Flutterby™! : Stylesheets and HTML email

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Stylesheets and HTML email

2001-06-04 15:45:10+00 by Dan Lyke 15 comments

Two recent discoveries: Some conflicts in the testing Debian packages have meant that I use Emacs rather than XEmacs to read my email. Since Emacs[Wiki] doesn't have the W3 module installed I don't read HTML email. This is good. At the same time I've also turned off site-based stylesheets in Opera. This is even better. I need to tweak a few things about the Flutterby design so that it looks a little better this way, but the number of sites that become amazingly more readable without their designer's vision intact is incredible.

[ related topics: Web development ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:45+00 by: Jette

Thank you, Dan. We are developing stylesheets at work to use with our HTML-based online help, so I am having to learn about CSS whether I like it or not. This tempted me to consider using stylesheets with a Web page I am developing, but it occurs to me now that it may not be worth the effort, particularly if some people are going to disable that feature anyway. (Besides, the pages look perfectly fine without CSS.)

And your earlier hints about Google's sparse but effective design had a big influence on the design of the pages I'm creating. I stopped trying to find/make/commission fancy graphics and just went with plain-yet-colorful small graphics based on text. Personally I'm very tired of waiting for unnecessary graphics and things to appear on the screen, and I can't be the only person in America using dial-up service and a 28.8 modem.

I've never liked HTML email and when I was visiting my mom and sister I disabled that function on their versions of Outlook Express.

Maybe I better stop visiting this site before I become a Linux convert. Eeeek!

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:45+00 by: Dan Lyke

Actually, that should be taken as a resounding endorsement of style sheets! Please, use style sheets. Lots! Go to HTML4 strict with style sheets! Then my wonderful Opera browser will display previously horrendously ugly pages as beautifully rendered Lynx like pages, but with images, and the "designers" can go completely apeshit.

A List Apart and the Zeldman pages are readable and almost compelling with style sheets turned off in Opera[Wiki].

If anything would make me get behind the Web Standards Project attempt to help Intel and Apple sell more hardware, being able to read some of these very content-worthy but completely unreadable as the designer has envisioned them pages might be it.

My revamping Flutterby actually involves learning enough style sheets to remove the table from the header information so that non-style-sheeted viewers don't get a few ugly green lines.

The only problem is that there are a few places where the designers were right, and making the page linear seems like the wrong thing. I'm loathe to change Flutterby because I don't want to lose that right hand info table from the page, for instance.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:45+00 by: dhartung

If stylesheets are mere "presentation" and thus superfluous, so are extra words like adjectives and adverbs. Heck, we don't even need clauses. Let's all turn our blogs into mere repositories of "content", expressed as simple XML tables. No need to actually inject personality or opinion, stick to the simple facts.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:45+00 by: Dan Lyke

As it happens, I also do a lot of editing for friends. And when I start working with someone they're always amazed at how much better their writing reads once I've cut two thirds from it.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:45+00 by: skrubly

I've just upgraded to Opera 5.0 for Linux and have to spend some time playing with these options... I usually set the font size to something generally readable and occasionally use the zoom feature.

I say designers can include anything they want in presenting their content. If I really want to hear what they have to say, I'll strip it out and look at it any way I want. But if they're going to all that trouble to make it inconvienent, well, are they really focused on what they're saying in words?


#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:45+00 by: dhartung

Damn, Skrubly, you're right. I guess Monet should have written down his thoughts about the lilypads, instead of painting them! How could I have missed this?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:45+00 by: Dan Lyke

Show me a web designer who's a Monet and not a crayon refrigerator scribbler and I'll gleefully turn style sheets back on for that page. In fact, I do that occasionally. But largely my user experience has been better with stylesheets off.

I suggest you try it, it's really eye-opening.

A better analogy is all the ransom-note design that happened when "desktop publishing" first occurred. Yes, the Macintosh enabled some truly brilliant design to happen. Some.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:45+00 by: Jette

Now I'm definitely not using stylesheets so you will all be subjected to my designing whims. So there.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:45+00 by: Larry Burton

No, use style sheets. They will save you a ton of work when you decide something needs changing in the style. If the structure of the document is sound and the markup is proper and valid it won't matter whether Dan turns on stylesheets or not and it will force a consistency to your design. With stylesheets you can still subject us to your designing whims. In fact, it will make introducing whimsy to your site so much easier.

Oh, and it would have been handy had Monet included a description of his work along with picture. That way blind folks could benefit from Monet's work as well as the sighted folks. As it stands now someone other than Monet has to give an interpretation of Monet's lilypads to the blind. We can have it both ways.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:46+00 by: John Anderson

obJWZ: design

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:46+00 by: dhartung

Of course not all design is "as good as" Monet. But Monet communicated visually, and the visual experience is part of the web. Insisting that only the text matters is a yoke you're putting around your own neck.

I need not point out that this is a left-brain, right-brain issue? Too many programmers and geeks of similar stripe seem to think this way (slashdot, anyone?). That's your choice, of course, but I will continue to use style sheets and (modest) design. Turn them off if you like (since I've gone CSS Layout, Zeldman style, you'll get a decently degraded web page), but hell, you're only getting half the message I'm sending out. Might as well cover one ear or one eye and be done with it. In the narrow case of my weblog, I'm not writing for the benefit of your "user experience", dammit, I'm expressing myself. If you want to see HOW I'm expressing myself, you're welcome to turn those style sheets on. But don't delude yourself into the self-serving truism that you've IMPROVED my expression by removing half of it. The text is only part of the message. It's a whole. It's not microcontent packaged into little syndicated bits, at least, it isn't JUST that.

Designers didn't suddenly emerge full from the head of Zeus when TBL invented the web. Graphic design has a long and respected history as part of visual communication. Consider the road-sign morass before the US and Europe standardized on certain graphic designs that can be read quickly, or the now-ubiquitous people icons that were developed for the Mexico City Olympics. Consider the work of font designers to develop typefaces that are readable at all sizes or appropriate for particular narrow uses. This isn't tyranny, dammit, it's meeting the reader halfway.

But like I said, it's a right/left brain issue. The types of people who feel this way are few, it's just that y'all are well-represented among the engineer cadre building half the web, so you THINK you're in a majority. But you ain't all that, OK? You're wearing blinders and congratulating yourselves on how well you can't see.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:46+00 by: Dan Lyke

Random jibe of the moment 'cause I'm bored: Does anyone think the world would be a better place if Hunter S. Thompson had done the typographical layout for Fear and Loathing?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:46+00 by: Dan Lyke

Maybe it is a "congratulating myself for wearing blinders", like walking past a guy with a megaphone on the street corner who, from the smell, hasn't bathed in 4 months, yelling at random passers by. Normally I try to look inconspicuous and hustle on by.

Now it turns out that I find a transcript of what I thought were the deranged rantings of a lunatic, and if I take out the random pauses and the stench and the screeches when the megaphone feeds-back and echoes I find out that there are some really good ideas being expressed.

The point isn't that I'm missing[Wiki] half the message, because before I'd have gotten none[Wiki] of the message, the point is that now I'm getting[Wiki] half the message.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:46+00 by: Larry Burton

For some reason I believe we are all in violent agreement with each other.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:46+00 by: shmuel

Umm... y'know, the Opera feature in question doesn't actualy turn off stylesheets; rather, it imposes a user-based stylesheet that overrides all other settings. Which means that, Jette, not using stylesheets on pages you design won't matter; Dan and Co. will still be able to ignore pretty much all your design decisions at will. ...well, unless you exclusively use graphics or Flash instead of any text, but I'm pretty sure you're not, and thank goodness for that.

(In my case, it depends on the design. In most cases, I stick with the original settings, but if it's too hard to read -- some of Columbine's color choices are a case in point, as are pages that insist on using really small fonts -- I go ahead and override them. My main interest is the actual content. But, then, when I'm not using Opera, I'm using Lynx, so what would you expect?)

That being said, stylesheets are quite definitely a Good Thing, very useful and effective and user-friendly and so on. I wouldn't abandon them...