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Ten questions for Nick Finck

11-May-04

Nick Fink

Nick Finck is the publisher of Digital Web Magazine, and the author of numerous web-related articles. He has been a judge for the Webby Awards, Philippine Web Awards, Everyday Life design competition and the South by Southwest Web Awards. He has also presented lectures to groups including the American Society for Information Science and Technology, The Society for Technical Communication (STC), SXSW Interactive and Web Design World to name a few.

[1] Russ: What is the philosophy behind Digital web magazine?

Well, our philosophy has always been "giving back" and educating the web community as whole. The idea is that we get the best and brightest experts in the industry to write great articles on current trends and hot topics. We have formalized this via a new mission statement and communication strategy thanks to Krista Stevens.

[2] Russ: How long have you been working on Digital web magazine and how have you managed to stay so enthusiastic?

Well, the domain was launched back in 1996, shortly after that the idea of creating a magazine came to mind. I was able to craft that into a reality in 1998 with a lot of great help. The magazine actually ended up launching in 1999. So we are coming up on our eighth anniversary.

I think the thing that keeps me so enthusiastic about the magazine is the talent that is behind it. We always see new talent coming in to help out. One night recently, I spent about two hours going back and forth on design comps with Didier Hilhorst, a very talented designer from The Netherlands. There are no boundaries on the Web and because of that we get to experience creative ideas from all kinds of cultures and backgrounds.

[3] Russ: You have recently reworked parts of the site. What has the user feedback been like since the change?

In a word: astounding. I think we have received more positive feedback about redesigning just the home page than I ever have for any other web project I've worked on. I imagine Keith Robinson and Paul Scrivens would agree with me here. The readers love the ease of use and how the fresh content is up front. The designers love the style (big thanks to Ken Westin and Doug Bowman there), and the IAs love the organization of it. This is only a small glimpse of things to come.

[4] Russ: Re-visiting articles like "Building with Rusted Nails", it struck me that you have been writing about web standards for a long time now. Do you think the web development community has finally got the message?

I think the web community, specifically those who are tapped into the industry, really know this now; it's become our mantra. I think it's great that web standards are still the hot topic, but I think it is time the community started directing those efforts to teaching others on the outside about the benefits of web standards. I would guess that 75% of the Web industry is not really tapped in to what the community is doing or saying, they are too busy working and trying to get by. Those are the people we need to talk web standards to. I try to make an effort to do this every once in a while and it still amazes me the responses I get once the light clicks on.

[5] Russ: You have said "Structure drives design". What exactly is structure and how important is it when building web sites?

Structure is the foundation in which good design is built. Just like a house, you wouldn't build it without blueprints and laying the foundation first. Structure is perhaps the most important thing that goes into a web site. Without structure the site is just a pile of broken 2x4s and sealed off doorways. In technical terms, structure is everything from the conceptual wireframes, to the tangible markup and coding. This is not to say design itself isn't extremely important to the image that the site coveys, but if a site just looks good and doesn't function properly it's really of no use to anyone.

[6] Russ: You are a strong supporter of liquid layouts. Why are liquid layouts better than fixed width layouts and how do you overcome major drawbacks like line length?

I think the biggest reasons why some designers may be against the idea of liquid design is 1) because it's hard to represent in a graphical comp file 2) it's hard to implement and 3) most designers misunderstand how line length should be handled in a liquid design. It's true, it is not easy. Certainly not as easy as a fixed width design. However, ask yourself what piece of software just left empty white space to the right when you were using a larger desktop area? None. Users want the web experience to be native and transparent with the way they do things in their other software. This is why I think it is important to use liquid web design.

As far as line length goes, we all know that the optimal reading length for paragraphs of text is right around four inches visually. Because of this it is often thought that when using a liquid design, the text will expand greater than four inches. This isn't true. A developer can simply define a fixed length for the paragraphs of text and allow the rest of the user interface to be liquid. This can be done in CSS as easy as it is to do using tables, so there is no need to revert back to the old spacer GIFs and so forth of table-based design.

[7] Russ: Is independent web publishing important or relevant today?

Yes, even more so than ever before. One of the greatest things about the web is the low barrier to entry. Anyone who can use Microsoft Word could probably set up a web log and dispense their opinions, insights, poetry or photography on demand daily for free or next to nothing. That's pretty significant considering the printed press used to be a very elusive and expensive medium. I look back to how wide-spread blogging has become and every time I think it is about to plateau, someone new comes out with a new way of doing things and it continues to increase in popularity.

[8] Russ: Is it possible to make money directly from blogging?

Well, yes, you can directly make money from a blog, but it is not as easy as it may sound. I find that the return on investment from blogging does not often come in the form of cash in your pocket but via other methods. For example, industry brand recognition and word-of-mouth marketing (one of the most powerful marketing methods known to man).

[9] Russ: What developments in blogging will we see in the future?

Short term, I think one of the things we will see more of in the future is not so much revenue directly generated by blogs, but more of blogs being used as tools to help decrease production and maintenance costs. A really hot topic lately has become Intranet blogs and Klogs (Knowledge Management blog), we are probably going to see the advent of the hybrid CMS/blogging tools.

Long term, I think the other thing we are going to see is better information design and process. What I mean by this is that I think that the more available and portable information becomes the more likely this will be integrated into other information systems. We are already starting to see some of this happening at places like Google.

Eventually I can see going to a public search engine, typing in the name of my favorite TV show and getting back results that show when the next episode is playing, on what channel, reviews if it's a re-run, maybe even references to the actor's and director's blog and cross-references to related information such as what city it's being shot in and cheapest flights there. Sure, a utopian view, maybe, but at the rate things are going I see it as inevitable.

[10] Russ: What is WebVisions?

WebVisions is an annual conference I help out with that is run by the folks at Hot Pepper Studios and the DevGroup NW. The focus is to explore the future of the Web and though that may seem like a lot of spin, we have had some pretty good presentations by such visionaries as Jeffrey Zeldman, Jeffrey Veen, Jesse James Garrett and Kelly Goto. It seems that every year the conference almost doubles in size, and the format expands and changes with that. This year will be big; we are expecting a phenomenal turnout with some pretty big speakers.

Russ: Thank you for the interview, Nick!
Nick: Thank you for the opportunity, Russ.

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