The Web Is Ruined and I ruined it →

September 28, 2016 •

The Web Is Ruined and I Ruined It” by David Siegel is a remarkable piece in the history of Web Design. For those unfamiliar with David Siegal, he’s the Father of Web Design. He literally invented the spacer.gif technique for styling websites using tables. That hack earned him the (self-proclaimed) title of “HTML Terrorist”.

Admist the high-level of snark in this article, something monumental happened here. Siegal, the Father of Web Design, renounces Web Design. In exchange for doing heinous things in markup to achieve a visual effect, as the HTML purists had admonished, Siegal embraces a very primitive form of CSS (being pioneered by none other than Microsoft).

The terminology in this 1997 article is dated, but when you transpose some of the terms to modern day equivalents, it reads like it could have been written today. “XML” could be React or Web Components, “Flash” would be SVG, “Netscape” could be popular corporation-backed JavaScript frameworks, “Marc Andreessen” could be Marc Andreessen. 😜

Allow me to make some liberal substitutions based on statements from my Twitter feed today:

Sure, we still have to use [FLOATS] to lay out our pages, but in a year or so, we hope to give that up, too. Say goodbye to the [FLEXBOX]! Use it only when necessary! Ban the kluges–learn to use [CSS GRID SPEC] today!

It’s also worth noting that some of Seigal’s critiques of CSS and its cascade are still valid and even relevant today…

One of the central questions surrounding the use of style sheets is: Who gets the final say over the look of a document? A small percentage of the readership is colorblind, another group prefers larger type, and others have special viewing requirements. Then there are alternative surfing environments like Web phones, WebTV, and Web dishwashers. Each has its own special browser and its own limitations.

How does a website with a single stylesheet work and be accessible on the multi-device Web? Gosh, that sounds like a familiar problem!

I like to revisit this post from time-to-time because it feels valuable to be reminded how the Web was the Wild West. Browsers and webmasters were trying to shoehorn their priorities into the primordial Web Platform. We were all doing heinous stuff to move the needle on “ugly gray sites”. It’s not hard to think of modern day facsimiles.

Learning that the Father of Web Design renounced Web Design changed my world view a bit. Maybe I need to perodically re-examine my definition of Web Design. Is my COOL EFFECT™ terrible for Users? Am I being an overly staunch arbiter of outdated (or new shiney!) things? Most of all, am I doing things that are not only bad for the User, but bad for the Web as a whole?

Some day, the purists and I will see eye-to-eye, while Marc and company keep on tagging, with lame excuses like: “Our customers demand interim, tag-based solutions.” Hogwash.