YOUR NEUTRAL APOSTROPHES SICKEN ME

The gay Web designers are no more likely to be any good at their jobs than the gay print designers, and are more likely to be entirely invisible and unknown. What passes for a name brand in this demimonde is red-haired invert Patric(k) King (q.v.), who is in tight with the homosexualist cabal of Nick Denton. (So is Su, the bf unit with the extravagantly abbreviated name.)

Generally I don’t like his shit, but King has at least been learning as he goes along. In fact, if you trace the degree of standards-noncompliance of the series of Gawker Media sites he’s developed, you can observe cluefulness increasing with each one. He is perhaps a late convert to standards, but we’re sort of like the Catholics here: As long as you renounce your former sins and give yourselves over to the forces of good before you kick off, you’re in. (I vaguely recall putting that same sentiment into different words in some interview or other. Anybody know where?)

It was nonetheless surprising to read King’s guest editorial “Both Sides Now” in Print (September/October 2005, pp. 30–32), subhedded “Designers are beginning to understand the ‘dirty notion’ [sic] of separating form and content on the Internet.” It’s too long by half, but at least the piece is now a citable reference in the print medium (indeed, the Print medium) concerning Web standards.

Let’s get fisking!

A designer’s mindset is… very different from a developer’s – the visual artist’s focus is on organizing information in a way that is emotionally evocative…. A designer adds to [a developer’s] functionality by transforming those features into riveting experiences for the user.

If you’re designing album covers, sure. Where does information architecture fit into this cosmology? What if I just want to use the site and have no interest in being riveted emotionally? (In any event, that sounds like a job for Fleshbot.)

Flickr… lets you organize images intuitively

Hardly. You have to go through hoops to establish groups or sets (it’s very difficult to find the right screen to start a new instance of either), and then laboriously drag photos into sets (or “add” them, or “send” them to groups). This isn’t intuition, it’s classification; Flickr makes us all librarians.

In any event, “intuitive” is a word preferred by lazy critics. I need you to reflect on how many actions in your life really are “intuitive,” that is, can be effected without conscious thought. Riding a bike? Scratching your nose with your eyes closed? Hitting the Backspace key without looking?

(By the way, how pathetically out-of-touch are you if you need a graphic-design magazine to tell you about Flickr?)

[A] cause of friction between developers and designers is deciding where the line is drawn for standards-based design. Standards, for those of you who are blissfully unaware, are the things that have made the browser wars so much more palatable for online design teams.

At this stage, I really wish King had overruled any instinct he may have had (or any instructions from Print’s editors) to remain “nontechnical.” You have to say what you mean when explaining standards to neophytes. You have to explain that HTML gives your document structure, CSS its presentation, and JavaScript its behaviour. I have had nothing but success explaining these concepts even to technology-ignorant people (and blind teenagers). People do not understand what you’re talking about unless you’re specific.

Standards-based design gave us a reliable feature set we could count on…. Nonstandard code was what made designing for the Web in 1999 such an all-night affair…. [I]t’s difficult to tell when the standards should be relaxed. There’s a large percentage of developers who, in response to being forced to develop their sites under such inclement conditions, have become “standardistas” – those who code their work so that it follows Web-standards specifications to the letter.

I wish it really were “a large percentage” of developers rather than a valiant and overworked minority. (I’m told I am not the person who coined the word “standardista,” but I hope I someday get credit for popularizing it [also “usabilitista” and “accessibilitista”].)

All right. Now we get to the problem:

[T]here is a powerful argument against standardization…: Human play[, which] is where purely-visual design comes in.

King goes on to explain how much guff he gets from developers on this concept. Well, maybe you need a new circle of friends? The goal of standards is not to detract from Web sites but to enhance them. Standards-compliant sites without good visual design are missing the point. (Like, for example, most of mine. I do what I can.) I have certainly been around in this business and I cannot think of any developers I’ve talked to who aren’t in favour of “purely-visual design.” Give us a nice paint job, but give us a V8 under the hood, too, please.

Is it not true that the leading standardistas are good visual designers, often with actual training in graphic design? Am I not one of the few standardistas who isn’t a good designer? (Design critic, yes. Practitioner, no.) In any event, Flash and Ajax, when used responsibly, can produce reasonably compliant sites with a nice sense of “play.” You don’t even have to go that far; wait till you see what Bruce Lawson’s got up his sleeve (K THANKS BYE!). King’s sites for Denton, larded up with bizarre graphics but scarcely any alt texts, are not good case studies to follow.

Interestingly, the example King provides is a MetaFilter thread on sIFR (or, as he misrenders it, SiFR). “Fortunately, exchanges like the one at MeFi are rare,” he writes. If so, where are all these developers who want a V8 but no paint job? Which is it?

Developers and designers are now creating something unique in the Web’s history. The magic of the current advances is that they’re rooted in simultaneous implementations of rational and emotional forms of design that are impossible in any other medium.

Amen, sister!

Special to Joyce Rutter Kaye

Yeah, so I used to write occasionally for Print. In fact, my “professional” writing career started there, with a 1989 article that was the first I ever got paid for. (And my bank wouldn’t deposit their U.S. cheque!) In the early Aughties, the magazine’s current editor-at-large liked my work and encouraged me to produce the kind of punchy yet well-researched articles I so dearly love to write (“TypoBlog,” “Reviled Fonts”). I found it very odd indeed that his AOL account seemed never to deliver my on-topic business E-mails, but always delivered the E-mails asking if he’d received the other ones (and my replies to his replies of “no, I haven’t”). It was not a flawless business relationship, but I really liked it. I even visited the Print offices circa April 2003.

I subsequently pitched a biographical piece on my old friend, the late Canadian wayfinding pioneer Paul Arthur, that I simply never finished. In fact, I never started it. For one thing, all his papers are locked in a vault in a museum that’s under construction. For another… I just didn’t start it. To this day I don’t know why. It was only the second time I completely blew a deadline in over a decade’s freelance writing for magazines and newspapers.

There was only so much apologizing I could do, and none of it sufficed as a replacement for an actual story. Plus my in-house champion more or less retired, leaving me under the ægis of editrix Joyce Rutter Kaye. She’s ignored my arse for the better part of two years, but I did receive this E-mail once:

I’m disappointed that you can’t accept professional criticism and I have yet to witness even a modicum of civility from you during the edits on any of your pieces. It’s one thing to trash Print’s other writers on your blog – it’s your right, of course – but decent, professional behavior is not too much to expect when you’re contributing to the magazine.

The “trash[ing]” she refers to is a rather benign critique of a single piece in Print. Civility? Print is an office full of top-posters. I reply point-by-point in E-mail and don’t dress anything up. Someone who doesn’t understand E-mail will not understand that approach and will misinterpret it. E-mail is a businesslike medium; it is not a love letter. And yes, that was all that was happening; I have every single E-mail and I can prove it. I am sometimes innocent of charges of which I am guilty at other times.

So I don’t know what’s going on there. If I have to read another goddamned piece by Steven Heller or the very weird Rick Poynor (whose articles I am never able to finish), I’ll scream. If Kaye wants to shitcan one of her better writers, well, it’s her magazine. Oh, but on second thought, it isn’t: While all this was happening, Print nearly went bankrupt and had to be sold, no doubt at a fire-sale price, to the company that publishes nearly all the other American design magazines.

A journal of critical articles on graphic design has no business carping when it’s on the receiving end.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2005.09.17 20:03. 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:
https://blog.fawny.org/2005/09/17/king/

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