A List Apart 212: Love and Hate

For the Valentine’s issue of A List Apart, we asked you, our gentle readers, what you love and hate about the web.

If you love this issue of A List Apart, give yourself a warm hand. If you hate this issue, slap yourself.

Miss the deadline for submitting your hugs and hates? Not to worry! Join the discussions.

Beneath the law, beyond the validator

O say, can you see? If not, can you sue?
Designing With Web Standards made the point that an inaccessible site could get its owner in trouble. Now a blind student is suing Target, claiming that its inaccessible site violates the Americans With Disabilities Act and various U.S. state laws:
Unitless and Somewhat Slightly Dazed
Although the W3C validator claims that A List Apart’s CSS is flawed, our CSS is actually fine; the validator has a known bug that causes it to incorrectly flag unitless line-heights as errors. So why write unitless line-heights? Eric Meyer, who created A List Apart’s CSS, explains. His post is not only the best primer I’ve ever seen on the subject, it is the only primer I’ve ever seen on the subject—and the only one you need.

Don’t be a beta hater

Yes, Happy Cog has a layout problem in Internet Explorer 7 beta. Not to worry: According to Molly Holzschlag of The Web Standards Project, Microsoft has fixed the problem, as we’ll see in a future IE7 release. The current beta chokes on this rule:

div#headwrap h1	{
	background: transparent url(/i/happycog.gif) 
		top left no-repeat;
	margin: 0;
	border: 0;
	padding: 0;
	padding-top: 100px;
	overflow: hidden;
	height: 0px !important; /* for most browsers */
	height /**/:100px; /* for pre 6.0 IE Win */
	}

It’s an image replacement technique that uses an alternate box model hack.

Designers use box model hacks to compensate for inaccuracies in the way some browsers (mostly Microsoft’s) calculate element widths with respect to padding and borders. I wrote this rule to insert my agency’s logo at the top of the page in visual browsers while presenting a text equivalent for screen readers and nongraphical browsers. The hacks force older Microsoft browsers to display these elements correctly.

When Microsoft released IE5, it was great for its day, but not always accurate. When they released IE6, it was better but not perfect. The company then declared victory and announced that the browser was dead and there would be no more IE browsers forever.

So designers got busy compensating for the standards deficiencies of IE5, IE5.5, and IE6 (and other companies’ browsers), using hacks like those seen here. The idea is to take the hackery out of markup, where it never belonged, and hide it in style sheets.

IE7 beta’s standards accuracy is already very good and getting better, and, despite what you might have heard to the contrary, Microsoft’s engineers are working with the community (and in particular with The Web Standards Project) to identify and fix CSS bugs and errors and to compensate for hacks like the one seen here. Using IE7? Finding bugs? Microsoft and The Web Standards Project want to hear from you.

Read these now

Hungry? Want another bullshit sandwich?
Andy Rutledge in UX Magazine: “Bad design harms business, it does not help it. Websites like Boingboing, Google and eBay are successful in spite of their poorly designed sites, not because of them.”
Blogs versus the NY Times in Google
Jason Kottke at kottke.org: “In 2002, Dave Winer of Scripting News and Martin Nisenholtz of the New York Times made a Long Bet about the authority of weblogs versus that of [The] NY Times in Google…. I decided to see how well each side is doing by checking the results for the top news stories of 2005.”
Metamorphosis
Dan Benjamin in The Hivelogic Narrative: “[W]riting in second person had a negative impact on something critical to the ‘success’ of Hivelogic: it significantly diminished the frequency of posting.”
Airbag: Cheap
Greg Storey in Airbag: “I am loving Google’s new search service based in China. It’s faster and brings up only the most relevant results without having to be some kind of search engine algorithm enthusiast.”

Bookmarks for a rainy Monday

Fresh and preserved petals from my Ma.gnolia bookmarks…

AJAX, Web 2.0 and the Threat to Digital Archives

The more layers of mediation there are between you and the information you’re trying to preserve, the more likely it is that you won’t be able to access that information in the future. For historians, this problem is particularly painful; as information gets wrapped in more and more layers of technology, the profession increasingly relies … on the work of preservationists who keep this “stuff of history” around for future generations.

Create photo galleries in XHTML and CSS
Jonathan Younger’s Photon plugin lets you create photo galleries (like this one, designed by the incomparable Douglas Bowman) by exporting albums from Apple iPhoto to leading blog software environments. Photon supports Movable Type, TypePad, Blojsom, and WordPress. And because it is open-sourced, developers can extend it to work with non-iPhoto gallery software and with additional blogging tools.
Create photo galleries in Flash
Atlanta-based web designer Todd Dominey is that rare artist who understands user experience and graphic design, web standards and Flash. In consequence, his SlideShowPro, a dynamic photo gallery/slide show component for Flash MX 2004, is as luminous as it is utilitarian.

iPhoto , iTunes, iForgotToTest

The headline (“Apple caught cheating on RSS standard”) and the subhead (“New iPhoto feature disregards standards”) of Tom Sanders’s article both suggest that Apple is deliberately breaking the RSS standard with its Photocasting feature in the updated iPhoto application. I think it more likely that Apple’s implementation is simply, grandly inept.

It may be inept through knuckle-dragging unawareness of best practices in web design, as is the case with iWeb’s HTML markup.

Or it may be inept because it was rushed to market. iTunes 6.0.2 and iTunes Updater are incompatible with Panther-based Macs but Software Update installs them anyway. It does this not because Apple wants to punish Panther and iPod users (at least, I hope not) but because, in rushing make its applications compatible with Intel and non-Intel Macs in time for the Macworld conference, Apple seemingly neglected to adequately test on any but the latest models of its hardware and operating systems.

This theory of insufficient testing doesn’t bring back the week I lost tracking down and working around the bugs and breaks Apple dumped on my Titanium Powerbook. And it doesn’t bring back the additional 10GB of drive space the iPod updater eats out of every iPod sold. But it is comforting to believe that these screwups are merely human error and not part of a conspiracy involving the CIA, the big pharmaceutical companies, and the Trilateral Commission.

Year-end blowout

What makes for a good design book?
Lou Rosenfeld, co-creator of information architecture, is looking for people who like to read. Specifically, he is looking for people who like to read about design and user experience. Are you one of them? Then here is your chance to sound off. What vital topics aren’t being covered (or aren’t being covered well) in the design and user experience books you buy? Where are publishers falling down? What are you dying to read? Let Lou know what you think.
Technorati is hiring
Technorati, a real-time search engine that keeps track of what is going on in the blogosphere, seeks a modern web developer, “proficient in state of the art LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) development, with emphasis on PHP and Apache.” More to the point, says Chief Technology Officer Tantek Çelik, the company is looking for one who has kept up with CSS, semantic markup, microformats, and unobtrusive JavaScript.
Even more to the point, Technorati is looking for a smart web person who is tired of big-company bureaucracy, secrecy, and in-fighting, and seeks greater emotional and professional fulfillment—in other words, Technorati is looking for a web person who wants to make a difference. Yes, they really do write job descriptions that way, and not only in San Francisco, where Technorati is based. (Tags: technorati, jobs, webdevelopment.)
Freight for sale
FREIGHT (available from Phil’s Fonts) is a superbly detailed font family created by Brooklyn type designer Joshua Darden. Optimized for screen display, Freight is ideal for web interface design. You can also use it as a default font for such daily computing tasks as reading and writing email—makes a tasty break from Verdana and Georgia. Recent Darden fonts include Meta Headline (created at the behest of Erik Spiekermann and Christian Schwartz) and lovely, funky Omnes.
Kids with cameras

In Calcutta’s red light district, over 7,000 women and girls work as prostitutes. Only one group has a lower standing: their children. Zana Briski became involved in the lives of these children in 1998 when she first began photographing prostitutes in Calcutta. Living in the brothels for months at a time, she quickly developed a relationship with many of the kids who, often terrorized and abused, were drawn to the rare human companionship she offered.

Zana held weekly photography workshops between 2000 and 2003. There the children learned camera basics, lighting, composition, the development of point-of-view, editing, and sequencing for narrative. To Zana’s delight, equipped with inexpensive point-and-shoot 35mm cameras, the children produced incredible work. Their images are explosions of color: self-portraits, family pictures, street scenes, stunning tableaus of Bengali life.

Ruby on Rails podcasts
Audio interviews with David Heinemeier Hansson, who invented Rails and manages it as an open source movement, plus Ruby on Rails heavyweights and pioneers including Dave Thomas, Chad Fowler, Rick Olson, and A List Apart’s Dan Benjamin.
Fairplay defined
Everything you ever wanted to know about the digital rights management technology built into Apple’s iPod, iTunes, and iTunes Music Store. (Except how to turn it off.)

Style vs. Design

With our blessing, the newly launched Adobe Motion Design Center has resurrected our famous article, “Style vs. Design,” originally published in 2000. A few words and references have changed to bring the piece “up to date,” but it is essentially the same article it was five years ago.

First published when web design, buoyed by dot-com dollars, was at its most self-indulgent, the article dared to suggest …

  • That trendy elements are not the same as design
  • That design is communication
  • That most web design is meant to be used
  • That most web design should therefore be usable

It still makes these points and they are still true.

The good news is that in the five years since the article was new, responsible web design has emerged as a practice. And it is being practiced by many people who are first and foremost designers.

The bad news is that college and university design curricula are still mostly about everything but information architecture, usability, application design, user-focused design, accessibility, and web standards.

[tags]zeldman, adobe, style vs. design[/tags]