A Dao of Internet Design – A Listing Aside

What Zen was to the 70’s (most famously with bike upkeep), the Tao Te Ching was to the 90’s. From Piglet and Pooh to Physics and again, many have sought sense in making use of the Tao Te Ching to one thing (the Tao of Physics), or one thing to the Tao Te Ching (the Tao of Pooh). It may be an affordable trick, however these days it has struck me that there’s greater than just a little to be understood about net design by trying via the prism of the Tao.

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Daoism is a philosophy, like Buddhism, a way of life, of being on the earth, which stems from a textual content of nice antiquity, the Tao Te Ching, whose 81 “chapters” enigmatically sweep throughout human expertise, however with a robust frequent theme, that of concord.

For the final couple of years, for higher or worse, my life has revolved greater than just a little round type sheets. I write software program, tutorials, and guides for them; I’ve answered too many inquiries to depend about them on newsgroups and through electronic mail; I’ve fought for his or her adoption with The Internet Requirements Mission. And slowly I’ve come to grasp net design solely in a different way due to them, and to see a robust affiliation between design and the Tao.

What I sense is an actual stress between the online as we all know it, and the online as it might be. It’s the stress between an present medium, the printed web page, and its baby, the online. And it’s time to essentially perceive the connection between the mum or dad and the kid, and to let the kid go its personal means on the earth.

Usual new medium?#section2

Effectively established hierarchies aren’t simply uprooted;
Intently held beliefs aren’t simply launched;
So ritual enthralls technology after technology. 
Tao Te Ching; 38 Ritual

In the event you’ve by no means watched early tv applications, it’s instructive viewing. Tv was at the moment sometimes called “radio with photos,” and that’s a reasonably correct description. A lot of tv adopted the format of common radio at the moment. Certainly applications just like the Tonight Present, with its variants discovered on nearly each channel on the earth (that includes a band, the discuss to the digital camera host, and seated company), or the information, with the suited sober information reader, stay as traces of the medium tv grew out of. A palimpsest of media previous.

Suppose too of the primary music movies (a couple of of us is perhaps not less than that outdated). Basically the band miming themselves enjoying a tune. Riveting.

When a brand new medium borrows from an present one, a few of what it borrows is sensible, however a lot of the borrowing is inconsiderate, “ritual,” and sometimes constrains the brand new medium. Over time, the brand new medium develops its personal conventions, throwing off present conventions that don’t make sense.

In the event you ever get the possibility to look at early tv drama you’ll discover a robust instance of this. As a result of radio required a voice-over to explain what listeners couldn’t see, early tv drama typically featured a voice over, describing what viewers might. It’s a easy however placing instance of what occurs when a brand new medium develops out of an present one.

The net is a brand new medium, though it has emerged from the medium of printing, whose abilities, design language and conventions strongly affect it. But it’s typically too formed by that from which it sprang. “Killer Internet Websites” are normally these which tame the wildness of the online, constraining pages as in the event that they had been product of paper – Desktop Publishing for the Internet. This conservatism is pure, “carefully held beliefs aren’t simply launched,” however it’s time to transfer on, to embrace the online as its personal medium. It’s time to throw out the rituals of the printed web page, and to interact the medium of the online and its personal nature.

This isn’t for a second to say we must always abandon the knowledge of a whole lot of years of printing and hundreds of years of writing. However we have to perceive which of those classes are applicable for the online, and which mere rituals.

Controlling net pages#section3

[The Sage]

… accepts the ebb and movement of issues,
Nurtures them, however doesn’t personal them

Tao Te Ching; 2 Abstraction

Spend a while on net design newgroups or mailing lists, and also you’ll discover some frequent phrases and concepts repeated time after time. Query after query, in fact, is “how do I?”. However beneath questions like “how do I make my pages look the identical on each platform” and “how can I make my fonts seem similar on the Macintosh and Home windows” is an underlying query – “how do I management the consumer’s browser?” Certainly, the phrase management turns up with stunning frequency.

Underpinning all that is the idea that designers are controllers (take into consideration the implications of the time period “pixel mechanic”). Designers need to override the desires of customers, and the alternatives that they’ve made about their viewing expertise (by “fixing” font dimension, as an illustration). Designers need to second guess platform variations, attributable to totally different logical resolutions (as an illustration the Macintosh’s 72dpi, versus the usual Home windows 96dpi). Designers are all-knowing, and won’t tolerate something lower than a rendering on each browser that’s pixel excellent with the rendering on their very own machine.

After all, this exaggerates the case, however not significantly. A really robust instance of that is the customarily expressed disappointment of builders after they be taught that type sheets aren’t “DTP for the online.” And if you’re a Mac consumer, you may be conscious about simply what number of actually main websites abuse type sheets to make their pages illegible. Chances are high they’re utilizing factors as a measure of font dimension. Underlying this selection is the “designer is controller” philosophy.

The place does this concept come from? I imagine it flows from the medium of print. In print the designer is god. An infinite business has emerged from WYSIWYG, and most of the net’s designers are grounded within the beliefs and practices, the ritual of that medium. As designers we have to rethink this position, to desert management, and search a brand new relationship with the web page.

Why does it matter?#section4

A new child is tender and tender,
A crone, exhausting and stiff.
Vegetation and animals, in life, are supple and succulent;
In loss of life, withered and dry.
So softness and tenderness are attributes of life,
And hardness and stiffness, attributes of loss of life.
Tao Te Ching; 76 Flexibility

Maybe the shortcoming to “management” a web page is a limitation, a bug of the online. After we come from the WYSIWYG world, our preliminary intuition is to assume so. I admit that it was my first response, and a perception that was a very long time in going. However I not really feel that it’s a limitation, I see it as a power of a brand new medium.

Let’s take a look at this via the opposite finish of the microscope. The actual fact we will management a paper web page is mostly a limitation of that medium. You possibly can assume – we will repair the dimensions of textual content – or you may assume – the dimensions of textual content is unalterable. You possibly can assume – the scale of a web page could be managed – or – the scale of a web page can’t be altered. These are merely info of the medium.

They usually aren’t essentially good info, particularly for the reader. If the reader’s eye sight isn’t that of a properly sighted particular person, chances are high the selection the designer made is simply too small to comfortably learn with out some form of magnification. If the reader is in a confined area, a practice to work, an airplane, the broadsheet newspaper is simply too giant. And there’s little the reader can do about this.

The management which designers know within the print medium, and sometimes need within the net medium, is just a perform of the limitation of the printed web page. We must always embrace the truth that the online doesn’t have the identical constraints, and design for this flexibility. However first, we should “settle for the ebb and movement of issues.”

Adaptability is accessibility#section5

The most effective of man is like water,
Which advantages all issues, and doesn’t take care of them,
Which flows in locations that others disdain,
The place it’s in concord with the Manner. 
Tao Te Ching; 8 Water

There are those that assume that dao is fatalistic. A simplistic studying is that one ought to wander, with out plan, permitting for issues to occur and to answer them. I consider it as saying we shouldn’t be fastened in our outlook, with targets far forward, relatively we ought to be adaptable, not fastened in our views or path.

As observing element is readability,
So sustaining flexibility is power;
Use the sunshine however shed no mild,
So that you just do your self no hurt,
However embrace readability.
Tao Te Ching; 52 Readability

The flexibleness I’ve talked about thus far I consider as “adaptability.” Every thing I’ve mentioned thus far might be summarized as: make pages that are adaptable. Make pages that are accessible, whatever the browser, platform or display screen that your reader chooses or should use to entry your pages. This implies pages that are legible no matter display screen decision or dimension, or variety of colours (and bear in mind too that pages could also be printed, or learn aloud by studying software program, or learn utilizing braille browsers). This implies pages which adapt to the wants of a reader, whose eyesight is lower than excellent, and who needs to learn pages with a really giant font dimension.

Designing adaptable pages is designing accessible pages. And maybe the nice promise of the online, removed from fulfilled as but, is accessibility, no matter difficulties, to data. It’s an essential perception of the World Huge Internet Consortium, and is changing into an crucial of net design, as net pages will probably be required by legislation to supply common entry, simply as constructing codes around the globe require entry to buildings.

It sounds an impossibility, designing the common web page. Maybe now it stays an aspiration, with browsers so damaged, and most of the units via which we’ll entry the online of their infancy, or not but born. However there’s a lot we will do now which can set the foundations for pages which adapt to the customers needs and desires, and so will probably be accessible.

The Manner is formed by use,
However then the form is misplaced.
Don’t maintain quick to shapes
However let sensation movement into the world
As a river programs all the way down to the ocean.
Tao Te Ching; 32 Shapes

So what could be performed to design for adaptability, and so accessibility? Firstly, there are a few methods of pondering which is perhaps useful. Then I’ve some sensible recommendations about steps you may take to keep away from making your pages inaccessible.

Firstly, take into consideration what your pages do, not what they seem like. Let your design movement from the providers which they’ll present to your customers, relatively than from some overarching concept of what you need pages to seem like. Let kind observe perform, relatively than attempting to take a specific design and make it “work.”

A cornerstone of this concept is to separate the content material and its look. You’ve most likely heard this 100 occasions, however it’s maybe a very powerful step you may take. Let’s take a look at a easy instance. On a web page there’s some textual content which is italicized. Why is it italicized? It is perhaps for emphasis. It is perhaps a quotation. It is perhaps a international phrase utilized in English. In conventional publishing, the shape follows from perform. The benefit of net publishing is we will make express what’s implicit within the look on paper. If the rationale for italics is emphasis, why mark up your web page with the <i> aspect? Use the <em> aspect, and so browsers apart from PC based mostly net browsers can deal with the aspect appropriately.

On the bigger scale, don’t use HTML for presentation. No <font> or <b>, <i> and different presentational parts. The place HTML offers an applicable aspect, use it. The place it doesn’t, use lessons. And naturally, use type sheets on your presentational data. It’s time to look to the long run, not cling to the previous.

In the event you use type sheets correctly, to counsel the looks of a web page, to not management the looks of a web page, and also you don’t rely in your type sheet to convey data, then your pages will “work” positive in any browser, previous or future. Browsers which don’t help type sheets merely current pages that look just a little on the plain aspect. Our largest concern is browsers which have buggy type sheets help. In the present day this is a matter. Not too lengthy from now, it gained’t be a lot of a difficulty. For now, you may restrict your self to a subset of CSS which is properly sufficient supported, and nonetheless have extra presentational impact than utilizing presentational HTML. I’ve written fairly a bit about this elsewhere, so I gained’t repeat myself right here.

In sensible phrases, there are some issues you must and a few belongings you shouldn’t do when designing type sheets that can affect on the adaptability of your pages. Above all, don’t depend on any facet of fashion sheets to work to ensure that a web page to be accessible. Absolute items, like pixels and factors are to be prevented (if that comes as a shock, learn on), and colour must be used rigorously, and by no means relied on.


Usually, a Home windows, Macintosh, or different system can have solely a handful of fonts put in. There may be little overlap between the default put in fonts on these varied programs. Already with many browsers, and more and more sooner or later, readers will be capable to determine on the fonts they need to view net pages with. With CSS, you may counsel a variety of fonts, and canopy as many bases as potential. However don’t depend on a font being accessible no matter how frequent it’s.

Extra essential nonetheless is font dimension. You might remember that the identical font, on the identical level dimension on a Macintosh “seems to be smaller” than on most Home windows machines. In a nutshell, it is because the “logical decision” of a Macintosh is 72dpi, whereas the Home windows default is 96dpi. The implications of this are vital. Firstly, it ensures that it’s basically inconceivable to have textual content look similar on Macintoshes and Home windows based mostly programs. However in case you embrace the adaptability philosophy it doesn’t matter.

What? If you’re involved about precisely how an online web page seems it is a signal that you’re nonetheless aren’t interested by adaptive pages. One of the vital vital accessibility points is font dimension. Small fonts are harder to learn. For these of us with good eyesight, it might probably come as a shock {that a} vital proportion of the inhabitants has hassle studying something under 14 level Instances on paper. Screens are much less readable than paper, due to their decrease decision.

Does that imply the minimal level dimension we must always use is 14 pts? That doesn’t assist these whose sight is even much less robust. So what’s the minimal level dimension we must always use? None. Don’t use factors. This enables readers to decide on the font dimension which fits them. The identical goes even for pixels. Due to logical decision variations, a pixel on one platform shouldn’t be a pixel on one other.

You possibly can nonetheless counsel bigger font sizes for headings and different parts. CSS offers a number of methods of suggesting the dimensions of textual content in such a means as to assist adaptability. We’ll take a look at only one to get an concept.

With CSS you may specify font dimension as a proportion of the font dimension of a mum or dad aspect. For instance, headings are contained in the BODY of the web page. In the event you don’t set a dimension for the textual content within the BODY, then the textual content of the BODY would be the dimension that the reader has chosen as their default dimension. Already we’re aiding adaptability of our web page, just by doing nothing!

You may say “however the textual content seems to be too massive” if I simply go away it like that. Make it smaller then. However in your browser. And your readers will then have the choice to make it larger or smaller of their browsers too, relying on their tastes, or their wants.

We will make headings and different parts stand out utilizing font dimension by specifying that headings of degree 1 ought to be say 30% bigger than the physique textual content, degree 2 ought to be 25% bigger, and so forth. Now, whatever the dimension that the consumer chooses for his or her essential textual content, headings will probably be scaled to be proportionally larger than the primary textual content. Equally textual content could be scaled to be smaller than the physique textual content, nonetheless, this may give rise to conditions the place the textual content could be illegibly small, so use with warning.

We’ve performed little or no actually, simply prevented utilizing absolute font sizes, and used proportional sizes for headings, and we’ve already made our pages rather more adaptable and accessible.


Margins, web page widths and indentation are all points of web page design which may support readability. The net presents difficulties for the designer with every of those. Browser home windows could be resized, thereby altering the web page dimension. Totally different net units (net TV, excessive decision displays, PDAs) have totally different minimal and most window sizes. As with fastened font sizes, fastened web page format can result in accessbility issues on the net.

As with fonts, format points of a web page could be designed utilizing percentages to create adaptable pages. Margins could be specified as a proportion of the width of the aspect which accommodates them.

Utilizing percentages (or different relative values) to specify web page format in CSS mechanically creates adaptive pages. As browser home windows widen and slim, the format of a component adapts to keep up the identical proportions, and so the entire web page format adapts. Readers can select the window dimension they discover applicable to their wants.

Margins, textual content indentation and different format points may also be laid out in relation to the dimensions of the textual content they comprise, utilizing the <em> unit for specifying margins, textual content indentation and different format points. In the event you specify

p  {margin-left: 1.5em}

you’re saying that the left margin of paragraphs ought to be 1.5 occasions the peak of the font of that paragraph. So, when a consumer adjusts their font dimension to make a web page extra legible, the margin will increase proportionally, and in the event that they modify it to make it smaller, the margin adapts once more.


The net is by and huge a extra colourful medium than the printed web page. Coloration is cheaper on the net. Coloration could be decorative, can assist to determine a visible id, and may have sensible worth (crimson may draw consideration to essential data). However colour poses difficulties to accessibility as properly.

Do you know that in lots of nations (if not all) individuals with crimson inexperienced colour blindness are unable to acquire an plane pilot’s license? That’s, no matter some other skill, as a result of warning data is nearly invariably conveyed utilizing crimson for hazard and inexperienced for security. It’s a disgrace that warning lights aren’t merely adaptable.

Do your net pages exclude individuals in the same means? It could be a disgrace, as within the close to future most net browsers will present easy methods for readers to regulate the colour of parts on an online web page, through consumer type sheets, which may override your type sheets. (You are able to do this now with IE5 Macintosh version.)

How you can keep away from these issues? Use type sheets, relatively than the HTML <em> aspect. And keep away from counting on colour mixtures to alone convey which means.

But a tree broader than a person can embrace is born of a tiny shoot;
A dam larger than a river can overflow begins with a clod of earth;
A journey of a thousand miles begins on the spot underneath one’s ft.
Tao Te Ching; 64a. Care on the Starting

Altering our methods of pondering and appearing isn’t simple. “Intently held beliefs aren’t simply launched.” However I’ve come slowly to understand that a lot of what I took as a right wanted to be reassessed. Judging by what I see and skim and the conversations I’ve had, the e-mail I’ve learn over the past couple of years, many maintain these beliefs carefully, and must rethink them too.

Now’s the time for the medium of the online to outgrow its origins within the printed web page. To not abandon a lot knowledge and expertise, however to additionally chart its personal course, the place applicable.

The net’s best power, I imagine, is usually seen as a limitation, as a defect. It’s the nature of the online to be versatile, and it ought to be our position as designers and builders to embrace this flexibility, and produce pages which, by being versatile, are accessible to all.

The journey begins by letting go of management, and changing into versatile.

Tao Te Ching quotes from the GNL’s not Lao Tao Te Ching Copyright © 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995 Peter A. Merel.

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