Print often encourages us to design around everyman data, while the web forces us to do the opposite.

Last updated

Print often encourages us to design around everyman data, while the web forces us to do the opposite.

Here is Spiekermann on data tables:

First you have to find the shortest and the longest elements, and then ignore them; if your layout accommodates the extremes you will end up making allowances for a few isolated exceptions…make the bulk of the matter fit, then go back to the exceptions and work with them one by one.

Erik Spiekermann & E.M. Ginger, Stop Stealing Sheep

The same can be said of all systems with variable data. Catalogues, brochures and books always require certain information to be massaged into place. To build around the extremes — the unusually long phrase or figure — would unjustly punish the majority of content. Yet, on the web, haven’t we adopted the opposite mode of thought?

Access demands flexibility. After all, what is mobile-first if not a reaction to an extreme? Designers now begin with the smallest conceivable viewport and works outwards. If this seems like an unfair comparison (smartphones are hardly an edge case) then perhaps our extremes lie in specific device and user support. We must accommodate users with impairments. Depending on our audience we maybe ought to support older versions of Internet Explorer. Certainly we need to accommodate all current devices and browsers. We test with uncompromising data because we don’t have the flexibility or time to fix issues on a per-case basis.

The more you think about it, the more you realise the web is populated solely by extremes. There’s no such thing as the everyman user or everyman data.

Out here, everyone’s a misfit.

← Home