11th June, 2005

So where does @media leave us?

I expect @media has given all attendees much food for thought. Two days of intensive web standards and accessibility waffle has left me both excited and concerned about the future of our industry.

To attempt to sum up, I’ll say a big “Hello” to all of those lovely people I met for the first time, do the obligatory “well done” to all involved, and then think about where it leaves me as a web developer/designer constantly battling to stay ahead in an ever-changing landscape of poor browsers, confused methodologies, misconceptions about accessibility and a barrage of new technologies, where even the industry leaders aren’t sure what the rules are.

The event was a tremendous success, with talks by Clarkey (thanks for bigging up our work on the The Libs site, matey) and Jeremy being the real hits for me. Sold out, free stuff, lots of booze - all good. A huge “Well done” to Patrick and the team.

A few hellos

Now, the link-ups. It was a pleasure to finally meet the likes of Doug (nice man, likes my blog - crikey!), Molly (nice lady - doing great work and open to ideas), the outspoken Joe (now there’s a man who missed his vocation as a stand-up comedian), and Jeffrey of course (albeit a very brief “hello”).

Then there are all the people you know from their great blogs. Too many to mention, but especially nice to meet those that travelled a long way to be there, such as Veerle, Roger (what a cool guy!), Derek (bought me a pint - very nice guy!), Mark, Ian (looks like he’s still traveling).

Who else? I should mention Derek Denis Radenkovic (great little chap), Pixelsurgeon’s Jason, Patrick L, Ben, Kate, Matthew and Ryan C.

Lest I forget, a joy to hang around once again with all the usual BritPack suspects. Next stop Nottingham, right chaps?

Where does @media leave us

Well, it leaves many of us with a contradiction of clarity and confusion when it comes to accessibility. This is not a criticism of the event, but a criticism of the state of our industry at present. Throughout the speeches, focus kept returning to browser support, inconsistency of Jaws, the pig-headedness of the WCAG working group, the mess of supposed legislation and law regarding web design, and numerous other factors that suggest we have a long way to go as a community before anyone can deliver a clear set of guidelines for best practice.

I personally want to take a serious look at how I implement accessibility in the websites I help to produce. I can see where our approach falls short, and I can see that as a company it would benefit us to have an internal review of our understanding of accessibility. I believe we are the agency who take such issues most seriously in our region, but am aware that in an ever-changing landscape, we need to remain flexible, open to change, and abreast of current thinking, research and methodology to avoid complacency. This seems like a positive thing, and not something to shy away from.

On the flipside of that, I came away wondering how any of us ever find the time to develop new approaches. How can we make time to learn these new approaches? The wealth of knowledge a good designer needs to carry is overwhelming, and I don’t think a single person at @media could say that they are on top of their game when so much is changing at such a frantic pace.

Both excited and worried

In the end, I feel both excited and worried. Excited to see the work that WASP are doing, and that they are conquering new ground almost daily. Worried because I can see that without allotting time to learn, develop and explore new methodologies, it will be too easy to lose ground to other designers who have the advantage of learning this stuff from scratch, and have time to develop. It is far too easy to rest on one’s laurels and be smug about what one is doing right now, but give it two or three years, and we could all be enveloped by those who are readily embracing new techniques - those who can look at all the cul-de-sacs we have gone down and will use their time to take the industry in a new direction.

My point? I suppose I’m saying this: The industry is exciting, but every day we realise we don’t know enough/anything about “x”. That builds as a pressure that makes us desire time to learn and develop. Without that, we stay stagnant, and as a result we can no longer innovate. The young pups will rise and show us up as old dogs who can’t learn new tricks.

So, I personally know that I MUST make time to learn more about AJAX, the forthcoming and mighty CSS3, the true point of accessibility. We all need to think of how these things will affect what we do, and should build in progression schedules that help us know when to use certain technologies, and when they are inapropriate. A good example is CSS3. This will give us a wealth of new tools to work with, but at what stage should we embrace it? When do we factor in the need to retro-fit all our existing sites. Will we still be worrying about outdated browsers, and when will we finally be able to work to a set of rules that can genuinely guide us.

What do we do next?

I chatted briefly with Clarkey and Molly about instigating a central resource on the web that acts as a barometer of current best practice. Currently, the guidelines, suggested methods and agreed principles are scattered across hundreds of resources around the web. What we need is a regularly updated list of “what to do"s, which will give us a clear point of reference for our decisions, and help tie up all the loose ends, as well as taking the pressure off those striving for standards who can rarely clarify something as a “rule”.

Imagine this: a site which tells you which browsers we all generally agree to support. What the current preferred method of image replacement is. Whether we should use access keys currently or not. Simple information for the developer that allows those not tied to other external (government or workplace) guidelines to make informed choices based on current industry suggestion. Now that would be helpful.

Anyway, once again, a massive well done to all involved in @media. Here’s to next year!

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