A new answer to the IE6 question?

In “Universal Internet Explorer 6 CSS,” Andy Clarke proposes a novel approach to the problem that has vexed standards-based designers since time immemorial (or at least since we could quit worrying about Netscape 4).

The problem is IE6. Outdated but still widely used, especially in the developing world, its inaccurate and incomplete CSS support forces web designers and developers to spend expensive hours on workarounds ranging from hacks, to IE6-only styles served via conditional comments, to JavaScript. Some refuse to serve CSS to IE6 at all; others stop IE6 users at the gate. In some situations (personal site, web app used by first-world hipsters), ignoring IE6 may work; but mostly it doesn’t.

After a brief but thorough tour of current IE6 solutions and their limitations, Andy unveils his zinger. He proposes to serve IE6 users a set of universal styles completely unrelated to the design of the site in question. Not unlike Arc90’s awesome Readability plug-in, the styles Andy has designed concern themselves with typographic hierarchy and whitespace. Here’s the theory: make the page easy to read, make it obvious that somebody designed it, and the IE6 user will have a good experience.

(By contrast, block styles from IE6, as some developers suggest, and that user will have a bad experience. Most likely, in the absence of styles, the user will think the page is broken.)

No hammer fits all nails, and no solution, however elegant, will work for every situation. But if we’re open minded, Andy’s proposal may work in more situations than we at first suspect. Where it works, it’s what business folk call a “win, win:” the visitor has a good reading experience, and client and developer are spared tedium and expense.

Check it out.

[tags]IE6, workarounds, design, development, webdesign, hacks, legibility, styles, CSS, andyclarke[/tags]

Your Guide to An Event Apart Boston

The complete schedule for An Event Apart Boston is now online for your reading pleasure.

Join Eric Meyer and your humble host with truly special guest speakers Jason Santa Maria, Jeremy Keith, Joshua Porter, Whitney Hess, Dan Cederholm, Daniel Mall, Derek Featherstone, Aarron Walter, Scott Thomas, Heather Champ, Andy Clarke, and GoodBarry’s Brett Welch for two days of design, code, and content.

An intensely educational two-day conference for passionate practitioners of standards-based web design, An Event Apart brings together thirteen of the leading minds in web design for two days of non-stop inspiration and enlightenment. If you care about code as well as content, usability as well as design, this is the one you’ve been waiting for.

Educational discounts and group rates are available, and everyone saves $100 during the early bird registration period.

Comments off.

[tags]aneventapart, AEA, webdesign, conference, webstandards[/tags]

ALA 275: Duty Now For The Future

What better way to begin 2009 than by looking at the future of web design? In Issue No. 275 of A List Apart, for people who make websites, we study the promise and problems of HTML 5, and chart a path toward mobile CSS that works.

Return of the Mobile Style Sheet

by DOMINIQUE HAZAËL-MASSIEUX

At least 10% of your visitors access your site over a mobile device. They deserve a good experience (and if you provide one, they’ll keep coming back). Converting your multi-column layout to a single, linear flow is a good start. But mobile devices are not created equal, and their disparate handling of CSS is like 1998 all over again. Please your users and tame their devices with handheld style sheets, CSS media queries, and (where necessary) JavaScript or server-side techniques.

Semantics in HTML 5

by JOHN ALLSOPP

The BBC’s dropping of hCalendar because of accessibility and usability concerns demonstrates that we have pushed the semantic capability of HTML far beyond what it can handle. The need to clearly and unambiguously add rich, meaningful semantics to markup is a driving goal of the HTML 5 project. Yet HTML 5 has two problems: it is not backward compatible because its semantic elements will not work in 75% of our browsers; and it is not forward compatible because its semantics are not extensible. If “making up new elements” isn’t the solution, what is?

[tags]HTML5, mobileCSS, webstandards, alistapart, johnallsopp, W3C, Dominique Hazael-Massieux[/tags]

ALA 272: Accessible web video, better 404

In Issue No. 272 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

This is How the Web Gets Regulated

by JOE CLARK

As in finance, so on the web: self-regulation has failed. Nearly ten years after specifications first required it, video captioning can barely be said to exist on the web. The big players, while swollen with self-congratulation, are technically incompetent, and nobody else is even trying. So what will it take to support the human and legal rights of hearing impaired web users? It just might take the law, says Joe Clark.

A More Useful 404

by DEAN FRICKEY

When broken links frustrate your site’s visitors, a typical 404 page explains what went wrong and provides links that may relate to the visitor’s quest. That’s good, but now you can do better. With Dean Frickey’s custom 404, when something’s amiss, pertinent information is sent not only to the visitor, but to the developer—so that, in many cases, the problem can be fixed! A better 404 means never having to say you’re sorry.

[tags]alistapart, closedcaptioning, captioning, captions, webvideo, video, accessible, accessibility, 404, error, reporting, usability, programming, design, webdesign, webdevelopment[/tags]

Real type on the web?

A proposal for a fonts working group is under discussion at the W3C. The minutes of a small meeting held on Thursday 23 October include a condensed, corrected transcription of a discussion between Sampo Kaasila (Bitstream), Mike Champion (Microsoft), John Daggett (Mozilla), Håkon Wium Lie (Opera), Liam Quin (W3C), Bert Bos (W3C), Alex Mogilevsky (Microsoft), Josh Soref (Nokia), Vladimir Levantovsky (Monotype), Klaas Bals (Inventive Designers), and Richard Ishida (W3C).

The meeting started with a discussion of Microsoft’s EOT (Embedded OpenType) versus raw fonts. Bert Bos, style activity lead and co-creator of CSS, has beautifully summarized the relevant pros and cons discussed.

For those just catching up with the issue of real type on the web, here’s a bone-simple intro:

  1. CSS provides a mechanism for embedding real fonts on your website, and some browsers support it, but its use probably violates your licensing agreement with the type foundry, and may also cause security problems on an end-user’s computer.
  2. Microsoft’s EOT (based on the same standard CSS mechanism) works harder to avoid violating your licensing agreement, and has long worked in Internet Explorer, but is not supported in other browsers, is not foolproof vis-a-vis type foundry licensing rules, and may also cause PC security problems.

The proposed fonts working group hopes to navigate the technical and business problems of providing real fonts on the web, and in its first meeting came up with a potential compromise proposal before lunch.

Like everyone these days, the W3C is feeling a financial pinch, which means, if a real fonts working group is formed, its size and scope will necessarily be somewhat limited. That could be a good thing, since small groups work more efficiently than large groups. But a financial constraint on the number of invited experts could make for tough going where some details are concerned—and with typography, as with web technology, the details are everything.

I advise every web designer who cares about typography and web standards—that’s all of you, right?—to read the minutes of this remarkable first gathering, and to keep watching the skies.

[tags]web typography, typography, standards, webstandards, W3C, fonts, embedded, @fontface, EOT, workinggroup[/tags]

A List Apart is changing

A List Apart, for people who make websites, is slowly changing course.

For most of its decade of publication, ALA has been the leading journal of standards-based web design. Initially a lonely voice in the desert, we taught CSS layout before browsers correctly supported it, and helped The WaSP persuade browser makers to do the right thing. Once browsers’ standards support was up to snuff, we educated and excited designers and developers about standards-based design, preaching accessibility, teaching semantic markup, and helping you strategize how to sell this new way of designing websites to your clients, coworkers, and boss.

Most famously, over the years, writers for ALA have presented the design community with one amazing and powerfully useful new CSS technique after another. Initially radically new techniques that are now part of the vocabulary of all web designers include Paul Sowden’s “Alternative Styles,” Mark Newhouse’s list-based navigation, Eric Meyer’s intro to print styles, Douglas Bowman’s “Sliding Doors,” Dave Shea’s “CSS Sprites,” Dan Cederholm’s “Faux Columns,” Patrick Griffiths and Dan Webb’s “Suckerfish Dropdowns,” Drew McLellan’s “Flash Satay,” and so on and so on. There are literally too many great ones to name here. (Newcomers to standards-based design, check Erin Lynch’s “The ALA Primer Part Two: Resources For Beginners“.)

Web standards are in our DNA and will always be a core part of our editorial focus. Standards fans, never fear. We will not abandon our post. But since late 2005, we have consciously begun steering ALA back to its earliest roots as a magazine for all people who make websites—writers, architects, strategists, researchers, and yes, even marketers and clients as well as designers and developers. This means that, along with issues that focus on new methods and subtleties of markup and layout, we will also publish issues that discuss practical and sometimes theoretical aspects of user experience design, from the implications of ubiquitous computing to keeping communities civil.

The trick is to bring our huge group of highly passionate readers along for the ride. My wife likens it to piloting the Queen Mary. (Q. How do you make the Queen Mary turn left? A. Very, very slowly.)

The slow, deliberate, gradual introduction of articles on business and theory has not pleased all of ALA’s readers, some of whom may unrealistically wish that every issue would present them with the equivalent of a new “Sliding Doors.” It is possible, of course, to publish one CSS (or JavaScript or Jquery) article after another, and to do so on an almost daily basis. We could do that. Certainly we get enough submissions. The trouble is that most articles of this kind are either edge cases of limited utility, or derivatives that do not break significant new ground. (Either that, or they are flawed in our estimation, e.g. relying on dozens of non-semantic divs to create a moderately pleasing, minor visual effect.)

We review hundreds of articles and publish dozens. Some web magazines seem to have those proportions reversed, and some readers don’t seem to mind, and that’s fine. But any content you see in ALA has been vetted and deeply massaged by the toughest editorial team in the business. And when you see a new “design tech” article in our pages, you can be sure it has passed muster with our hard-ass technical editors.

Moreover, the fields of meaningful new CSS tricks have mostly yielded their fuels. We’ve done that. We’ve done it together with you. While a few new lodes of value undoubtedly remain to be tapped, we as a community, and as individuals who wish to grow as designers, need to absorb new knowledge. ALA will continue to be a place where you can do that.

When we began focusing on web standards in 1998, we were told we were wasting readers’ time on impractical crap of little value to working designers and developers. But we kept on anyway, and the things we learned and taught are now mainstream and workaday. While we apologize to readers who are again being made irritable by our insistence on occasionally presenting material that does not fall directly within their comfort zone, we hope that this experiment will prove to be of value in the end.

[tags]alistapart, webdesign, magazine, editorial, content, focus, change, publishing, standards, webstandards, css, design, layout, userexperience[/tags]

Save the Accessibility Institute

Join Knowbility in urging the University of Texas to reconsider its decision to close the Accessibility Institute, founded and led with distinction by the late Dr. John Slatin. Keep John’s work alive. Sign the petition.

[tags]accessibility, johnslatin, accessibility institute[/tags]

ALA No. 265: better experience

In Issue No. 265 of A List Apart, for people who make websites: The web is a conversation, but not always a productive one. In “Putting Our Hot Heads Together,” Carolyn Wood shares ways to transform discussion forums and comment sections from shooting ranges into arenas of collaboration. Plus: Because of limited awareness around Deafness and accessibility in the web community, it seems plausible to many of us that good captioning will fix it all. It won’t. In “Deafness and the User Experience,” Lisa Herrod explains how to enhance the user experience for all deaf people.

P.S. The Survey for People Who Make Websites closes Tuesday, August 26. Don’t miss your chance to help educate the world about the practice of our profession. Please take the survey and encourage your friends and colleagues who make websites to do likewise.

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[tags]alistapart, deafness, user experience, UX, accessibility, collaboration, discussion, comments, community [/tags]

The Survey for People Who Make Websites

It’s back, it’s improved, and it’s hungry for your data. It’s A List Apart’s second annual survey for people who make websites.

I took it! And so should you. The Survey for People Who Make Websites.

Last year nearly 33,000 of you took the survey, enabling us to begin figuring out what kinds of job titles, salaries, and work situations are common in our field.

This year’s survey corrects many of last year’s mistakes, with more detailed and numerous questions for freelance contractors and owners of (or partners in) small web businesses. There are also better international categories, and many other improvements recommended by those who took the survey last year.

Please take the survey and encourage your friends and colleagues who make websites to do likewise.

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[tags]survey, web design survey, webdesign, webdevelopment, professional, alistapart[/tags]