Douglas Bowman declares his love to CSS …

Interview: timo / 23. Juni 2005 /

Douglas Bowman Douglas Bowman is an influential designer whose highly publicized and hugely successful redesigns of sites like Blogger, Wired News, and Adaptive Path have pushed him to the forefront of standards-compliant web design. Bowman’s consulting firm, Stopdesign, proves daily by example that beautiful, easily maintainable design can exist alongside simple, standards-compliant code.

Why do you love CSS?
Actually, I don’t love CSS per se. It’s kind of an ugly, awkward tool that I’m forced to use with my opposite hand and it has lots of limitations and quirks that prevent it from working the same way everywhere I want it to. What I do love is how CSS works together with other tools, enabling us to create documents and applications in a much more flexible and powerful way than we did before the booming popularity of CSS among standards-aware individuals and organizations. For a craftsman who believes in not only producing the best work possible, but also with the best possible means, CSS is currently the most logical and appropriate tool widely available for its intended use.
As I state in all my talks, I believe the beauty of CSS-based layout has a parallel with the beauty we find in nature. Smart use of CSS enables us to build sites that are beautiful both above the surface and below the surface. Simple foundations, natural evolution, and logical structure is found all the way down to the inner core. It allows the elimination of redundant and meaningless presentational markup. It allows us to aggregate all design controls in a central repository for thousands of pages. And it gives us a broader flexibility with typography, color, layout, position, and rapid dynamic changes to all of those that we never knew before.
What drives you crazy when using CSS?
The Box Model, with regards to width and height. If I want a box to be x-wide by y-high, that’s what I want the final box to be. None of this subtractive nonsense needed to calculate something called “content width/height”. It’s dumbfounding that padding and border aren’t included in width and height measurements, or that I’m at least not given the option to force them to be included. An obvious sign that the CSS specification was written by technical people who understood modular construction differently than any designer ever would.
It’s like a furniture salesman providing you the length and height of a couch you like; you confirm the couch will fit perfectly along one wall in your home. Then when you get the couch home, it’s more than a foot too long and about six inches too tall. When you phone back to the furniture salesman to complain about the incorrect length he provided, he responds by stating that the length didn’t include the armrests and the height didn’t include the metal legs, and aren’t you stupid for not taking those into account in your measurements! What!?
In that regard, and in my opinion, Microsoft’s IE5/Windows team actually did something right when they originally implemented the box model against specification. They implemented it the way they thought the masses would expect the box model to work. Even though I’d like all browsers to build to specification so we all gain consistency and predictability, it’s a shame – in this instance – that Microsoft ended up bending to the specification, instead of rallying other browser makers and pressuring the W3C to change the specification to match logical behavior, and by extension, IE5/Win’s existing implementation.
CSS2.1 bended and evolved to meet and compromise with popular rendering implementations that have become de facto standards. It’s too bad that didn’t include correcting the backwards box model.
Why should people write well structured / semantic markup?
If you think selfishly, there’s absolutely no reason to do so. Live in your own silo, build to the beat of your own drum, and let the world pass you by, because who gives a damn if anyone other than you can read and understand your own words.
But if you care at all about forward-compatibility, about ideas and words lasting into the future, about making your content available to as wide a range as possible of all people and devices, about the ability of machines to read and at least partially understand your content and how each piece relates to other pieces, about how search engines rank your pages and allow discovery by others, and about using a tool how it was intended to be used – then it makes sense to create documents described with the most well-structured, semantic markup possible today.

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Heike Edinger, heike.edinger at gmail.com

Timo Wirth, timo.wirth at gmail.com