Under The Influences

Published 20 years, 1 week past

When I pointed to Nick Finck‘s mention of me as an influence, I somehow missed the fact that he was doing it in response to a post by D. Keith Robinson about his Web design influences.  Keith listed me as well.  And before I move on, I’ll join everyone else in congratulating Nick on the Digital Web redesign.

So—I’m still grappling somewhat with the idea that I’ve been a Web design influence to anyone, let alone for people like Nick and Keith.  A quick glance around will tell you I’m no designer.  If I wanted to pretend that I had an aesthetic, I could claim to be a Minimalist, but let’s be frank: my design skills are just not very sharp.  But that’s okay.  I’m content to help spread information about CSS and how to use it, thus allowing designers to get into using it more effectively and intelligently.

It’s an odd feeling to think of myself as An Influence (and that’s how the words sound in my head, at least in this context).  It’s much easier to think about the people who have influenced me.  So here’s my list of the people who have most influenced my activities, outlook, and career path over the past decade.  I expect this will read a bit like Message To The Messengers, but hey, I’ve been around for a while.  There are two things I’d like to make clear up front.  First, these are professional influences, not personal ones (although there is some overlap, of course).  So there are folks out there who have meant a great deal to me, just in other ways.  Second, these are more or less in the order they occurred to me.  No overt attempt at ranking should be inferred.

Jim Nauer

We were college roommates for a year, and not too much later on I worked for him at the University Microcomputer Labs (wall to wall Macintosh SE’s, baby!).  Shortly after that, I graduated from college and was hired by Library Information Technologies, so that made us co-workers.  All along, he’s been a friend.  In fact, he was over at our house yesterday afternoon to spend some time playing with Carolyn.  The Web-centric point of all this is that it was Jim who first dragged me in front of a Mosaic beta, getting me instantly hooked.  He pointed me to the HTML specification, and it was he who convinced me that well-formed markup was important when I tackled my first Web pages in late 1993.  Without that critical early guidance, I might easily have become a table-and-spacer hack, and never seen CSS for what it was.

Tantek Çelik

I’ve said before that Tantek is one of the sharpest thinkers I know, and that’s no less true today.  Furthermore, he’s someone who genuinely cares about doing the right thing and supporting the common good.  I always take his opinions and thoughts on the Web and its technologies seriously.  I may not always agree with him, but even in disagreement I find his insights to be invaluable.  In a way, it’s a pity that his name has come to be associated with the CSS hack he published, because that’s a tiny dot compared to the totality of his efforts on behalf of Web standards and Web design.  I wrote about some of that back when IE/Mac was discontinued.  If you’re a Web designer today, you owe Tantek more than you realize.

Todd Fahrner

Remember Agitprop?  If not, go read it; Todd’s observations on font sizing and styling are still relevant, and help explain a lot about how we got to where we are with font styling on the Web.  Remember the Box Acid Test, which eventually found its way into the CSS1 Test Suite?  That was him too.  You know DOCTYPE switching?  Todd’s idea.  When Todd retired from the Web, it was a sad day for us all, although I’m happy that he’s found activities that are more enjoyable for him.  If you’re a Web designer today, odds are you owe Todd far more than you realize.

David Baron and Ian Hickson

Or, as I sometimes think of them, The Wonder Twins of Mozilla.  Not that they look or act anything alike, and of course Ian works for Opera now, but anyway.  They pounded on me (via e-mail) until I finally understood the inline layout model, and were immensely helpful in making the first edition of CSS:TDG as good as it was.  They’ve both taught me a lot over the years.  They both put a lot of work into making Mozilla a great CSS rendering engine and making CSS itself a better specification.  They both care about standards.  It probably isn’t fair to lump them together, but that’s how I think of them.  (Probably because of their joint work on CSS:TDG.)

Jeffrey Zeldman

Jefferey’s a mensch.  I’m tempted to leave it at that, because what else matters?  And yet he’s also been an enormous force for good, helping found the Web Standards Project.  His writing is easy on the eye and ear, and it goes down smoother than silk.  He’s always trying to better himself and his understanding of how to do the right Web thing, sharing both what he knows and what he doesn’t know, and letting the rest of us learn along with him.

Steve Champeon

Anyone who’s subscribed to Webdesign-L for a while knows The Joy Of Steve.  Unless of course you annoy him, in which case he’ll tell you in detail.  That characterizes Steve himself, actually: he’s a man who cares a great deal about the details, and about getting them right.  If you’ve ever enjoyed the Color Blender, you can thank Steve for its existence, as it was his detailed explanation of how to calculate color midpoints that made me realize that, hey, it would be pretty easy create a tool to do that.  Furthermore, css-discuss is modeled in a great many ways on Webdesign-L, so his influence is felt there too.

Håkon Lie and Bert Bos

They were the lead authors of the CSS1 specification.  In the words of Stan Lee, ’nuff sed!

Chris Lilley

Chris passed on my early test suite work to folks at both Microsoft and Netscape, and was the person who extended the Working Group’s invitation to join as an invited expert.  His dry wit and genial outlook in WG meetings served as an example to me, and helped me mesh with the group much more smoothly than I might otherwise have done.  Fun trivia fact: Chris was moderator the session at WWW5 in which Peter Murray and I presented our paper on the Borealis Image Server.  Followup fun fact: Robert Thau, who presented before us about Apache, sat next to a guy in the audience and talked loudly with him throughout our entire presentation.

Doug Bowman

Doug took Wired News in the direction we’d all wanted to see a major site go, converting to standards-oriented design and making it look good.  Then he shared his experiences with the world, and showed us all how easy it could be.  Even I was surprised at how much was possible, and how much benefit it conferred.  It’s a big part of what got the “business case for standards” discussion going, because it served as a concrete example of the benefits.  I sometimes wonder if I’d have had the nerve to launch Complex Spiral Consulting if that hadn’t happened.  Probably not.

Dave Shea

The CSS Zen Garden—you knew that was coming, right?—opened the floodgates and buried, pretty much forever, the myth that CSS design was all the same, too boring, and too limited for anyone to take it seriously.  It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time that we had to waste energy refuting those claims.  I’ll always be grateful to Dave for ending that debate, and his excellent work on sites like Mozilla.org has been a recent inspiration.

My final, but in no way smallest, person of influence must receive the honor posthumously: my mother.  For a listing of most of the reasons why, I refer you to the eulogy I delivered, but there’s at least one more reason that’s relevant here.

She taught me to believe in myself.

Comments (4)

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    […] concern me and aren’t the point of this post. So there have been a few other design influences discussions the la […]

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    Eric Meyer’s writes about his influences: Under The Influences. He thinks he’s not an influence. If it wasn’t for him and Jeffrey Zeldman my passion for web standards would not exist. On top of that Alt-N’s site would in no way be standa…

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    Treehuggin' pussy

    Eric Meyer schreibt über seine Einflüsse
    eine gute Sammlung toller Designer mit Technikverständnis und Technikern, die Design schätzen. Eric’s Archived Thoughts: Under The Influences…

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    Point Break | Waves

    Corporate XHTML/CSS Power Rankings
    Scrivs posts an interesting list in his Whitespace Power Rankings. It’s a good piece that attempts to narrow down relevant influences from this first half-year. It should be a refreshing list for many. I’m surprised I never came across the eloquent d…