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RE: Politics: Graphic Designers are Allies, not Egotistical Enemies

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Sun, 17 Dec 2000 13:30:44 -0800
To: "WAI Interest Group \(E-mail\)" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <003301c06870$9d9027b0$0100a8c0@aries>
I don't have time to go through and answer all of Kynn's comments (and I
doubt many really want to wade through that much rhetoric), but I'll try to
address a few key ones.

Kynn wrote:
"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."

This is just the first of several comments that not only misquotes me, but
manages to insult me in the process.

I never said that graphic design is "fluff". Good graphic design is
essential to communication. But if you think that most of the graphic design
on the web is aiding communication, you might want to rethink.

Kynn, you regularly talk about things like graphic design in an idealistic
sense, as if that had some relationship to reality. Yes, there are some
great graphic designers out there who've done some wonderful work on the
web. But anyone who's honest with himself will agree that the graphic design
of most web sites is marginal at best.

Even if it weren't, to what degree is it really necessary? I'm not talking
about basic concepts like contrast (say, making headers a larger size than
the text), grouping of related items, etc. I'm talking about colors and
specific fonts. Yes, they can aid communication... but they are not
*necessary* to communication. And before you respond, you may want to pause
and think for a moment. Read any good books lately?

My sister loves to read. She devours a book every day or two. And every one
of those books looks virtually identical on the inside: black serif text on
white paper. Now, would making some words red and some in sans-serif text
really increase her enjoyment? I'll ask her, but I don't think she'd even

Now, for a person with a cognitive disability, that style of communication
has some drawbacks. So let's add some pictures. With carefully drawn,
colorful images we can greatly enhance the experience for people with
cognitive disabilities (and maybe for others as well, though I suspect that
my sister would consider them largely an annoyance).

Everything that I've suggested so far can be accomplished on Netscape 3
without resorting to using HTML for formatting.

So instead of implying (or rather saying outright) that I'm an ignorant jerk
who can't figure out that graphic design is important to communication,
let's look at the real issue: the tiny advantage that a little more control
can provide to the tiny fraction of users still using Netscape 2 or 3 vs.
sabotaging our longstanding efforts to separate structure and presentation.

Let's look at the reality, instead of the fantasy: For the vast majority of
web site designers, the <font> element acts as a crutch for those unwilling
to learn how to use CSS. Please, don't insult my intelligence and that of
others on this list by claiming otherwise. Any random sampling of web sites
(even limiting the sample to "professionally designed" sites) will show you
that most web designers -- by far -- are using <font> *instead* of CSS,
years after the introduction of CSS and despite the fact that CSS could
greatly improve their control on newer (read: virtually all) browsers.

You talk, Kynn, as if the Web were full of brilliant, dedicated graphic
designers working hard to make their sites as usable as possible (after all,
graphic design is about communication, and communication is about usability,
isn't it?). You talk as if most Web programmers were caring, knowledgeable
people who aren't afraid to learn new technologies and devote themselves to
doing so. Which Web are you looking at?

Most Web sites are, frankly, terrible. They are ugly, difficult to navigate,
poorly coded, and poorly maintained. And most of them are not cross-browser
compatible. Those designers you're talking about who care so deeply about
looking good in Netscape 3 don't give a hoot about Mosaic, or Opera, or
Lynx, or pwWebspeak. Compatibility with Netscape 3 is just a convenient
excuse for not learning how to do it right.

Oh, yes, there are some out there who *do* know how to use CSS, and use it,
and who still use <font> for backwards compatibility, but do a *random*
sample of 100 sites and see if you find even one of their sites. I'd be very

Not long ago I visited a site for a radio station that I once worked at. I
was horrified to find that the home page was one big gif (and it was all
text!). The designer wanted the text to overlap and fade into itself, an
effect he certainly couldn't get even with the font tag. I wrote to him to
explain that there were some difficulties with this technique and to suggest
ways to improve it. He was wholly unwilling to change the site. He explained
to me that he didn't know much about HTML, but that he was a graphic
designer and that he wanted "total control over the user's experience" and
that if I knew anything about graphic design, I'd know that total control
was necessary.

He wasn't the first or the last to tell me that. I get that response
regularly. When I say that most often it is the designer's ego and his or
her desire for total control that causes the problems, I'm not guessing.
That's been my experience over and over again. And saying that it's an ego
thing is not the same as saying that graphic designers are "egotistical"
(your word, not mine). Everyone has an ego, and all of us occasionally let
our egos take control. For me, the process of learning to make my sites more
accessible was a painful one of giving up one unworkable design after
another, fighting myself every step of the way. We become attached to our
designs, and resist changing them even when we know it's the right thing to

Writers are well aware of this problem. Ask any good writer and he or she
will tell you that the hardest part of writing is rewriting their work and
removing all the turns of phrase that don't really add to the story (in
fact, they often detract), but which for one reason or another, the writer
sincerely loves. It can be agony. Good writers (and good designers) are able
to throw out anything that doesn't really add to the design. Most writers
(and designers) aren't that strong.

So, Kynn, I'm not the one calling graphic designers "egotists." That's you
putting words in my mouth. I'm calling them "human," and like the rest of us
humans, subject to failings. But what I would like is for us to ask them to
rise above those failings, not to indulge them in them.

I'll respond to some of Kynn's other comments in separate posts.

Charles F. Munat
Seattle, Washington
Received on Sunday, 17 December 2000 16:24:48 UTC

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