The transient web

When IE7 introduced alpha transparency for png’s I thought it might have a huge impact. Creating header text and or backgrounds with PNG alpha transparency would change the web forever. As it turns out the web merely evolves and doesn’t tend to revolt. Alpha transparency and images in general weren’t being used so much, the need just wasn’t there also IE6 took its time to get of the stage. We got over ourselves and sticking to HTML text proved much more practical. Techniques for gradients replaced many a background image. Images in many cases are just as much a crutch as tables are for layout. Like the web, we’ve moved on.

Futility

The web resists being changed into something it isn’t. The web makes it easy to try working around it at first but over the years I’ve noticed we eventually end up where we started, with the simplest and often the easiest solution.
So, designers, myself included, are still getting used to the mismatch of the webs natural fluidity and the constraints of human perception. Mimicking solutions for other media because it is familiar is more often that not a solution that doesn’t work. I know it, you know it and, hell, the user knows it. The web is fluid yes, but I find it better to think of the web as being transient, transitional. We move in and out of pages, scroll them, rotate them, sometimes we even resize them and we view them from multiple locations on differing devices. It’s not so much that the web is fluid, that’s rather obvious, what we need to deal with is that it isn’t fixed. The web isn’t static, there is no beginning and no end. The web and it’s users are always in motion and ever changing. That famous web page “The end of the internet”, isn’t even real, in fact it’s gone.

Designers heal thy self

Writing your own HTML did help most of us with the realisation that spacer gifs and pixel precision was an awkward fit. Our enthusiasm wanted the web to be more that it was. Flash seemed to bring utopia closer but it didn’t, as a technology it was in a death spiral and the smartphone made sure it wouldn’t get back up.

The absence of Flash forced everybody to move in the same direction as most front-enders. Dealing with transient states there is, for now, one simple message: KEEP CALM and TRY A MEDIA QUERY.

Transition, not animation

Flash brought us animation, vectors, sound, video and ubiquity. HTML5 and CSS3 has all this covered (more or less, video is still a bit wonky) and added the ability to handle layout changes for multiple viewport sizes. With the fall of Flash and the rise of the smartphone HTML5 and CSS3 took flight.

The remarkable thing is that web browsers now work in a more uniform way than they ever have in the past. That in of itself would normally been seen as a sign of maturity, getting ready for retirement, but with all that is coming it looks like we’re finally getting underway.

Next entry: CSS abstraction
Previous entry: Three times as hard