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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 17:32:38 -0800
To: "'Kynn Bartlett'" <kynn@idyllmtn.com>, <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <003a01c06892$68a8c9e0$0100a8c0@aries>
I'll try to make this the last response...

I wrote:
"What it all really comes down to is this: web site developers do not want
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."

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

My reply:

Yes. That is exactly what I'm saying, and here's why: The desire to get
exact pixel control over web pages -- to make them look *identical* from
browser to browser -- represents a fundamental misunderstanding regarding
the nature of the medium. It is something we should be discouraging, not

I am not arguing that designers give up *all* control over their sites (who
would argue such an absurd idea?), only that they give up their attempts at
*total* control. And as for their concern that their sites won't look flashy
in Netscape 3, that's a non-issue. So few people still use Netscape 3 that
no serious developer would consider that an issue. These are people who, by
and large, can't even be troubled to make their sites work on browsers such
as pwWebspeak or on screen reading software. I am supposed to believe that
they are deeply troubled by Netscape 3?

This is one of your favorite red herrings. Netscape 3 is being dredged up to
defend the use of obsolete code as if it were the reason people still use
that code. Baloney. Web developers resist moving to pure CSS implementations
because a) they have a big investment in older code b) they'd have to make
an effort to learn how to use it -- in their minds the current code isn't
broke (it looks good to them) so why fix it?

Instead of blowing smoke about Netscape 3, why not just be frank? The
problem with prohibiting the use of <font>, <b>, <i> is that many web site
developers don't want to change. Your concern is that if we insist on
prohibiting these tags, we'll scare away lots of people who might otherwise
have made some small effort at accessibility. You've said so yourself. You
may be right. But let's stop pretending it has anything to do with Netscape
3 or compatibility with older browsers or accessibility. Those developers
don't use those browsers, and they don't care about them any more than they
care about Mosaic.

As for the <font> element enhancing accessibility, show me one specific page
where this is the case. I've got Netscape 3 (and a bunch of other older
browsers). Give me a link to a page where <font> is vital to the
accessibility of the page (not a nice convenience, or something that adds a
little bit of extra information, but one where it really is essential to
making the page accessible).

If you can produce such a page, and I can't make it accessible without
<font>, then maybe we have a basis for agreement. Absent such an example, I
continue to believe that the advantages of <font> with regard to
accessibility are minor at best and certainly outweighed by the drawbacks of
encouraging widespread use of presentational tags.

Kynn comments:
"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."

It is not even remotely close to the same thing. You are comparing apples
and oranges.

I'm saying that the <font> tag is unnecessary -- not that it doesn't add
*any* functionality, but that we can live without that functionality (yes,
including people with disabilities). I'm saying that it is commonly used not
for accessibility, but to add flash to sites when viewed on older browsers.
In fact, I'll go farther and say that it is almost always used in ways that
have *nothing* to do with increasing accessibility OR usability and are
often detrimental to them.

And I'm saying that further delaying the acceptance of style sheets will
have a much more detrimental affect on a much larger group of people than
the illusory benefits of permitting more colorful pages on older browsers
(remember, images are still available on Netscape 3, without resort to
presentational tags, and they can greatly enhance accessibility and
compensate somewhat for the lack of control over font).

I am most certainly *not* arguing that we should say "to hell with these
people" and deny them accessibility because they aren't a large enough group
to be worth concerning ourselves about. So there is no comparison between my
views and the sentiments you express above at all. In fact, your attempt to
equate the two is more than a little disingenuous. You should know by now
that I'm a strong proponent of accessibility and that I have repeatedly and
loudly stood up for the rights of the disenfranchised on this list as well
as on others. By making your assertion that my view are the same as those
you express, you imply that I am either too stupid to figure out that I'm
being unfair, or too selfish to care. Either way, you are being grossly

What I have said, quite clearly and repeatedly, is that I think the desires
(not rights) of users of Netscape 3 to see flashier sites are greatly
outweighed by the importance to accessibility of a rapid move to CSS, and
eventually to a truly semantic web. And frankly I'm more than a little
offended that you continue to misrepresent my views so egregiously.

Kynn continues:
"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_."

a) Web designers are not my enemies or my allies, they are ME. I have all
the same concerns, needs, wants, etc. I have clients, co-workers, a budget,
and a business to run. I'm not sitting in some ivory tower making
pronouncements about web design and how it should be: I'm doing it. Every
day, 12-16 hours a day, often 7 days a week. So their needs are my needs.

b) I am also a graphic artist, albeit not a very well trained or talented
one. But the small size of my company has forced me into the role of graphic
designer on many occasions, and I've spent no small amount of time learning
the trade, at least as it applies to the Web. So, again, I am not
"demonizing" graphic designers -- far from it! Nor am I dismissing "every
concern they have." What are these concerns that I'm dismissing? Can you
name them?

The only issues I've taken a stand on are the use of presentational elements
in HTML, and the gratuitous (key word: gratuitous) use of graphics. Now I've
spoken with many graphic artists, and I think you greatly overstate their
concerns. I've never met a graphic artist who wasn't willing to work with
the medium. And most would be mightily insulted, I'd imagine, at the
implication that their hands would be tied if they couldn't use the <font>
tag. They give themselves more credit than that, and more than one has told
me so. You tell them what they've got to work with, and they will make it

The problem, as I see it, is not that graphic designers are stupid or the
enemy, but that they often haven't really thought through the implications
of the Web medium. Well, who has? We are all learning and the Web is
changing faster than most of us can keep up. How many graphic designers have
really bothered to understand how HTML works, how CSS works, how the medium
itself works? How many have done their designs in PhotoShop or Illustrator
with total disregard for the limitations of the web and then just handed
them to the programmer to implement? And the programmer does his best, and
uses his ingenuity to work around the limitations of the medium, often with
negative results for accessibility.

How much better if we convinced graphic designers to adapt their work to the
medium, instead of trying to force the medium to fit their work! Are graphic
designers really not up to this challenge? I think they are, but perhaps you
disagree, Kynn. If so, who is it who is denigrating the talents of graphic
artists, you or me?

As I mentioned earlier, all writers know that you must often discard turns
of phrase with which you have a strong emotional tie because they simply
don't work. William Faulkner said "kill your darlings." I am sure that any
true graphic designer -- in fact, any artist -- will tell you the same
thing. We become attached (ego) to our creations and are loath to kill them,
even when we know it's the right thing to do.

The (near) future of the Web is CSS, not obsolete technology. Let us
encourage designers to embrace the future and to find ways to compensate on
older browsers (not by breaking the code, but by finding other methods to
accomplish the same goals -- goals, not effects). What the distant future of
the Web will be no-one knows. But standing by our standards and continuing
to encourage others to try to meet them is the best way to move forward.
Diluting those standards and pandering to the inertia of designers --
inertia, not "needs" -- is the wrong way to go.

There are many more points of Kynn's that I'd like to refute, but I think
that I've exhausted both my time and the patience of this list, so I'll
leave that to others.

Thanks for listening.

Charles F. Munat,
Seattle, Washington
Received on Sunday, 17 December 2000 20:26:41 UTC

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