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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 14:53:03 -0800
To: "'Kynn Bartlett'" <kynn@idyllmtn.com>, <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <003401c0687c$1da415a0$0100a8c0@aries>
Kynn wrote
"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
understandability."

Oh, so <font> *isn't* necessary for accessibility, but it *might* (if used
properly) aid accessibility and understandability? How likely is that
compared to the likelihood that web designers will take "it's OK to use the
<font> tag" as a license to use it in myriad ways that will improve neither
accessibility nor understandability? And for this at best tiny gain, we
should sacrifice the separation of structure and presentation? Who is
throwing the baby out with the bathwater here? Not me, I think.

Kynn wrote:
"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
information."

Thank you for once again being as offensive as possible. What, exactly, are
my qualifications, Kynn? Do you know? Do you, in fact, know anything about
me beyond what you've read in my posts to this list? Have you even met me
face to face?

Here's an idea: What if we stick to disagreeing about issues and avoid ad
hominem attacks? Hmm? What do you say?

As for font, color, etc. and their relationship to understandability, remove
the word "greatly" and you have my agreement. Font, color, etc. are useful.
They can be used to improve understandability, though often they accomplish
just the reverse. How many times have you seen a brilliantly funny
commercial on TV and later realized that you can't remember what the product
was? That commercial failed to communicate, despite it's brilliance at
impressing you and despite being created by top professionals.

The same can be said for print ads. Sometimes beautifully designed ads can
fail to put across the message they'd hoped to convey. They fail.

In the hands of an average designer, these failures occur more often. You
talk about graphic designers as if every site has a designer with a Masters
from RISD and twenty years experience in the medium. The truth is that most
sites have no graphic designer at all, and those that do often have
designers who have very little or no experience with the medium. They want
their sites to look *exactly* the same from browser to browser, and they're
quite willing to break the code to achieve this.

Does a site really have to look *exactly* the same from browser to browser
to be usable? I have a site with bands of color that extend to the edges of
the page. In Navigator 4, thanks to poor design of the browser, those bands
don't make it quite to the edge of the page, leaving a white border. It
doesn't look as nice. But does it *really* affect the usability of the page?
No. It doesn't.

The Web is a medium in which you cannot control what type of browser/OS/etc.
your user will have. Designers, if they really want to embrace this medium,
will give up their desire for pixel-by-pixel control. Instead, they'll find
ways to use the flexibility of the medium to their advantage. And the best
way to accomplish this is via separation of structure and presentation. Yes,
it might add a second or two to the initial download time (but will save
time on subsequent pages if the style sheet is cached). Yes, it means
plainer looking (but still eminently usable) sites on older browsers like
Netscape 3. But the gains to be had far outweigh the drawbacks, and it won't
be long before many designers recognize this.

I've trained many people to build sites using CSS. Once they've learned how
powerful CSS can be, they've never looked back. While I've discovered some
initial resistance to parting with the <font> tag, once the student comes to
terms with the idea that a plain but functional site in Netscape 3 (and 2,
etc.) is acceptable, they begin to really love working with CSS. In fact, it
is easier than the <font> tag! All you have to do is name your targets,
either by using the element name itself (p, em, etc.), via the class
attribute, or via the id attribute. After that, all your formatting
information is in one file, and you can make changes to the entire site at
once. It doesn't take a genius to figure this out. As I said, I could teach
it to my 3 year old niece (well, OK, I'm pretty sure she *is* a genius, but
I could teach it to any average 8 year old).

You seem to think that I have it out for graphic designers. Not at all. I
love good graphic design. By comparison, my own sites always seem so boring,
even though they are pleasant enough to look at and convey their messages
well enough for most people. But it is exactly because I love good graphic
design that I am so depressed by most Web sites. Even those designed by
professionals. While I don't always agree with Jakob Nielsen, take a look at
his work to discover how unusable many of those attractive sites are.

What it really comes down to is this: You are talking about a few, rare
instances where the <font> tag might have actually helped. I am talking
about the real world, where it almost always doesn't.

And while we're at it, let's talk a little about web site designers. It's
funny (or rather it would be if it wasn't so offensive) that you think I see
web site designers as "our" enemies. What do you think I do for a living,
Kynn? Am I my own enemy? And over the past few years, I've worked with many
other designers, some of whom embraced accessible design, some of whom
didn't. But one thing I've done is treat them all as peers.

When you suggest that we look at all those designers who don't see things
our way as "students," I say, How incredibly condescending. Perhaps that
explains the tone of your entire argument with me on this list. While I may
passionately disagree with you, Kynn, I have always considered you an equal.
Unfortunately, you seem unwilling to grant me the same consideration. I am
ignorant of graphic design, never having read a book on it (I've read
several, and worked with graphic designers as well). I am ignorant about
accessibility issues, despite the fact that I run a small company, Munat,
Inc., devoted entirely to building accessible web sites. Evidently, anyone
who disagrees with you does so because he is either stupid or ignorant.

What else do I do? I have also been working with a group of students
(including providing unpaid internships) to design a community web site for
non-profit groups that work with people with disabilities. Among the
volunteers is a young man with a spinal injury who is very interested in
accessible design. Pressures from other work have forced me to put this
project on hold, but I'm sure it will come as a surprise to the other
project volunteers to learn that I know nothing about accessibility. Or that
I can't seem to rise above "tag-level accessibility" to see the whole
picture. Or that I can't tell the difference between accessibility and the
WCAG.

In fact, whenever I work with people new to the Web, they embrace style
sheets immediately and they don't have any problem with using them
exclusively. When they want to do something that can't be done with style
sheets, I tell them that the technology isn't there yet. Guess what? They
find alternative ways to accomplish the same thing while working within the
limits of the technology. So when does the <font> tag become an issue? Only
when I work with people who have previous experience with web sites. So why
is it an issue for them? Is it because it is so necessary? The students new
to the Web don't think so. Maybe it's that, like most humans, they (the
students with previous experience) simply resist change. Learning new ways
to do things is difficult; inertia is a fact of life.

I don't think that we help our cause when we consider other web designers to
be ignorant beginners in dire need of our tutelage. I'm all for spreading
the word about accessibility (thus my pet project and my participation in
numerous mailing lists), but can't we do it as equals, instead of forcing
our peers to the subordinate position of "student"? Students volunteer for
that status by signing up for courses or asking for help. Professionals
should be treated as professionals.

My experience with my peers is that they *are* interested in making their
sites accessible, but they are also often attached to their designs and
resistant to change. How human! Just the way I felt (and still feel
sometimes). But through gentle persuasion I've managed to convince more than
a few to give it a try. The few times in which I've looked at them as
ignorant students (I'm human, too) have not been so productive.

There are so many distortions of what I said in your post that I can't
afford to address them all. False analogies, ad hominem attacks, red
herrings, and slippery slope fallacies abound. I don't know if these are
intentional efforts to throw the debate off-track or just the natural human
response to having one's views called into question, but I'll have to leave
most of them to the readers of this list to decipher. For the more egregious
examples, I'll answer in one last post...

Charles F. Munat
Seattle, Washington
Received on Sunday, 17 December 2000 17:47:18 GMT

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