CSS and mobile-friendly design

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CSS and mobile-friendly design

Post by nosystemd » Mon Feb 11, 2019 3:09 am

I know enough CSS to be able to compare the good points with the bad. I fought it for a long time, it's more accurate to say I have mixed feelings about it than pure hatred.

"Oui, donnez-moi votre haine. Laissez-le couler à travers vous." -- bottom of one of the comics (the one about forbidding Harper to watch Caillou?) -- I've finally read the entire archive.

My main gripe with CSS is that it's terribly more complicated than CSS was, and semantics aside-- we live in an age of machine learning, and I doubt we need purely-hypothetical perfect semantic html/xml than less-hypothetical third party tagging which has likely proven more useful as metadata. The whole tables vs. divs thing has some merit, though I always thought it was beyond pedantic.

CSS rendering introduced all sorts of bugs that have remained to this day, such as most things getting truncated to make room. I much preferred when tables made things bigger than the page but nothing was truncated-- irritating hipster design nonsense like parallax didn't happen, though the point of this rant is really just to say--

Remember when it was all GeoCities and everyone made text centred? (Also Comic Sans, but you can simply delete the font from your computer and add Google's dynamic fonts to your hosts file, and there won't be Comic Sans ever again...)

Basically, it's funny that everyone is making "Mobile friendly designs" and in a way I love them, just because they're simpler and centred and sometimes even based on tables...

They went to all the trouble to get everyone to learn all this computer-sciency hierarchical, object-oriented-like layout design, just for everyone to get devices that older web designs lend themselves pretty well to.

If they hadn't dragged us through these designs that sought perfection, a lot of us would already have "mobile-friendly" webpage designs. Not the forums, obviously. I mean I still prefer phpBB, but it was never mobile-friendly. But most of the web was, prior to CSS. Or maybe that's how it seems now, but designs were a lot simpler because-- that's what everybody did.

I started making lighter-weight designs just because I would visit university professors' homepages with styles that hadn't updated since the mid-90s, and I would get jealous. So finally I said "hey, wait-- I can do design this way if I want to." I mean, the option is still there. The older codes still render, at least with the right doctype.

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Re: CSS and mobile-friendly design

Post by raptor9k » Mon Feb 11, 2019 2:49 pm

Not a web designer but the little I've looked into it CSS is pretty awesome because it enables a reactive site. If you hit it on a mobile with limited real estate the CSS makes it work with what you have. If you're using a 4k monitor you'd obviously want a different view of the content that takes advantage of the hardware you have. The main reason a lot of sites kind of suck is because designers don't really test it at every resolution and make the necessary tweaks to make it a good experience.
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Re: CSS and mobile-friendly design

Post by Deacon » Mon Feb 11, 2019 6:57 pm

nosystemd wrote:
Mon Feb 11, 2019 3:09 am
I still prefer phpBB
You should experience XenForo 2(.1) sometime. Way cooler.
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Re: CSS and mobile-friendly design

Post by I like pie » Wed Feb 13, 2019 8:33 am

Or Discourse, for that matter.

I think most of the gripes described here can be attributed to poor implementation, as raptor9k mentions. CSS was just a natural evolution away from HTML being bastardized to manipulate document presentation. Something like truncated content to adapt to screen space limitations isn't so much of a bug as it is a fix itself to allow for cohesive UI in a way that isn't possible with just tables. Tables-only allowing for content to be wider than the page doesn't reflect a lack of bugs, it reflects an inherent challenge in fitting fluid content to rigid containers. When content is wider than the page, there is no perfect option; you either break the page design or you truncate the content.

Sure, old sites render consistently still, but so does a .txt file. That doesn't make either a good model to serve a highly interactive medium.

CSS's aim wasn't to seek perfection, it was to separate content from presentation. You can see why this is so important by looking at the HTML inside of email newsletters you receive. Mail clients don't have the same rendering capabilities as browsers, so they're a bit of a time capsule, showing us what web markup could have looked look like today had CSS not evolved in the way it did. It's a mess of hacks to get html to render in a way it was never designed to do.

The move away from tables into semantic markup doesn't just have merit, it's been critical for everything from making the web accessible for the blind via screen-readers to making web development practices more efficient and maintainable. Pedantry has little to do with it outside of arguing the specs.

Stuff like parallax scrolling is indeed obnoxious, but so were the shiny buttons of the "web 2.0" era. However, those are problems with design intentions, not markup or styling.

The web evolves, like all technology, and holding onto the past will see you left behind with it.
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Re: CSS and mobile-friendly design

Post by nosystemd » Thu Feb 14, 2019 9:05 am

I like pie wrote:
Wed Feb 13, 2019 8:33 am
Or Discourse, for that matter.
I think I even like Facebook more than Discourse. It's like a network of cattle chutes for posters. Granted it works out fine for How-to Geek, every other place I've seen it has convinced me to never join a Discourse forum ever again.
When content is wider than the page, there is no perfect option; you either break the page design or you truncate the content.
It would be nice if it let you decide. This isn't some idle shower thought, I've wondered for over a decade where that attribute is.

overflow: expand;

I'd prefer to have this (at least if you turn that on-- you could even override it like they often override/ignore iframes) but I suppose the option of tables is still there. If this works, maybe it's the solution: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/308 ... -overflows

Screen readers can do all sorts of things, I don't believe CSS was necessary to make them work. There is a very simple text-based pipe utility called html2text (and others like it) that show how trivial it is to add that functionality to a screen reader. But, I'm not an expert on those, certainly I would cede (but never disputed in the first place) that they're an important technology.
The web evolves, like all technology, and holding onto the past will see you left behind with it.
The future isn't always better. Maybe on average, but it doesn't apply to everything. You can't tell me we haven't let the web get taken over by bloat. Either way, my wish is that they had not made CSS so insanely complicated. My post was as much about the prevalence of bloated web design as that, but it was the first thing I put in the title, after all.

This really isn't just about the future either, some people like a million features and others point out that it's often nicer with a bit of simplicity thrown in as a feature, too. It's a lot harder to find, there's money in extra features after all.

Nothing overlapped before, either, except pop-up windows. The thing I hated most about CSS is that suddenly everybody could code overlapping rectangles right into the page-- and if you turned CSS off you would have various bits and pieces all over the place. Yes, that's an implementation issue (actually a misuse) though it's common.

I find myself messing around with Stylus (CSS modification plugin) just to make websites usable. Sourceforge breaks, Wordpress is a mess now, just to keep the stupid floating nonsense off of text I'm trying to read. Things that are supposed to render but 10 things are broken. Javascript is another culprit, but we know we are stuck with it. I wish it were one or the other, despite knowing how much CSS lends itself to a DOM model that JS is lovely about addressing-- sometimes.

It makes me want to throw the web away and just read PDFs from a p2p client and download from SFTP locations. But not because it's new, because it's over-engineered and widely abused. They now have plugins that turn webpages into less garbagey (more lightweight) versions, but because design has gotten so non-linear, their behavior is difficult to predict.

I just think they got their priorities wrong, because the idea that this is about usability-- the amount of work that goes into browsing now isn't less, at all. And that's before I even pick up a smartphone.

It's too noisy, too slow, too ridiculous and too complicated. It really didn't have to be, but most people don't factor that sort of thing in until many years after the fact. To be fair, CSS is only part of it. I'm too young to be too old to appreciate the web for its good points, but I dislike it more every year.

Wikis (nearly every aspect of them) are a semi-good way to buck the trend though. They're far from a pure alternative, but they do help. I've used them to help me maintain a website while spending less time swearing at the browser. They're a bit like having a lawyer on hand, to translate HTML5's formidable design-legalese into plain English.



Image

A car, designed in the style of the modern Web

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Re: CSS and mobile-friendly design

Post by I like pie » Thu Feb 14, 2019 5:39 pm

To each their own, but I've found success using Discourse for about 3 years now for a game I run that used to run punBB, which was far simpler in design even than phpBB but also very outdated and less usable than what Discourse provides. Discourse is less like that car picture you posted and more like a Prius compared to a Model T.

A car is a great analogy actually: Model Ts, much like web pages on the early internet, certainly had a simple elegance to them. In both cases, however, they also had significant usability constraints that saw an industry evolve towards more complex versions that were more usable for a wider range of people. An early Model T driver surely could scoff and say "This is better, these newer versions are more complicated." meanwhile newer drivers these days can go obscenely farther distances, and also get alerted when a single tire starts to have lower air pressure than is recommended.

Even then, horse-and-buggy advocates would scoff at early motor vehicles. Who needs all that machinery when you have perfectly good horses?

You're correct, future isn't always better, but that doesn't represent a defense of tradition so much as a fear of change. The web itself would not have evolved at all if people didn't see the opportunity to try something new, despite static documents being something that could be shared over a network without this crazy new "hypertext" thing having to complicate things. Why can't I just read a text file? Who needs these tag things, anyway? You get the idea.
It would be nice if it let you decide. This isn't some idle shower thought, I've wondered for over a decade where that attribute is.
And you're not the only one, but that's missing the point.

Regardless of any possible implementation or technology, forcing a dynamic component (variable text) into a static form (screen size) is going to require a tradeoff. Whether that tradeoff leans towards expanded content at the expense of page design or preserved page design at the expense of truncated content makes no difference: a decision has to made, and neither one is more "correct" than the other, as they both sacrifice something.

As for screen-readers, CSS isn't necessary for them, but the evolution of semantic markup is, and that lead to the evolution of CSS. They are all related.

There is nothing you are saying about CSS that isn't also true about HTML, or PHP for that matter, or Perl, or Twitter Bootstrap, or javascript supersets, or css preprocessors, or JS frameworks, and on and on and on.

These are all just tools. They are never perfect, but they are rarely the cause of bloated web design. If I built you a chair that had 7 legs, 2 backs, and no seat, would you blame the hammer I used, or would you blame me for a broken design? It's the same thing here, you're using CSS as a scapegoat for people who would have found a way to make things bloated anyway. If CSS never existed, something else would have come in its place to allow interactive pages on a screen to look crazy and frequently break. That's the nature of innovation.

That you think the web is "over-engineered" makes me curious about what you think the web is supposed to be. You mention that browsing these days requires more work, but what about interacting? What about hard page reloads moving to XMLHttpRequest moving to AJAX moving to reactive front end frameworks? It sounds like you would prefer a more static web. You yourself mention sometimes wanting to stick to PDFs.

There's nothing at all wrong with that, but that preference in no way represents a failure of CSS or any other web technology. It just means the modern web has evolved in a way that doesn't suit your personal tastes.

There's a whole lot of careful work and specification design by multiple generations of engineers that you are dismissing as simply having "got their priorities wrong". That's a very hubristic mentality. Have you considered the alternate possibility that these priorities aren't wrong, they just don't match your own tastes?
It's too noisy, too slow, too ridiculous and too complicated. It really didn't have to be
There's certainly nobody stopping you from creating your own alternative. Have you considered doing so?
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Re: CSS and mobile-friendly design

Post by nosystemd » Fri Feb 15, 2019 4:53 am

You're correct, future isn't always better, but that doesn't represent a defense of tradition so much as a fear of change.
People are quick to put that on you though, when you've already been somewhat acquainted with something for years and still aren't in love with it. It's a fact that some things get overhyped and overrated-- a bit like that spherical / circular reward/status/something engine (Final Fantasy?) in the comic. Sometimes they're only overrated by the author though. (Of the engine, not the comic.)

The advancements for the Model T were probably numerous compared to its predecessor, but I've seen people try to drive one and they're stupidly complicated to operate vs. even a standard transmission on a model car. They're probably easier to repair with homemade parts (not even sure about that), but if you consider the availability of modern parts it's probably a lot more convenient to fix a modern car-- depending on what's wrong with it. Note also that there are lots of options between Model T (biggest advancement was probably how they were put together) and modern car-- you can build your own. Which brings me to a great question:
There's certainly nobody stopping you from creating your own alternative. Have you considered doing so?
I mean, there's a sort of mixed reply to that. Markup and Wiki syntax are very nice alternatives, that retain compatibility and really just abstract the existing mess. I'm in favour of them. When Tony (I'm going to use/abuse examples from the comic a lot, at the risk of being set straight on those examples) gripes about something, it's often something he can fix in one way or another. I rather enjoy layering a "simplified" syntax or mini-language on top of a more complex one;

CoffeeScript does that for Javascript, to the point where I think Eich even admitted some influence of CS towards newer JS-- despite being initially (understandably) lukewarm about it.

Some people think we should never make new languages, I'm not one of them. While I don't love CSS there are options for the discerning developer. Many of them are useless/pointless, at least until they reach a certain point where they become indispensable to somebody. One famous-enough language design expert at Brown says that it's better to make a new language on purpose than do like so many other people and create one accidentally. But he's referring to full-fledged programming languages vs. configuration languages. (CSS would be more of the latter.)

Wiki isn't even that, more like a tenth or a percent of that. Of course a homemade solution might not take the world by storm, but at least it gives me less to complain about. I used to be more irritated about things like this-- these days, I feel more like "ugh, one more thing to work around." More minor gripes and less fist-balling frustration, I am happy to say. As much as I'd like to meet more people who share my feelings about it, I did find one just now: "If only there were an alternative...I shudder to think of the amount of human effort that has been wasted trying to do things in CSS which should be simple but aren't..." https://stackoverflow.com/questions/925 ... ive-to-css

Good advice on your part, though-- practical, in a way that even appeals to the idealist. We are a crotchety bunch I guess, us CSS haters-- all five of us. Cheers.
Have you considered the alternate possibility that these priorities aren't wrong, they just don't match your own tastes?
Sure, but I think you're taking me too literally. They got their priorities "wrong" if they want certain things to be fast and reliable, but they got them "right" if they want to maintain a world where newer computers are slower than older, more underpowered ones. So it may feel revisionist but the real intention in my wording was nothing more than "I don't like their priorities" in the first place-- with "they got their priorities wrong" being a kind of idiomatic shorthand for it.

Consider that I was raised in the States, but on British comedy. It's not that I go around producing deliberately ironic, pithy statements about the priorities of others-- it's that I actually think that way. Good for comedy, not so good for philosophy, but IMO a reasonable starting point for either. There's a little hint of narcissism in every joke at someone's expense, and there's a hint of crotchety idealist in every comedian. But there's a little more if the individual groks computers. They're supposed to be our digital minions, you know, and if they aren't then it's a bug.

I'm heavily into customisation. When someone makes that more difficult or tedious, even after a few years of learning about it, my M.O. is to look for a way to make it easier and less tedious again. I think the real ideal for computing is something that everybody can more or less have what they want. That actually seems more practical and less ridiculous than it used to.

I'm in favour of helping everybody tailor their computing experience to their needs and desires. Yes, it requires learning, but it also requires designing more things with that as the #1 priority. We aren't there yet. But some of us do hold that as ideal. I think we need some standards for the Web that are less bloated-- or, we need some alternatives. Until I meet anybody else who feels that way, then I only have to worry about keeping myself happy.

For what it's worth, in the 80s (as a kid) I was perfectly happy with floppies, but I figured we would be happier if we stored our files on chips instead. I was very fond of the EEPROM, and found it difficult to believe that a flat, circular version of cassette tape would ever work out as nicely as semiconductor technology. Sometimes the future is better, but it helps when we remain critical and even sceptical about the shiny things in the present. I preferred USB to floppy before it was a choice, but it's the other way around with hard drives vs. solid state.

It's nice to have choices. And as long as we have choices, we are going to have more of our own preferences and priorities-- I don't think it's unreasonable for someone to dislike something that doesn't meet their needs, particularly when it's offered as a replacement for something that did. If that's not grounds for complaint, we might as well pretend we like everything just the way it is. But that doesn't sound like much fun.

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Re: CSS and mobile-friendly design

Post by I like pie » Fri Feb 15, 2019 7:21 pm

Thanks for your insightful response. I'm understanding more of your perspective, and although I don't agree with the blame on CSS specifically, I kind of get where you're coming from a little more.
nosystemd wrote:
Fri Feb 15, 2019 4:53 am
Sometimes the future is better, but it helps when we remain critical and even sceptical about the shiny things in the present.
I definitely agree with that! Don't even get me started on the JS framework nightmare. Despite my earlier tone I do think that criticism, even if I don't agree with it, is ultimately healthy and necessary.

"If only there were an alternative...I shudder to think of the amount of human effort that has been wasted trying to do things in CSS which should be simple but aren't..."

To me, this is just part of the cost of innovation. All those hours aren't wasted if they ultimately drive us to improve. I have my own beef with CSS, but a lot of it was solved with css preprocessors, so much that I hardly ever think about it anymore. Then again, I'm mostly an backend api engineer so I get the luxury of avoiding a lot of that pain. That is likely also why I'm less grumpy about it.

Still, the line above about wasting hours *had* to happen in order for something like a css preprocessor to catch enough interest. Frustration leads to invention, after all. Or, "Necessity is the mother of invention" if you don't mind the cliche.
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Re: CSS and mobile-friendly design

Post by nosystemd » Sat Feb 16, 2019 1:33 am

I have my own beef with CSS, but a lot of it was solved with css preprocessors, so much that I hardly ever think about it anymore. Then again, I'm mostly an backend api engineer so I get the luxury of avoiding a lot of that pain.
I would say you understand, just based on this line. There are worse things than CSS, too, and while I would like to disagree with your point about how at least it drove us to write preprocessors... actually refuting that would practically necessitate a perfect world where everything went 100% according to plan and everybody was happy every moment of the day, and I'm not sure that would be much fun either. It sounds almost as bad as being constantly miserable. "Cup of Earl Grey?" "That would be perfect."

ST:Generations aside, in The Matrix they mention that such a perfect world would only lead us to kill ourselves, and CSS isn't THAT bad. The worst I've ever wanted to do is pick it up and throw it at something, and only when it's worse than usual. The silver lining in that scene would be: I don't like bergamot. "Guinan! How do I leave?" "Where do you want to go?" "Wait, let me finish this tea." "You look like you hate it." "No, no, say it to Geordi and Data." "Computer?" "Boo-doo-boo-beep!" "Uhm... masala chai, hot."

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Re: CSS and mobile-friendly design

Post by NorthernComfort » Sat Feb 16, 2019 2:40 am

Wow, nice interesting thread to read through, thanks all for laying out some good thoughts. I definitely empathize with the overall point. Modern web design is pretty disgusting and inefficient and generally user-hostile. I've been doing web dev since tables were the only option, and to be frank it wasn't exactly a lot of fun. I hated using tables for layout. Hated it! And then Flash became extremely dominant, and I didn't like that much either. I basically walked away from frontend development until CSS standards started to spread and CSS Zen Garden was passed around. And then I had a lot of fun battling CSS. And I mean Battling in the literal sense of the word. IE6 hacks? That was my bread and butter. When I'm doing green fields CSS I still tend to make things in a way that is easy to fix in IE6. Needless to say I don't spend much time on flexbox or CSS grids or whatever the cool kids are doing these days. I was totally "okay" with CSS and ES5. IE bugs were fixable. The world was okay. This was maybe 2009, which was probably also the high-water mark of my relative frontend skills.

These days I actively avoid most web sites and use scripts to scrape text which I then read. It's basically a homebrew Lynx. Plain text is where it's at. Never goes out of style.

I still sling modern nightmare JS for work - the pay is good, I don't have a degree, and coding is pretty much all I'm good at. So I'm stuck and don't really enjoy the current ecosystem. But what can you do? At least I work with my head and not my back.

A few weeks ago a new coworker was trying to impress upon me his age/experience/wisdom and actually tried to reminisce about how Flash was great and that CSS animations etc are still trying to catch up, not as pleasant to use, too "boxy" etc... I humored him because I am pretty past dick-measuring contests but inside all I could think "well that's a fresh take" ... and as to wistfully thinking about tables for layout? Same category - I might hate a lot of current web dev but I ain't going back to tables!

/random ass rant
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Re: CSS and mobile-friendly design

Post by nosystemd » Sat Feb 16, 2019 3:10 am

NorthernComfort wrote:
Sat Feb 16, 2019 2:40 am
Plain text is where it's at. Never goes out of style.
Also a fan. Hey, I even ran a Gopher server for a while, because I like the idea, but the implementation needed to support more the half a screen's worth of columns as a standard. In practice I'm not sure it ever came up.

At the risk of making things worse, maybe we really didn't need a standard hypertext document at all. Or perhaps I'm wrong, and without a preemptive one that wasn't controlled by Redmond, we would all be using WebTV now. But aside from that, we could have had competing documents-- we practically did for a while, and Adobe was just one more example of that. I'm relieved they lost, I didn't want a single corporation dictating things. Maybe it's actually impossible to avoid that without something like WHATWG and HTMLWG, I'm sure they think it is. Gopher handled transmission and simple menus, though it didn't create or negate something like HTML, which to Gopher was just one more type of file you could download.

If the goal is really to separate content from layout, let's have a dynamic JSON. Then you can download the layout separately (but seamlessly) and either prevent it per-website with a plugin like NoLayout or-- what I'm getting at-- something that is the equivalent of an App, but universal.

I realise that without specifying more details, I'm basically describing a web browser. The difference is that it would be easier to get just data, it would be easier to make all your web browsing look like LCARS, and most importantly-- all this bloat would be well and truly optional.

Perhaps this sounds hypocritical after complaining about CSS, but I hope it at least demonstrates that I'm not just talking about going back to HTML 2 or back to Gopher-- but bringing surfing a little closer to something to what the Web really is-- a bunch of databases with frontends-- only a way where the user has a little further say in the garbage that comes in. (For the average user, it would not be more technical than NoScript if they wanted to customise, and not more technical then browsing already is if they don't care about customisation.

For lots of reasons, I think this sounds commercially unfeasible. Yes, it certainly does sound like it is. To that, I mention that so does the Web, so does "View source" as a feature for every website, and I thought FPGAs that let you change architectures would never become a thing for exactly the same reason. Emulators like Qemu and ZSNES also seem too "utopian" to "too easy" or too user-only-benefiting to exist. So you never know for certain if something is too unlikely for monopolies to allow, before anybody assumes that it's impossible to create a browser alternative that takes more control away from web developers and gives more to the person browsing. It also means that you could design "browser skins" without bothering to create a website.

Developers already use templates, the difference is that this would be similar to-- a webscraper that let you choose a universal layout (like LCARS) but also let you chose per-site templates if you wanted, including the default that came from the server for each website.

Web data -> Server-side

Template -> Offered by server by default, optionally ignored or replaced by user's universal template, or per-website according to user settings

What's nice about this is that you could make the Web much faster. I'd expect big ISPs to dislike it, but since they're offering HD television and Youtube and Hulu and Netflix are all things, I'm not really sure "pages are optionally less bloated" is something they'd go to Red Alert over.

The tricky part is explaining how "Template" is different from what CSS does already. I use Stylus, as I mentioned, and it won't exactly make websites less bloated. Everything still loads, and it changes that after the fact. This is a little more powerful. Because the data is truly separate, you could even use it to make websites that didn't use HTML and CSS-- you could make layouts using PyGame or Java, or even Tcl/Tk, and you could make applications that used "Rich Data" (I think that's what I'll call it, but I doubt I would develop it because I'm not THAT good) however you wanted to use it.

If nothing else, it would give the EFF something new to explain what your rights are regarding it.

I do think about this idea sometimes, but only as a response to the things about what I said about CSS.

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Re: CSS and mobile-friendly design

Post by Deacon » Tue Feb 19, 2019 2:02 pm

I have enjoyed reading this so far. And I will say, for the record, that Flash going away remains one of the greatest movements since GeoCities sites began to receive scorn. I ran into a real, live product website the other day that required Flash. I couldn’t avoid buying that company’s products fast enough.
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