Second flaw: the process of adopting and enforcing web standards, as led by the W3C, is hopelessly broken. I’ve sometimes heard that it’s too soon to criticize the web. If any technology product should be subject to high expectations, it’s the web. We’re impatient about all kinds of other technology. What if I looked at publications about design for designers? And I even found outside, before this speech, this magazine. And do you know how many websites are singled out for typographic recognition? So from early on, folks took this lemon and tried to make web lemonade by latching onto the belief that exposure mattered more than money. “This project’s going to be great exposure.” It’s never true. The problem, of course, is that information wasn’t actually free. This was supposed to be one of the virtues, I think, of web standards. But as anyone who has developed big websites with web standards finds out, you discover a terrible truth—I was saying before that the web has these two big structural flaws. They’ve been so slow over the last 20 years at adopting standards. And so we have these problems getting created at the standards layer, and they just kind of flow downstream, like toxic waste, down to the HTML and CSS layer. But in practice, you still need to use all these crazy hacks and workarounds and overtagging to get results that are actually standard. For one thing, apps make it really easy for information to be expensive. The other thing is that the technical standards are totally standard. So the testing burden is relatively manageable.
Evidence of both these flaws can be seen in a) the low design quality across the web, and b) the speed with which publishers, developers, and readers are migrating away from the web, and toward app platforms and media platforms. We’ve got to stand in line, outside the big cube, for the i Phone. I thought, I’m going to look at the most popular magazines in America by circulation. They’ve actually tripled the number of toolbars they fit into the top. I’ll look at the magazines that were nominated for National Magazine Awards in the design category in the last five years. That must be a place where I could find some design excellence. The first, that it’s bad at making information expensive. And I know—somebody’s already tweeting: “Butterick’s an idiot. Here, you’ve got to write a line for seven different browsers. Whereas for websites, you never really finish testing. So this brings us to the big consequence, which is that—Because for us, as designers, these nonstandard standards—they limit the things we can accomplish. It’s easy to see now why apps—if you wanted to make money—why apps would be a more appealing development platform. So the question emerges: are the habits of the last 20 years the right ones for the next 20 years? Either the web is going to have to adapt to today’s marketplace, or it’s just going to get restricted to this smaller and smaller box. But this function needs to integrated with the web at a low level.
But after 20 years, the web still has no culture of design excellence. Because design excellence is inhibited by two structural flaws in the web. But I also know that 99.99% of people who mention this line forget to talk about the first and last parts of it.“Information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable … The message is that there are two forces in tension. The web, however, has never balanced these forces. There’s like three or four of them that actually work. And when that happens, in a very real way, we’ll have traded good government for banner ads. A technology company’s being paid with tax dollars to stay in San Francisco? That’s a tens-of-millions of dollars benefit to them. We might find a tiny silver lining in all this if the web’s advertising economy were actually healthy. In fact, The problem is that as everyone has bet on ads—80% of these sites, right? As ads have gotten less valuable, you have to generate more clicking and more ads. You know how it works: You’re doing your job, and you come across a link like this: It’s like, oh shit—I have to click on it. But then you scroll down, and it’s like oh no, there’s a 73-picture slideshow. But you have to make more money than you spend, otherwise you’ll go broke. The only real design consideration on this page is how you get the reader to click again. This page, and so many others like it, are just ad-delivery vehicles. I can believe that advertising has a role to play in subsidizing certain kinds of web content. So the incentive is not really to hold reader attention, but to manufacture distraction.It should focus on a smaller territory where it can work well, and work consistently, rather than trying to offer itself as this holistic approach to web development. But either way, we’ll be getting the web that we deserve.They’re just finding other things to do with their time. However, I agree that the W3C should be disbanded; the web does need to take a more organic evolutionary path.It’s like “why am I going to write, and go through the hassle? Authors find something else to do with their time. Don’t be fooled into thinking that disbanding the W3C will do anything about bad design on the web, on the contrary, it will likely give the bad designers more tools with which to shoot themselves in the foot.—Jonathan Dickinson Designers are always put into a situation where the design is judged by people that are not qualified to do so. [t]he market will either prove that good design begets better profits, or more design-appreciating managers will succeed and natural selection will sort out the rest. I gave up trying to make the world pretty because everyone that was willing to pay me wanted to make it ugly.
Because as designers, this problem affects all of us. But when you start saying things about technology companies, it’s like you punched a baby in the face. But more than that, it really should be the best manifestation. And that comes back to the other thing that I said drew me to the web: that it was a typographic medium. But despite this, the web isn’t the best manifestation of the written word. And that’s really why apps have been drinking the web’s milkshake recently.