David Siegel's "We Felt Like Pirates."

The other side of the Nielsen debate

david siegelTHE FIRST TIME I saw the same web page through two different browsers at the same time, a feeling of panic swept through me. Why should the pages look so different? I knew various systems had different color spaces and resolutions, but these programs actually presented the pages in different ways. As a graphic designer, how could I design web pages if I didn't know how they would look? Could I let browsers reinterpret my work as they wished?

As it turns out, that is precisely what the Framers of the Web had in mind. They saw browser differences as beneficial. Because every document is marked with structural tags (headlines, list items, captions, and others) they believed users should control the presentation of documents they see. HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) lets the visitor choose how her browser displays the page.

That's like telling the artist how to hold the brush! I wanted more control. It was either toss in the mouse and go back to print design, or jump into the Web and color outside the lines.

I threw my HTML book in the trash and started from scratch. I built my own tags and made pages the way I wanted them to look. I began using images to layout pages in two dimensions, rather than one. When tables became available, I poured columns of text in them. I reduced the colors and made the file sizes small and--guess what?--people came! The numbers actually broke my access counter. I started teaching others what I had discovered. Those of us who broke the rules challenged each other with every new page we made. Like the painters of Russia's avant garde in the Twenties {Rodchenko, Malevich, Popova), we felt like pirates. I received flaming threats from people who said I didn't understand the Web, I was ruining the information, and I should go back where I came from because I didn't understand the power of the medium. I fired back with more pages. I made it clear we were not going to go away. If the puritans wanted a fight, we would give them one.

-- from David Siegel's Creating Killer Web Sites, first edition (1996), pgs. 20-21

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