Interweb Idol: Eric A. Meyer

February 21, 2008


Back in December we asked our customers, “who inspires you?” Armed with that information, we set out to ask those people a few questions.

First in our series: Web standards guru Eric A. Meyer.


Photo of Eric A. MeyerFor those of our readers who might be unfamiliar with you, please give us the basics: age, nickname, serial number…

I’m in my late thirties and never really have had a nickname. They just don’t seem to stick. Similarly, my serial number was filed off years ago. Don’t tell Homeland Security.

Let’s see: I hold a B.A. in history with a small clutch of accompanying minors; I spent two years working for Netscape (long after the really good stock options had been issued, sadly); I’m a big fan of progressive and hard rock but the overall scope of my musical tastes borders on the indiscriminate; and I live in an inner-ring suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, with my wife and daughter. I love it here, so much so that I’ve turned down more than one job offer from Silicon Valley firms because they all would have required me to move out there.

And of course I’ve written six books and a whole bunch of articles, all on the topic of CSS and Web standards, which is what got me on your radar in the first place.

What led you into the world of Web design? And what’s forcing you to stay?

I fell in early, first encountering the Web in late 1993 and CSS in mid-1996. I was just in the right places at the right times. What keeps me here is what lured me onto the Web in the first place: I want to make it as easy as possible for people to share information and experiences.

Do you relate accessibility and standards with Web 2.0?

Certainly! Web 2.0 is just Web evolved. Everything there is built on the same basics, only now it’s been made more complex (and, arguably, more advanced). The problem is that not enough people doing Web 2.0 stuff are thinking about accessibility. The greatest fade-in-pop-out effect in the world is wasted if its technical execution blocks some users from your content.

Are you a designer with a passion for standards, or a “standards guy” who can also do the design, or some other combination of the two?

I’m a “standards guy” who can explain the technology to people who are designers. Designer, not so much. To the extent I can be said to have a design sense at all, it can best be described as “minimalist”. And that’s the charitable version.

What’s the single biggest change you’ve seen in the industry in the last ten years?

Technologically, the adoption of AJAX and related techniques, which make the browser much less dependent on full-page round trips to the server. Professionally, the success of web standards as a best practice — there was a time when that seemed an impossible dream.

What’s the first Web site you ever designed?

The main Web site for Case Western Reserve University. They’ve long since replaced it, and rightfully so; that was an early 1994 design and we’ve kind of moved on. Then again, I’m not convinced their current design is really an improvement.

How do you blow off steam? Have you ever actually burnt out?

Burnt out? Who has time?

How do you avoid distractions in the workplace? Put another way, how important is it to have a great environment for managing your workload?

I work on my own and have a third-floor office, so the only distractions I have are those I bring myself. I don’t know what makes an environment great besides good music and the ability to turn it off as needed, though, so I’ll have to pass on that one.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

An astronaut.

What blogs do you read most often?

The ones I follow that update the most often.

If you could give one piece of advice to people starting out in the field, what would it be?

Love it or leave it. Seriously, this is not a field where you can coast by on “it’ll do for now” or “eh, it’s a living”. There’s too much need to be creative and sharp, and there are too many nagging little problems to deal with on an ongoing basis, to be doing this for anything short of love.

When you find yourself with rare downtime, where can we expect to find you?

What is this “downtime” of which you speak?

Is there anything else we should know that you aren’t telling us?

Because I just wasn’t busy or stressed enough, I founded a conference series with Jeffrey Zeldman called An Event Apart. It’s been going like gangbusters and I’m very proud of what we’ve built, so I always have to bring it up. In fact, I have a wallet full of baby conference pictures if you want to see them.


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