Real World Standards and the CSS Ballyhoo
I went to school with a lot of good designers. My school was a bit behind when it came to technology and wasn’t able to muster up a good base of interactive classes until after I had already graduated. I originally wanted to be an illustrator. I love to draw, but quickly realized I am much better suited as a designer. I have done quite a bit of print design (and even some illustration) but somewhere in there I became lured away towards interactive design. Since there weren’t many outlets to learn from at my school, I hit the books. Lots of books. And I still read just about anything I can get my hands on. But books will only take you so far, and most certainly never replace real world experience.This all contributes to the skills I exercise daily, but lately I find myself in a sort of limbo when it comes to CSS.
People always talk about the benefits of CSS. It saves time, money, bandwidth, and in a bind, foils bank robberies and feeds the hungry. While I love programming and seeing things come to life, the ends still don’t meet up for me with CSS. I consider myself an accomplished designer and I have a good time of communicating my ideas in a visual medium. Like Flash, which I love to program in, CSS and markup are just tools to me. They speak to me because they open new doors of communication and can make my job easier so that I have more time to focus on the message at hand. That is probably why they appeal to me so much. I love efficiency and I hate wasting time… and I especially hate redoing work. When it comes to design, I favor a methodical approach. Ordered sets of rules, process and organization work for me. Left-brained art.
Now, I am not trying to start a good practice debate. As this site is evidence, I am convinced of the merits of Standards. But outwardly, at times I feel like I am fighting a losing battle. Like I am trying to learn too many skills from too many disciplines, resulting in being a jack-of-all-trades and ending up a master of none. Maybe this is what eventually happens when people get old; they just give up. Technology exceeds them, and considering how fast it grows, the effect seemingly takes place overnight. You get passed over, suddenly everything in your kitchen is foreign to you and you are left shaking your fist at progress.
What does all this mean? Well, let’s fess up. I am far from a CSS guru (not that any of you pegged me as such). In my mind, I just got my training wheels off. But this is the constant; there are not enough hours in the damn day. I take in as much info as I can about CSS and Standards. Then, like an overtaxed dam, I spring a leak. Shit, heaps of new stuff to learn in Flash just came out. So, I reposition. Another leak. New server technologies. More leaks. New programs, more design research… and what’s that? You want a girlfriend? A social life? You fool! Flooded.
I realize it’s naive of me to think I can get to a point where there is nothing left learn. No one gets to the apex of the knowledge they wish to have. I just reached a boiling point in the last two weeks. My workplace is in a state of flux at the moment as we are shifting towards a more agency focused company. This means reconsidering our design process and outlining individual roles and responsibilities. This is all a welcomed change, but for me, one looming demon remains.
Time vs. Clean Code
There are still a lot of leftover conceptions of where exactly a designer’s job begins and where it ends. I have always programmed my websites; Flash, CSS, and markup. But here (most times) my job ends at design. Recently I have been touting the ideals of good practice for the web and the usage of techniques like CSS. My site, an award, and constant pestering on my part managed to turn a few ears. Even so, it wasn’t an easy sell. They understood that it could save time and money, but the fact that no one else knew enough to build a site this way outright, left them with a tough pill to swallow. Since I had some experience doing this stuff, I got to put my money where my mouth was. The problem with this was, I don’t know enough to do it… quickly.
I know the syntax. I know the code. Me streamlining them is still a work in progress. My site was a labor of love. I did it, but it took me quite some time. I was learning CSS as I went. Granted, I consider it a success, even if I have learned a tremendous amount since I finished it. Which brings me to another point; You can’t please everyone. As much as I can expound upon the benefits of of Standards, when you are the one implementing them and you can’t turn them into profit, you don’t have a leg to stand on. Especially in the case of me, where it takes me longer to do sites in CSS. It also takes me away from my normal slot in the production schedule, which tends to burn time and money. It’s difficult for people to understand why you would want to do something in a different way than how you already do it when it takes more time. I mean, let’s face it, most people don’t care how a site looks under the hood, just as long as it works. Luckily, I have managed to convince a few people, and they are starting to learn.
Over the past two weeks we were tasked with creating two websites from scratch (one of which I was solely responsible for everything on; design and programming). I was under a tremendous amount of pressure (as were my co-workers) and truth be told I didn’t feel as though I knew enough to pull it off. Four days and 55 hours later, we did it. It wasn’t pretty, but they got done and soon both sites will launch. The thing that really gets to me, and this is that part of me that gets pissed off at inefficiency, is that there is neither the time or the money to clean this stuff up and consolidate the code. I am not allowed to touch it once we have burned through the client’s hours and budget. Which isn’t the part I am frustrated about, that’s business. I just hate turning out a lesser product when I can help it. Perhaps I am making something out of nothing. I mean, in the end, the sites were both built with clean CSS and valid markup… albeit lots of excess CSS and markup. But in terms of convincing people with the final say, it’s been an uphill battle.
Ah. It feels good to vent a bit. I imagine there are many of you out there that are in this same boat. CSS is at a point where it’s trickled down to the everyday working schlub. I am sure I am merely in a interim stage of my web knowledge, as I try to keep all these balls in the air. I am being a bit hard on myself, but that is the way I work and that is the way I stay motivated. I keep reading, I keep learning, and I keep practicing. Sometimes when you concentrate so hard on getting to the next milestone you lose perspective on where you’ve been. When I first started designing websites, I let Fireworks write my code. What resulted was a tangled mess of tables and scary markup, imposing and unreadable by all but the brave-hearted. I have come so very far since then, and futher more each day. Now I think about the future of what I create. Does it have longevity? Have I left anyone behind? Did I forget to feed the cats? I do the best I can to push my design work as far as possible, while incorporating the new technical knowledge I’ve garnered. Everything is a process of growth, building upon your past successes and failures.