Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

Jason Fried of 37Signals suggests gingerly that too much attention is being paid to the minute details of Web site implementation, and in doing so he rang an alarm bell loudly enough to distract me from severe personal distress. He explained, as part of a SXSW Interactive recap:

“I’d like to think I introduced new and different ways to approach common UI quandaries with my presentation, but I left the conference looking for more. And not necessarily more presentations, but more conversation in the hallways. All I could hear was CSS CSS CSS.”

[Emphasis mine — BMH]

As some of the most visible cheerleaders for Cascading Style Sheets and related standards, the Web Standards Project, its individual members, and its supporters all need to account for this alleged trend, in this author’s opinion.

I am reminded of the way things were in 1995, when <TABLE>s were the latest and greatest design tool on the web, and anybody who had pretensions to securing a web design job needed to learn how to implement them.

Things have come full circle with the advent of CSS, except that this time things are being done the way they were meant to be done in the first place.

When CSS is used properly, you can change the presentation of a site without changing the arrangement of the information it provides to the visitor, and vice versa… but between browser incompatibilities and the fact that CSS itself was designed to be terse rather than verbose, tricks need to be learned before the conscientous web designer can utilize its full potential.

I believe that a transitional focus on technique is something to be expected.

Stating that things make perfectly good sense as a matter of course does not, however, address Jason’s complaint: that seemingly, preoccupation with CSS (and other technical skills) is causing designers to forget the audience.

Since I’m not a researcher and I wasn’t at the conference, I don’t have enough knowledge to attempt an argument for or against that assertion.

However, I can suggest a way out of the trap that assertion describes:

Keep it simple.

That’s accomplished when a web designer answers a single question:

Does this { page | element | stylesheet rule | copy | image | feature } help the visitor to satisfy their reasons for visiting the site in the first place?

If the answer is “yes”, then follow your intent.

If the answer is “no”, then leave it out and come up with an idea that will give you a clear opportunity to develop whatever skill you were hoping to address.

If you don’t know the answer to the preceding question, then you’re in trouble, because you’ve forgotten the audience.

To build a genuinely good site might require standards compliance, but standards compliance by itself is no guarantee that you’ll build a good site.

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