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Politics: Graphic Designers are Allies, not Egotistical Enemies

From: Kynn Bartlett <kynn@idyllmtn.com>
Date: Sun, 17 Dec 2000 10:23:06 -0800
Message-Id: <a05010404b662aca26ac2@[]>
To: "Charles F. Munat" <chas@munat.com>, "'Marti'" <marti@agassa.com>, <jim@jimthatcher.com>, <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
At 1:28 PM -0800 12/16/00, Charles F. Munat wrote:
>But let's go one step further. Kynn argues that <font> does not impede
>accessibility. I don't agree, but even if Kynn were right, the question
>remains, is it needed for accessibility? Kynn seemed to imply in one post
>that using <font> would increase accessibility on Netscape 3.

This isn't what I said.  I said that <font> makes pages "work better"
in Netscape 3.  That actually -may- equate to better accessibility
for people with cognitive disabilities, and it will also improve the

Style is _not_ just pointless trim; style (as used in this conversation)
is essential for graphical communication.  Read any good book on
graphic design, layout, typographies, fonts, etc., and you'll see that
styling of pages isn't "fluff", it's an essential part of visual
communication of information.

>Frankly, I don't think ANY styling of pages is necessary to make them
>accessible. In fact, styling often interferes. Images are useful, as Anne
>points out, for increasing accessibility to those with learning
>disabilities, but the basic structural elements of HTML, together with the
>default formatting of the browser, are all that's required to make a
>document understandable.

No, choice of font, color, graphic type, kerning, and other "styling"
elements can greatly increase understandability.  I understand that
you wish to deny this, but you are simply wrong and are at best
speaking out complete ignorance of how people visually process

>What it all really comes down to is this: web site developers do not want to
>give up *control* over the LOOK of their sites. They can't stand the thought
>that their sites might not look flashy in Netscape 3, or might not look
>identical in Netscape 4 and IE 5.

And you're saying this is an unreasonable concern, and thus isn't
worth caring about.

You realize, of course, that this is the same thing that many people
will say if confronted with the issue of disabled people using the
web?  These stupid blind people don't *understand* that the web is
a visual medium, and they can't stand the thought that there are
people who are getting information that *they* can't get, and so
these ego-driven visually impaired people have to tear down something
which works well, just because someone else has something they
don't have.

Now, of course I don't agree with that.  But if we want those
kind of people to take _our_ needs seriously, then we need to not
just casually dismiss _their_ needs as pure go.

Web designers are _not_ the enemy -- they are our potential ALLIES.
Our greatest, most powerful allies in this entire fight.  If the
web is to become accessible, we must find _common ground_ with
graphic artists, not _demonize_ them and dismiss every concern
they have as some sort of _moral failing_.

If we insist on doing that, we might as well give up now, because
we have already lost.  As long as the perception of artists as
the opposition and styling elements essential to graphical
communication as "worthless", then WAI will have absolutely no
credibility in the web design community.

Understanding and education are the key to our success, and any
dogmatic approach which blindly assigns moral failings to those
people who actually hold the -key- to making web sites accessible
is just going to doom us to an inaccessible world wide web.

>It's not the customers who care. Customers
>want sites that are functional, fast, easy to use and understand, and
>attractive. But they don't care if those sites are green or blue, use Arial
>or Verdana, have vertical rules or white space separation, etc.

You're wrong here.  Customers (by which I assume you mean the
people who pay the web designers to make the site, not the end
users) _do_ care what their sites look like, and _will_ nitpick
choices of font and color.  These are the people who pay the bills and
if you think it does not matter to them, then you are once again
speaking entirely out of ignorance; I would assume that anyone who
would state that the site owner does not care about color or font has
NEVER worked professionally as a web designer.

Now, if you're talking about web users, you're still wrong, because
while web users cannot clearly articulate in many cases what they
like ("functional" "fast" "easy" "attractive" are all vague words
which mean nothing), it is clear that the styling and appearance of a
web site has a large effect on the success of the site.

In truth, the visual appearance ("styling") of a site can make or break
the success of a web site.  Really.  Truly.  You may not want to believe
it, your mind may rail against this as simply "WRONG AND UNTRUE AND
web site were coded without any sort of styling whatsoever -- if
everything were on a gray background with black Times New Roman,
blue/purple links, etc. (the equivalent of XHTML 1.0 Strict with no
stylesheet) -- then that site would quickly become NOT a major web

There are issues of credibility, professionalism, attractiveness,
understandability, and more inherent in such a site.  Remember this
for later in this letter -- nobody will use such a site.

>That's what I mean when I say that it is the designer's EGO that creates
>these problems.

Here you are claiming that someone who is doing the job they are paid
and trained to do is actually exercising a _moral failing_.  Once we
have accused our potential allies of being egotistical scum, how will
we turn them into allies, Charles?

>If the intent is only to make the site pleasing to the
>consumer, it is not that difficult to come up with a simple, attractive
>design that looks good on all CSS browsers and degrades gracefully on older

Degrades gracefully means that it looks like the XHTML 1.0 Strict
site I described before.  Which means _no one using Netscape 3 will
like such a web site_, which means that if you take your approach you
are throwing away all potential users who might otherwise enjoy such
a site.

Graceful degradation is great for information access but is _terrible
for economic success of a site_ -- at least, graceful degradation as
you define it.

As I define it, it's possible to use tags which are redundant in newer
browsers but which provide support for older browsers -- such as
<font> -- in order to give a decent interface, not a crappy interface,
to your users of older browsers.  You dismissed this as inaccessible
and a worthless solution; surely it must be just my _EGO_ that makes
me care about Netscape 3, right?

>In fact, my experience is that the closer I get to pure XHTML strict (with
>the exception of the align and border attributes on images), the EASIER it
>is to get my sites to look good on all browsers.

I submit that your experience is rather limited, or else you have pretty
weak standards of what "look good on all browsers" is supposed to mean.

>Finally, the truth is, as I wrote more than two years ago on this very list,
>that making sites accessible is NOT easy. It requires a commitment to
>accessibility, a strong understanding of the underlying code and the
>thinking that went into it, and an ability to set aside one's ego and to
>embrace the idea that control of the user's experience is an illusion.
>(Interestingly, Kynn disagreed with me quite fiercely then. Now he seems to
>have run to the other extreme and is arguing for weakening the standards
>because they are *too* difficult.)

Say what?  I'm for a reasonable interpretation of the _guidelines_, not
an absurdly idealistic vision that says that XHTML Strict is all anyone
will ever need and that styling is meaningless.

Is making web sites accessible easy?  Yeah, pretty much.  Nothing which
Charles describes above is hard work.  Some of it may be time consuming --
for example, retrofitting 300,000 documents so they're coded properly
is a big task, and doing transcripts and captions takes up people-hours
-- but it is not _hard_ to do that.

But Charles, we weren't talking about _accessibility_, remember?  We
were talking about _compliance with some document that a small group
of people wrote_.  I argued for a weaker interpretation _of that
document_ than you argued for -- at no time did we ever have a direct
discussion of accessibility.  You pointed this out yourself at the
time but now you need to have shifted to claim otherwise; no wonder
you have this belief that I've run to the "other extreme" while your
own views are so fluid!

>It is because
>companies and individuals can't bring themselves to give up the idea of
>total control over the user's experience.

Yes, yes, those evil companies.  Actually, maybe the problem is that
certain accessibility advocates can't bring themselves to give up the
idea of demanding total control over someone else's web site?

The solution to achieving accessibility in such an "ego-driven"
(snort) situation as described by Charles above, if it did exist,
is not to decide that those needs of the companies and individual
are worthless and that the companies and individuals hold those
needs are morally bankrupt.

The _solution_, my friends, is to _understand_ their needs, work
with them and within them, and figure out compromises to meet
_everyone's_ needs.  Not just yours.  Because, my dear friends in the
web accessibility community, _we_ do not hold they power.  _We_
cannot make the changes needed to make web sites accessible.  Only
_they_ do.

If _they_ are our enemies, then it will never work.  If _they_ are
our allies, then we will see rewards for everyone.  The only way to
make allies is to understand their needs, not dismiss them with
insults and scorn.


>And as for bad implementations such as IE3, I would say that we should
>consider IE3 "broken" and disregard it (unless you are serving pages
>dynamically and can adapt to it). While I hate to say that any browser is
>unusable, when you weigh the cost to accessibility of adapting to IE3's
>problems against the meager benefits (does anyone still use it?), it makes
>more sense to dismiss it. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, we will
>be able to say the same for Netscape 4.

PS:  This is the kind of logic that other web designers apply to
      to browsers which are "broken" by their standards -- such as
      no graphics (considered an essential feature), no support for
      styling marking (considered an essential feature), no support
      for javascript (considered an essential feature), etc.  In other
      words, many assistive tech software is broken software and
      unusable for accessing the web (according to their viewpoint),
      and when you weigh the cost of adapting to their problems against
      the meager benefits (does anyone still use lynx?), it makes sense
      to dismiss it.  The type of argument you gave is very dangerous
      as it can so easily be turned against the concept of access for
      everyone.  I won't claim that's a moral failing in you, however,
Kynn Bartlett <kynn@idyllmtn.com>
Received on Sunday, 17 December 2000 13:34:37 UTC

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