‘Carthage must be destroyed’

Liveblogging a panel at South by Southwest 2005 (; ) with Christopher Schmitt, Molly Holzschlag, Douglas Bowman, Dan Cederholm, Dave Shea; 2005.03.13 11:31

Molly polls audience for expert, intermediate, and “new adventure” levels. (I’m intermediate.) “Before we get to CSS, there is a real fundamental need to discuss the document… and why markup is so fundamentally important to CSS. I’m calling it the starting place.”

CSS does nothing unless you attach it to some kind of ([X]HTML) document. Mastering the markup “gives you a tremendous amount of more control…. People interested in Web standards [feel] document and data standards are equally significant to Web design as the design itself.”

Structure is not semantics. Structure is “the required syntax that has to be there,” like proper DOCTYPE declaration, the root element html, a namespace, head and body elements (though some of those can be deleted validly in some version of HTML, I’d note). Semantics is actually the “meaning” of the markup, and while XML might be richer, we have to live with what we’ve got in HTML.

“What I am saying is for people to think in data structures, not design.” That may be unpopular with designers, but “we have to understand that we are really working with data first and foremost. At least that’s the way that I see it.”

Dan, barely audible as usual, introduces “Beautiful and Bulletproof in 10 Minutes.” When design, text, and images “come together well,” he likes to use the word “bulletproof” to describe the result. A bulletproof site is designed for worst-case scenarios.

His ten-second usability test involves turning off CSS (another myth; you’re just looking at the browser’s internal CSS). You can then tell if the structure is correct, allegedly.

Images became surprisingly important in his site. When images are turned off, a background behind text disappeared, leaving dark-grey-on-grey text. So always specify a background colour just in case.

Dave, whose slides are really great to look at (a rarity): Nearly everybody uses a text editor, according to his audience poll. WYSIWYG editors: Three hands. “When you consider the typical Mac-loving, latte-sipping graphic designer, conforming to convention isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.”

Graphic designers think visually; all the design software in use requires the mouse and is entirely visual. CSS, on the other hand, is a “coding” or “styling” language, “and it’s not something that graphic designers are naturally accustomed to use.” CSS is in some ways like a page-layout program, in that you define styles for different elements in a central spot. Yet CSS is merely code.

[Dave’s presentation style has improved considerably. He claimed to be nervous in Australia, but he was just fine onstage, with excellent delivery (naturally rather stern and firm, but that’s his style). Today he displayed considerable fluency and good organization.]

“Study typography. I say it again because it’s that important. Type is essential.”

Bowman had his usual phenomenally beautiful slides. He starts off with the topic he overran his time with last year – double rollovers, or remote rollovers as he now calls them.

Doug recounts the E-mail he received after the Wired redesign, that ended with “By the way, I’m blind.” “That hit me like a ton of bricks. I went back and reread that 20 times because I loved that so much.” He no longer designs for “people like us, who can see.” Beauty in design is not just for those, but individuals with no eyes.

Molly notes, in response to a question, that very few courses teach standards.

Doug thinks a :parent selector would be “something very, very simple that we could make use of immediately.” Dave thinks embedded type is useful, but that’s more of a licensing issue. Dan thinks assigning multiple background images to elements is needed. Molly is “pretty pleased where CSS is now,” but wants better browsers. (Scattered applause.)

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2005.03.13 17:16. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
http://blog.fawny.org/2005/03/13/sxsw2005-13b/

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