AppleMatters Interview: Jeffrey Zeldman Talks Apple

by Hadley Stern Jul 18, 2003

Jeffrey Zeldman is very well known and respected in the online community. Since 1995 he has been informing, entertaining, and enriching the design community through As a pioneer in the movement towards web standards he is a passionate advocate of the sensible use of technology and design. His most recent book, Designing With Web Standards, is a must-read for anyone involved in the deployment of web-sites and his previous book, Taking Your Talent to the Web: A Guide for the Transitioning Designer, is the only book you will need if you are a print designer looking to design for the web.

Jeffrey also uses Apple technology in everything he does. AppleMatters caught up with Jeffrey recently, asking him some questions about his use of Apple’s products.

How long have you been using a Mac?

I’ve been using Macs since 1994. Once I switched, I never looked back.

Why is it your preferred platform?

I spend eight to twelve hours a day working. I want to work in the best possible environment. The Mac provides that environment. In the same way that I wouldn’t want to toil in a windowless office or wear tight uncomfortable clothes all day, I prefer that the tool with which I earn my living and express myself be as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.

Mac OS provides the most elegant user experience and is the easiest and most intuitive operating system I’ve found. Text looks better on a Mac. Tools work better, file maintenance is easier, the look and feel is richer.

The Macintosh user community skews creative and independent, and I like being part of that kind of herd. People who use Macs choose to do so. It’s not just some machine in a cubicle. People who choose Macs consider the experience of using a computer to be as important as the fact that a computer lets them get work done. An operating system that removes the abstraction between thought and action is one that lets you be more creative and more productive instead of wasting brain cells trying to remember how to perform tasks.

Why do you think the Mac still has only 5 percent of market share?

Mediocrity outsells genius. Orson Welles, whom many now consider the greatest filmmaker that ever lived, could not get funding in Hollywood, and when he did scrape together the bucks to create a movie, the public mostly ignored it. Today his work lives on in museums and retrospectives.

Then too, more people eat at fast food restaurants than at good restaurants.

By that perspective, 5% is not bad at all.

Apple is a hardware company. It makes elegant machines and does not cut corners. By contrast, you can run Windows on almost any box, and save a few bucks in the process. The price difference between a Mac and a Dell that can do everything a Mac does is negligible. But the perception that Macs cost more has hurt Apple, because it puts Apple into a semi-luxury category. As a result, many consumers will tell you that “Windows is just as good” when what they really mean is they saved fifty bucks.

If most of your audience for the sites is on PC’s shouldn’t you develop on a PC?

Standards are standards. If you design with standards, your sites work across platforms, browsers, and devices. You can therefore design and develop websites on any platform. So the issue becomes, which platform do you enjoy the most? Which gets out of your way and allows to be as productive and creative as possible? For me, the answer is the Macintosh platform.

Macs have another advantage: they come with UNIX, and if you buy Virtual PC you can switch to the Windows view any time you like.

If web standards are all about making things easier for developers wouldn’t it be easier if we all just gave up and used Windows/IE?

It takes the same amount of time and money to design with standards as it does to design for IE/Win only.

If you design with standards, your site will work in Windows, Mac OS, and Linux/Unix. It will work in IE, IE/Mac (which is a different beast), Safari, Mozilla, Opera, Omniweb and Konqueror. It will likely work in Palm Pilots, in text browsers, in web-enabled cell phones, and in screen readers used by people with disabilities. If you spend the same amount of time and money designing for IE/Win only, your site will only work in IE/Win.

It’s the same amount of effort either way. One way you reach everyone. The other way you only reach IE/Win users.

The decision is obvious.

As the world becomes mostly Windows/IE what are the risks for web development?

The web is an open platform and always has been. Certain companies have tried to hijack it and will continue to do so. The challenge hasn’t changed, the risks haven’t changed.

You appeared to have some trepidation about moving to OS X. Are you happy with the move now? What do you miss about OS 9? What do you like best about OS X?

I love OS X now and would never go back. But OS X is buggy - that’s my beef. For instance, I’ll save a Photoshop file (file.psd) and suddenly that file’s icon, instead being of a thumbnail of the Photoshop file I’ve just saved, becomes a folder. It still says “file.psd” but it looks like a folder! I click it and, sure enough, it has become a folder which contains the file I just saved. It’s like that Pink Floyd album where Pink Floyd is holding a photo of Pink Floyd holding a photo of Pink Floyd holding a photo of Pink Floyd holding a photo of Pink Floyd. In OS X the Finder gets scrambled for no reason at all, and the only solution is to log out and log back in, which always clears it up.

One advantage of OS X is that you can have a dozen applications open at the same time without freezing or crashing or needing to restart. But that advantage disappears when your Photoshop files turn into folders containing themselves and you have to log out. In OS 9 you had to restart to avoid memory-related errors. In OS X you have to log out to avoid painfully stupid bugs in the Finder that, when they crop up every few days, make the operating system completely and inexcusably unusable.

I wasted several days trying to “fix” my Powerbook until an Apple developer friend told me that, sadly enough, the OS X Finder is known to be buggy in this way.

Apple had 15 years to refine OS 9. OS X is just a couple of years old. They’ve done an amazing job! But the bugs are maddening. And instead of fixing those bugs (for instance, in a 10.2.7 upgrade to Jaguar), Apple simply moves on to the next version of the OS (10.3), which seems wrong. They should fix all the bugs in Jaguar before asking us to pay for a new version.

Have you experimented with the built in apache/php/sendmail/mysql part of OS X?

I haven’t but many of my peeps have.

What was your first Mac?

The first generation Power Mac, a 6100.

What computer setup do you use now?

Titanium Powerbook (1 GHz PowerPC G4, 1024 MB RAM), Original Apple 22” Cinema Screen, Wireless network

Other Macs in the studio: dual processor 500/500 G4 tower, and another Titanium Powerbook

Have you ever thought of switching to a PC, why, or why not?

Hell, no.

What do you love most about Apple, what do you hate?

Apple is always pioneering new and innovative technologies, it makes beautiful hardware, it takes risks, it provides the best user experience in personal computing, and its design sensibility as a company towers above any of its competitors. I’m a designer and when I use a Mac I feel like a designer. Those are the things, among others, that I love most.

What I dislike in Apple is what my Swedish friend Peyo calls “small ears.” I don’t always feel that the company is listening. Sometimes it seems that millions of Mac users are trying to tell Apple something and Apple doesn’t listen - the company knows best. That is Apple’s only real failing. You might say it comes with the territory: when you’re a visionary, an innovator, you follow your own star - you don’t stop to ask what other people think. That’s a plausible defense, but Macromedia is an example of a brilliantly innovative company that does listen to its users. And Thomas Edison, one of the world’s great inventors, always listened to his staff and to suggestions from anyone. The guy in the corner might have the best idea. I would like to see Apple listen better.

Do you think Apple will ever go away?

My boy, the universe itself will disappear one day. We’ve got to try to enjoy ourselves in the meantime.

Do you think Apple Matters?

I can’t imagine the world without it.


  • Not saying that it doesn’t happen, however… in nearly three years designing on multiple Macs running OS X, I’ve never experienced the “Pink Floyd” Photoshop bug Jeffrey references.  And in my experience with the Finder (which is by no means perfect), I’ve never considered it “buggy.”

    mschindler had this to say on Jul 18, 2003 Posts: 2
  • This ‘interview’ reads like an infomercial.  Somebody cue Ron Popeil.

    zetokore had this to say on Jul 18, 2003 Posts: 2
  • Granted, it reads like an infomercial… sure, I’ve never even heard of the Pink Folyd problem (been with OS X since the PB)... but who cares? Zeldman rocks! Check out his new book… it’s life-changing. No joke.

    Tod had this to say on Jul 18, 2003 Posts: 1
  • “In the same way that I wouldn’t want to toil in a windowless office…”

    But I thought was the whole point: Zeldman doesn’t use Windows.

    Tom Harpel had this to say on Jul 19, 2003 Posts: 1
  • I am loathe to turn this into yet another PC vs. Mac debate, but reading through this interview I became increasingly motivated to post my own opinion on the matters at hand.

    There are some things which I should point out first: I dutifully make my daily trip Zeldman’s site, and I never fail to be fascinated by his ideas and comments. I have used his techniques, and spent hours and days poring over his various examples and links to other sites with examples. That doesn’t even begin to cover the time I’ve spent with A List Apart, which is (IMHO) the best resource for standards and design info I’ve ever used. I’ve been trying to order his latest book through Amazon for a couple weeks now, but every vendor seems to be out of stock.

    Anyway, my point is that I am a fan of this interview’s subject even though I vehemently disagree with his stance and approach to many of the questions asked in the interview.

    For instance:
    “Mac OS provides the most elegant user experience and is the easiest and most intuitive operating system I’ve found. Text looks better on a Mac. Tools work better, file maintenance is easier, the look and feel is richer.”
    This statement, aside from being entirely subjective, is not necessarily accurate. True, the default system settings of a Windows machine are comparatively ugly next to default OSX settings. However, with a minimum of time and effort, a PC can look superficially as good as a Mac (or in my opinion, much better). The typographical argument doesn’t hold water either, with Cleartype settings enabled (and a simple font replacement if the user doesn’t think the defaults look as “good” as a Mac’s).

    I’ve had experience using OSX for video editing at my work. I will be the first to admit that Final Cut is a killer app for the Mac platform, one for which there is no comparison in the PC world… however, that is the only “tool” which I have come across that doesn’t have a superior analog for windows. Mac users (Zeldman among them, apparently) are quick to spout their mantra of “quality over quantity,” but the very fact that there is such a wealth of application creators for windows is a benefit as much as a detriment. It means that somewhere, somebody got it right, and it’s just a matter of looking around a bit to find a superior program for almost every application a computer user would need; and more often than not free or close to it. I’ll admit that there is a major drawback in the market today, in that inexperienced users are content to use an inferior program that “just came with the computer” rather than find a better tool. But that is a mentality which extends to any platform, and it’s more visible among PC users simply because there are so many more of them.

    File maintenance… maybe I’m missing something here, but OSX file maintenance is a joke, in my opinion, even more so than OS9. The Finder is unintuitive and buggy (as Zeldman mentions later on, although I’ve never experienced the photoshop bug he talks about)... although I would certainly agree that there are certain parallels in the Windows world, most especially in the pre-XP days.

    An operating system that removes the abstraction between thought and action is one that lets you be more creative and more productive instead of wasting brain cells trying to remember how to perform tasks.

    Funny, if I read this out of context the first OS that comes to mind is OSX… I guess that just goes to show that the system that someone uses day in and day out is the one that they learn to use the best. Maybe that seems like a common sense sort of statement, but I think it’s overlooked a lot in these obnoxious “who’s got the better operating system” brawls. I know Windows inside and out, and it didn’t take me very long to learn it. I have yet to use an OSX feature that actually makes my experience *easier*, or *better* than Windows in any way (Expos looks really cool though, I must admit). So I would submit that this another subjective opinion that could be debated endlessly, and so it reads like mindless propaganda pervading the interview; by the time I got down to “Hell, no.” I was snorting in exasperation at how useless the line of questioning had become.

    I resent being called a “mindless drone;” not the exact words of Zeldman, but a popular view of Mac users and one implicit in his comments. It also implies that in order to be “creative and independent” I must be rich and stylish, cause I’m gonna be paying out the ass to get that pretty new machine. Zeldman’s comment that a comparable Dell costs the same as its Mac equivalent is completely innacurate; I won’t even go in to how much cheaper build-your-own’s are (mindless drones obviously wouldn’t know much about that).

    This is almost my first ever post to the internet in any form. I have created web sites for others, but personally I’ve never made my own weblog because I wouldn’t know what to say. I’m not a Windows evangelism freak by any means, and I certainly don’t feel strongly anough about the issue to start posting to a weblog about it.

    However, I’ve grown weary of seeing all the press the Mac people get, because they’re the “free and independent thinkers” of the world. It’s an elitist attitude, and one which is in my mind totally unfounded. It’s not the machine that makes the man, it’s his own ideas and drive to make changes for the better in systems that are begging for those changes. In this arena there is no better example than Zeldman, and I suppose that is why I was so affected by reading an interview that seemed like little besides a condemnation of 90% of the people who so avidly follow his views.

    My two cents, for what it’s worth.

    Josh had this to say on Jul 19, 2003 Posts: 1
  • Hmm, a few inaccuracies in Josh’s comments regarding Jeffrey’s comments.

    “The typographical argument doesn’t hold water either…”

    Actually it does, Josh. Yes, type *clarity* is equal on a nice flat screen (I use OSX, OS9, XP and 2000 at work) and I can assure you, that MS has yet to match Apple in typography.

    Can you type ligatures in a Windows system yet? No. Funny, Apple figured out (16 years ago?) that to make a lasting book, worthy of an Edward Tufte approval, you’d need those touches that make a piece professional.

    Try this sometime, and see if I’m wrong. Type a document in MS Word on Windows. Print it out on a laserprinter. Now transfer the doc, or retype it on Mac Word and reprint it. Compare the two. Notice how the Windows version is full of rivers and has inaccurate spacing? Notice how tight and proper the Mac version is?

    That’s what Jeffrey meant. He’s a designer. He notices those touches. Even Quark documents don’t always print the same. It irks me to no end, but it’s true. The tracking simply isn’t as accurate, or on some apps, is completely ignored on a Windows machine.

    Your suggestion, “it’s just a matter of looking around a bit to find a superior program for almost every application a computer user would need.”

    Try telling that to the company head whose tight fists on the budget only wonder why the job isn’t being finished on time. Professionals do not have time to hunt for shareware and plugins all day that do something a proper app can do correctly the first time.

    Our managers (at least in mine and several other’s experience) expect us to make do with what we have and question why we didn’t buy the right program the first time. That’s the world and that’s also why my manager refuses to guve up Macs. He knows.

    Davezilla had this to say on Jul 19, 2003 Posts: 2
  • I’m not trying to take a shot at Mac users when I say this - in fact, I’m a Mac user myself at the office, as are most of my colleagues (I use a PC to develop and run most of our web apps though). I think it’s fair to say I’m taking a shot at Apple.

    My new PC is three times more powerful than JZ’s Titanium. It’s over 1000 cheaper as well. I can run a choice of operating systems (Windows, Linux, Unix) and can choose from a huge range of software of all kinds…can you get many games for the Mac? I’ve never seen many…I’m sure there’s more that could be said.

    In my very humble opinion, Jeffrey’s Titanium just don’t cut it when you compare it to that. The cost alone is prohibitive - laptop PC’s are far more powerful for that price.

    The Mac machines I use in the office are desktops, laptops from older to new machines. I’d trade them in for a PC any day of the week - and from talking to my colleagues, most of them would as well, and they don’t even use PC’s…just their work machines.

    Just my 2cent.

    tomcosgrave had this to say on Jul 20, 2003 Posts: 1
  • Quality is not subjective. Quartz is simply a superior display technology to XP’s.

    Quickly switch between windows in XP - you’ll see an objective difference when the windows fill in piecemeal, or the whole screen flickers due to refresh. Mac OS (even before Quartz) never did that. Mouse pointer feel: solid and precise on mac, inaccurate on PC - similar to driving a BMW vs. Ford Fiesta - this is not subjectivity.

    Interface deisgn on the Mac has always been superior - witness XP still has double level tabs… totally unbelievably unusable, but so easily designed away. Why MS why?

    All they need to do is hire 2-3 lead UI designers worth their salt, redesign every control panel and dialog: and boom, they would be lightyears closer to the Mac OS.

    Nathan had this to say on Jul 22, 2003 Posts: 219
  • also - I emphatically disagree that designing to standards will decrease time - none of the browsers implement standards the same, and never will, thus making this an theoretical discussion.

    last i knew web design and engineering was all in the real world.

    Nathan had this to say on Jul 22, 2003 Posts: 219
  • okay, after reading my last statement - I feel the need to clarify: design with standards for cross-platform/browser use will never be at the high standard of great or even good design.

    why? because an off pixel there an off pixel here, lost functionality here, lost functionality there is not good design. It is almost unacceptable - and for designers to accept that designing with standards without optimization on a platform by browser basis is just not being a designer.

    Nathan had this to say on Jul 22, 2003 Posts: 219
  • WinXP flickers?  Please.  Possibly if you were viewing it on a very slow computer with an old video card.  Of course having the option to run a variety of hardware is unheard of to a Mac user so I’ll let it slide. 

    Macs have a superior interface?  What exactly are those three identical spheres in the corner of every window?  Remember the hockey-puck mouse?  The QuickTime 4 player?  At every opportunity Apple will make something ‘pretty’ and overly simple at the expense of usability.  Sure an on/off switch, eject button, and scroll wheel would be helpful, but doggonnit that might confuse grandma.

    zetokore had this to say on Jul 22, 2003 Posts: 2
  • okay, I’ll respond to the age old PC troll above.

    WinXP flickers - I have witnessed this on the newest VAIO’s, 2Ghz desktops, last years ThinkPads, and I’m sure every other machine - flicker itself is not the cause of an old video card - only how fast (or slow) you see the flicker. The painting of windows is done in blocks - the frame and titlebar draws first, then the background color, then the content. This is a fact, and no evidence is contrary.

    Apple users have long been able to use any variety of RAM, hard drives, optical drives, video cards, peripherals (remember, Apple pioneered the use of USB, firewire, WiFi, Bluetooth), and upgrade processors. The only advantage that PC users have had is a plethora of cases to choose from.

    Apple has had its mistakes - there is now a power up/down button, an eject button, and Logitech amongst others supply multi-button scroll mice with OS X support built in. Apple maintains that a multi-button mouse is for advanced users, and has built in that functionality for those users. Grandma can still function without multi-button mice which is advantageous for Grandma. User testing has proven that one-button mouses are more immediately usable for novices than multi-button mice. A balance needs to be struck, and provisions for all levels of users are there. Not perfect, but there.

    The Quicktime player critique was really a statement about where Apple’s entire UI design was going. That player showed the world the design direction, and many did not believe it was a good direction. Apple has since then restrained from using simulated real-world interfaces in the OS.

    “Pretty and usable” are what designers would rather call: form and function. Always at the foremost of the designer’s mind, it is a balance of the two. Neither should dominate the other if a pleasant interface is to be achieved. If you want pure function - looking to a OS environment is not the place. Well maybe a UNIX terminal is purely function.

    Nathan had this to say on Jul 25, 2003 Posts: 219
  • Just another item that Nathan missed.  Those 3 “identical spheres” are actually 3 different colors (obviously the sign of a person who’s never given OS X more than a passing glance).  If you were to point your cursor up to any of those points you will note that they clarify themselves even further than the colors.  The red one shows an x, the yellow, a dash, and finally the green, a plus.  Hmmm pretty similar to windows…

    TWW909 had this to say on Jul 27, 2003 Posts: 1
  • Skipping right to the bottom…

    OS X is buggy, but for the most part the finder is flawless. I have seent the Folderization of an app once where it turned into a directory if its contents (as though it were not yet compiled) after it was installed. I managed to fix it, but it baffled me!

    I do agree that Apple doesn’t listen. They also deny. “What do you mean the screen broke off your 17” PowerBook? That’s not possible. We won’t fix it.” “Don’t be silly, [CRT] iMacs aren’t loud.” “Don’t be silly, [CRT] iMacs don’t have a weird shifting picture problem.” “What do you mean your [CRT] iMac’s internal mic doesn’t work? That can’t be! Of course it works. You’re doing something wrong.”

    Whatever guys. Just fess up to the fact that you’re not perfect.

    And get a better freakin’ advertising department/team.

    Waa had this to say on Jul 29, 2003 Posts: 110
  • Seems like a really cool guy.  I agree with him on many issues.

    va1entino had this to say on Aug 12, 2003 Posts: 12
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