Time for another edition of Failed Redesigns, in which incompetent, underschooled Web developers produce new or revamped Web sites with outdated and inaccessible code – and then act all surprised and indignant when I call them on it. People, please. We had to learn this shit, and you have to learn it, too. (I shall post a superspecial Homosexualist Pride Edition™ in a short while.)

Star Trek New Voyages

I read about them in Wired and thought I’d take a look at how the other half lives. “The Web site has undergone a complete refit and has been given many new features,” we are told. Apparently those features include URLs tied to the resolution of your monitor (e.g., /1024/), tables for layout (four), and of course invalid HTML.

Errors (HTML/CSS): 22 (once you force 8859-1 character encoding)/nil


The sole “barriers to entry” in Web development are poverty (can’t afford a computer or net access), illiteracy (can’t read or the computer can’t understand my writing system), and disability (can’t use the computer, the software, or Web sites). There are no other structural barriers, least of all sex. Women are longstanding leaders in many net-related fields, including hardcore shit like JavaScript. (Does anyone know of any leading women in oldschool RFCs and other pre-Web Internet standards development?) On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a woman, or anything else. Hence I rather question the need for a BlogHer conference. I merely question such a need.

However, something I am willing to declare as completely unnecessary is a site about a blogging conference that is written using tables and invalid HTML – in fact, written using anything but the most up-to-the-minute and bulletproof methods. (The site is a strange mixture of dinosaurs and mammals, with nice unordered lists for navigation, and a few heading elements, all nestled within three layout tables.) Look, what is Molly Holzschlag doing leading the Web Standards Project if a wymmynz blogging conference puts out a site like this?

Errors: 57/unparsable

Metroblogging [ugh, another buzzword] Los Angeles

Poor semantics snarl these Angelenos in traffic. Bode Media needs to sound a bit less proud of itself.

Errors: 40/unparsable

L.A. Times

I guess the troubles have really just begun for the 213 (and the 310 and the 818 and the whole list of Los Angeles area codes). The Times is proud of “introducing a new look for L.A. Times.com. We’ve simplified the navigation and streamlined the design. Stay tuned. More changes are on the way as we evolve to meet your expectations and ours.” How about working in the same century we are? (Popup windows, 48 layout tables.)

Errors: 130/unparsable

Windows Live Search

An XHTML 1.0 Strict DOCTYPE is a claim that merits merciless verification. Monopolists that live by the sword shall die by the validator.

The site is located at a valuable domain name, Live.com. (Back dans la journée, I had a band by that name autograph a T-shirt of mine.) It regurgitates nearly 50 validation errors. As they are due almost exclusively to unencoded ampersands, the errors are like misspelling “the” in the title of a Ph.D. thesis. (The shopping component initially refused to work in Firefox. So did the whole thing, for that matter. And some people claim this site is standards-compliant.)

Errors: 49/unparsable

Design sites do Web standards

Or rather, they continue not to do them. Graphic designers, their clubs, and their Weblogs are a perpetual source of noncompliant code and lousy accessibility. If I have to read another article claiming that print designers initially misunderstood the Web and misapplied print-design concepts to the new medium but have now learned their lesson, I’ll scream. Print designers still do not know the first thing about Web development.

Art Matters

The Art Gallery of Ontario is trying to join the kool kidz by running a blog. The AGO may someday come to realize that the kool kidz do not program their blogs as though they were portal pages from 1997. It tries for a rational HTML 4.01 Transitional, but blows it with six tables for a layout that even I could do in CSS.

Separately, these writers’ conception of who the “leading” bloggers in Toronto are is a list well in need of pruning.

Errors: 34 (some of them due to XHTML trailing slashes)/2


A “PDF magazine” whose authors join many other graphic designers in fundamentally misunderstanding the Web. Minor credit that could be given for minimizing tables for layout (two) is squandered by nonexistent semantics. These are the kind of people for whom every block of text is bracketed by <br>. At a certain point, I don’t care how nice your “PDF magazine” might be. (The actual PDF files aren’t all that nice, either. Issue 1 is output from Quark and has useful features like bookmarks, but no tags.)

Errors: 9/2, with incorrect character encoding


AIGA is one of those acronyms without an expansion, but it’s the big U.S. graphic-design association. Thus: Here we go again with technically incompetent graphic designers. The homepage’s 16 tables are perhaps too evidently inspired by Modernist layout grids.

Question for the AIGA braintrust: Why is this redesign such shite when one’s esteemed colleague James Craig did a bang-up job with AIGA Austin?

Errors: 103/1 with lousy semantics and ridiculous, though barely passable, JavaScript links


Rudy VanderLans permitted me to write exactly one article for Emigre. Its Web site has been the target of some criticism over the years as being rather hostile to the entire concept of the hyperlink, viz. typesetting nearly every link [In Red Inside Brackets]. I cannot find a reference to such criticism now, but I am willing to attribute it to Patric(k) King (q.v.); he latterly criticizes the current redesign and reports receiving ignorant complaints about his critique.

The new Emigre won’t fit on my monitor and uses no development technique more advanced than any previous version of the site. While all the brackets are gone, tables (four) are still there – another echo of Swiss Modernism that’s clearly unsuited to a postmodern type foundry. I would generously call this redesign a colossal failure.

Errors: 11/1, with absent character encoding

Design Observer

This exercise in unreadable showboating and highfalutin’ overanalysis of the workaday field of graphic design has been a design-blogger favourite for years, a fact that calls design blogging into question. I’ve been trying to kill off this kind of design writing since 1989. Anyway, the site was given an overhaul that was a failure on many levels, not the least of them technical achievement in graphic design (note the too-low logotype).

The editors “[would] like to thank Betsy Vardell, who has served as our design and technology consultant since our inception.” Vardell, apparently “a partner in RubyStudio,” is one female developer (Cf. BlogHer) who is clearly a Must to Avoid. Competence is surely in question when one of the commenters on your client’s blog does a markover of your smashing new site in a mere two hours’ time. Hire the commenter (Hasan), not Vardell.

Really, Design Observer and its writers simply do not understand, and probably fear and dislike, the Web. Middle-aged print designers have proven themselves incapable of adapting to the new medium. How long is it going to take for a generation of qualified graphic designers, who have degrees in hand but grew up with computers, to start up their own design blogs? Will things finally be better then?

Errors: 190/1, with no DOCTYPE (balloons to 596 with forced XHTML Transitional)

Applied Arts

I was permitted to write one article for this magazine, too. The site is a particularly egregious combination of four layout tables, Flash navigation, and nonexistent semantics. The redesign is attributed to Graphika Designs, which offers us a splash page and an all-Flash site in a popup window with an intro one must skip and auto-playing music you have to turn off. You know, I love it when people say Montreal is really classy and “European,” as such claims tend to overlook the tacky Sexe-Si-Bon/rue Ontario est side of Montreal that Grafika Designs so ably embodies.

Errors: 59/7, but “errors” barely begin to scratch the surface

Special Lifetime Achievement Award

Speak Up

Admittedly something of a whipping boy on this personal Weblog, the habitually ungracious Armin Vit hosted a roundtable on the Design Observer remake and had the cojones to claim the following on a page entitled “Speak Up › <span class="small_caps">ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION</span><br /> Design Observer Observed:” –

I was once blasted for our lack of W3C compliance and I went to pains to correct it, so I now would like to point to DO’s 223 errors. If you follow the instructions on the W3C site, it’s pretty easy to fix. There is no time like a redesign to lubricate the engine, if you know what I mean.

Well, Armin, amigo, you have achieved near-perfect code in one sense (a mere three HTML errors, though your CSS is unparsable), but your semantics are awful and we’re still stuck with alt texts like spacer and Divider. Your design, redesign, undesign, antidesign, or whatever else one might call it remains Failed.

Dishonourable mentions

  1. Tod Maffin’s Canada Podcasts: Tables, 819 errors. I know you don’t bill yourself as having Web-development knowledge, but is this much truth in advertising what you really want?
  2. CBC Podcasting: A near-miss. Fix the character encoding, please.
  3. CBC Worlds at Large: Tables are for the Barbara Frum Atrium, not CBC subsites.
  4. Building a Great City: No all-Flash sites, please, particularly from a government agency.
  5. Adam Vaughan: The forward-thinking Toronto mayoralty candidate has yesterday’s Web site. Readily fixable.
  6. Volt (q.v.): «Flash 8 est requis»… mail il n’existe pas chez les Macs.
  7. JPod: Douglas Coupland is one of those Wrong People who have their own Internets. Tables, 25 errors, etc. I will certainly grant that intentionally ugly sites like these are hard to produce in standards (Cf. the International Compliant Style), but Bruce Lawson managed it.
  8. Us magazine blog: Again with the tables. Yeesh.

Not Failed Redesigns

Two “honourable mentions” that actually are honourable:

  1. CBC: The recent redesign is about 85% there. At least ten of the remaining percentage points are within easy grasp. In fact, Web standards and accessibility (though only to the visually-impaired) are explicitly mentioned in the FAQ.

  2. John Hancock Funds: As explained in their blog entry, Teehan “+” Lax handed the client perfect code, which the client then screwed up. I met these lads two years ago when they were still toying with the idea of developing their own PVR platform. Their shop has expanded considerably and I am more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    However, while even very sharp criticism of actual Web-development work is clearly necessary for the health of the industry, allowing anonymous and pseudonymous commenters to ridicule me personally is not. I might be more willing to let this slide if I were ever willing to let it slide, and if, upon my last visit to the office, Jon Lax hadn’t acted as though I were trying to hack into his company’s system while I was simply trying to check my mail in Pine. Geoff and Jon need to understand that, whatever their reaction to my critique of the John Hancock site might have been, the fact that they permitted outright character assassination in their blog comments has abetted the commenters’ intention of hurting me. (Some comments are made to be deleted.) All I want is Web fucking standards.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.06.24 16:00. 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:

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