Constantly Diverse

Prompted by this discussion about typography on the web and having been working through the archives here (still to finish) I’ve come to a ground breaking, earth shattering conclusion. No, seriously…

If you are interested in my take on web design issues, read on. If not… er… come back later (but DO come back!).

I’ve been follow the Web Standards Project since it’s inception seven years ago, following it’s doctrine by ditching frames and tables for layout, reading up on accessibility issues, and moving to CSS design – I used to have a print/screen reader only stylesheet as well (which I’ll be re-introducing). In addition to that, I’ve always read and tried to keep up to date with the latest web design theories, from frames through to sIFR, and as ever had to contend with a variety of end user options; different browsers, different operating systems, different display resolutions and displayable colours. It’s a mixed bag of knowledge which has been steadily built up over the years since my first “Learning HTML” course in 1996.

Ahhhh memories of coding in Notepad, and that grey background, Times New Roman ruled the page. I digress…

The rise of Firefox seems to have re-kindled a lot of desire in the web design arena, and it, along with Safari for the Mac, seem to be focussing a lot of attention on cross-browser, cross-platform solutions. As Microsoft announced six new “for screen” typefaces the conversations are, naturally, focussing on the use of fonts on the web.

And here’s where I make my big announcement.

Wait for it…. you sure you want to read on? It might shatter your principles to the core you know… well OK, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I declare that there will never ever EVER be a cross-platform, cross-browser design base. It will continue to hover around the current 90% mark as it does at the moment. Why 90%? Well it’s widely assumed (CBATG) that 90% of web users use Windows, that’s why. No, this isn’t an anti-Mac rant, nor is it a pro-Windows rant, in fact I’m wholly unbothered by platform on this issue. So why 90%?

The face of web design has changed in the last couple of years, mainly because things have started levelling out and we can make some assumptions: Most people have a monitor capable of displaying a resolution of 1024×768, and more than 256 colours (side question: browser safety palette, do we still need it?). Most people have a modern enough browser that you can code sites using a certain level of expected rendering by the browser. Most people have an up-to-date version of their operating system.

What are the fields that you need to be concerned with if you are designing websites? Well I think most technology related (hardware and software) issues are either ignorable or well enough documented. For example, Internet Explorer 5 is an issue but even that is dropping in popularity, and anyway, the issues surrounding it are well enough documented (Tantek’s Box Model Hack for example). Hopefully more people will switch to Internet Explorer 6 sooner rather than later as that, at least, gives consistent and expected rendering results (generally speaking), even if they aren’t the correct results according to the W3 standard.

So if you generalise slightly and assume that we no longer need to worry (too much) about browser choice, operating system, monitor display capabilites, then we, and I use the term “we” advisedly, web designers can concentrate on readability, accessibility and content. Driven through the adoption of proper coding standards – separating content from style, and using XHTML markup correctly (rather than using tables to hack a layout) – we only need keep a tiny wary eye out for browser issues. And I don’t see that changing.

As with most technologies there is always something new to consider and new ideas will continue to drive CSS design to very high levels but ultimately there is a fight which will continue to be fought, a battle that cannot be won.

Quite simply there is only one way that a true cross-platform, cross-browser base can be achieved and that is if one company owns the markets for both operating system and internet browser. That’s not going to happen, obviously, so we are left fighting and scraping to get the companies and individuals involved in both areas to inch their way towards each other, all in the name of the end user.

So let’s flip this around; What is the end user doing to help?

Well, considering that a large majority of end users aren’t even aware of the “battle” I’d say that we can’t expect them to do much. So why then aren’t the web designers targetting the education of the end users? The recent Firefox campaign took a step in that direction but surely web designers, web gurus and web advocates should be targetting Joe User in the foremost. The browser wars will continue, the platform issue won’t ever change, so the real power has to be driven from what the masses want. And to make that happen, someone has to tell the masses why they should be wanting MORE than they have at the moment. But then what do “the masses” want? They want to surf websites without caring about how they work just that they work. They don’t CARE about standards, or any acronyms that they keep seeing here and there HTML? CSS? don’t know, don’t care, don’t NEED TO KNOW.