In light of the major headline across the web world of the new A List Apart launch, there have been a lot of mixed reactions about every portion of this site, most prominently the design, followed by the markup, information architecture and content.
Before I get into too much detail, I need to publicly say how impressed I am with this site. To be fair, be warned that this post is completely biased by my utter affection towards the site. I think that JSM did a bang up job on the design. When he first showed me the initial idea, I was skeptic and responded pretty negatively towards it. I couldn't see his complete vision for it, but the finished version is an exercise in design precision and a superbly smart product.
On the markup end, Eric Meyer shows why he's the right guy for this job. Dig around a little and you'll see how cleverly he interprets some of Jason's design. An example of this is the use of
background-color, imagery, and live text to render the issue number.
Not everyone feels the same way that I do, and I'm all right with that. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. However, even though I have no ownership over this site, it upsets me that some people are so uninformed, and yet rush off to critique mere minutes after the site launches. I spent a good portion of the day, trying to stay in on the massive amount of discussion going on about ALA. I realize that most, if not all, of the comments are well-intentioned, but it's very difficult to offer valuable constructive criticism without spending a good amount of time, just thinking about your opinion in order to logically validate it.
Design taste is relative, so not everyone can be expected to agree, but to conclude—and even assert—that pieces of this design don't serve the intended function is premature. One specific area that has been attacked is the apparent "failure in a branding opportunity." In my opinion, this site (and its counterpart) have a very successful identity. I would also say that most of the dissenters may not have enough of a familiarity with typography to make this decision. Garamond, the typeface used in the logo, is known for it's professionalism as well as friendliness. (In fact, that's why Apple chose to use it in the marketing campaigns for the original Macintosh, the first user-friendly computer.) In terms of qualities, this typeface is dead on. Combine that with a subtle wreathe as a backdrop, a universal symbol for higher learning, and how can you go wrong?
Others have been saying that designing for a larger screen size is a mistake. I can see how it's easy to make this claim, because the statistics of users with certain resolutions don't lie. However, think about the audience. A List Apart caters to the web community. If there's any question of that, its tagline is "for people who make websites." ALA has a responsibility to its readers, not just to inform, but to push the envelope. Designing for a larger resolution is the next natural step in the evolution of web design. A good majority of the population uses 1024x768, and I would guess that an overwhelming majority of ALA readers support a screen res much larger than this. If you can still argue in favor of 800x600, then why not 640x480? Why exclude those readers?