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Category: web design

No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail Better

Samuel Beckett

A link tossed in to the stream by Joe Tennis on Twitter, stirred up thoughts about failure. Joe’s pointer was to a blog posting on the process of creating computer games, and the ideal of setting up an environment where failure can happen faster and isn’t punished. That’s a unique idea in this day and age.

It brought to mind a quote from a late Samuel Beckett novel called “Worstward Ho.”

Ever tried.
Ever failed.
No matter.
Try again.
Fail again.
Fail better.
Samuel Beckett

If you intend to participate in a creative profession, whether it’s writing fiction, making paintings or plays, creating companies, products or software— you’ll need to learn to live in, and with, failure. In a sense, success is the failure that we’ve made an accomodation with. We shoot for perfection, and we always fall short. Dave Winer summed it up in 1995 in his motto for Living VideoTextWe make shitty software, with bugs. Software must ship prior to perfection, in that way it’s like life. We must live our lives prior to perfection. If we wait, we’ll miss everything.

Failure is tied to risk. If failure is not an option, risk is not an option. If risk isn’t an option, only a very small kind of success is possible. The principle is the same as an investment portfolio. You can banish risk, but you can’t expect a high level of return. Risk is a requirement of potential high return. The same is true in any creative pursuit, if you want a big success, you’ll need to learn to live with risk and failure.

And not just live with them, but to call them friends. Learning how to fail faster means learning how to succeed faster. Creating a safe environment for failure encourages risk taking and exploration. It gets you there faster. But just as with success, not all failure is equally successful. Failures need to be crafted just as carefully as successes. Just ask Samuel Beckett…

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The Horror Revealed on a ‘View Source’

Thinking of relation between surface to depth, surface to the underlying material. These are fundamental questions when thinking about visual design. The ink on paper designer has tremendous freedom to create whatever the imagination can conjure.

The fundamental materials are the printing process and the selection of paper type. Clearly a print designer can imagine things that can’t be produced in black ink on newsprint. Generally, an experienced print graphic designer takes print production methods into account when starting a visual design. It’s called designing into the production process. When you do this, things go smoothly when it comes to to fire up the presses and put ink to paper. When you don’t there’s panic at the press check.

Of course, the fantasy is that you can make the surface manifest just as it exists in your imagination— the physical world has no claim on the execution of design. This, to some extent, is the state of much of visual design on the Web. I blame photoshop. While it’s true that just about any visual design can be built for the screen— it’s not always a good idea to do so. The horror revealed on a ‘View Source’ tells you why.

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Industrial Design: Creating The Look of the DOM

For a long time now the visual design of websites has had no relationship to the underlying structure of the document. It’s as though the visual manifestation of the website had no relation to its material. There are lots of web production processes designed this way. It’s usually done in photoshop by publication designers who know nothing of HTML or the Document Object Model.

Traditional industrial design is all about understanding your materials and the purpose of the thing you’re designing. Putting the underlying structure of the document in sync with the visual design creates a flexible, powerful whole. It allows websites to serve multiple output devices, including meeting ADA requirements.

Like the effort to get web browser makers to adhere to standards, and the new effort to get HTML email readers to abide by the same standards— this effort needs to be directed at the Content Management System makers and the visual designers of websites. CMS’s should produce POSH (Plain Old Semantic HTML), and designers should create visuals that respect the structure of the document.

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POSH & The Courts

Not sure what this court ruling really means, but the Register and TechCrunch are reporting that California courts are “leaning” toward requiring Web site accessibility for the visually impaired. For the folks who build websites using progressive enhancement and POSH (plain old semantic HTML), this would not be a problem. (Thanks to Joe Tennis for the link to POSH)

For the most part front end presentation code has been either been patched together by backend developers, or created by visual designers using photoshop with no understanding of how their pictures relate to code. There are a few brave souls that continue to spearhead the concept of designing with HTML. While it’s hard for the front end designer/coders to set the strategic agenda, I think it’s time they did. Right now there are a few people who can fill that role, I’m thinking of Jeremy Keith, Zeldman, Jason Fried, Eric Meyer and a few others.

I wonder if it would be a good or bad thing if the courts mandated POSH and progressive enhancement? I’m sure some back-end developer will create some inflexible, horribly tortured way to meet the requirement by creating multiple versions of a Web site. And then some online journal will document it as a “best practice.” This really could turn into a case of the blind leading the blind.

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