Angela Ricci

Angela Ricci graduated in Visual Communications a long time ago (let's not specify dates, ok?), and became a web designer and web standards evangelist when she discovered the web in 1994.

She’s currently working for a multinational IT services company and lives in beautiful France.

Angela writes about and plays with web design and web standards at her site with a view to proving that web designers who code can also excel at graphic design and fight to make the web better, more open and more inclusive all at the same time.

She tweets about all things web at @gericci.

Published Thoughts

My brother approached the camera of his phone; using Skype, I saw his nose coming closer and closer, and then he said, almost in a whisper: “Hey, do you realize it? We’re in the future!”

This happened when my brother bought his first smartphone and found out it allowed him to do what we once only saw in sci-fi movies when we were kids, and when the 21st century was a far fetched utopian reality, full of flying cars and video phones.

Our Toyota Prius is not flying yet, but yes, when it comes to communication, we’re in the future, and it is not just because we are seeing each other through tiny cameras stuck in our phones, but largely because today we have multiple means to express ourselves. In the beginning there was the opportunity of publishing whatever we wanted to, to whoever wished to hear or read it, but with this came unpredictable outcomes: the possibility of reacting and responding to others’ opinions.

Those of us older than 20 or 25 know all too well the frustration of one-way communication. Take TV, for example: we were just there, sitting on our couches, passively receiving whatever foolishness they fed us, and the TV wouldn’t listen to us, no matter how loud we cried. We mumbled to ourselves or we tried to get some reaction from whoever was beside us, but the frustration remained, even if our couch companion mumbled along with us.

But, hey! Today we’re in the future. We don’t have to be frustrated anymore! Today we have the means — and the right – to respond. We can say how much we’re in phase with an idea and we can also publicly react to what we regard as outrageous. No more suffering alone, no more choking with ideas we once had to suppress. Now, if I agree with you, I can let you know that! If I do not, I want you and the world to know how furiously I am against your opinion.

One-way communication is over, and we want to exhibit that we’re taking full advantage of that fact. We’re not going to silence ourselves anymore. No more sleepless nights chewing over the right responses, constructing them to make sure they will have the most profound impact. No more opinions turning into a half-warm steam that will disappear in the morning.

Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should

In psychology, frustration is not a bad thing. Children have to learn to face frustration so they can grow up knowing how to deal with it to avoid becoming unbearable brats or dictators. “We can’t have everything we want,” I keep repeating to my daughter, and no less to myself.

This is good news then! Relax, lean back in your chair, take a good warm beverage, and count to ten. Embrace frustration and don’t respond to that ludicrous tweet. Remember, you don’t know who tweeted that, and it is not because you think their avatar is dumb and that their twitter username is ridiculous — that may drive you crazy – that doesn’t mean you know them, that doesn’t mean the tweet encompasses all that they are and, no, that does not mean they deserve your well-crafted response showing how much you despise them. Yes, their ideas may have got mixed up with their avatar and username and these were so stupid that you’re sure the author had to be too.

Just don’t respond. You can do it. You and the people close to you know what and how you think — that’s all that matters. Engage in a discussion only if you know who you are talking to, and only when respect and unbiased exchanges can give free form to higher ideas and intellectual insight. Only then can we avoid being part of those empty, shaming and escalating verbal confrontations.

Let’s hope young people who grow up with this “means of response” will know how to use it more wisely than we do, maybe then, we can expect they will do better than us in the future — their future.

As a web professional, have you ever had the feeling that you’re repeating yourself, over and over again? That you’ve been trying for years to spread the same principles and ideas, struggling to make others see what seems crucial to you in order to do a good job? And instead, you keep confronting yourself with tag soups, with that silent disdain for HTML, with the fear of CSS or with that weird distrust for JavaScript?

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting blasé with this situation. I’ve started to wonder that if there are web professionals who don’t see the point in improving the way they work, why should I bother? If they see, for example, accessibility as just a boring list of constraints they have to respect because some national law says so, so be it. Really? No! I’m sure now that I couldn’t cope with such detachment.

If I stopped being curious, stopped learning and stopped sharing experiences with my peers, it would have in me the moral effect of a divorce. It would be as hard as accepting the idea of failure. But, let’s face it: my voice doesn’t have much weight anyway. So what happens in the case of well-known web “evangelists”? Well, sure, they’re doing better than me, but if we think in a worldwide scale, even if the web has some awesome thinkers and doers, what they think and do is shared among a very small group of web professionals. Even if this group grows, it is pretty much made up of the same people.

While those influential people will always be needed to keep pushing the web forward, this will never be enough – twenty five years of web have already proved it.

Zeldman’s “Designing with Web Standards” or Allsopp’s “The Dao of Design” – to name two well-known texts – did an amazing job in awakening consciences. Nevertheless, we cannot forget that those are English-speaking personalities whose voices, even if translated sometimes, will not reach as many professionals as they should.

Clustered views

Most web professionals think they know what it takes to do their job well because they’re mostly focused on their own expertise.

How many web designers are still trying to control a web page as if it was a static image? Or how many front-end web developers still see HTML just as a second-hand language they have to deal with? Meanwhile, all of them tend to forget basic web principles and ignore knowledge that would improve their work.

I don’t want to offend anyone – it’s a tangible reality I’m depicting here. I’m a web designer myself, and as one I’ve learned to understand how many of my peers think. Again, I’m sure they’re doing their best, but unfortunately they’re not open to the idea of broadening horizons. Some of them, because they love a specific part of their jobs and simply don’t think about the bigger scenario, others because they don’t want to change the way they operate, and some simply don’t care for the media they’re working with. The reality is that all of them don’t wish to know more because they are not aware of the good reasons to do so.

Let’s not blame anyone, or, let me see… well, if blame would be attributed, I believe education should surely have its share.

Not so long ago I became aware of some “web design” courses that were still teaching table layouts (seriously!?), while some others were teaching as much of HTML as DreamWeaver would allow. Web developers often do not get a better view of the web in their curriculum either.

With such holes in their education, it is really hard for them to get the pace, and they will have to be curious and lucky enough to get knowledge from the right people.

I believe the only way of changing things for the better would be to make a concerted effort in the education of future web professionals.

It is not just the new HTML5 tags, or the Javascript syntax, or the DOM manipulation, or even the cool CSS3 features that must be taught. It is mainly the ideas that can reflect the real nature of the web, like the value of semantics, web standards, accessibility… all the important principles that must be explained and presented in an almost transparent manner as being intrinsic parts of web design or front-end web development.

Today this is a must. We have to find ways to educate schools of design and engineering, and cut down the enormous distance between what today is seen as “code purity” and the real professional market. Otherwise the quality of our work will always be linked to our curiosity or lack thereof.

After all, I will not let boredom get the best of me. I’d rather work in order to structure and promote such ideas. I’ll keep exchanging knowledge and experiences, as I’m doing in writing this; telling myself that I may help a tiny little bit to make the web a tiny little bit better.