Further Thoughts on CSS, Experiments and Icons

Matt Ward has written a follow-up to the really good article he posted last week, expanding on his thoughts and responding to some of the discussion which has been raised. He talks about the distinction between experimental techniques intended as an educational resource, and commercial resources which encourage bad practice:

Yes, I don’t think that (most of) the CSS experiments are meant to be practical. I also agree that they are have entertainment value, though I think they have even greater value as an educational resource. As long as these things are generally understood, then there’s really no issue, and if things had stayed that way, I would probably not have written the article at all.

However, when we actually start charging money for these icons – as with the Peculiar set – that places everything in an entirely new light, which I have termed the implication of cost. As long as everything remained in in the experimental stage, all this unique CSS work remained could be understood as primarily theoretical and conceptual. The moment we put a price tag on it, though, the implications change.

Charging people for the icons is essentially a means of sanctioning their use in a production environment and are stepping firmly across the line between the experimental and the implementable. When this happens, I think that there is an argument, because we are no longer just in the realm of the experimental, and the message we are sending is the wrong one.

I totally agree, and any web developer worth their salt will be wary of implementing any of these experimental techniques in a production environment. Font replacement techniques like Cufón and sIFR have their detractors, but at least these techniques degrade gracefully – even @font-face is designed to degrade so that it doesn’t interfere with the browsing experience served up by unsupported technology. But as soon as you start to use wild CSS for the design of graphical icons, or start fudging dingbats to convey visual context where it doesn’t belong, you create horrendous accessibility problems and degrade the user experience ungracefully.

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