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Fw: Gaughan on Web design

From: David Poehlman <poehlman1@home.com>
Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2001 09:40:25 -0400
Message-ID: <009d01c10f8f$33b7ad60$2cf60141@mtgmry1.md.home.com>
To: "wai-ig list" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>

----- Original Message -----
From: "Alida P Ryerson" <2alida@TACONIC.NET>
Sent: Tuesday, July 17, 2001 11:13 PM
Subject: Gaughan on Web design

This is the first non disability related site I have seen with a
notation about asking for input from visually impaired users. Anyway,
his comments are interesting... and he is trying!



Gaughan on Web designDick Gaughan's Website
            This page: http://www.dickalba.demon.co.uk/design/rant.htm

Gaughan's Main Page

Websites - A Rant

              This site supports the
            Campaign for a Non Browser Specific WWW

      "You must have Javascript enabled to view this site ..."
      "This site requires a frames-enabled browser ... "
      "Best viewed with Internet Explorer 5 at 1024x768 resolution ... "
      Or sometimes it's just text and graphics running off to the right
side of the screen so you can't read it without irritating scrolling
back and forth for every line.

      Or sometimes you wait a long while for the page to load and are
then left sitting looking at a blank screen.

      The original concept behind the World Wide Web was as a means of
linking together information resources so that, for the first time in
human history it would be possible to have all information available to
all people regardless of geographic location and to make it a simple
matter to cross-reference this information to enable easy access.
Content was paramount, indeed content was the very reason for the
invention of the WWW in the first place.

      A couple of years later, some smart person decided that the WWW
could be used, not to exchange information, but to make money through
reducing it to yet another marketing tool. As they were not exchanging
information, presentation became paramount. Another victory of style ove
r content.

      Having no content whatever, they began to demand ever more visual
gimmicks and slick marketing tricks and there were those only too happy
to get a slice of the action by providing them. When those who wished
the WWW to maintain the altruistic open-door philosophy of Tim
Berners-Lee (the inventor of the WWW) complained about the damage being
done by this shortsighted "Profit is God" rush to exploit whatever the
cost to others, we were sneered at and told that the WWW was merely
another market and that we were obstructing progress. This from people
who didn't know the difference between HTTP and an elephant's anus.

      They said the same about the Amazon rainforests.

      Within a couple of years, the WWW was flooded with sites which had
nothing more to say than "Give me your money".

      The mass marketing of "do it all without having to learn any of
that boring HTML stuff" toys such as MS Front Page has meant an increase
in bloated, broken, oversized, badly-constructed websites which demand
you use a particular piece of gadgetry, for example, the latest version
of MS Internet Explorer, before you can see them. These are fine if they
are simply your own self-built personal homepages put together for fun,
filled with pictures of your hamster, and you're not too bothered about
who visits it.

      But for a professional musician who is hoping to use the web to
promote themselves and their work, it can be disastrous. If someone is
interested in purchasing your latest recording, or looking for gig
information so they can come and pay to hear you, and they arrive at
your site only to find that they are denied access to the information
there because the system they're using doesn't support all the
nonstandard whizz-bang gimmicks the designer is playing with, it doesn't
take a genius to figure out what their reaction is going to be.

      And, when that annoyance is aggravated by a sign telling them that
they can only have that information if they install a different browser,
they're likely to think, "Hang on - I am spending my time and my money
visiting your site -- and you're telling me I have to change my setup
before I can get information which will allow me to spend even more of
my time and money on you?"

      Let's put it another way --

      "I got your latest CD but it sounds dreadful"
      "Which CD player are you listening to it on?"
      "A Panasonic"
      "Look, moron, it'll only work properly on a Sony so buy one
instead of whinging about it."

      That sound like a reasonable way to keep them coming back?

      Rhetorical question -- why do you expect people to go to all the
trouble of exchanging the browser they use and feel comfortable with,
not to obtain some really useful information which will enrich their
lives, but simply to read your latest tour schedule or see a review of
your latest CD?

      A badly designed website is not insignificant, it is something
which can do you a great deal of professional harm.
      Your site is a major avenue of communication with your existing/
potential audience and if they feel you're treating them with contempt,
you'll suffer. And telling them they have to go out and buy a new
browser / computer / monitor before you'll give them any information is
interpreted as treating them with contempt. And they will not blame the
site designer -- they'll blame you.

      Quote from a web design newsgroup :

      "Remember that some people have no choice as to which browser they
use (they have to use what's provided by their company, or the only one
that's available for their OS), and others have a strong aversion to one
(or both) of the big-name browsers; so using browser-specific HTML is
probably the number 1 dumb idea in Web-page design. If you have to do
it, don't do so on your index page, and provide a parallel generic
version of your pages."

      Sites which exclude people not using a particular software or
hardware configuration are, quite frankly, a self-indulgent pain in the
posterior; they ignore the reason why the web was developed in the first
place and threaten its future development and ultimately its very
existance. Their designers really need to give a thought to why they are
designing the site - to impress themselves and each other with their
cleverness or for the benefit of their clients and their visitors.
      For example, the most wonderful array of multicoloured graphic
links is of absolutely no use to someone who is blind or seriously
visually impaired unless you provide text alternatives for their speech

      Designing websites is an entirely different beast from any other
kind of design. Having a good eye for colour and layout can equip you to
design fine sites -- after you've learned the basic techniques of web
construction and these are closer to engineering than artistic skills.

      The point which too many overlook is that HTML is not a design
language - it is a markup language - and the basic starting point in
building a website is not design, it is construction. Layout, colour,
balance, text formatting -- these are all subjective and a matter of
taste, but basic construction is not. Either your site works or it
doesn't. And if it only works on particular configurations, then it
doesn't work. Period.

      To be cruelly blunt, the biggest menace on the WWW are those
people who have some knowledge of graphic design and who imagine that
the principles and techniques they have learned are applicable on the
web and that they therefore have nothing to learn.

      Not all people with design knowledge are like this, but a good
many are. Believing they know all there is to know, they make no effort
to learn how the web actually works, how files are requested and
transferred from site to site, what the accepted standards and protocols
are, how the various browsers differ in their rendering of pages.

      Knowing nothing of this new environment, they arrogantly insist on
trying to impose the rules of another, alien environment, the errors of
which the web was designed to avoid in the first place.

      Ignorant of basic principles, they ridicule those with knowledge.
      Ignorant of construction, they focus entirely on appearance.
      Ignorant of the all-important differences between browsers, they
proceed as if the web were a DTP environment, as if everyone uses
exactly the same computer, operating system, browser software, graphics
card and monitor resolution as they do and that their pages will
therefore look identical to all visitors and that it's the visitor's
fault if they don't.

      They obtain a copy of some piece of bloatware like Front Page
which, apart from building documents many times as large, and therefore
many times slower to load, than necessary, embeds all kinds of
non-standard codes which can only be rendered by Internet Explorer with
scripting enabled on a screen resolution of 1024x768 and which will make
their pages unreadable to everyone else.

      The statement, "If my site doesn't work on the browser you're
using then you should get another one" is the clearest possible
indication that you are listening to someone who is so ignorant of the
basics that they don't even know enough to know how ignorant they are.
It is a contemptuous statement used exclusively by the clueless and
those too lazy or arrogant to take the trouble to design their pages

      And when it is used by someone who lays claim to the title "web
designer" and offers to build your site cheaper than everyone else then
it is a clear sign that you are being asked to donate your hard-earned
money to someone who, far from knowing what they're doing, is actually
in seriously urgent need of going and buying a copy of "HTML for

      Caveat emptor. When it comes to paying someone for web design, the
old cliche holds absolutely true -- "Good, cheap, fast. Which two would
you like?"

      The main skill of design is to make something look good.

      The main skill of website design is to make it look good
regardless of the setup being used by the person viewing it.

      So, what the statement, "In order to view this site you must be
using ...", really means is, "Access to this site is restricted by the
inability or arrogant refusal of the designer to figure out how to make
it display properly on anything other than their chosen configuration".

      Read that last paragraph again.

      And it also means that they regard their design as being far more
important than the information that website design is supposed to make
easily accessible.

      Here's a simple example. The two most popular browsers, Netscape
and MSIE, have significant differences in the way they display pages. So
a page which looks delightful using MSIE may well look appalling in
Netscape. The clueless way of dealing with this is to put a "Best viewed
with MSIE" label on the site. The correct way of dealing with it is to
design the page so it is readable in both. There is simply no excuse for
not doing this.

      Don't misunderstand me -- I'm not saying don't use scripting
languages or frames or nice graphic layouts. I'm saying that if you do,
be sure they're being used for a good reason and that you provide an
alternative. If you really must use Javascript or frames, then use
<NOSCRIPT> and <NOFRAMES>, and use them for the purpose for which they
were created -- not to tell the visitor to get a new browser, but to
direct them to an alternative version of your page which will work with
the one they already have.

      And if you use graphics as links to other pages, provide text
alternatives for people with visual disabilities. HTML provides a nice
little element within graphics tags for doing this - the "ALT" tag. Use

      Yes, it's hard work providing pages which will work on any setup
but it is a basic skill of building websites and not to do it simply
marks you out as a poor designer who doesn't care about the visitor.

      So, if you want people to use your site (and why else would you
have a site in the first place?) then make sure it's designed so that
it's accessible to them.

      ALL of them.

      Not just the ones with perfect sight using Javascript and frames
enabled Internet Explorer on a Windows PC with a 17" monitor.

      If it isn't, then it's costing you goodwill, visitors and,
ultimately, money and you really need to rethink what your site is for
and whether whatever benefit you feel comes from your 'kewl' tricky
stuff is really worth the price of excluding many people from actually
seeing your site at all.

Gaughan's Main Page

Places to find out things every website owner should know
      World Wide Web Consortium
      The WWW Consortium (WC3) is the body which sets the official
standards for HTML
      Jakob Nielsen's articles - required reading

     HTML version 4.0
      The current set of standards
      Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design

      World Wide Web FAQ

      Web Accessibility Initiative
      "The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone
regardless of disability is an essential aspect."
           -- Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World
Wide Web

Gaughan's Main Page

Website and graphics designed by Gaelwebę1997
Comments to: gaelweb@dickalba.demon.co.uk

Received on Wednesday, 18 July 2001 09:40:31 UTC

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