Netscape, HTML, and Designers

Mark Connolly (
Tue, 18 Oct 1994 22:27:13 +0100


I'd like to make a few comment from this graphic designer's perspective.

I understand and appreciate that HTML is intended for _logical structure_
markup. It seems to me, though, that more and more Web sites are being set
up as if HTML were being used to do _page layout_ markup. As a designer,
the latter is how I'm accustomed to presenting information on a printed
page, and I'm sure many other designers would take the same approach.

And , as a designer, I am _not_ merely trying to leave my fingerprints all
over a document for ego reasons. Designers have a role to play in the
presentation of information, and I think the decisions I make regarding a
layout do enhance to flow of information from author to consumer. More
importantly, my clients think so to. And they want to know that what I've
designed for them will be presented in a consistant way that makes them
look good.

Having said that, it's clear to me (and probably everyone else on www-talk)
that HTML is not, and should not become, a language for doing page layout.

I think that part of the problem might be that there is a lack of
understanding of what HTML is intended to be. That certainly was the case
for me. When I first started to look for information on HTML this past
summer, I had a hard time finding definitive, hard information on
constructing Web documents. There was lots of info to choose from, but it
took some time to assemble and sift through it all. I think I'm the wiser
for it, but took a while to find everything (and I still haven't found a
text/postscript file with the HTML+/HTML 3 spec). Then I had to find tools
that would let me do at least some of the coding automatically, rather than
all by hand, and hope that the code generated by the tools was legal. I'm
still not 100% confident in my ability to create wonderful, legal, Web
pages (umm... don't tell my clients).

While I like to think I'm an industrious fellow, I'm often too lazy to make
that sort of effort, or I have too many other things to do, or something.

I could be wrong on this, but I expect that if an authorative-_sounding_
company says to the design community "we have a product that will let you
painlessly do Web page design using a tool that feels and works like
PageMaker or QuarkXpress", then there are going to be some injuries in the
ensuing stampede of designers to that company's doorstep. If that company's
product has incorporated many critical (from a designer's perspective)
capabilities that also happen to be conceptually flawed from an HTML
perspective, well those designers will, for the most part, probably use
those features anyway.

It's a very real possibility that HTML will mutate into a language for
doing page layout.

For those of you who want to preserve HTML, there are some steps that need
to be taken:

1) Understand who your "opponent" in this "conflict" is. NetScape isn't an
authoring tool. It's a browser. There won't be any bad HTML to browse if no
one creates it.

2) Find a way to explain to designers, in terms that they (we) understand,
what HTML is, what its uses are, and why it is not to be treated as a page
layout language.

3) Develop a way to provide designers with the ability to do _page layout_
on the Web so that we won't need to hammer away at HTML to force it do what
we _think_ it should do.

4) Make the process happen faster. For better or worse, designers have
become used to the reasonably quick response to their needs that commercial
software vendors provide. While it may be unfair, some won't wait for
official standards to be established if a company comes out with off-spec
solutions to designers' problems. Postscript is Adobe's de facto standard
for page layout in the publishing industry. Designers don't seem to mind de
facto standards.

I don't know if any of this helps, or is appropriate.

Am I off base with any of this?


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Mark Connolly
Connolly Design Inc., Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
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