An Incomplete List of Mistakes

What’s your favorite website? Which is the one above all the others that you think about from time to time? In fact, which website do you not only think about but obsess over? I don’t want you to think about which website is the most useful, or the one that’s changed your life the most. I’m thinking more like a big web app that made you giddy or a bloated, scrolly, complex behemoth that redefined what a website is for you, or perhaps just a small-scale publication that’s consistently swift and deft.

My favorite website, my favorite block of hypertext, is firmly in the small-scale variety. It’s an old-school webpage called An Incomplete List of Mistakes in the Design of CSS that can be found on the CSS Working Group wiki. Those are the fellows that ultimately plan and design the CSS language before it’s accepted by browser manufacturers like Apple and Google.

This list is interesting to me for a number of reasons though. First, these are the problems that I encounter on a daily basis as a web designer. And this list of mistakes is something that every web designer worth their salt has had to learn, figure out work arounds for, and then memorize. For instance, there’ll be moments during the design stage of a project where I realize that something is entirely impossible, or simply highly impractical, thanks to the way that CSS was originally designed and how it has changed over time.

What interests me most about this list is that these mistakes are truly permanent. Once all these errors leaked out of the CSS specification, were then built into each of our browsers and then shared between millions of devices, they become insurmountable errors that can never really be fixed. If they were removed or altered in any way then browsers could render millions of websites incorrectly overnight. No, the risk is far too great and the problems are buried far too deep in the stack for anyone to deal with now.

This is why I love this webpage so very much, because it’s an outline of the evolutionary flaws in the technology that powers the web and it’s also a cautionary tale; we should move slowly and deliberately when building new features into the heart of our browsers since changing them is so very difficult.

So what do we now?

We have to be careful as we build the web and make sure that we avoid contributing our own work to this infamous list of mistakes.