Archive: April 15th, 2005

Mo betta selecta

Aaron Gustafson is one smart cookie.

When we first met at South by SouthWest, we started talking about DOM scripting and the cool stuff for which it could be used. He showed me the genesis of a very nifty idea he had been working on during his flight to Austin. I was very excited and wanted to write about it straightaway. But Aaron said it needed more work and he swore me to secrecy.

I’m pleased to announce that Aaron’s idea is ready for its close-up.

The problem:

Form elements, particularly <select> dropdowns are notoriously difficult to style consistently cross-browser, cross-platform. Safari, for instance, won’t let you style the widgets provided by the OS.

The solution:

Replace the <select> element and its associated <option>s with a <ul> element contain <li>s. Then add behaviour to the list to make it work just like the replaced form element. Now you can style that list any way you like.

That’s what Aaron has done. He’s written up the process. It’s well worth reading. At the end of it, you can play with the finished result.

I’ll probably end up using this for the style-switcher here on this site. I’m going to hold for now though: Aaron has promised a sequel to his article which will examine all the accessibility implications.

I like the way his brain works.

Overcaffeinated : A story

Sergio posts a fragment of a short story that would make Cory Doctorow proud.

BBC to podcast more programmes

20 more radio programmes are getting the MP3 treatment.

Fixed fashion

Slap your PayPal payment down for the latest issue of Design In Flight, the PDF magazine for design professionals and web developers.

Not only will you get to see the funniest cartoon ever by Kevin Cornell, you’ll also get to read a terrific article by Molly. It’s entitled The More Things Stay The Same, The More Things Change. It’s about trends in web design, a topic that fascinates me.

Finally, someone is talking about the elephant in the living room of web standards:

"Visual designers on the Web hunger for precision. It’s something we’ve long been denied, largely due to the fact that the way people access and use the Web is so variegated that no matter what we do design-wise, people are simply going to be looking at our designs using different resolutions, window sizing, and browsers."

"But sometime in the past two years, the reappearance of centered, fixed designs emerged - and from an intriguing place: the Web standards design community."

Now, don’t worry, I’m not about to go off on another rant about fixed versus liquid layout. But let me relate a little anecdote…

During my presentation with Andy at South by SouthWest, the subject of CSS design trends came up in the Q&A. While I was answering the question, I briefly touched on the fixed vs. liquid debate.

After the talk, someone came up to me and asked about this "liquid layout" technique I mentioned. He hadn’t heard of it. Needless to say, I was happy to oblige and I probably bored the poor guy senseless.

He asked if I could recommend any resources on the subject. I didn’t have much to offer him. Richard has some great posts on his blog but generally, it’s not something people talk about.

It made me wonder if perhaps I should be making more noise about the subject.

Y’see, I always assumed that the prevalence of fixed-width sites was the result of an informed decision. I imagined that designers weighed up the pros and cons of fixed and liquid design and then, after careful consideration, chose to build a site with a fixed width layout.

Now I’m beginning to think that this scenario is wishful thinking. Could it be that most designers are simply making the decision based on what everybody else is doing?

If so, that’s a disturbing thought. Decisions as important as that shouldn’t simply be the result of a sheep-like attitude.

This doesn’t just refer to fixed width layout. There’s nothing inherent in CSS that favours gradients and drop-shadows. Yet those techniques are hugely prevalent in CSS-based designs.

Step back and take a look at the bigger picture.

The wisdom of crowds is a nice idea but it can lead to some unfortunate results. The outbreak of pointless Flash intros on the Web was the result of clients and designers thinking, "everybody else has one, so should I".

It’s a scary thing to be the dissenting voice in a crowd. I’m not just talking about the high-profile historical figures like Charles Darwin and Galileo Galilei. What if one person in the Seventies had simply said, "y’know these flared trousers that everyone’s wearing look pretty ridiculous to me"?

So maybe I should be making more noise. I could become the web standards equivalent of those loonies with the sandwich boards, declaiming loudly that the end is nigh.

Or perhaps, if the problem really is a "monkey see, monkey do" attitude, I should softly, softly, catchy monkey. I could speak softly and carry a big stick.

A big… liquid… stick.

For catching monkeys.

Um… I’ll get my sandwich board.