thoughts about site­wide opti­mi­za­tion

… when all depends on user pref­er­ences.

Want to design and populate the perfect web site? One that satisfy every soft­ware stan­dard, customer, and end-user's pref­er­ences? I hope not, as just trying to define such a site will be a futile and never-ending task. The search for perfection all too often waste time better used on figuring out what works.

A site that works reasonably well for the largest number of the intended group of visitors, is a nice and reach­able goal. The less one has to tell visitors about how it works and how to find their way around, the better.
Of course; if one regards ones own designs as pure works of art and want them appre­ci­ated as such, then more balanced and sensible goals as alluded to above, do not apply. Art galleries may be the right venues for presenting those…

That a site should works reasonably well for all who happen to come by, including those who depend on assistive tech­no­logy, is a sen­si­ble require­ment for official and com­mer­cial sites. Such “universal func­tion­ality” has never hurt any of “the other” web sites either, as long as they pass real world tests in that respect and not just sets of tech­ni­cal guidelines.

avoid playing catch-up

A few hours a month spent on scanning the web for inspi­ra­tion and ideas worth my atten­tion, is the least I can invest in keeping up my interest in web design. Nothing much may come out of it for months, but at least it keeps me some­what updated.

Evaluating evolving standards and trends to see if any of it makes sense for ones own work, is a very sensible use of time no matter how com­fort­able one feels about ones own pro­ducts. The world does not stand still, and neither should we who design, work, and/​or play around with web sites and related stuff. One can never pick up too much know­ledge about what's good and what's bad.

Most front-end coders have preferred solu­tions and ways to deal with trans­lation of visual designs into markup and styles, and may have to step out of their comfort zone when designs and/​or func­tion­ality require some­thing extra. All that will be a lot easier for those who frequently take time to look into and refresh on standards and other people's work. What we may have no need for today, may be in high demand tomorrow.

content supporting designs…

Content on web pages/​sites is text, images, and audio/​video. Should work fine as long as the soft­ware/​hard­ware is up to the tasks at the reciving end. If it does not work, there isn't much we can do but to make sure our creations work in accordance with relevant standards, as we have no control over how compliant end-users' setups are or how it is used.
I personally am not much for bending over back­wards in order to be in compli­ance with all standards and rules that may apply to web sites. However, in web design those standards and rules do provide us with the only common ground, and some­what safe fall­back, if any­one complains.

Providing authors/​copywriters with the tools they need to make their stuff stand out visually, is in my opinion the most important built-in func­tion­ality of a site's design oriented code. The main func­tion­ality of most web pages' stucture is after all to carry content through to visitors, and in their simplest forms not much structural design is needed to perform that role on screens.

If the visual side of content matters beyond “looking good on screens”, then a little effort should be made to extend that side of content delivery to non-visual software/​hardware – that is: AT (Assistive Technology). Important to balance one's approach here, as cluttering up markup and styles with “solutions” in order to be “helpful”, may easily end up as just that: “mean­ing­less clutter”.
Regular markup can fill most roles needed by AT when applied properly, and only when that falls short of what is needed should one consider adding roles and other AT oriented code.

The final challenge: how to solve all problems TC (Technology Challenged) users may run into, is beyond me. Too many potential variables to be covered by standards. However, it still pays not to clutter up the source code and design with “helpful” solutions and thereby further complicate access to content and func­tion­ality on our sites for TC users.

ignore those boxes

“Thinking outside the box” is an old­fash­ioned phrase by now, and my head­line says it better. As long as what should be visible on screens end up on those screens, it is well within the limits of visual web design.

Still many front-end coders who only think inward – container by container – and not outward when planning page layouts, which is a pity. The basics behind crossing edges works well in many cases, and can be used for any type of content. Same goes for “over­shooting” elements, like the one on top of this page. Use your imagination to expand on those thoughts.
If nothing else; such minor visual design variations may create a sense of dynamics in web pages, and make bits of content stand out.

In addition: nothing prevents us from pushing content off screen, and, for instance, pull it back in as a response to user action. One only has to remember that users may turn off any “off screen” styling as part of browsers' normal func­tion­ality or exten­sions, and get it all into view when, and where, we did not intend it to be. Thorough testing of which method(s) that work best for the indi­vi­dual site and tar­geted audi­ence, is adviced.

styling for various media

Styling for smartphone screens is often the starting point for today's web sites, and many cover the entire range of screen sizes with those styles and (maybe) a few @media queries. Simple, and well suited for text-rich content, for instance medium to long articles about what­ever, with few or no images.

Styling for wide screens is what we used to call “the norm” back when screens ranged from 640×480 to 1280×1024 with 1/1 res/px, IE6 was the king on the hill, and phones was any­thing but smart. Basic layout usually a bit more complex than for smart­phones, but not neces­sarily by much.

Depending on type of site – what type of content it has to carry – the “single styled” or the “multi styled” approach may be preferred. As end-user I have no problem with either, while as designer I prefer the latter when­ever I can make it make sense – which is almost always.

Fluidity across the screen range is a logical “must” unless one wants to sort out and style up for every single screen size, screen orientation, and user prefe­rence a design may have to adapt to – a futile task if there ever was one.
A combo of responsive and adaptive web design will make the most out of screen areas and design in most cases, and is what I usually end up with.

I see no point in spending time on “making the right choice” when deciding what page/​screen sizes switching between styles should take place. Some will always claim the chosen values are wrong anyway, and tomorrow or the day after “what is right” will have changed with the arrival of new smart­phone models and other screen types/​shapes/​sizes/​reso­lu­tions into some other “perfect” values. I have only changed switch­over values 3-4 times over the last 10 years, so must have landed close enough for comfort from the start

Styling for print may take up valuable time better used for “real design-work”, and Gecko-based browsers still are not up to much in the print depart­ment. Chrome-based browsers are not too bad though, all things con­si­dered, and might be worth the time it takes to build basic print/​PDF styling, and include a few more classes in the source code where needed in indi­vi­dual pages.

A bit disappointing that print styles are not fully supported across browser-land, but it is not for me to worry about. Those who build browsers have their priorities, and users (hope­fully) choose browser(s) based on their own needs for work and leisure. At least I do

a bundle of thoughts​

Practical to have places to collect thoughts, as otherwise they may simply fly away and be forgotten. I also can not see any reasons for keeping these thoughts to myself and/​or out of view, as there is nothing unique, harmful, or worthy of censor­ship, in them. Or at least so one might think … these days one never knows.

The way rules and regu­la­tions – standards and such, and personal views of the few – big players and what not, more and more are used to limit what we can and can not do in web design (as in all other walks of life). Just having thoughts of our own may end up as rare exceptions.
Copy and paste of entire paragraphs – unedited of course, followed by long series of “shall this” and “must that”, is taking over for creative thinking, while the soft­ware that is supposed to act as tools at both ends become more and more stan­dard­ized and uniform – will only allow what con­forms letter by letter to the afore mentioned rules and regulations.
May turn into a “very interesting” future in the digital world, and else­where, for some of us. Defi­ni­tely worth an advance notice…

sincerely  georg; sign

Hageland 12.may.2021
last rev: 12.may.2021

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