All in the <head> – Ponderings and code by Drew McLellan –

The Biggest Unsolved Problems of Web Design

As a result of travel arrangements, I wasn’t able to catch Eric Meyer’s opening keynote on the first morning of @media 2006 as I’d hoped. A podcast of the keynote is now available, so I took the opportunity to catch up on what I’d missed. You should too.

Eric’s presentation looks back over the last 10 years of the evolution of CSS – which is far more interesting than it may initially sound, I promise. I guess the recurring theme is that of community involvement and shared knowledge. The history of CSS and modern web development is peppered with instances of individuals making discoveries, having innovative ideas and engineering clever work-arounds to found problems and implementing and sharing that knowledge for the benefit of the industry as a whole.

I guess the classic example of this is the story behind the invention of the Box Model Hack. Jeffrey Zeldman had problems with a particular bug, the end result of which was that it wasn’t really possible to use CSS for layout and have it work right in the major browsers. He expressed this to Tantek Çelik, who as far as I’m aware hadn’t come across the particular problem himself, but was able to devise a work-around – the Box Model Hack. The simple act of highlighting the problem brought it to the attention of someone who knew how to solve it, and the end result was that pure CSS layout became a reality for designers and developers everywhere.

This is a repeatable pattern. Look at the progress we’ve been able to make as a community by discussing problems like typography, complex layouts, PNG transparency and even (warning: self promotion) Flash.

So, my question is this. What are the biggest unsolved problems facing web design in 2006? What causes you the most pain or restricts your creative freedom in your daily work? Flag the issues, because we need to talk about them. You never know who might be listening. Let’s talk about them now, and see if we can get a few more problems crossed off that list.