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2003.09.20 – I’m reviewing a book for Eye whose topic I would describe as “categories of Web-site design” (or styles, or movements). It’s been covered before, and both books do only a scattered job. It seems intrinsically difficult to categorize Web design, much more so than print design. I find both tasks difficult even though they are fields in which I have actual expertise. (For fellow typography queens out there, jot down eight or so characteristics of, say, Modernist layouts. I’m giving you the easiest possible example – the International Style – and even that one is gonna make you work.)

Nonetheless, I’ve managed to come up with a current design trope, and this one seems a kind of ethical–professional æsthetic as well as a graphical one.

The International Compliant Style (IC-Style) is employed, though not necessarily through conscious decision, by the majority of developers and designers who are committed to following official specifications. Sites with valid HTML and stylesheets typically:

  1. use black type on white
  2. have an abiding love of pastel
  3. have a troubled relationship with grey:
    1. considered a viable alternative to black text; presumed to be less jarring from a design standpoint
    2. also considered a viable alternative to white backgrounds
    3. yet also considered a viable option to style emphatic elements like b, strong, or hx headings – typically in the same size as body copy or one traditional size larger (as 14 for headings, 12 for body)
  4. use orange, blue, or green as accent colour
  5. are flooded with whitespace, except when such space is actually grey
  6. use grids as an organizing system even while avoiding tables for layout; left and right “page” margins, enclosing rectangles, and even iframes prominent
  7. use blue as hyperlink colour (a:link), but avoids brutalist underlining in favour of dotted or dashed borders, among extensive hyperlink style declarations (all the way down to a:focus:hover)
  8. use title attributes promiscuously
  9. confine decoration, illustration, or photography to a nameplate-like page header, which could be rendered as a replaced image
  10. carefully specify body type, emulating print typography with allowances for onscreen reading, while increasing design tension through antiphonious display typography (as with script, novelty, pixel, or avant-garde fonts in nameplates or skyboxes)

Merely a few examples I’ve found:

  1. All of my pages, essentially. (This cobbler’s children do not go unshod, let me tell you)
  2. Ben Hammersley
  3. Clip-n-Seal
  4. Mike Pick
  5. All in the <head>
  6. Andy Budd
  7. Leaves Rustle
  8. Dirk Hesse
  9. Modulo 26
  10. Hicksdesign
  11. Quark
  12. Medicmom.com
  13. Hebig.org
  14. Blog de Pfunder
  15. Web Standards Project
  16. Lambertin & Grotegerd
  17. Veer
  18. Fictionpixel
  19. AMI
  20. Adactio
  21. TwoThirty Media Inc.
  22. Fast Company
  23. International Herald Tribune
  24. Practice Introduction
  25. Dionidium.com

And those are just the examples I would consider non-obvious. (Everyone knows Textism and one of the Zeldman house stylesheets are, in fact, examplars of IC-Style.) Naturally, one can also find numerous counterexamples, including some of my own pages, but a trend is apparent.

Why the uniformity?

I see the IC-Style as an outcome of a sort of ethical uniformity among standards-compliant designers. Just as you’d expect Republicans to be guys who wear dark suits and Saab owners to recycle, it wouldn’t surprise you to learn that designers and developers concerned with doing everything just right are unwilling to fuck up their layouts, make their sites hard to read (except for the preponderance of grey type), or even dabble in the demonic underworld of the colour palette.

IC-Style designers are, at root, drawn to order. They enjoy the æsthetic cleanliness of elements that start and stop at controlled locations – and that applies right from the source, with elements that <open> and </close>. IC-Style designers create layouts that are as computer-parsable as the code that brings them to life.

Disorder is difficult to pull off, and particularly complex in a linear and incremental markup language like HTML. Avant-garde Web design is hard to do (even in Flash, which IC-Style designers tend to shun anyway as contrary to their æsthetic); it is harder still with compliant HTML. (Chaos seems to require tag soup.)

Yet even those IC-Style designers who would like to fuck shit up simply may not have the skill. I don’t, certainly.

Trendwatching

Request to readers: Start your own bookmark lists of IC-Style designs and, at the same time, compliant sites that actively rebel against the IC-Style norm. (Bowman does both.) Over time, we can put enough examples together to write our own damned book on Web-design categories.  

2003.09.16a – If you’re going to play with fire, wear asbestos gloves and hold your breath. We pay Choire Sicha good money (or at least pay him in free cigarettes) to play with fire, and I will point out officially that his name is not in fact pronounced Kwahr Seesha.

Choire, typing under the nom de toile Gawker, explains the role of snark.

Just what we need. An online army of McSycophant tattletales, scouring for some supposed rudeness, maybe getting necessary blunt opinions and hard truths confused with snark. Attuned to the possibility of a hint of some offputting tone, rather than the real content of the review or intent of the reviewer.” Exactly. Whenever snark is written, opponents claim the snarker did it for the notoriety, or for jealousy, not because he might actually believe what he has written.... At the very least snark could be attacked on grounds that it constitutes fallacious argument. Comments could be made about the death of manners – disingenuous and ahistorical comments, but never mind. That would all be easy, yet no one has the smarts to bother to do so.

(See previous coverage. Incidentally, there’s a finite chance that E. Spiers or some unnamed hack actually wrote the foregoing, but I’m going to credit Choire all the same. Anyone who volunteers to meet me for an 8:30 espresso – in the morning, on the Lower East Side – merits every attribution we can come up with.)

Now. In the current issue of Print, 42 pages before my article “Reviled Fonts,” one finds A.O. Scott’s purely descriptive, virtually-content-free “review” of The Believer.

Even if it was not intended to be one, [some Believer nabob]’s article can be taken as something of a manifesto, or at least a statement of the problems – how to be a smart without Snark [sic], how to be a believer without being a sucker – that her magazine has posed for itself. She casts an envious eye backward to the glory days of the New York intellectuals, invoking the memory of Edmund Wilson, Lionel Trilling, and Mary McCarthy, whom [the nabob] imagines “dropping a conversation-halting bon mot before adjusting her fur and teetering off to the ladies’ room for a cigarillo. An arresting image, except that McCarthy smoked Marlboros, and never “teetered” anywhere. (Who’s snarky now?)

Frankly, we should have been on high CREDULITY ALERT on first apprehension of the magazine’s name. I can barely stomach reading the thing; it bores me to tears, and its faux-classy Bembo usage is of Windows-bobbysoxer calibre.

But A.O. Scott, in his quest to embody the mildness and banality of The Believer, actually sideswipes something important in his simple act of fact-checking someone’s arse. If you should happen to think we’re being snarky, perhaps we actually know more than you do. Maybe we found an actual mistake. Maybe, in short, we have been around and you have not, and we don’t see any reason at all to pretend that being right isn’t better than being wrong.

I reiterate my shibboleth about curmudgeons: Up people persons do not understand that curmudgeons are romantic and idealistic and, as a result, jaded and eternally disappointed. We know how well the world would work if we ran it, and we know how badly off it is now. The discrepancy frustrates us, inducing sarcasm and snappiness. Snark, essentially.

You can be a “commentator” without snark, but to be a critic, you need some bite. I’ve been a critic for a very long time, you know. I’ve been around, and you probably haven’t. So suck it up.  

2003.09.16b – “Reviled Fonts,” my latest article for Print, is now online. And nobody mentioned Souvenir, let alone Arial.  

2003.09.11 – Which is worse, to be photographed:

Ask Arnold Schwarzenegger as we travel back Ten Years Ago in Spy.  

2003.09.10a – That somebody would be me at the World Wide Web Consortium Web Accessibility Initiative Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Techniques Face-to-Face (W3C WAI WCAG Techs f2f [briefing notes]). I was the funn(i)est, best-dressed person there, but we’d expect that. Got a lot done, met new friends, confounded mildly-defamatory and apocalyptic expectations.

Let’s do that again sometime.  

2003.09.10b – Michael Snider posted the transcript of his interview with me, which, oddly, seems much more accurate and encompassing than the actual article he wrote. Add that to the metaliterature on Weblogging.  

2003.09.10c – A tremendously enjoyable book by Mark Merlis, with one of those conceits that delights the middle classes because they’re able to actually follow all the clever references. It’s the Trojan War retold in a Greece like any modern American city, starring Neoptolemus (“Pyrrhus”), a red-haired stripper–hustler. (The perfect boyfriend?) My mental image of the dandy eunuch named Phoenix is that of a Magrittified George Smiley in an overly-lustrous suit, boler, and “walking stick.”

On the good ship Penelope:

2003.09.07 – Disco, Giorgio Moroder (the Top Gun soundtrack is awesomely appropriate), the Dandy Warhols, Blondie (“Hanging on the Telephone,” “Call Me”): Take away the organ lines and you pull out the heart. (And the more fuzz the better.)

I kept replaying the “Klub Mix” of DJ Tomcraft’s “Loneliness,” 14 of whose 492 seconds contain an undiluted organ solo/interregnum – enough for me to I put up with the rest of the remix, really. (The original song is strong. In fact, with its deadly-impassive vocals commencing right away, it’s so memorable it threatens to become a classic.) I keep thinking the song is about lesbians, but organ segments are a gay trope across the history of popular music. And we appear to need a German trance DJ to keep it alive – barely.

Are you primed and ready for gayness? What does the 14-second sample do to you?  

esteemed-colleague
give me a moment while I do a jig to get your attention.
joeclark
one is writing a snatch.
esteemed-colleague
hey – please wait for performance to end before your applause
joeclark
one is writing to Greg Graffin of Bad Religion telling him to force his little pisher of a Webmaster to unfuck their site.
esteemed-colleague
hmmm – site that bad?
joeclark
structurally, yes.
check your snatch to see what it looks like in Lynx.
esteemed-colleague
the badreligion site I mean
joeclark
well, I’ll send you, say, Stopdesign.com as seen in Lynx. Or Wired.
esteemed-colleague
for comparison
joeclark
If you check your snatch, you’ll see that nice valid accessible sites look nice, clean, and structured in text-only mode.
esteemed-colleague
my GAWD those are long e-mails
joeclark
I could send you a book chapter.
esteemed-colleague
thanks, but no.
esteemed-colleague
I don’t yet see the detail – I trust your expert opinion on this
joeclark
open up the BadReligion.com mail and the Stopdesign mail.
Which one looks like a nice clean structured document?
esteemed-colleague
ahhh – I was scanning down to links
I think I begin to see the problem
the Bad Religion site reads with all this instructions (code?) before every sentence it seems
joeclark
wee bit of a disaster there.
esteemed-colleague
this is how you can tell it’s fucked...?
joeclark
There are several diagnostics.
e.g., validate one’s HTML.
esteemed-colleague
I only ever vaguely knew what you meant
joeclark
hit the first link. zillions of errors. But for Stopdesign, NONE. now look at Stopdesign and tell me it’s an ugly site.
esteemed-colleague
Ok – first site says “valid HTML” – and is ugly. second site looks clean and even well designed
joeclark
well, you can have chaotic graphic design and valid code. like that one.
esteemed-colleague
Looks good – but how do I know if it’s valid HTML?
joeclark
http://validator.w3.org:8081/check?uri=http://www.sixfoot6.com/[etc.]
I’m sure you can see how to hack the URL.
esteemed-colleague
whoa! wow – THAT looks complicated
joeclark
easier with Mozilla favelets.
esteemed-colleague
can we stop now? I’m reeling
joeclark
Right. Well.
esteemed-colleague
I see more clearly now though
one question: what happens if an HTML isn’t valid? this means some browsers can’t read it?
joeclark
no. browser makers have put UNBELIEVABLE effort over the years into handling tag-soup code.
according to the lore, Netscape had one person working full-time on tables.
browsers will display invalid code.
(except Netscape 4, but we hate that)
esteemed-colleague
so what are the implications to the user of invalid HTML?
joeclark
the issue is they SHOULDN’T, and it harms the developer and user.
1. developer wastes time and money (invalid code is larger – [upcoming project] went from 67K to 6K)
esteemed-colleague
ohhh
joeclark
2. Web visitors cannot avail themselves of the structure in a document
this is generally limited to accessibility, however.
esteemed-colleague
because the “average” user doesn’t need to access structure
is this “validator” a solution?
joeclark
And the average user’s shitty Win IE browser will display invalid code (e.g., the kind microsoft.com gives you) just fine. there is no actual “solution,” except inasmuch as those of us who create valid Web sites are doing things CORRECTLY and everyone else is not. Literally.
that would hardly be a “solution.” It merely shows the extent of the problem.
esteemed-colleague
Is HTML hard to use?
joeclark
actually, valid HTML is surprisingly easy. you close what you open, write in lower case, use quotation marks.
<p id="esteemed-colleague-paragraph">A paragraph with your name attached to it, which we can use later.</p>
<a href="http://joeclark.org">Joe Clark’s site</a>
it’s so simple you can type it out from scratch.
esteemed-colleague
and, for example, Geocities – if I wanted to set up a little page there – would it automatically use valid HTML?
joeclark
it would be the ABSOLUTE WORST POSSIBLE HTML, plus zillions of popups.
esteemed-colleague
are there programs which can convert to code for you?
joeclark
whereas a competitor to Blogger, Movable Type, is valid right out of the box in V2.0.
joeclark
Yes, the average person should not have to be aware of HTML. this requires better “authoring tools.”
esteemed-colleague
blogger doesn’t convert to valid HTML automatically
joeclark
Blogger has been a mess forever, which is unforgivable. your post IDs, the bit after the #, are invalid in themselves.
esteemed-colleague
did you bug them about this? is it worth bothering with them?
joeclark
that’s a bit of an odyssey right there. Google owns them now, and Google corporate disdains “million-dollar markup.”
esteemed-colleague
because they host thousands of little pages I mean.
really.
even though this makes all bloggers essentially inaccessible?
joeclark
that is not guaranteed. screen readers (for example) have also been hacked to work adequately with invalid code. they work much better with valid and “semantic” code, but they work OK on shitty sites, too. a simple Blogger site is no problem in a screen reader.
esteemed-colleague
they’ve been hacked to be able to be read?
OK – how do YOU know – just browsing with Mozilla, that site has invalid code? you use this fave thing?
joeclark
drag the “Validate THIS page” link on that page INTO YOUR TOOLBAR.
esteemed-colleague
yes – but can you tell on site (without using this tool) that a site is invalid?
joeclark
No. You must use the (or a) validator.
esteemed-colleague
’K – its in my toolbar now
esteemed-colleague
this could be interesting
joeclark
so you could go to any site at all and validate it. some will. like ALL of mine, except very old pages.
joeclark
anything I update for any reason I fix. but anyway.
esteemed-colleague
and who created favelets? it being free and useful
joeclark
super-severe validation:
esteemed-colleague
that had to be HUGE job – to create this validator
joeclark
Inconceivably. That’s young Noel Jackson’s girlie site.
and it uses THE HARDEST version of HTML.
esteemed-colleague
even gives you a little icon to prove you’re valid code
who paid for W3C markup?
joeclark
What do you mean? Somebody invented the validator. there’s also another one.
esteemed-colleague
who paid for the development of The Validator?
joeclark
The W3C. World Wide Web Consortium.
esteemed-colleague
no way...
joeclark
they publish the HTML spec.
esteemed-colleague
This is right in the middle of J. Clark territory
joeclark
I have interposed myself into that territory since 1999.
esteemed-colleague
they sound so intimidating... the WWW Consortium
joeclark
When you say “intimidating,” do you mean “tending toward wankery”?
joeclark
(I write that in euphemism on the off chance I want to post this later.)
esteemed-colleague
LOLOLOLOLOL
the sites are clear – if a little dull
joeclark
*a* *little* dull?
joeclark
Old joke:
World’s most boring headline: WORTHY CANADIAN INITIATIVE
esteemed-colleague
less interesting than public health/emergencies measures warnings
joeclark
New joke:
World’s most boring headline: W3C RELEASES “CANDIDATE RECOMMENDATION”
esteemed-colleague
LOLOL
joeclark
Other questions about this gripping subject?
esteemed-colleague
hehe – this is been a good primer  ¶  2003.09.04

2003.09.03aGrant got on the developer’s case, and now character entities cited by number display properly in the beloved cœlecanth of a PDA, the Newton.  

Newton screenshot, with entities properly displayed

2003.09.03b – One Betamax (q.v.: A, B, C) has eaten two tapes. Its door does not close, and there’s a visible dent in an internal component. I did it. I could have disassembled the thing, but it was already broken after it ate the first tape is my rationalization.

Meanwhile, the other Beta cannot carry its tune, as it were, consistently; it will instantaneously flip to another channel and then back.

You realize what this condemns me to doing? Getting them fixed. At well more than one hundred percent of the purchase prices. And a breathtaking schlep out to the middle of nowhere to do it – four times (there and back twice).  

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