12 August 2004 1 pm est

Silence and Noise

Until January I was continually on the move, speaking to companies, groups, and associations. The road show stopped when The Wife and I learned that she was with child. Unwilling to leave her side, I cancelled engagements across the US and abroad. When approached with new and tempting offers, I just said no.

Shattering the habit of speaking gave me time to consider what was worth talking about, should I choose to speak again. It gave me time to ponder what was worth writing about, what was worth publishing.

For some years I’ve been promoting web standards as a practical solution to problems all web publishers face. Demand for that presentation hasn’t dried up. Plenty of companies and organizations desire a pep talk to push them into adopting standards-based design.

But I’m not the boy making that speech, and creatively of late I’ve been more concerned with design, content, and usability. Web standards are part of the picture, but not its focal point, except when I’m considering the semantics of a site’s content, inventing a new technique, or tricking Internet Explorer into emulating a browser.

I garaged the road show as a husband but I’ve benefited as a designer: Working with a few good partners for a few good clients, I push past what I thought were my limitations, and, even better, I learn something every day. When I eventually take the show back on the road, I’ll have interesting new material to share. Hint: if you do any public speaking or if you write about your work (even just on your blog), make certain your contract stipulates your right to lecture or write about aspects of the work you’ve been hired to perform — and be sure the client signs the contract.

As I design more and write less, I’ve tried to maintain an interest in new ideas about standards-based design, and there are great ideas out there. But I find many of the things I read to be unhelpfully narrow in scope.

I’ve seen people debate whether “leading” web designers are all using the h1 header element exactly the same way on their personal sites. The question isn’t meaningless but it feels small and slightly beside the point. Likewise, the same ancient arguments about XHTML keep slopping to the surface. Don’t we have bigger water animals to sauté?

In 1998, despite the excellent work of the W3C, its baseline standards were mainly ignored by web design professionals, in part because the turf wars, head-of-a-pin arguments, and buzzwords of many who paid attention to W3C technologies seemed to have little bearing on what most of us did for a living. Now that some of us have helped bring standards into the mainstream, wouldn’t it be best to keep them there? If we wish to incorporate these hard-won technologies into practical, real-world practice, let’s not turn off the uncommitted or uninformed by raging about minutia.

Previously in The Daily Report...

ALA 186: Triple Issue
Dan Benjamin: A Better Image Rotator. Brian Suda and Matt Riggott: Enhance Usability by Highlighting Search Terms. Kevin Potts: Better Invoices for Better Business.
Safer than Kabul
Citicorp Center is declared a terror target, and I’m on my way to a meeting a few blocks north of it.
Only defenestrate...
Douglas Bowman’s “Throwing Tables Out the Window” is a compelling crash course and proof of concept on the business benefits of designing with web standards.
The New Samaritans
Robert Andrews summarizes an emerging “good samaritan” phenomenon in which independent web designer/developers, frustrated by a hard-to-use or inaccessible site, voluntarily rework the site in question, “right under embarrassed proprietors’ noses.” The work, typically performed for free, most often focuses on front-end improvements to key top-level pages. Such makeovers form a roadmap for turning a confusing or inaccessible or bloated site into a more usable, accessible, and streamlined one. Yet rarely do potential corporate benefactors take advantage of the free work done on their behalf...
Faces We Love: Heine’s Tribute
This family of eight fonts, legible at even the smallest sizes, is perfect for designs requiring an aged or antique feeling.
Architectural Digest vs. This Old House
How vs. why in web design. (ALA No. 184 and drop-down menus.) When web designers discuss their craft, they almost always focus on how to do a thing, rather than what things should or should not be done. As an industry, we are more like “This Old House” than Architectural Digest.
Production for Use
To understand and evaluate any design, you must consider the use context for which it was created. A case study and lessons therein. The beginnings of a broader approach to understanding web and interface design (including the relative importance of web standards).
Clarendon is the new Helvetica
The quirky slab serif has been quietly undergoing a renaissance similar to that enjoyed by Helvetica in the 1990s.