Notes on An Event Apart

Rick Ells
June 29, 2007

I attended An Event Apart last week and found it very worthwhile. I expected a somewhat more technical program, but instead heard from a variety of professionals in big time Web design. The following are some brief notes on what I heard and what I thought.

Secrets of the CSS Jedi

Eric Meyer of and many books talked about the puzzles of getting consistent presentation across browsers, particularly focusing on the variations between the default stylesheets. A method he uses is a "reset file" stylesheet that resets defaults to a common baseline.

His first point was to recognize that each browser has a default stylesheet. On Windows the FireFox default stylesheet is at C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\res\html.css. If you take a look at such a file, you will see it is pretty complicated.

So what could be in a "reset file"? A first temptation is to zero out all variation, such as with a naively universal statement like

* { padding: 0; margin: 0; }

Although Meyer has used such vast statements in the past, he strongly recommends that you instead create a reset file that specifically targets those elements you want to set a baseline for. In other words, no *; just a long list of selectors or descendant selectors for specific elements or structural situations. The problem is that the global statement is likely to break the more complicated structures such as lists and forms, making you responsible for straightening them out in your stylesheet. He has an article on MeyerWeb that gives more detail.

Writing the User Interface

Jeffrey Zeldman (author of Designing With Web Standards ) reminded people that the content itself is a user interface.

All this relates to how words work online:

Zeldman listed several sites he felt were making good use of guide and brand copy:

Notes from the Engine Room

Tim Bray, one of the creators of XML and inventor of one of the first public Web search engines back in 1995, had some thoughts on how to think about the Web:

Getting Real With Accessibility

Shawn Henry of W3C talked about recent developments in Web accessibility

Shawn also reviewed screening techniques, which are quick ways to get a feel of the accessibility of your pages:

Shawn also gave a quick overview of what is happening in the area of AJAX, Javascript and accessibility, basically saying that the newer adaptive technologies (AT)  have much improved abilities to work with well-design pages using AJAX and Javascript. She recommended several papers:

From Dots to Design: Gridlines

Khoi Vinh, Design Director for the New York Times, demonstrated and discussed the use of grids in designing Web pages.