Journal: News & Comment

Friday, January 23, 2004
# 8:44:00 AM:

Editorial guilt and web design

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Famous web designer (and sometime colleague of mine) Dave Shea has a nice interview, just published in Digital Web magazine, in which he says:

Yes, Web standards and accessibility and usability and design and a fresh lemon scent are all very important. But there comes a point in every development cycle where you have to call a site "done" and get it out the door. Each new job is a learning experience, and the more you do, the better you'll get. I'd much rather launch a minorly-flawed site than launch no site at all. And so would my clients.

That applies not only to web design, but to many fields, especially my specialties in writing and editing. No document of any significant size gets released into the wild without errors—from typos to poor phrasing to flawed organization. We can strive for perfection, but almost never reach it, and that can be hard to accept when you're starting out.

In the latest issue of Active Voice, the newsletter of the Editors' Association of Canada, to which I belong, Peter Roccia writes about a feeling many editors share:

[Editorial guilt] comes from the tremendous amount of unassuming trust my editing clients placed in me. [They seemed] so sure that I was giving them something that they knew they did not have, whether it be an arcane knowledge of style guides, an uncanny eye for detail, or an enhanced, almost superhuman, amount of patience. [...]

That's why I think such errors sting me so, as I scan over the pages of my portfolio in yet another impotent editorial pass. Thankfully, it's the memory of those clients that often comes to the rescue. If they were here, I tell myself, they would say, "Come on, give yourself a break! Sometimes you can be your own worst editor. You left the work better than you found it. That's enough."

When talking about his recent involvement in the redesign of, one of the highest-profile websites for open-source software, Dave has further relevant comments:

The open source community faces some interesting issues I'd never considered until I was seeing it from the inside. When you have a lot of people volunteering their time to a cause, their sense of investment is rather high. It can get rather political. Luckily the Mozilla group were relaxed about the process, and we didn?t hit many major stumbling blocks. There was one that particularly stands out though: the two people I started working with on the job turned into four, and then they all got replaced by five others. This was really not that long after Mozilla was freed from AOL, so some shifting while contents settled was inevitable.

That's a manifestation of the same point. When collaborating on a project, an entire team can strive for perfection, but it's even more difficult to achieve because everyone's idea of perfection differs. Especially when the members of the team change part way through.

Still, one of the great benefits of the Web over print is that, when you spot errors, you can go back and fix them, at least some of the time. I've already fixed two problems in this posting since I first made it, for instance.


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