Web Design for the Rest of Them

Read at your own risk

This document dates from the early web period, and is kept for archival purposes only. It is no longer updated, and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate.

Combining maximum presentation with maximum penetration, and letting the browser do all the work.

If you want to maximize readability across the wide range of individuals and browsers on the net, you need let go of the old paradigm of paper publishing and absolute control.

Yes, it’s hard for authors to relinquish control to their readers. But once you take that intellectual leap into the 21st century, your readers can include everyone who has any access to the web, including commercial systems such as America On-Line, television viewers using WebTV, Unix systems where the only web browser is the character-oriented Lynx, people who speak languages other than the one you’re writing in—and people who can’t read at all, but instead need the page to be read to them.

I was leafing through a ‘webmaster’ reference a few days ago and read that ‘the main difference between print and the web is that web pages are output on computer monitors’. Bullshit. The difference is that you don’t know what the end medium of your web pages will be. It could be a window taking up all the space on a 21 inch monitor, or it could be a window talking up a quarter of the screen on a 15 inch monitor. It could be a text-only browser in a high school in Brazil, or a voice-only browser in a school for the blind. It could even be print. If you design your web pages correctly, you design for all these media. If you force your design to a specific format, you design only for the media you specifically worked on.

Imagine writing a book that automatically transforms itself into braille for a blind reader, German for a German reader, large type for the elderly, white-on-black for television viewers and black-on-white for those reading it on a computer monitor. That’s the web today. But only if you design your pages expressly leaving the reader in control. If you try to force a particular format, you lose.