justira ([personal profile] justira) wrote2006-09-20 12:53 pm

Web Design and Development - OH MY GOD IT BURNS


Okay, WARNING: public display of elitism, arrogance, and self-aggrandisement ahead.




I just saw some of the ASS-UGLIEST WEB SITES VEER and the people who designed them wanted to SPAWN MORE PLZ.



These people should NOT BE ALLOWED TO DESIGN SITES until they have had the aesthetic centers of their brains replaced, or, probably more accurately, installed in the first place.

A little background.

I'm a web developer. Unlike most web developers, I have a very wide-ranging background and a solid foundation in several vastly different disciplines.

I am versed (going on seven years experience) in programming, and I mean C++, Java, and other object-oriented languages, not simple scripting or whatever.

I am, however mediocre, an artist, and while I may not always achieve my goals in that arena I maintain that I have good taste and a solid sense of aesthetics, if not as well-developed as those of others. I've been drawing all my life and have had an interest in design since I decided I wanted to be an architect in 4th grade. Since then I've made studies, brief or deep, long-standing or one-time, of architecture, typography, print design, fashion, GUIs, a host of other disciplines, and the design of everyday objects. I like design. I follow it. I try to do it well.

I know how to build web sites. I know how to work client-side. I know how to work server-side. I know how to make the two work together. I know and/or have worked with: (X)HTML, XML, CSS, JavaScript, ECMAScript, PHP, mySQL, SQL, Perl, and Python. If I must, I can hack it in ASP. I can set up Apache and Windows servers. I fly around them Apache config files like it's a fucking playground. Cause it is. I consider this a form of fun.

I know how to design websites. I might not always MAKE pretty, but I know it when I see it and I know what to strive for. Besides the vague disciplines of good taste and aesthetics, I've made it my business to be versed in usability (a tremednous fucking discipline that too many people ignore), designing for the handicapped and/or impaired, and other issues too few people pay attention to.

I write good code. I design to web standards. My code is FUCKING GORGEOUS. It's streamlined. It's flexible. When I'm done with a site, even completely internet-retarded clients can work with it and update it because I've made it that easy. I know CSS like the goddamn back of my hand.

I've been making websites, from amateur to professional, for almost a goddamn decade. Over 8 years. That's pretty much approaching the birth of the internet. I've seen trends come and go and I've seen what has staying power and works. My eye for this has not always been as sophisticated or well-informed as it is now, because I was, you know, NINE, but at least I have the experience and weight of my memories.

I tend to be rather shy and retiring and don't like to toot my own horn. However, I know for GODDAMN FACT that this is FAR MORE than most web developers know, do, research, work with, or take into account. This is how I have, at the age of 20, without having yet completed my degree, landed a position that pays $23 an hour with benefits, as the lead, single, only, trusted, core, whatever -- THE developer for my team. I do it all for them, BECAUSE I CAN. Because I am full-spectrum, I am wide-range, I am aware of the majority of the issues, from beginning to end, from back to front.

I do not claim to be the best. I don't even think the work I've been doing for these people is that good. I'd call it mediocre. "Okay." "Not suicide-inducing." I don't claim to be an expert in every fielf I mentioned up there, but I do claim to at least be reasonbly acquainted with each. I don't mean to be a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none. I have a definite strength, and that is client-side web development. That's my "master" trade. That is, essentially, what I do. However, I think that part of what it takes to be a GOOD client-side web developer is the ability to take all those other factors into account. To at least know a little about them. How can I put this into an analogy? Fuck it, I can't. It just makes SENSE to me. If you're making something, you should know how it's going to be used, what other work goes into making it, what the standards are, etc.

So, I think that, whether or not I am a "good" web developer, I at least think I am heading in the right direction and know more about it than most people.

Because of this, I have been selected to go on a five-man committee that will basically dictate the design of the entire branch. Now, for those that don't know -- I work for the government, at the National Institute of Health. Once our group puts out our designs, these babies will appear on HUNDREDS of government (read: big, important, official, used by many people) sites under our aegis.

This is big news, and something RATHER DANDY I can put in my resume.

What this also means is that there are two other web designers in the group, from other teams in our department. And -- here it comes, my big moment of arrogance -- MY GOD DO THEY SUCK.

I mean, not even by my "lofty" standards as a designer. I mean, just SUCK. Plain and simple. Ugly. Aesthetically OFFENSIVE.

And not only do they make UGLY THINGS, they DO IT WRONG. Well, one of them does. One of them is a guy, I'll call him Eric, who makes very dated, disparate, and generally.... not-good layouts I've seen. And DAMN are they built badly. Besides being hard on the eyes, they're hard on browsers. The code is fucking ridiculous. This man is coding like it's still 1997. WHAT THE HELL. I can't even describe how offended and disappointed I am that this man is hailed as a reliable designer of government sites used by consumers, researchers, and government employees to help keep this country healthy.

The other is a woman whom I'll call Anna. Anna seems to have some of the right goals in mind -- she's big on accessibility and usability and is at least familiar with standards and other good things all web developers should be aware of. However, as part of my work for this group, I created a little outline (which I hope will grow to be basically THE guide to building to web standards, used by the entire goddamn branch of the U.S. Government -- and I'm not exaggerating here, that's where it's going) about building to web standards. For those who aren't familiar with the term "web standards", it does not mean current trends in web development. It's a set of official recommendations and specifications issued by the World Wide Web Consortium, which is basically the unofficial governing body of the World Wide Web, headed by Tim Berners-Lee, the damn founder of the Web. This shit's for real. It's what Microsoft, Apple, Sun Microsystems, and all those big names use to decide how to make their web applications work.

Anyway, so I'm trying to make a guide on how to build and design to web standards. At the end, I put a little list of the VERY BASICS, the BARE BONES of what it takes to write compliant code. And Anna said that she DIDN'T DO some of these things.


Oh god, I can't even express my utter disbelief and frustration when I saw what kinds of people are employed (and paid more than me) as web developers. Anna at least was aware of some of the issues and outright advocates some of them, namely accessibility (which means letting blind, deaf, low-literacy, and other special-needs people access the internet). I have yet to see her designs, but my boss, who has a (very) bare modicum of taste, tell me they're ass-ugly, and knowing what I do of his taste, that says a lot. Eric I can't even say anything nice about at all. Oh god.

And these are the people paid to do my line of work.

Don't even get me started on professional web design firms. I hate the very vast majority of them. They're not concerned with making sites that will keep working years from now or even be easy to maintain in the present. Their designs tend to suck, even though they make thousands of dollars off them. God, I have such a long list of grievances against them. But that's for another rant.

Professional web development firms, by the way, is the reason behind one of the projects I've been working on for a while, which is provisionally entitled PAEAN -- Professional Artistic and Electronic Assistance for Nonprofits. It's a non-profit organization I've been developing for a couple years now that does web design (and other artistic or technology-related) work for other charitable organizations for free. GOOD work. Standards-based, accessibility-checked. With a solid sense of aesthetics. I think that if you're doing good charitable work, you should NOT have to pay out the ass for some incompetent, profiteering company to build you a site that will crash next year. If you're helping orphans in Rwanda, I don't think you should get scammed and scalped like that. If you're helping lost kittens get adopted, I think solid web sites should be handed to you on a goddamn silver platter. And that's what I'm trying to do.

To those of you who think this is trivial, that web design (though I do mroe than design, as I've outlined above) doesn't matter, let me tell you that you're wrong. On the Internet and elsewhere, design matters a lot. It's a HUGE part of whether something is AT ALL USABLE. And the sad thing about a lot of nonprofits' websites is that they're really bad, really ugly, and really hard to use, both for people trying to make use of the charities' resources and for the charities themselves. I think this is awful, and I'm trying to change it.

Likewise, I am now officially appalled at the really ridiculous state of web development in the branch of the government I work for. And now that I've been put on this committee, I'm going to try and change that. I've got the power to do something amazing and fantastic here, and by God I am going to try to use it.

Oh, and a disclaimer. I don't want to dictate the internets or design any more than I want to dictate the various fandoms I've taken an interest and started newsletters, communities, and other projects in. There are subjective parts, yes, like what's pretty or ugly design. Some things, however, are simply the way the web is heading, led by brilliant people and industry champions, and that's the direction sites should be heading. You know, the future. Not being left behind in the internet morass of the mid-late nineties.

And by the way, I don't think that what I do -- all that stuff about being familiar with all aspects of web development -- is something that's extraordinary about me, nor that it should be. I finally thought of that analogy. It's like building a house. If you're building a house, you should have at least a passing familiarity with the principles of construction, architecture, design, basic accessibility, and physics. You should probably also know about or know where to go for information/contract work on electronics, plumbing, landscaping, and other particulars. You need to also know the building codes and other such regulations in your area. Well, the SAME THING applies to web design. You're building a home for yourself/others on the internet. These are things I WOULD THINK that any decent, self-respecting web developer should be familiar with -- design, coding, how servers and back-side stuff works, usability, accesbiility, specifications for the languages they work in. This shouldn't be something special -- this should be standard knowledge! I think that what I do and know is somewhere near the bare minimum of what a web developer should do. Apparently, I am alone in this belief.


Okay, I rarely go off like this. But I was pretty damn pissed there.

For once, I also won't be checking over this before I post it (highly unusual for me -- usually I go through a draft or two), so I apologize profusely for any mistakes.

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