Lessons learnt

By Simon Willison

Just in case anyone had any doubts, yesterday’s entry was most definitely a joke. David Siegel was indeed an internet legend back in the late 90s, pioneering techniques that led the web kicking and screaming in to a commercial age of visually appealing sites that defied the limitations of the original HTML specification. Those tricks have had their day, and the modern web brings new standard based techniques that allow us to create good looking sites without sacrificing the quality of the underlying code.

That said, a lot can be learnt about the web while perusing David’s archives. In fact, a lot of David’s writing is very forward thinking. Take a look at these quotes:

HTML is a markup language, not a layout language. It isn’t meant to present a picture to the viewer. It isn’t meant to be easy to read. It is meant to be accessible. Aesthetics are not a consideration. But there are people who would like to communicate more clearly and effectively, and for us HTML is very primitive. We don’t need on-screen PostScript, what we need is a more visual flavor of HTML. Until then, we have workarounds.

Source: The Single-Pixel GIF Trick

Until we enter the next generation of site design, the TABLE tag will have to be our friend. The more we learn to control tables, the more we will be able to break the grip of the old HTML and make our pages look good. If we have to put all our text into tables — not really what the framers of HTML had in mind — we will.

Source: Killer Tables – Overview

CSS is the embodiment of the visual flavour of HTML David was talking about. In fact, he even contributed to its development:

The day this goes up, I will be in Paris, getting ready to return after an 8 day trip. For those of you following my career on the Web, I was asked to attend the W3 Consortium meeting on Style Sheets and add my two cents about what designers will want on the Web.

Source: David’s journal, November 9th 1995

With excellent CSS support in 97% of the browsers in use on the web (at least according to our statistics at work), David’s predictions of the next generation of site design have come true. It’s a shame that the workarounds he created are still in use on so many sites.

  • Alex Barnette

    Davied Siegel’s book Creating Killer Websites was the first exposure I had had to beautiful design work on the web, compared to the sites I was used to dealing with.

    I pretty much did a 180 degree turn after reading that book, this post is just a Thank You :)

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