stay informed as a citizen
  • As a site owner, I want to increase traffic to our site during peak news stories so that we enhance our standing as a world leading news source


  • Page views per Year: 25,000 Page Views per year
  • Revenue per Ad per 1,000 Page Views: -$0.10
  • Revenue per Ad per Year: $450
  • $447.50 Nett Ad Revenue per Year



  • Title
    • Total: 1
    • Required: true
    • Type: text
    • Character Limit: 127
    • Description: A descriptive title of the content
  • Published Date
    • Total: 1
    • Required: true
    • Formatting: mm/dd/yyyy hh:mm
    • Description: Date, including hour and minute, of when article was published
  • Primary Image
    • Total: 1
    • Required: false
    • Type: reference (image)
    • Description: Primary image for article

Information Architecture

Information architecture (IA) is all about what pieces of what content get used when, where, and why

IA tends to be implementation-specific, but should always share the same underlying content

Building out an IA can help you flush out your Content Model

There are four good rules of thumb to follow while building your IA and revising your Content Model

  • Truncation is not a content strate…
  • Build systems of content
  • Content should be easy to navigate
  • Content should be available

Truncation is not a content strate…

  • Content that is truncated is usually not written for summary or reuse
  • Truncated content usually doesn't contain trigger words
  • Especially true for headlines. Never truncate headlines.


  • Always provide summaries for long copy
  • Provide alternative copy when needed

Build systems of content

  • Content isn't always one-size-fits all
  • Allow for different sizes and styles of content attributes
    • Small, medium, large images
    • Short and long human readable and SEO friendly headlines
  • Do not build for specific context like iPhone, Android, Tablet, or Desktop

Content should be easy to navigate

  • Don't paginate long pieces of content unnecessarily
  • Make it easy to navigate to sections in long pieces of content
  • Always provide enough context for a user to make their own navigation decisions
    • A user with location services might not exclusively want location-based information
    • Provide plenty of trigger words - words that inspire users to act as the outcome is obvious
  • Think about if headlines can be used as links, or if alternative copy should be used

Content should be available

  • Don't restrict content based on device
  • Provide alternative formats of content if one format can't be made available, such as through device capabilities or business needs
  • Do not store tabular data as an HTML table, but rather as raw data that can be presented in multiple ways
  • Make all of your content available and in a way that makes sense

Good Content Strategy is like a Good Pizza

Made of the finest ingredients

Mixable and reusable fixins

Easily slice-able

All on a solid foundation

I'll Take A Slice of Content Strategy



It is 2x more likely that [mobile] users will spend 4x more time on your site than those using IE8

Jason Pamental

Mobile's a Big Deal

  • 57% of All Americans go online using a mobile phone
  • Mobile Internet usage has increased by more than 30% in the past 3 years
  • 85% of young adults 18-29 and 73% of adults 30-49 use the Internet on their phones
  • 74% of those who identify as Black, non-Hispanic and 68% of those who identify as Hispanic use the Internet on their phones

Mobile's Erasing the Digital Divide

  • 34% of mobile Internet users, about 20% of All Americans mostly use their phones for going online
  • Mostly mobile users have increased 7% in 2 years
  • 50% of young adults 18-29 and 35% of adults 30-39 mostly go online from their phones
  • 43% of those who identify as Black, non-Hispanic and 60% of those who identify as Hispanic mostly go online from their phones

If your content, all of your content, isn't available and usable on mobile, you are not reaching your audience.

7 Deadly Mobile Myths

[L]ike the “dial” tone, the “return” key, and “cut and paste”, the word “mobile” has expanded to mean something different from its analogue in the physical world.

Karen McGrane

We are hampered in both discussion and design by assumptions we make about mobile based on its physical world analogue

These mobile myths need to be dispelled in order for us to be effective.

1. Mobile Users are Rushed and Distracted

This myth tends to materialize as a pared-down site

Sections get removed, content hidden, interactions that require deep commitment are reserved for the desktop

Often, mobile sites are thought of as the companion or lite versions of a site

Any time you say somebody won't want that on their phone, you're wrong.

Josh Clark

One third of all traffic to the to 50 e-commerce sites come exclusively from mobile

91% of "tablet" user and 90% of "smartphone" users accessed e-commerce websites, compared to 78% of "desktop" web users.

eBay sells almost 10,000 cars through mobile devices each week

88% of US Consumers use their "mobile" device while watching TV

63% of people use their "mobile" devices regularly to help with cooking.

75% of mobile phone users use their phone while on the toilet

While a user may be rushed or distracted while on mobile, they are not exclusively so

We use our devices on the couch, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, and during 3 hour layovers

Making assumptions that certain content isn't right for mobile because it requires extended attention is always wrong.

2. Mobile Equals Less

In April of 2012, renowned User Experience researcher Jakob Nielsen suggested that a separate mobile site with reduced content focused on a mobile context should be our default.

Jakob Nielsen is Wrong

Don't Confuse Context With Intent

Jakob's conclusion stems from the myth that we can assume intent from context

As it turns out, people will use any platform to do anything

All that we know about a user with a small screen is that they are a user with a small screen

Guess what, we are the same users regardless of the device we use

We're going to want all of the same content, no matter where we are or what device we choose to use

If content isn't important on mobile, maybe it isn't important

It all comes back to content. Our users are there for our content; give it to them

If users are overwhelmed by too much information on one screen, the answer is better design, not cut content

If it's not good for the mobile user, it's not good for any user. We're the same people.

Josh Clark

3. Complexity is a Dirty Word

We have a tendency to confuse complexity with complication

  • Complexity: The richness of our experience and content
  • Complication: The difficulty of using and navigating our content

The Challenge is creating Complex but Comprehensible Systems

We've been starting with large screens, so we've been lazy and throwing everything but the kitchen sink onto our pages

Starting small makes you do the hard work to reduce complication in your complexity up front

The lessons we learn at small sizes should translate to any size

4. Extra Tabs and Clicks are Evil

Humans have a rich tradition of story telling and conversation

Our conversational traditions have been how we've passed down stories and learned for generations

Instead of providing everything at once, allow a user to explore through your content, inviting conversation with them

Content should be Progressively Disclosed

  • Respond as users ask for more information
  • Focus on one item, push secondary items off waiting for user interaction
  • Tap or click quality will always trump quantity
  • Clarity always trumps density

5. Gotta Have a Mobile Website

Do not focus on only mobile websites, you need to have a great experience across all devices

We browse the web in cars, on TVs, on interactive advertisements in Times Square

Don't forget about accessibility! How does my website sound?

This is not the web
This is the web
This will be the web

There is no need for separate mobile website

We are the same person, no matter the device

Don't punish users for the device they use

Future Friendly

Be Future Friendly

6. Mobile is About Apps

An app is not a strategy. It's just an app.

Josh Clark

Presentations Deprecate

Design based on your content, not on a device or a trend

Your content is your product; everything else is just containers

You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup.

You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot.

Bruce Lee

Design from your content out, not container in

Your content should then flow into any container

Having context-independent content as your base will make adopting new presentations easy

7. CMSs & APIs are for Database Nerds

Your API is your content

Presentation isn't what's important, it's the content. That's what endures

In the 1980s, TV Guide realized they were in the content publishing business

They split into two; the magazine brand and the database of program content

All content was meticulously maintained by the database company with separate fields for each chunk that made up the content, including three different summaries per program!

In 2008, the magazine division was sold for $1

Build a common content backend

Design skills need to be pushed down the stack to the API and content chunk level

The goal isn't to repurpose design, it's to repurpose content

Mobile First…

It's not about mobile first (or just small screen first) – it's about content first. But it happens that thinking about what works for mobile does work for other things as well.

Jeffery Zeldman

When talking about "Mobile First", what we are talking about is using mobile as a focusing lens

Luke Wroblewski has a phrase he uses to describe this lens:

One eye, one thumb

Mobile devices require software development teams to focus on only the most important data and actions in an application. There simply isn't room in a 320 by 480 pixel screen for extraneous, unnecessary elements. You have to prioritize.

So when a team designs mobile first, the end result is an experience focused on the key tasks users want to accomplish without the extraneous detours and general interface debris that litter today's desktop-accessed Web sites. That's good user experience and good for business.

Luke Wroblewski

Focusing through the mobile lens also puts a large focus on performance

  • 75% of mobile web users expect a site to load as fast or faster on their mobile device
  • 60% of mobile web users expect a site to load in 3 seconds or less before leaving and not coming back
  • If a user abandons your mobile site, 33% will go to a competitor's site, and 78% will only retry a site two times or less

What may seem like minuscule performance gains can quickly add up

These Statistics are from 2006!

The lessons we take from the mobile lens should not be restricted to our mobile presentation

We should carry them down our API into our Content Strategy

We should carry them up to our large screen presentations

We should carry them out to our native app presentations

Mobile users want to see our menu, hours, and delivery number. Desktop users definitely want this 1MB .png of someone smiling at a salad.

Mat Marquis

We're going on a field trip!

We're going outside to give mobile design on the go a go

Progressive Enhancement

The Web is an Inherently Unstable Medium

Ethan Marcotte

Take away what we can't know

  • Screen size
  • Device Capabilities
  • Concurrent Activities
  • Depth of Focus
  • Purpose of Visit

Take away the make believe. Take away what we can't know. They're fantasies.

Jason Pamental

There is no mobile web, no desktop web. There is only the web

But the web is different things to different browsers

Don't think about "mobile content", think "what can this device do with the content

Device Detection is Bad

Do not work in device silos or try and categorize devices, it's meaningless

Each browser version on each device behaves differently, with more being released monthly. Attempting to categorize them all or target them individually is a fool's errand.

Instead, care about determining what features are available and enhance the experience based on those features

Start with a baseline experience

Enhance the experience when a user's browser/device pair is capable

Check to see how capable a browser/device pair is using feature detection

Ensure your content is available without enhancements

Throw away the phrase "Pixel Perfect"

Your site will look different across browsers

Responsive Web Design

'Responsive' is Not a Line Item. It's Design.

Jason Pamental

What Do You Need for RWD?

As outlined in Ethan Marcotte's Phrase-Coining A List Apart article, Responsive Web Design needs the three following things:

  • Media Queries
  • Fluid Grids
  • Flexible Media

Media Queries

Media queries are a CSS3 feature allowing styling changes based on viewport based conditions

They are the key for tweaking our designs as they stop looking good

They tend to be abbreviated as breakpoints or tweakpoints

Start with the small screen first, then expand until it looks like shit.


Stephen Hay

The best responsive sites will have many small tweakpoints to slightly alter a component's appearance

Fewer and farther between are breakpoints that make large appearance changes to the whole site

Usually you'll have between 20 and 50 media queries in a project

If You Find You Only Have 3-4 Media Queries, You've Probably Done It Wrong

In order to effectively create responsive sites, design really needs to be done in browser

It is impractical to create Photoshop files for each and every variation in a component and layout

Photoshop can be used as a sketch tool, but it cannot be used to make final design decisions

Fluid Grids

Why A Grid?

Grids enforce proportion and constraint on your design

They provide order and structure to your information.

The best grid is specific to your content and your design, as it is an extension of both.

Web Grids Are Hard

  • Many and varied display sizes
  • Variable content lengths, sizes, and types
  • Numerous reading modes
  • Wide potential range of additional user distractions

We Cannot Think About Web Grids And Print Grids The Same Way

This Crap Doesn't Fly Anymore

Villard De Honnecourt, 13th Century

Honnecourt Grid Honnecourt Grid - 800 Years Ago

Villard De Honnecourt, Today

Honnecourt Grid Today

There are two types of grids:

  • Symmetric Grids: Each column is the same size
  • Asymmetric Grids: Columns are different sizes

Symmetric grids are boring and don't help us enhance our content

Symmetric Grid

Asymmetric grids are more interesting, providing new constraints to help us enhance our content

custom asymmetric grid
column sizes chosen by design needs

Custom Asymmetric Grid

compound asymmetric grid
columns calculated by overlaying two symmetric grids

compound Asymmetric Grid

ratio asymmetric grid
columns calculated based on specific ratio

ratio Asymmetric Grid

spiral asymmetric grid
calculated based on intersections of a spiral

spiral Asymmetric Grid

Your grid does not need to stay the same throughout the whole spectrum of your design

As design needs change, so can the grid. But don't deviate from a grid once chosen

Flexible Media

Flexible media means two things:

  • Media that fluidly fills the space it occupies
  • Alternate forms of the same media

Fluid media is fairly easy to do entirely in CSS

  • In CSS:
    img, video { max-width: 100%; height: auto;}
  • Intrinsic Ratios for embedded media

Alternate media is much harder

  • No standard for responsive images
    • Editorially controlled content
    • Based on image's size needs
    • Still feels fast
  • Audio and video are hard
    • Different format support across browsers
    • Cannot rely upon plugins being available
    • No rights management

Still, all content must be available across all browsers and devices

Alternate media is where a well defined Content Strategy really shines

Makes it easy to provide alternatives when needed by the presentation

Don't Despair!

While the implementation of media queries, fluid grids, and flexible and alternative media is hard, lots of smart people have figured most of it out

The next set of trainings will help you learn how to implement a responsive site!

The Whole Pie

Let's put the whole pie in the oven!

Knowing what you do now, redesign your site

Thank You

Slides available at