Web Design vs. Web Development

A Note from the Trenches About an Ivory Tower Hope

Two days ago I was on a conference call with the W3C EOWG team working on the draft tool “How to Meet WCAG 2.0: A customizable quick reference to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0” (which is temporarily located here ).

Our goal is to create a taxonomy for the filter tags in this tool. Currently there are 24 tags. Our plan is to expand these tags by breaking them into three areas: content, design, and development. Different tags will show according to which area the user selects. (For the curious, here’s the latest draft spreadsheet that maps the filters to WCAG 2.0; note its three tabs.)

We got an astonishing amount done in our 1.5 hours, but necessarily gave short shrift to more theoretical issues. One of those pesky issues is still on my mind.

I was about to email the group, but then realized this is more of a blog post type thing. I’m just thinking out loud — and while I do care passionately about the larger issue of Web design vs. development, I’m not attached to how we address it in the tool. In other words, this both is and isn’t a big deal — and my teammates are welcome to ignore this completely. They are busy people and this is low priority.

So on to my musings….


Dear Awesome QuickRef Taxonomy Team,

I’m still mulling about our including “layout” in the development filter group as well as the design filter group. The example we discussed was the likelihood that a developer and not a designer will have to deal with a layout breaking when a user increases the text size.

The shorthand I used when talking with you Tuesday is that it seems realistic to include the layout filter in both camps, but…. I didn’t speak to my “but” clearly. So here is my clause….

This makes me sad. I believe anyone who says they have Web design responsibilities needs to take the responsibility for all aspects of layout in particular off of developers.

As best I can tell most people who call themselves Web designers don’t think like this yet. Certainly that’s the way it’s been for me for many years in the Web trenches. The result? Web accessibility stalwarts like us are used to this kind of limited, still-with-one-foot-in-print type of designer. It’s the norm and we think it’s acceptable. Thus we defer to this limitation and don’t call people dubbed Web designers to a higher standard.

The thing is, in the last few years I more and more often run across design-oriented Web people who DO think like this — who even care about accessibility. In my mind, Jen Simmons is the archetypal example.

Even more on the rise are “front-end developers” (e.g., me). Folks like us when we are using this tool will automatically look at both sets of filters.

However, by including layout under development, our implication is that backend developers have some responsibility for layout. I mean… seriously? Do you want one of those all-function-no-form-types responsible for even the tiniest aspect of layout? And for companies that expect backend developers to do this kind of thing, don’t they get what they deserve?

Am I making sense? I sure hope so. Really, it’s a very small thing and so, in the end, I’m fine with leaving layout under the development category if that’s what the rest of you think best.

What I do care about is the bigger picture — especially the future of accessible Web design, My fondest hope for this future is that it include more and more tech-savvy code-loving graphic artists.

Warm regards from cold Nashville,
Anna Belle

2 Responses

  1. Hi,

    Speaking as a web developer who prefers to do backend development but ends up doing a lot of frontend development/consulting because of accessibility, might I make a suggestion? I’m not part of the W3C working groups, but could the development tag be split into frontend and backend development? That might make it easier to categorize this particular issue. And tags, as opposed to categories, are ad-hoc, so if the issue were tag under frontend dev and design, it could come up under either. I have no idea what system/toolset you guys are using for this tool, or if you’ve written your own, just my two cents as someone who spends all her time in the trenches LOL

  2. Thanks, Amanda! I’m a big admirer of yours, btw. Great suggestion! I’ll bring it up when I talk with the team next.