Of all the kinds of conversation that recur on the web as predictably as hemlines rise and fall, the weirdest and least productive is the establishment of an artificial opposition between areas of expertise.
The assumption – which does not stand up to investigation – is that if you pay attention to one thing, you must be falling down on another. For instance, if you think about the people who use your site, you must be a bad designer. Or if you torture-test the backend, you probably don’t even bother proofreading the text.
Silly, isn’t it? Doesn’t make much sense. It’s like claiming that Peter Jackson didn’t care about the scripts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (which he co-wrote) because he hired brilliant costume designers. Or that he didn’t think about the acting because he devoted so much energy to the special effects. The truth is, Jackson and his collaborators thought about all of it.
And on a much less exalted (or at least less entertaining) level, so do most web designers and developers.
Yet here a few weeks ago was Greg Storey:
You can style a site six ways to Sunday but unless it does something to improve the metrics for which the design has been made, well it won’t amount to a pile of nested tables.
Greg’s premise: If you think too hard about your content’s underlying structure or the CSS that powers the layout, you must not give a damn about the site’s effectiveness. How does the one follow the other? Beats me. I love Greg Storey. He’s a smart, talented guy. We’ve hung out some, and we’ve worked together on a project. I’m not sure why he’s setting up this false opposition between markup and metrics. When I first read it, I decided not to comment.
But then Jason Fried of 37signals held forth thusly:
There’s way too much talk about CSS and XHTML and Standards and Accessibility and not enough talk about people.... UI designers are making the same old fundamental “forgetting about the human being on the other side” mistakes — except this time their code looks better.
Now the context of Jason’s remarks is the SXSW Interactive Festival, which he attended this year and I did not. But in reviewing the schedule, I counted two CSS panels and five or six variations on “How to make money with your weblog.” Hardly a deluge of “CSS and XHTML and Standards and Accessibility.”
But even if there was a deluge, how would learning about CSS preclude thinking about the human being who uses your site? Seems to me you need to both. And you need to do more than that — you, or at any rate, your team, need to think about many things to create an effective website.
And it gets harder to build an effective team if the UI designer distrusts the graphic designer, who hates the writer, who can’t stand the lead developer, who looks down his nose at the systems administrator, who’s convinced that the information architect is a useless hack — and don’t even ask what they all think of the client.
True partnership starts with respect. Which becomes harder to establish when professionals bash each other behind artificial either/or arguments.
I know, like, and respect Jason and we’ve worked on a project together. Unless I’m wildly missing his point (or unless his point is restricted to “how I felt about this year’s SXSW panels”), Jason knows better than this. He knows that doing a professional job in one area does not preclude doing a professional job in all of them. Indeed, it is often the opposite.
There are certainly semantic fetishists out there, just as there are people addicted to overdesigned interfaces, and others who think only the words matter — but such people do not represent the industry or the direction in which it is headed. They are mostly juniors, hobbyists, and academics.
According to Amazon, people who bought 37signals’s book, Defensive Design, also bought Designing With Web Standards, Donald Norman’s Emotional Design, Carrie Bickner’s Web Design on a Shoestring, Steve Krugs’s Don’t Make Me Think, and Eric Meyer on CSS. Sounds purty well-balanced to me.
Is web design going in the wrong direction? If it is, silly arguments like these will only drive it there faster. Can’t we all just get along?
In this week’s issue of A List Apart, for people who make websites:
by Mark Wyner
Despite prevailing wisdom to the contrary, you can safely deploy HTML emails styled with good old-fashioned CSS. If you’re not content to roll over and use font tags in your HTML emails, read on.
More highlights and back orders may be found in our Essentials Department.