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Archived entry | Matt Wilcox .net

My feelings on the effectivness of the W3C CSS Working Group

This blog post is a response to a comment made on Andy Clarke’s latest blog entry, pulling up problems with CSS’s font handling.

The comment on Andy’s blog

Re: the W3C processes and the impression they don’t listen to designers,

1. The last time i heard the W3C CSS WG’s co-chair Daniel Glazman speak publicly, he insisted that they needed input from designers. And asked for such input.

2. What group of designers, or recognized experts, submitted propositions to the CSS WG using the appropriate communication means (the WG’s list, for instance)? Posts on designer blogs will most probably be ignored because… well, you have to submit your input, not put it on your blog and hope that someone from the WG will read it, submit it to the WG, defend it, etc.

3. Is the input that some designers submit (if any) organized, with propositions and arguments? “It’s broken, i wish we had this instead” is something, but it’s not much.

4. The W3C working groups tend to listen to a) organized groups and b) recognized experts. Since they’re mostly engineers, they may not know perfectly well who is a recognized webdesign expert. So the solution is: organized groups.

You know what to do: work with several people, create a proposal, submit it.

Florent V., commenting on the article Lead Pipe by Andy Clarke.

My take on the matter

The “official channels” approach has been tried, as has the cross-blog-talk method, and it doesn’t work. My anger comes from extreme frustration, and it’s not because of a lack of effort on my part, or the part of designers in the industry. Take a look at my critique of the WASP Community CSS3 Feedback, or the series of critiques by Eric Meyer as a small example.

This is old ground. No matter if we write on our own blogs or fumble around in the strange hoops, disjointed blogs, and antiquated mailing systems the W3C claim are “open dialogue”; designers are ignored or simply don’t know they are being engaged (which means that they aren’t being engaged at all). Engineers refuse to understand. Bert Bos continues to argue against 10yrs+ of sustained demand because, well damn, the stuff we want might be hard to achieve.

I don’t care. We need fundamental changes to CSS because of the fundamental problems with CSS3. The difficulty of implementation isn’t a designers problem. That’s an engineering problem. Doesn’t change the fact we still need things CSS doesn’t offer and which just get dismissed time after time.

Look at Andy himself, he was on the CSS WG and quit. Because it’s not workable. Because the CSS WG, to all intents and purposes, from outside and inside, is a closed system where designers have too little influence, and stuff get politicized to death.

Anyway, the CSS WG is for now largely irrelevant. But that’s a whole other blog post I wrote and never published. Why? Because I realised I was raging against an indifferent, impotent, and irrelevant nothingness.

It doesn’t matter if a magic wand was waved and CSS3 got all the stuff we want. Math, variables, DOM traversal & inspection, and all that jazz I’ve been banging on about for over two years! Because the implementation into browsers will take at least 5yrs for any of it to become relevant to designers: until any CSS3 attribute gets cross browser support in 90%+ of site visitors, we can’t rely on them. And when it comes to layout you can’t gracefully degrade without colossal effort, which is impractical in the real world. Try explaining to a client why they are paying extra!

The future of CSS layout and display is not going to be decided by any WG. It’ll be decided by browser vendors who implement stuff they come up with after listening to designers (transitions, transforms, font embedding, etc), and for the next few years, it’ll be all about JavaScript patching up display problems because CSS can’t do what we want. I’ve seen it coming, many other’s have seen it coming, not least Eric Meyer. I hate that, but that is exactly what is going to happen: we’re going to rely on JavaScript for display.


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  1. Richard Fink posted 1 days, 21hrs, 9mins after the entry and said:

    Yes. I think the standards creation-implementation process has hit a bump in the road.

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