Taking My Talent

The problem with most how-to books, with most guide books, instruction manuals, and text-books, is they aren't written by real people. They aren't written by people who will ever actually do those things, or need that knowledge in any kind of practical way.

Trust me, I know. I spent four months working for my local school board, being one of those people. The fake people, the ones that tell you how everything has to be done, but will never do any of it. I made curriculums, and I taught lessons because I wasn't good enough to be hired by a company to actually do the work I was teaching (what I was teaching happened to be basic computer science and an introduction to HTML, but thatÕs another story). You could call me a fake person, false. Teaching what I could never do. And thatÕs how most how-to books, guide books, and so on, are written. By fakes, not by real people.

It is surprising, then, to find that Taking Your Talent to the Web was written by a real person. The genuine article. He's got a pulse and everything. His name is Jeffrey Zeldman, and aside from being some guy who hangs out on the Internet, he's also a real person. So obviously his book is different. If Jeffrey is a real person (he is, we've corresponded, I can vouch for his authenticity as a human being), then he must have written something other than "most" how-to books. He has.

The first thing you'll notice, at least I noticed, is Jeffrey's gentle sense of humour. This is not something you find often in this kind of book. Well, ok, you find humour all over the place in some of these books, but most of the time it's contrived and ineffective. Jeffrey, being a real person, with a real job in the field he's writing about, manages to make his humour sound sincere, playful, and not the least bit condescending (this, of course, is because it is sincere, playful, and not the least bit condescending; you find those qualities in real people, I'm told). So double plus good so far.

Another interesting thing about this book, is this: Jeffrey writes (sort of) in the first person. If nothing else, it keeps the book from sounding monotonous and technical. It is technical, and if you have some experience designing for the Web, then some of it might be monotonous (because you've probably read articles that cover much of the same ground a thousand times before), but it is never, ever boring. Using the royal "we", and digging into the depths of his experience and knowledge, Jeffrey makes even the most over-worked information seem fresh and exciting (although I may have a bit of an edge, seeing as how I've accustomed myself to reading Jeffrey's royal "we" online).

Taking Your Talent to the Web isn't all quirky prose and funny bits, though. It's a book with Purpose. Its Purpose, is to help make your transition from Whatever It Was You Were Doing (although it is targeted mainly at Print Designers) to Web Design a fairly painless one. There will be headaches, he tells us, and moments of stress, and you'll have to be continually learning, he says, but it's also a hell of a lot of fun. I concur. Like anything else, he explains, it has its little quirks and problems. But you'll get past them. And here's how.

I suppose it's like this incident from my own life (an anecdote, there's a surprise). Once, I wanted to dye my hair blue. Don't ask why, just know that I went through with it, and that it looked great. So the first thing I did was go and look at over-the-counter hair dyes, you know, the cheap ones with the good-looking women on the box. The instructions on the side of the box were basically saying, "We talked to a bunch of professionals, and the method here is the one they figure you are least likely to screw up." Most how-to books (and their ilk) are like that. They tell you what they think you can do without screwing up. Then I went to a professional, and let her dye my hair. She told me exactly what she was doing, because it was the best way for it to be done. And most of the more advanced how-to books (and, of course, their corresponding ilk) are like that. They tell you the best way, and then basically tell you to shut up and don't ask questions while they do it for you (I've heard some Web Design Agencies can be like that too). Neither the over the counter hair dye nor the professional hair stylist told me that even after washing and conditioning, my hair would leave a blue stain on my pillow for at least a week, so I should cover it in a towel that I wasnÕt particularly attached to (so as to preserve the pillowcase). If Taking Your Talent to the Web were blue hair dye, it would have told you about the pillowcase thing.

ThatÕs because Jeffrey is a real person, with a real job in the industry, who knows what's going on. He's looking out for you, in a capitalist sort of way. This is how it's done, the book says, here's the best way, and here are some of the bumps you'll face along the way. But most of all, here's the best way to approach it. Jeffrey's been there. Take my advice and buy this book so you can take his.