Limitations, What Limitations?

by Joe Gillespie — Oct 1, 2000

Do you remember making lino cuts? At school and later at art college, I was frustrated by the relative crudity of the medium and can't say I ever did anything with which I was remotely happy.

At the time, I was fighting the technique rather than working with it and my first encounters with web pages were much the same.

All I had learned about typography and page layout over the years, all the finesse of letterforms, kerning and letter spacing was treated with a smack in the face. This was HTML! This was a computer programmer's idea of shoving text down a telephone line on to who-knows-what kind of computer screen.

But remembering my frustration with lino cuts, and being a little bit older and wiser, I decided to try and work within the limitations and see what I could achieve.

OK, what are these 'limitations'? After all, one person's limitation might be someone else's whole world. Well, it's all relative.

Using the usual graphic designer's tools on a Macintosh, I can do just about anything that I could have done in pre-computer times, though much easier and quicker. But these tools have evolved over twelve years or so.

My first attempts at graphics on a computer were with MacPaint on a 128K Macintosh in 1984. That was Limitation!

Corporate identity and packaging for Frank Cooper's Traditional Oxford Marmalade designed on a 128k Mac with MacPaint Circa 1984corperate identity example

Web tools are in their infancy too, but they are snowballing along at an increasingly faster rate. Now the tools are moving faster than the standards.

New browsers and browser versions are appearing all the time and boasting lots of new features.

We are publishing web pages in the full probability that many of the readers will not be seeing them as we intend. The same HTML document will look quite different in every web browser used to view it.

Some elements will be different in size and position, the colours might have changed, some will be absent completely! How can a designer who is concerned about his or her work cope with this pandemonium?

To gain more typographic control over a Web page, you can use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

CSS provides a mechanism very like style sheets in Microsoft Word or Quark XPress that lets you set attributes for the different headings and paragraphs. In fact, you can have different style sheets for the same document and ultimately be able to specify a style for different monitor and browser combinations.

At the moment, Style Sheets are well supported in current versions of Explorer, Netscape and Opera, although not entirely consistently. Making sure that pages work in the vast array of browsers and browser versions means that the designer has to be intimately familiar with all the browser differences, foibles and bugs. Like any artisan, they have to know the medium - and work with it.

More about Cascading Style Sheets.

There is a plethora of plug-ins for sound, animation and all kinds of things. But you can't assume that anyone is going to have them, or can use them with their particular computer set-up.

Most of their developers must think that every user has a high end computer crammed with memory, huge hard disks and an high speed link into their ISP. This is just not so. Somebody is surely kidding himself or probably knows it's not true - and does it anyway.

The truth is that people often switch off automatic graphic download just so that they can read the text in a reasonable time. How many times have you left a site BEFORE seeing the first image because it just takes too long? Regardless of the styling, how cool the graphics or Flash animation, if people are put off by the download time, the designer has failed!

It is his job to communicate and his, or his client's, communication has been rejected at the outset. In this respect, it is BAD design.

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