Why we need a "design standard"

The general concept behind standards is to provide predictable building blocks for others to build with so that the need for re-invention is minimized, to lower the costs of creation and innovation, and to reap the benefits of shared infrastructure. Imagine a world in which railroad companies never agreed upon a railway standard, as they almost didn't over a hundred years ago. Imagine the amount of money that would have been spent building and maintaining multiple train tracks to carry the train cars from competing companies? And who would have ultimately paid the price for all that maintenance? Why the customers, of course.

When Six Apart acquired LiveJournal, we began to feel the costs of a fractured design methodology because our design team was stretched extraordinarily thin trying to support and deploy the same set of designs to three completely different products: Movable Type, TypePad and LiveJournal. As a result, all three products suffered as the pace of new designs being introduced onto those platforms slowed down.

Then one day while admiring the truly impressive collection of designs at the CSS Zen Garden, a number of us realized the potential locked within the blogging industry to define its own CSS and HTML convention or standard.

It's logical enough right? After all, about 99% of all blogs, including all of the ones from Movable Type, TypePad, LiveJournal, WordPress, Blogger and probably any other blogging platform you can think of, all use one of roughly the same set of layouts: one column, two-column left, two-column right, and three column (with a few additional variants as well).

So if all of these products use the same general layout, what benefit is there in constantly reinventing the wheel? Why must every designer define both a page structure and stylesheet? Wouldn't it make sense for the entire industry to finally take advantage of the professed benefits of CSS? Wouldn't it make sense to truly divorce designers from the structure of a page and only focus on the presentation?

One could argue that HTML does not produce that much impedance to the design and development process. And they are probably right, but that does not change the fact that a blog design standard has benefits beyond the time it would save developers.

Imagine what the user's experience would be like if when they wanted to select a design for their blog they got to choose from the combined efforts of Six Apart, WordPress, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft? The options would be virtually limitless.

Imagine how easy it would be for a user to change their design of their blog if they merely had to replace a single stylesheet and not be forced to completely re-write the HTML of their website?

Imagine what would happen to the tools available to all of us if Adobe, Microsoft and Apple could all build their tools around one single, predictable and open design standard?

Imagine if you're a professional designer and are able to sell a single design to both a TypePad and WordPress user without any additional effort on your part. Imagine being able to market your products and services to an entire industry as opposed to the users of a single product?

Bottom line: Standards level the playing field by reducing the potential for any single company to leverage technical monopolies. Standards reduce the costs of development by eliminating duplicate effort. Standards expand markets by eliminating the barriers companies erect to protect themselves.

And the most important thing for us all to realize: standards are not just for back-ends. They are for front-ends too.

Republished from The Style Contest.

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3 Comments

Hi Byrne,

this is regearding your artcile: http://www.majordojo.com/2006/03/why-we-need-a-design-standard.php .

You do know there is more to the web than weblogs, right? Why not propose an own web standard for social networks? They all look the same too. More importantly: online shops, online banking, news sites... ?

Not only is your vision of "Adobe, Microsoft and Apple" working together utopic, it is not even necessary in any sense. You ever heard about templates? That has already been doing what you are proposing, for years.

Unless of course, the main thing you are concerned with is "the time it would save developers". If so, you are either lazy or just slow.

Bottom line, your proposal is a bad idea.

Thorsten

I googled it about the article and I guess many people might agree with your post. I need to bookmark this web site so I can comeback and read more posts. Keep up the good work.

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  • I googled it about the article and I guess many people might agree with your post. I need to bookmark this web site so I can comeback and read more posts. Keep up the good work. ...

  • Hi Byrne, this is regearding your artcile: http://www.majordojo.com/2006/03/why-we-need-a-design-standard.php . You do know there is more to the web than weblogs, right? Why not propose an own web standard for social n...

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