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Re: [css-d] What happened to design?

Sent by Eric A. Meyer on 25 January 2002 18:06

At 17:20 -0500 1/25/02, Al Sparber wrote:

>real-world designers making sites for small and medium-sized business,
>cannot be forced to abandon tables this year. The New York Public Library
>site was designed, in part, by a brilliant man who is heavily into standards
>and while the site validates, it is table-based. Possibly because the
>library has a bunch of Netscape 4 browsers hanging around its branches?

    Very likely, I'd say.  And while the quickly heating debate about 
tools and their utility could be interesting, I'd like to steer 
things back toward the design point of the thread and avoid a tools 
war, if we could (argue offlist if you feel you must).  The original 
question very much a question worth asking: Why are so many 
position-based designs like 1997 all over again?  Is this a failing 
of CSS, or of the imagination?
    I really do think there's a certain degree of trepidation when one 
starts with CSS positioning.  The legacy browser bugs are formidable; 
heck, the modern browser bugs are nothing to take lightly.  Take Al's 
question about IE5/Mac making positioned elements wider than they 
should be.  I've seen the same problem in css/edge and haven't yet 
found a fix (although I admit to not trying very hard).  So a lot of 
positioning is very simple, basic, "don't get too crazy or you'll 
kill us all" stuff.  This is true even of my own stuff.  When I 
decided to redesign meyerweb earlier this month and ditch tables, I 
consciously decided to go with a simple float rather than 
positioning.  I did this solely due to browser concerns, and for no 
other reason.  I may revisit that decision in the near future[1].
    But I think there is a vast untapped reservoir of Cool Stuff We 
Could Do With CSS.  Some of it has made its way into css/edge, like 
curvelicious and the popups.  The design may be boring, but the 
concepts are exciting-- or at least I'd like to think so.  What if we 
start mixing and matching them in artistic ways?  I suspect there are 
entire uncharted continents of design possibilities just waiting for 
someone to discover and map them.  I'm probably not that person, as 
my artistic skills are middling at best.  But I can build the ships 
that I think will get others there, which is why css/edge exists in 
the first place.
    There are limitations in CSS, of course.  It's still based on 
rectangles, no matter what tricks one pulls to make it seem 
otherwise.  But there's been centuries worth of stunning, moving, 
astonishing art done on nothing more complicated than large canvas 
rectangles.  CSS doesn't allow for every possible subtle nuance of 
visual design, no, but it's still evolving as a language.  HTML 
didn't let us do much of anything visually interesting until it 
evolved to allow tables (and then, wow!).
    I'm fairly confident that as time move on and browsers improve, 
we'll see some sophisticated and original design work using CSS 
(positioned or not).  Even if the current guard of CSS folks has 
grown tired and bitter, a new wave of authors will come in fresh and 
try new things.  Personally, I can't wait, because when they do I can 
steal their ideas for my own work <insert evil overlord laugh here>.
    I'm not trying to fault designers for their efforts either, 
because we all do what we can when we can.  Plus most designs are 
prettier than my own, so who am I to judge?  I'd be thrilled to see 
more people really pulling out all the stops with CSS-based design, 
even if they end up being proof-of-concepts that only one or two 
browsers can handle.  The more we do, the more we learn and the more 
we can teach other people how it's done.  By finding good techniques 
and ways to blend them, we add to our collective palette.  And we'll 
be ready to make a jump forward every time another browser falls off 
the end of the "don't care any more" end of the spectrum.
    Of course, as Dennis Miller would say, that's just me... I could be wrong.

[1] The cool thing about CSS being that I can revisit that decision 
without having to even touch the markup.  If I want to position my 
current design's sidebar instead of floating it, I can do that by 
editing a few lines of one stylesheet, taking about a minute-- and 
that includes file load, save, and update times.

Eric A. Meyer (, List Somethingorother
"CSS is much too interesting and elegant to be not taken seriously."
   -- Martina Kosloff
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