Speak UpA Former Division of UnderConsideration
The Archives, August 2002 – April 2009
advertise @ underconsideration
---Click here for full archive list or browse below
  
The Web isn’t Print: A Reminder

Jeffrey Veen, a founding partner of the user experience consultancy Adaptive Path, has written up his notes from his speech on accessibility he gave at SXSW:

I don’t care about accessibility.

It’s a good read for anyone involved with the web, but I’d suggest that it is necessary reading for any graphic designer who’s trying to move or apply their years of print design training into the craft of web design and development. While it seems odd to still be reciting the tired “the web is not print” maxim in 2004, it still needs to be repeated.

If designing web sites is your bread and butter, read this article for a refresher on why we do what we do. If you’ve honed your skills on press checks and picas but want to know a bit more about how the web works, read this article to see what we’re all talking about.

And to end with a question for discussion, I’ll ask this: would Mr. Veen feel comfortable working with you and/or your firm? From my perspective today—years after the dot com rise and leveling-off—I *still* see a lot of work being produced from rather reputable firms that does not take into account the very fact that it is a *web* site first and foremost. Firms that will spend countless man-hours on a press check refuse to user test or even check for proper alt attributes.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 1883 FILED UNDER Discussion
PUBLISHED ON Mar.23.2004 BY darrel
WITH 26 COMMENTS
Comments
Su’s comment is:

Meh. He said nothing new(not even the inaccurate stuff), and then shot himself in the foot by admitting he works in a magickal fantasy land. Reality puts us somewhere a little below that where we have to pick and choose which hacks are palatable and what browser screwups we can deal with. Don't even get me started on the numerous intricate "joys" of using PNG images with alpha on web pages.

Cheshire Dave, Marc Rullo and a couple others have already said pretty much anything else I might about this in the comments over there.

On Mar.23.2004 at 02:01 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Reality puts us somewhere a little below that where we have to pick and choose which hacks are palatable and what browser screwups we can deal with.

But--and I think this is the point of Veen's commentary--if you design from the start based on the medium, your dependance on any hacks or worries about browser inconsistencies are minimized...which is ultimately the better business argument than picking and choosing hacks to make something whipped up in photoshop 'look' right on the web.

CheshireDave has some good points, but they don't change Veen's message at all...rather they compliment them nicely and add some balance to the comments. Marc's comments aren't worth commenting on, unfortunately.

As usual with these types of commentaries, the responses are often akin to the 'throw the baby out with the bathwater' knee-jerk rebuttals which do little to improve the understanding of the medium.

On Mar.23.2004 at 02:29 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Meh. He said nothing new

You are also absolutely right about that. This isn't anything new, and I would have thought by now (2004) we would have been able to stop repeating it. ;o)

On Mar.23.2004 at 02:30 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Here's my big secret for you today. When you design for the Web -- that is, when you design exclusively and specifically for this medium -- when you do that natively, so many of the things we consider problems just start to fall away.

Well, that's helpful. So I'm assuming it would work the same for print (or plumbing) When you design for Print, when you do that natively, so many of the things we consider problems just start to fall away. So if I design "natively" for print I don't have to worry about dot gain, bad trimming, loose registration, etc.? Cool.

> would Mr. Veen feel comfortable working with you and/or your firm?

Probably not.

On Mar.23.2004 at 02:57 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

So if I design "natively" for print I don't have to worry about dot gain, bad trimming, loose registration, etc.? Cool.

When you design for print, I assume you take things like dot gain, how it's going to be trimmed, the quality of the printer, the paper, etc. as parameters of the project. You KNOW about those issues. I'm sure you'd be infinitely better at handling the project that the kid that just does web sites and has never seen a printing press. Knowing the medium is to be able to understand the craft of whatever you are doing.

On Mar.23.2004 at 03:51 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

BTW, many of the 'problems' he speaks of are those that arise when you have a team that does not understand the web spearheading the development.

You'll always have issues with browser discrepancies (just as you would with different dot gain on different papers) but if you understand the medium to begin with, issues of dot gain or browser discrepancies can be minimized via the design approach you take (vs. the typical process where things need to be patched and duct taped after it's all designed to get it to work as intended.)

On Mar.23.2004 at 03:55 PM
Mr. Kahn’s comment is:

I would like to point at that this discussion is focused on HTML/CSS based design. Web design which is a much broader topic.

Not that there is anything wrong with this, HTML and CSS are critical. But, a distinction should be made.

On Mar.23.2004 at 05:06 PM
Mr. Kahn’s comment is:

I would also like to point out that the title is incorrect.

"The Web isn't Print" is false.

The web is print, screen, audio, physical 3d, braille, video and anything else you can output digitally.

Just one small example is the CSS media type. This type allows you to apply different rules for different media: aural, braille, handheld, print, screen, etc.

Don't think of the web just as what appears in HTML inside your web browser.

On Mar.23.2004 at 05:15 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I would like to point at that this discussion

Which discussion? I agree that the web is much more than that, but not that Jeff's talk was focusing solely on HTML and CSS (though those are the primary building blocks just as paper and ink are in print).

Don't think of the web just as what appears in HTML inside your web browser.

Exactly. ;o)

On Mar.23.2004 at 05:49 PM
Armin’s comment is:

A very interesting new blog is now around (I just got notified of it) which asks the tired ol' question backwards: How has the web affected print?

hypulp.

On Mar.24.2004 at 08:31 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Nice link, Armin. Some good examples of web elements and practices migrating back to print. The bit on ID's redesign is interetsing.

On Mar.24.2004 at 09:17 AM
James Craig’s comment is:

> > so many of the things we consider

> > problems just start to fall away.

>

> Well, that's helpful.

He was referring to "following standards" with regards to markup. For example, if you have a form label and input that don't match up (an accessibility problem), the HTML validator will give you a warning. (Aside: This comment form has no labels. Ahem.) If you use semantic HTML and CSS to lay out pages, they are also read properly by screen readers and text-only browsers.

I worry that his message will be misinterpreted to mean accessibility doesn't matter. The other problem with his argument is that it's "preaching to to choir." Although he's mostly correct (:p), he doesn't explain his arguments well enough for readers who are outside the spectrum of "standards-compliant web designers."

On Mar.24.2004 at 07:01 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Perhaps I totally interpreted his notes differently than everyone one else.

I felt the point he was trying to make was that if you design IN the medium, a lot of the typical gripes/complaints don't even come up. All too often, I see people designing web sites by first opening up photoshop and composing a nice looking screen. This didn't work in 1998, and it doesn't work now, but it's still constantly done.

Ie, don't force your photoshop comp into a web site. I hear a lot of 'I shouldn't know HTML because it I don't want those constraints to hinder my visual exploration'. People should be saying 'I want to learn all I can about the craft of web building to fully understand the complete picture'.

On Mar.24.2004 at 09:22 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> 'I want to learn all I can about the craft of web building to fully understand the complete picture'

with all due respect Darrel...and I mean this in the nicest way...but please, any of you, shoot me out of my misery should I ever utter those words.

On Mar.25.2004 at 02:44 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Tan...care to eleborate?

On Mar.25.2004 at 07:18 AM
justin m’s comment is:

I understood his statements completely differently. I took them as, "When you design for the web, accessibility doesn't matter. Just as long as you happen to work with people who do realize it matters."

That's what I understand from it. Work with people who understand and care about all the things you don't care about and everything will be okay in the end.

On Mar.25.2004 at 07:23 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Ok, ok...I now concede that this is the most misinterpreted thing (by myself as well) I've posted. ;o)

*sigh*

On Mar.25.2004 at 07:40 AM
Armin’s comment is:

And the way I looked at it was that he was basically saying If you do things right, they won't be wrong. It's like, duh, of course. But it seems like we all misinterpreted it, so we know where the problem lies.

On Mar.25.2004 at 08:28 AM
JonSel’s comment is:

shoot me out of my misery should I ever utter those words.

I couldn't agree more. You know what I love? Paper. (I don't mean to dismiss web designers. I just am not interested in joining those ranks.)

All too often, I see people designing web sites by first opening up photoshop and composing a nice looking screen. This didn't work in 1998, and it doesn't work now

I'm going to now sound even more like the webless designer that I am, but can you elaborate on this, Darrel? How should it be properly done?

On Mar.25.2004 at 08:53 AM
Dan’s comment is:

I'm one step ahead (behind, maybe?) of Darrel because I couldn't figure out how to interpret any of what Veen said. Chesh sure was ticked, though...

About "opening up photoshop and composing" a website...You can design a page in photoshop (text, images, etc within Veen's 800x600px box), "jump to" imageready, chop it into rectangular slices, create an html file with a bunch of tables to hold the images, and upload it to a website, so that you've got a website (this one is cool) that is pretty much a gigantic image (but you can make rollovers, etc, but beware of the Source Codes of Insanity!). People did this for a few years and started to use those html tables to put html text inside. And so on. Someone can probably explain CSS and web standards more eloquently than I can.

On Mar.25.2004 at 09:19 AM
Teal’s comment is:

Ok. Darrel, I read it the way you did. But probably that is because my design background has started from the web. I think he was talking about good coding standards. And he was saying that if we understand the native language, we will naturally move towards appropriate design practices for the web.

He was not dissuading us from using good accesibility techniques.

It was an article pitched to experienced web designers, about letting go of this issue. It does not address the people who are coming only from print.

And as a point on reading ... don't assume this is a 1,000 page manual on web-design practices. It is a text copy of a speech given at a conference. As a speech it needs to be brief, entertaining, and relevant to some topic discussed amongst its recipients. It sounds as if many people are reading it out of context.

On Mar.25.2004 at 10:25 AM
Kitty’s comment is:

Veen made some good points but I think he undid them by being deliberately provocative ("I don't care about accessibility") or overly sweeping ("We have to let go of typography") in some of his statements. I think that there's more to accessibility than just knowing your medium inside and out, just as there's more to typography than just having fifty neat fonts to use. I think this was also in his message, but it was overpowered by some of the dramatic bits.

On Mar.25.2004 at 10:26 AM
Nathan’s comment is:

All too often, I see people designing web sites by first opening up photoshop and composing a nice looking screen. This didn't work in 1998, and it doesn't work now, but it's still constantly done.

Hear hear! And I am afraid to say that I still see this now. I have seen some very nice looking Photoshop design impressions that are nearly impossible to translate into a web page without some really nasty HTML hacks. When a design is mocked up, someone with intricate knowledge of the target medium is needed to provide feedback as to whether a design is feasible. When someone that has just a print background designs for the web unchecked, problems arise.

Some things that the person putting together a design impression may not think of without good web design knowledge:

- Will the design stretch? Will it still look good?

- Are there background elements that span multiple content elements, making alignment a major issue?

- How quick will the needed markup and images be to download?

- Can the design apply across broad types of content, or will tweaking of individual pages be needed to get everything to fit.

I agree that this whole issue has been re-hashed before, but it still seems to be an issue even now.

On Mar.25.2004 at 11:08 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

I'm going to now sound even more like the webless designer that I am, but can you elaborate on this, Darrel? How should it be properly done?

That (IMHO) is the jist of Jeff's comments. When you design a piece of paper, you are composing a visual layout. You need to understand all the aspects of printing and graphic design, but you're given a defined canvas.

The medium of the web does not have this designed canvas. The web is much more about user interactoin and user epxerience than a defined visual layout.

The photoshop process is how things were in 1998 when I first started. The first realization that I wasn't truly working for a web design firm, but rather a print firm with wanna-be web aspirations was during a project for a site design for a hospital.

The initial requirements were clear. We had 3 defined audiences, and the site had to be completely accessible (an obscure concept at the time).

I thought 'great' we can finally do some user experience testing. I asked if I could get some money to bring in a few disabled web users to help us design the site. No go. So the intern and I found a blindfold and spent some time with Jaws.

When we had our first major project status meeting, I brought up this issue and tried to communicate the the others that this is something we need to work on. Instead, we spent the full two hourse debating the merits of stock photo 'a' and stock photo 'b' for the home page.

And, sadly, this is *still* what happens in many firms today.

I get a sense from this thread from a few of you that the details of web design are beneath the requirements of a talented graphic designer. That is what I believe Jeff was getting at.

It was an article pitched to experienced web designers, about letting go of this issue. It does not address the people who are coming only from print.

You are absolutely correct, Teal, and that is most likely why it is being misinterpreted. But also, that's kind of why I posted it here. ;o)

Hear hear! And I am afraid to say that I still see this now.

Phew! I'm not crazy, then? Good...I'm glad I wasn't alone in reading it as I did. ;o)

On Mar.25.2004 at 11:34 AM
Tan’s comment is:

> get a sense from this thread from a few of you that the details of web design are beneath the requirements of a talented graphic designer.

Now, now, let's not turn this into a barfight Darrel.

Learning web technologies and understanding its limitations is important for web design. But it's not quite the same thing as mastering print technologies for a designer. The reason is that understanding printing is only a support requirement of implementing print design, while understanding web is a determining factor for web design. One dictates, while the other is just a part of construction.

In my experience, web developers view crucial design elements like messaging, typography, and concept as secondary and easy compared to technical proficiencies and usability comprehension. The tone of articles like this one only reinforces that.

But you know what? I can't argue, because for all of the reasons that have been outlined here, they're probably right. But it just points to a fundamental difference in approaches between both worlds.

On Mar.25.2004 at 01:37 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I think I agree with you there, Tan. Though I don't think skilled web developers think the visual elements, like typography are *easier*, but I do think (and agree with them) they they *do* come secondary to things like usability and accessibility. That doesn't mean one should ignore good typography to focus solely on accessibility, nor should one ignore accessibility to focus solely on good typography. There is still this odd competition issue between the visual designers and the software designers at times.

On Mar.25.2004 at 02:03 PM