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Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Design, random musings, and the Web. Since 1977


Websites Have Two Layers

To keep this post focused and simple I will assume that websites have two layers:
design (UI/presentation) and code (technology/mark-up). Which layer is most
important in building a succesful website? Both you will say. But in the end
the web is about interaction. Jason
Fried at 37signals on the topic

“There’s way too much talk about CSS and XHTML and Standards and
Accessibility and not enough talk about people. CSS and Standards Compliant
Code are just tools — you have to know what to build with these tools.”

People, people, people! Web design is a bit like a car —
the engine (technology) and everything else that makes using it bearable (interface).
Over at the wonderfully designed Airbag, thoughts
of Greg Storey
follow a similar pattern:

“Now I’m all for a good conversation and exhibition of great design work
but enough is enough. Web standards and style sheets are here to stay (ya hooray!).
It’s time to move on. So let’s talk about money and metrics.”

So? Is the fuzz about XHTML, CSS and other new exciting technologies over?
Can we move on? If you buy a car you assume its engine will function. Nowadays
there are no shamelessly bad engine manufacturers left. What really differentiates
brands such as Ford, BMW and Volkswagen is the experience they sell. The automobile
industry is a mature industry. The web is not — yet. Look around. Do we
see standard compliant code everywhere? Can we assume websites have solid mark-up?

Personally I agree with both Jason and Greg. Yet I think they’re looking
in the wrong places. The blogosphere tends to talk about code. Yadi yada validation
yada yadi standards yada yada. We are part of a small group that cares and knows
about good mark-up. But there’s more happening around us. SxSW
is not solely a user experience conference, nor is it purely a design event.
SxSW just happens to attract a lot of people talking about CSS. Leave the coders
do the talking about what they know best: clean mark-up. They should not stop
innovating or spreading the word — on the contrary.

If I want to discuss all things user experience I post a message to CHI-WEB,
check the latest news at Information
and have a good laugh with the folks from OK/Cancel.
Oh, and maybe even read what Jakob Nielsen
has to say. It’s not a matter of “or”, it’s a matter
of “and”. We need both. I focus on design, not code — it’s
what I do and talk about. If you want to change the industry put your money
where your mouth is, but don’t tell people to stop doing what they love.

This item was posted by dhilhorst on Thursday, March 18th, 2004.


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8 comments on “Websites Have Two Layers”

  1. Posted by Andy Budd on Thursday, March 18th, 2004.

    Couldn’t agree more.

  2. Posted by DarkBlue on Thursday, March 18th, 2004.

    Any website has to serve its target audience – that is so obvious it barely needs to be written.

    If the purpose of a website is to sell product, then the principle area of any importance is the user experience (Can I find the product I want? Can I found the ancilliary information I need? Can I complete the purchase easily?)

    If the purpose is to sell a design agency then the principle focus should be on the visual experience (I’m not got to contract a designer who has an ugly website).

    Corporate websites should be about information: shareholder reports, office locations (with all the necessary contact details), product/service information, document archives, etc.

    For a personal “home page” there are no rules (waits for the flames).

    But, I can’t think of a single type of website that should NOT strive for accessibility and standards-compliance. Yet, today, only a small percentage of sites follow the rules. So, IMO, the websites that discuss CSS/XHTML/etc are not only appreciated by me personally, they are a necessity.

    Web-designers the world over need these so that they can adjust their practices and transpose the old web with the new.

    So I can only agree, we need to work hard on both layers (design and code) with about equal importance assigned to each.

  3. Posted by Didier Hilhorst on Thursday, March 18th, 2004.

    Accessibility and standard compliant code are a necessity. It is a given part of the equation. To express my thoughts in mathematical terms:

    f(x) = ax + b

    Where f(x) is your website, a = design, x = the variables you include to shape user experience and b = (good) code. The small b is constant and should always be present. If not your equation will yield something different — something less good in my opinion.

    I like to focus on ax. Because it’s what I love. But that does not mean I don’t have respect for the people that talk about the b. It’s all a matter of balance I guess.

  4. Posted by Arikawa on Thursday, March 18th, 2004.

    There’s a bit of “preaching to the choir” tone to Greg’s comments on Airbag, and I can’t say that I disagree with him. Sometimes its a droll task to visit your favorites/check your feeds and find more of the same CSS/XHTML talk going on. But I think that may be due to the ever-changing mood of the creative rather than the relevancy of the topic.

    It’s easy for us “in the know” (sounds elitist, but its not my intention) to think that CSS/XHTML has been talked to death — because we’ve all followed it for so long.

    But the fact is, not everyone is at “our” level yet. A new beginner is born every day. Having these resources freely and openly available to everyone is beneficial for the community as a whole — even if it’s all “old-hat” for some.

    That said, I agree that there should be more discourse about user experience. Even amongst ourselves, if we have roughly the same % of good markup, its our design and user experience that set us apart.

  5. Posted by Mike P. on Thursday, March 18th, 2004.

    I agree with Arikawa, and feel that some more variety would be interesting. So, <redfaced> a quick check of my blog and all I see is css, standards and semantics! </redfaced>

    One thing I find though, and maybe it’s lately, there’s too much emphasis on the ‘valid css/xhtml’ end and not enough on basic semantics → and I mean the kind you can read right from the specs.

    Great comment Andy.

  6. Posted by Adam on Sunday, March 21st, 2004.

    Great post and comment Didier, I love your metaphor of a mathematical relationship. It shows the power of design relative to coding, and the all-important “X factor”!

    Andy you’re right about much standards talk being akin to preaching to the converted. On the web as in print, a good writer is one who elucidates that which is felt by many. I reckon there’s been an undercurrent of discontent with standards-obsession amongst many designers, and thank god there’s some relief coming now.

    I was starting to think web design was all CSS coding there for a while!

  7. Posted by Scrivs on Monday, March 22nd, 2004.

    Damn, never would have written today’s post if I saw this. Oh well. Better to attack em from all angles.

  8. Posted by web on Wednesday, April 7th, 2004.

    I can see how people can become sick of hearing the same old rhetoric, but still aren’t “99.5% of websites obsolete??” The good fight needs to still be waged, against tag soup, sloppy html and non-semantic code.

    Although XHTML + CSS should never be a replacement for good usability design. Nor should it be implemented in order to increase profits … isn’t that what spam is for?