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Re: Working on New Styles for W3C Specifications

From: fantasai <fantasai.lists@inkedblade.net>
Date: Wed, 30 Nov 2011 18:42:24 -0800
Message-ID: <4ED6E990.5050302@inkedblade.net>
To: spec-prod@w3.org
On 11/28/2011 08:52 AM, Vincent Hardy wrote:
> Dear Working Group Chairs,
> As part of editorial work in the CSS and SVG Working Groups, I have started a specification styling project to improve the
> readability of our specifications. I have been working with Ben Schwarz, a designer and typographer with experience [1] in
> this area. I will also be working with Elika Etemad and Divya Manian on this effort. We have an Editor's Draft that
> illustrates the draft styles:

I think a key thing to keep in mind is that the goal of styling the specification
is not to look pretty. It's to elucidate the contents of the draft. Of course
looking pretty is part of that, but some of the stylistic decisions that would be
appropriate for a blog post are not appropriate for styling a W3C spec. Styling
that softens the differences between typographic effects, is, for example, less
appropriate when those distinctions need to be highlighted. Items that people are
scanning for should pop out. Items that they are not should blend in. The goal
here should be maximizing usability, not maximizing aesthetics or readability.
While those are part of usability, there are other factors at play here that
aren't at play in most other reading material, and the restyling effort needs to
recognize and work with that.

  # 1.2.1 Read the text before designing it.
  # The typographer's one essential task is to interpret and communicate the text.
  # It's tone, its tempo, its logical structure, its physical size, all determine
  # the possibilities of its typographic form. The typographer is to the text as
  # the theatrical director to the script, or the musician to the score.
                            -- Robert Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style

In our case, there is a lot of structure to be communicated, and these documents
need to be designed for people to scan efficiently and to study comfortably--not
for perusing at leisure as one would a story or magazine article. It is not enough
to compare the readability of the specs to the readability of other material: you
have to consider the overall usability of the spec in the context it is used.

I'm avoiding specific comments because I'd like to see the style sheet re-imagined
rather than merely revised. I think approaching the design with a view towards
overall usability would give somewhat different results than considering readability
alone. I suspect most specific comments I'd have would be better addressed as a
side-effect of such a reorientation. Right now the existing styles, while not as
pretty, are in some ways more usable. If we're redesigning things, the new design
should be unequivocally better!

I'd also like to see a discussion of the more subjective (non-functional) design
goals. What personality is the new styling intended to reflect? What values do
we want to communicate through the visual style? What sense of common identity
do we want to express here? I think that's important to figure out up front if
we're to have a consistent vision for where we're going here.

Anyway, that's my comments. Looking forward to what Divya and Ben can create

Received on Thursday, 1 December 2011 02:42:55 UTC

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