A LIST APART
“Håkon Wium Lie is the father of CSS, the CTO of Opera, and a pioneer advocate for web standards. His last article in this magazine led directly to real fonts on the web. When Håkon speaks, whether we always agree or not, we listen. In today’s post, Håkon shares his opinion on CSS Regions.
Way back, when designers first started emigrating from their islands of desktop publishing onto the web, they asked a seemingly simple question: how could they take with them their favorite colors, fonts and layouts? At first, we had no good answer. HTML offered semantic tags to describe the structure of documents, not their presentation. Browsers couldn’t be told what fonts to use, or where to fetch them. Authors, however, soon found a sneaky shortcut: the img element. By making images of their text, authors could achieve their colorful helveticized designs. In the process, all semantics (that is, information about the meaning of elements, as opposed to the presentation) was removed and even the searchable text was gone. CSS was proposed in 1994 to stop this practice; saving semantic HTML was just as important as achieving desirable layouts.
A few years later, at the height of the XML fever, presentational elements made a comeback. XSL defined an XML vocabulary for Formatting Objects; XSL-FO tags that said nothing about being headlines or list items, but all about their presentation. Computer scientists have a peculiar way of expressing fear and doubt. They publish essays with ‘considered harmful’ in the title. This particular design pattern was started by Edsger Dijkstra when he published ‘Go To Statements Considered Harmful’ in 1968. The development of formatting objects led me to use the same device; ‘Formatting Objects Considered Harmful’ argued that formatting objects were font tags in disguise and that their use on the web must be avoided to preserve web semantics.
It seems that proposals for presentational elements return every so often. The most recent incarnation is CSS Regions. One should not write ‘considered harmful’ articles lightly, but presentational elements is not the only problem with CSS Regions. For those who believe in meaningful HTML tags, responsive web design, and compact CSS code, the introduction of CSS Regions is not good news.”