Web dev

Of Standards and People

I noticed a trend recently, that is beginning to draw more and more attention. People are wondering is the web design maybe going in the wrong direction or is the emphasis maybe on the wrong subject.

Common ground is that we, the web community, are talking too much about the technical side of the craft, neglecting the center point of web design - is it good for visitors? How to improve the usability of the sites?

I emphasized neglecting, because I think that there is no room for concern. Usability and accessibility will always be primary points for any responsible developer. The fact that we mostly talk about CSS based designs is because they are still not easy to implement. I can create any layout using tables in under 5 minutes, but I can’t say the same thing for CSS based layouts. They are en-vogue, and they should be, until that moment when majority of new sites appearing on the web are based on them. They are more flexible and more efficient.

CSS based layouts and good XHTML marking are the products of books, tutorial, articles…namely, how-tos. We need more and more of those, we need ready-made solutions for any web design task. We had them for tables, Javascript menus and rollovers, browser detection and similar stuff. Now we need the same thing for CSS layouts, background-image replacement, CSS hierarchical menus and many more.

Web design is not going in the wrong direction. Actually, after many years of wandering, the good road is found, at last.

U&A; are the products of experience and user-involved testing. This is not something you go to school and learn. No matter how much books you read or panels attend, until you do few hands-on works, you know nothing. Until you actually use PDA to surf you web site you don’t know how easy or hard it is. You will never know how easy is to use the site until you ask people.

Here is one great example of that, real-world story.

My company developed a unified betting platform for fixed-odds betting: from call centre to web and betting shops. We were guided by some of the best bookies in the UK, people that know how their business operates. I was involved in web part of the job. For some of the things they asked us to do there, we thought they are plain wrong, because they forced us to create a loose structure, which was hard to control once you start to expand things.

What was event in one sport, was class in another, and was market in the third. And almost all of them was supposed to be displayed in the same manner. As developers, we would much preferred that event is an event, market is a market, and you have a set of rules how things gets displayed.

This way, we built something that have a life of its own. You could setup something in CMS, but you can’t expect that it will always be displayed that way, because the actual display depends not only on CMS setup but also on additional parameters being transparently set by user, while he surfs the site.

Here is the best part: now, when we are giving demos to potential clients, there are situations where something happens that presenter did not expect and he gets puzzled. But not the audience. The bookies grasp the logic behind it much quicker then some of us do (except, of course, several people that built the framework), because they work with it every day.

That is real usability. You can think you have done it best, but you can’t be sure until the people actually starts using it. There are no set of rules that will achieve usability on their own. Experience and user testing.

Same thing goes for accessibility, in somewhat lesser degree. I never had the opportunity to see a blind man surfing the web, or to see through the eyes of the colour-challenged (although I think there are tools that can simulate this). Once I do, then I will know accessibility a whole level better. But I doubt this is something I can read about and implement.

So keep bringing them on. Layouts, lists, menus, validations…We still need a lot of stones to pave the good road.