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Weblog Entry

Notes on OFFF

July 07, 2004

Some reflections on the festival, the people, and the country I’ve spent my last week enjoying.

OFFF is an interactive festival, exhibit, and about as close to a design industry trade show as you’re going to find. 2004 was its fourth year, and the first in Valencia (the prior years have run in Barcelona from what I hear).

The interesting thing about OFFF is that it brings together a bunch of people that could be labelled as ‘digital artists’, but doesn’t discriminate about each specialty. There were video and audio people, web people, a lot of Flash people, and the kind of artistes that do work in any media they can get away with and do it well enough to make you weep a river of green tears.

Notably, the catchline for OFFF 2004 was: “I am not a digital artist, I am a _______”. It was up to each individual to fill in the blanks. When interviewed I think I produced the blandest of possible answers (“user interface something-or-other”) but the point was more to showcase the diversity of the field, and bring together the different specialties and celebrate the differences.

What kept occuring to me was that I was a representative of only one small piece of the overall pie; the context of the festival was largely web design, and the people who attended were undoubtedly supremely talented. The web is a large place though, and you and I and everyone else liable to read this represent the smallest of small fractions of those who use it, create it, and live it. There are other people doing it who don’t see things the same way as you or I.

For example: I was one of the few presenters who used a Mac, and every PC there seemed to be using Internet Explorer exclusively. The audience at SXSW was, by contrast, about 85% Mac. I don’t think I saw a single browser by the Mozilla organization gracing any screen other than my own. There was no wireless; internet access for the conference was handled by a set of PCs in a ‘wired room’ which all ran IE.

Some of this is just cultural difference. Spain is a country lax on software licensing, I heard from some individuals. The pirated CDs and movies for sale in the open on the streets of the tourist areas seemed to confirm this. (DVDs of the movies playing in theaters were for sale right outside the theater, in some cases.) Why this supports a monoculture when so much great open source software is legitimately available, I don’t know; perhaps there’s a correlation if awareness of the alternatives is lower.

Macs are undeniably expensive outside of the US, and Mac prices are all wrapped up in hardware which, at last check, you couldn’t duplicate digitally. Ask me some time how many Canadian dollars I’ve invested in Apple so far in my less-than-a-year of conversion. And wireless is popular in the US and growing in Canada, but it’s still an emerging technology elsewhere. I’m glad I brought my ethernet cable (and even more glad that the conference had some North American to European power cables that allowed me to actually plug in; the 34% on my battery when I arrived wasn’t going to last through the presentation.)

But when it comes down to it, a lot of the non-technology-oriented mindset results from the technology and tools used to build the final product being seen as incidental to many people. Flash is popular amongst designers because cross-browser issues are non-existent. It has an authoring environment that allows for intuitive, true WYSIWYG design. CSS has no equivalent for either of these. ‘Markup’ and ‘coding’ are concepts that get in the way of a designer’s ability to design.

Though more of the world is buying into standards-based design, it’s becoming more apparent that standards are moving to the background as a tool and a way of getting things done, and more attention is being focused on the work itself. This is a good change, but there’s still a vast difference between understanding the benefits of standards, and using them in your work. The reality is that proper browser support requires hacks and clever workarounds, and these are the sort of things that seem like mystical voodoo to those who just want to get the job done.

I have no conclusions, only anecdotes. I was exposed to a different way of thinking this past week that represents how a large portion of those creating for the web view what they do. It’s easy to forget they exist, but they’ll be the majority for a time yet. Perhaps there needs to be more focus by those people on the technology itself, but perhaps there needs to be more focus on the actual work by those of us who get it.

The recent standards backlash has been a healthy wake up call. Perhaps now would be a good time to quit obsessing over the latest validation war and start talking about the final product a little more.


Reader Comments

1
ssn says:
July 07, 09h

Have you watched some football (aka soccer) while in Spain? The Euro2004 ended this weekend.

How about the food? Mediterranean food is great. Any thoughts on that?

I really like to hear foreigns talk about our cultures (i’m portuguese)

2
Mark says:
July 07, 10h

> Flash is popular amongst designers because cross-browser issues are non-existent.

Yeah, but “cross-version-issues”. There is no such thing as “coded-once-runs-forever”. But of course there is a massive difference in issue-density ;-)

3
Paul says:
July 07, 10h

Of course, I would have to agree. I have been learning about standards-based design for the past month or so now, I have spent a great deal of time simply learning how to get things done, and less time concentrating on the design itself. This is the very reason why the design community is comprised of so many flash-designers.

Standards-based designers deserve a big slice of the pie, so let’s get it. Let the Zen Garden live, and let the followers follow. Let’s design.

4
Keith says:
July 07, 11h

Sounds like a great time! I too find it interesting how “narrow” of focus many Web professionals are (including myself) – I know people who work soley in Flash. Others who are 100% focused on .net and MS technologies. Then there are the standards folks.

If your projects meet your goals, who’s to say how you should do something? I’d like to see more talk about blending of the proper technologies toward the proper solutions.

A focus on the end product, meeting goals and fundimentals like design.

Sounds like we’re moving in that direction and it’s great.

But anyway, let’s get to what really matters. Did you have any paella while you were there? See any sights? I loved Spain the one time I was there.

5
Mike P. says:
July 07, 11h

Keith, I can attest to the fact that he did get down and dirty for lunch with some of the noisier locals, though paella wasn’t on the menu.

Good to hear that you enjoyed the assembled talent, Dave. How was your talk? Any notes from that?

6
Mike P. says:
July 07, 11h

Keith, I can attest to the fact that he did get down and dirty for lunch with some of the noisier locals, though paella wasn’t on the menu.

Good to hear that you enjoyed the assembled talent, Dave. How was your talk? Any notes from that?

7
Al Abut says:
July 07, 11h

Macromedia.com is an excellent example of Flash and standards working together. Unfortunately, it’s just about the only one I know of.

Oh they’re out there - one of my favorites is the recent WDDG redesign, which even touts their “fully standards compliant site” verbiage in the first sentence no less. Keeps the same visual feel as the version prior but got smarter about not Flashing their whole site. Very cool for a design firm.

As always, you can cruise k10k for more inspiration or just check their feed for a daily dose.

http://wddg.com/
http://k10k.net/

8
Derek says:
July 07, 11h

It’s a little depressing to realize that our little positive-feedback-loop world of standards-based design really is so little. And yet I’m encouraged.

After all, this conference sought out Dave and paid for him to come, right? And major websites from Wired on down are reworking themselves with standards too—not just to be cool, but because it makes sense for their businesses.

I see it myself whenever I show a crowd of non-web people (not designers, but regular folks who use the Web all the time) the Zen Garden, or a standards-based site with CSS turned on and off. They get it. They know why it would be good to see a funky visual layout on their computers, but just the basic text on their cell phones, and they appreciate being able to change the presentation of something while maintaining its content. When they see a newsfeed in action, they get that too.

Web design and development are still very, very young fields. As they mature, standards make more sense than ever. We just need to continue working to make standards-based sites are easier to build, so that eventually _of course_ sites will be built using standards, just as English books are printed left to right with page numbers and tables of contents. In time, everyone should wonder why it would ever have been different.

Hey, I can dream, right?

9
Craig C. says:
July 07, 12h

Re: blending technologies, I’m a big fan of Flash/HTML hybrids. I was recently shocked to learn that some major players in Flash design can’t hand-code a lick of HTML to save their lives. They can write complex ActionScript functions to spawn duplicate movie clips and mutate them with randomly variable elasticity, but they can’t center a page without using a table and that little “align” dropdown in Dreamweaver.

For example, Fantasy Interactive (http://www.fantasy-interactive.com/) does amazing Flash work, simply stunning jawdropping stuff, but none of it is HTML even when it really should be. Their current home page is essentially a big column of text, but it’s all Flash (in a big <center> tag even). Which means it can’t be searched, can’t be googled, can’t be scaled, can’t be copy-pasted, can’t be navigated by keyboard, can’t be screen-read by assistive software, links can’t be opened in tabs, and worst, the site can’t be seen at all without a current Flash plug-in. It would be much better off as a standards-compliant hybrid, and it wouldn’t need to suffer at all in the looks department.

Macromedia.com is an excellent example of Flash and standards working together. Unfortunately, it’s just about the only one I know of.

10
mattymcg says:
July 08, 03h

Nice post Dave. A bit different from your regular posts because it resonates with the personal, retrospective, almost melancholy tone that I recognize and have always associated with relaying an overseas trip - you want to capture the moment, but it is too big for a few hundred words.

11
Jerry says:
July 08, 06h

To Keith:
How is it in this day and age there exist web designers that use exclusively FLASH for page design? If a client is selling a product or service via a website, they need to tap into targeted traffic offered by search engines - if one can get to the top of the search engines’ search results pages for their relevant keywords and keyword phrases. Pages done mostly in FLASH do nothing as far as feeding content to search engine spiders. The most important thing your site requires is TRAFFIC. Who cares about design is nobody can find your site?

Here’s a beauty of a site my client paid good money for: [removed] …the pages are 100% FLASH images - every page has to be loaded. What were these guys thinking when they built it? Not only does each page take over 3 minutes to load on a dialup connection, search engine spiders can only see the META tags - which, will only get you buried in the search results. I found out later that the company that did the work is primarily a video production outfit. Here’s the redesign my team did: [removed] My client did ask the company to resolve the loading issue. After two weeks they came back and said there was nothing they could do. My URL is actually another client’s site. Just posting some links to get it spidered by the engines. Please email me if anyone has questions about search engine optimization and search engine friendly web design. I offer consulting on a paid hourly basis. Cheers

[Nice try. No soup for you. -DS]

12
Sam says:
July 08, 09h

Nice article: what demonstrations of flash were there? Glad to see you holding up the css banner though!

13
July 08, 11h

I would agree with sam – comment 11. I think you rightfully earned the job of “holding up the CSS banner”, as sam said.

14
July 08, 11h

>>”For example: I was one of the few presenters who used a Mac, and every PC there seemed to be using Internet Explorer exclusively. The audience at SXSW was, by contrast, about 85% Mac. I don’t think I saw a single browser by the Mozilla organization gracing any screen other than my own. There was no wireless; internet access for the conference was handled by a set of PCs in a ‘wired room’ which all ran IE.”<<

Gasp! Is that even possbile….using “Internet Explorer” and “exclusive” and “using” in the same sentence (You may need to re-arange those!)?

15
kusor says:
July 09, 08h

I think you’re obtaining premature conclusions about web state in spain.

Offf is more a festival about design tendencies than about real things happening on web design industry here.

I’m sure we still have much way to cross related with web standards. But much of ours are working with web standards more than 3 years ago. In fact, we’re planing a project with the main goal to help people to learn the importance of web standards and the business benefits derived from their use. Maybe we’ll need some help from people like you.

Until now, with the praiseworthy exception of Mr. Zeldman - who always says that there’s no problem if we want to translate ALA articles to spanish - it seems like “important web people” is too busy to take care about what’s happening on the web which speaks another language than english.

There are too many problems to analize before to take any conclusion:

- Here, if you offer a WI-FI lan, with internet access, you’re doing something illegal.
- You have to pay the VAT tax when you buy software/hardware; that’s to say 19%/16% more over the final price. (You can make yourself an idea about how much I pay for my PowerBook).


I were at your conference at offf - just with the guy who ask you about your opinion about CSS hacks - and I tried to understand you when you start to talk for people who don’t know nothing about CSS.

You can bet that a lot of people on that room knows a lot of things about CSS, and have a lot of practice on its use, but we assume that in’t the level for everybody there.
We’d like to hear you talk about other things, like how can affect the lack of support of CSS on IE on the browser market, or advanced topics like CSS3, but offf wasn’t the place.

And you can believe me when I say that I’m sorry. I drive 6 hours to Valencia only to see your conference; nothing more at offf seems interesting enough for me.

And I’m also spanish, and web developer, and mac and linux user, and I pay for my licenses of software.

Regards.

16
Dave S. says:
July 09, 08h

“I think you’re obtaining premature conclusions about web state in spain.”

Perhaps I should have been more clear. While I mentioned the cultural differences of Spain, OFFF is an international conference and most of my observations were meant to be about the state of the industry as a whole.

But then, I did hear from more than one person that much of the web design in Spain is about Flash. So maybe, like everywhere else, your perceptions change based on those you associate with.

17
setmajer says:
July 13, 06h

Dave,

No x-browser issues with Flash? My left foot. Someone’s not testing enough.

I’ve done 3 Flash-heavy projects in the last 2 months. All three had me tearing my hair out until the wee hours of the morning (often more than once) due to bizarre bugs on the client’s machine I could not replicate on a local machine (despite having the same os/browser/player/version combination).

No, Flash doesn’t have the same sorts of font/color/layout issues that CSS/(X)HTML/JavaScript can. But it *does* have problems, and they can be much more difficult to replicate and eradicate than anything I’ve ever experienced in the CSS/(X)HTML/JavaScript world (barring a few obscure IE security model quirks, but I don’t want to go /there/).

That said, I look forward to working with Flash a bit more in the future. It’s a really amazing platform for some things. It’s just not the x-platform panacea some of it’s more zealous adherents say it is.

18
Mushon says:
July 15, 08h

Being at OFFF, I don’t think OFFF had a lot to do with the state of the industry or with Flash at all.

I can start blabing about what I think it is, but why bother, when I already wrote that at:

http://www.pixelsurgeon.com/reviews/review.php?id=472.