CSS and Single-Sourcing: Working Through It

If you’ve read your Peter Elbow, you’ll know what I mean when I say this post is deep in the “growing” phase. I’ll cook later.

Thoughts on creating web designs that “work.”

Thought Number One: Don’t start with the design. Start with the content.

A few key concepts that lie at the back of Andy Clarke’s Transcending CSS: flexibility, accessibility, usability, and meaning; standards & conventions; the content-out approach. All of this is why starting with content is important. (He doesn’t use our favorite mantra: “content is king,” but he might as well have!)

Thought Number Two: Don’t start with the design. You’ll paint yourself into a corner.

As with pretty much all CSS-ers, we’re talking about separating style & content, data & layout, form & function (see such as Briggs). When you try to come up with both content and design, both data and layout, weird things happen. (See this bad boy for evidence.)

Thought Number Three: Don’t start with the design. You’ll have a hard time rewriting it.

Rockley–Single-sourcing is basically separating the design process from the writing process (which is a good thing), allowing the writing to become information-creating; this allows information to become more easily usable/accessible in multiple media, platforms, audiences, contexts, etcetera (i.e. flexible).

(Tangential side note on interactivity: interactive narrative could be seen in some ways in Rockley’s Level 3 (Dynamic Customized Content) & even Level 4 (EPSS) single-sourcing.)

If single-sourcing, at its heart, is about flexibility, then it’s about accessiblity (so an ethical choice) and usablity (a pragmatic/economic choice). If meaningful markup and true CSS (style-less content) are about flex/acces/usab, then what?

Thought Number Four: Information needs perspective to become meaningful. Single-sourcing allows flexibility for multiple perspectives.

Taking this all the way back to Meadows. What’s important? What makes information meaningful? Perspective. Single-sourcing makes information more meaningful? (makes it possible for more information to be more meaningful for more different groups of people).

Allows for action? Ease of action? Thus allowing users to more quickly and easily attain Meadows’ “highest form of thought.”

Thought Number Fiver: It’s a page. But it’s not a page. Or it won’t always be one.

This’d be a great spot to work in something about narrative metaphors and paradigm shifts in web design. Implications of single-sourcing, CSS, and the possiblity of infinite Remediation.

Of course, is infinite remediation a good thing? (Is it really even possible? What’s the half-life of content?)

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5 thoughts on “CSS and Single-Sourcing: Working Through It

  1. Chris, As always, an impressive collection of thoughts and connections to other material. One area I struggle with on this topic is where design begins in the production of content. What I mean by that is: At some point, the content connects with the design, and they grow together. This could be right after the idea is generated. Or it could be late in the process, when the core content essentially has been decided. In some cases, design will dictate content in the sense that technical capabilities and budgets and time constraints will all limit the end result. So the design is as interwoven with the process as anything, post idea. I don’t think anybody sits around and says, “I’d like to make a four-column web page, with a Flash banner. I wonder what I should put in that space.” Much more likely, people have an idea, such as they want to sell their widgets online, and they start thinking of all of the ways they can communicate in this wonderful new medium we have. Maybe a list of basic information that must be included is created, such as inventory and prices. Then the dreams begin, followed soon afterward with the realities of, “We don’t have the time, expertise or other resources” to do this and that. In that way, the design does dramatically affect the content. Or at least the possibilities of the content. The achievable content definitely drives the design, and should do that, but I like to think that a major part of this web creation is a melding of established art forms, writing, video, sound, visual display, etc., with the new possibilities, hyperlinks, interactivity, animation, etc. The component approach, that X content is interchangeable and can be updated to generation after generation of pages, as the design flows in different directions, seems to me to undervalue the synergy of everything working together to constantly create new experiences for the viewer. Sure, I don’t want to have to retype a price list every time I update a site. But if I am always viewing the page (or site) as confined by this old-school price list I created five redesigns ago, I think that could limit creativity as new technologies emerge and fresh ideas could be used.

  2. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.Ruthhttp://fendisite.com

  3. Brett makes a point that reflects what I was thinking as I read your blog entry today. As I have started with each of these sites, I’ve started with a vision in my mind. I then proceed to the site map and the thumbnails and storyboards, but the vision comes first, and the vision involves both the design and the content. Perhaps I don’t process as other people do or as I should, but for these three sites, that’s how I’ve worked. Perhaps Brett best states that when he say, “the design is as interwoven in the process as anything.” No, I didn’t think in the language of design, but I did begin with an idea that I then had to expand and apply so I could integrate the content.I’d like to read your CSS book at some point, although I’m still learning how to empower myself with CSS.And I hope you are integrating these questions into your final paper? Seems like you may have a section of that document in your blog now!As always, I love reading your thoughts. Thanks! 🙂 Have a good weekend.

  4. Thanks for the thoughts, Carie. I’ll have to sit down and methodically draw out the process for myself, to see what I actually went through. Luckily, it’s been relatively well-documented (on purpose), so I’ll hopefully be able to trace the epigenesis (err, don’t check my spelling) of my designs in the paper. We’ve got an interesting set of points to map out here–vision, design, content, and when each connects with each.And then, of course, there’s implementation.

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