There Are Only Tradeoffs

I absolutely love this quote from Eric Meyer’s Epherma post today:

Telling me that I’ve made the wrong choice will not change anything, because there are almost no objectively wrong choices in this area. There are only tradeoffs.

While he’s talking specifically about his font-size choices for an upcoming redesign — I believe you could clearly apply this to any web design decision.

There are folks out there that loathe this about designing for the web — that at times there just isn’t one neat and tidy, concrete correct way to do a certain something. I’ve grown to love this — that it’s always in flux, there are new ways to accomplish goals being discovered everyday, and people relentlessly pushing the envelope.

Getting back to Eric’s quote though, remember that the state of web design in 2004 is all about tradeoffs: Liquid vs. fixed, pixel sizing vs. ems vs. keywords, FIR vs. LIR vs. no-IR, float vs. positioning in layouts, hackful vs. hackless CSS (hackful?), etc…

It’s all good though. Make a decision and stick to it. Heck, then change it the next time. Experiment with methods that you previously wrote off without a second thought. Have a beer (or soda) and remind yourself that it’s all about tradeoffs. I’m certainly going to try as well.


  1. I was going to write one up on that quote just now, but you beat me to it!
    I agree completely. It kind of makes all those debates before seem like a waste of time. Then again, they also helped everyone get better insight on each method in each topic. Also, it’s often these debates that spark some brilliant mind to come up with alternatives (more trade-offs) we haven’t even thought about yet.

  2. feather says:

    That’s the kind of balance that we all have to come up with in pretty much every design decision we make. This may sound somewhat cliche, but isn’t it more important to be asking these types of questions, instead of finding answers to them? Some of these issues may never be “solved” or “answered”, but the debates and point/counterpoint arguments are what contributes to our industry’s collective knowledge.
    If people weren’t engaging in these (sometimes heated) debates, wouldn’t we all be worried that nobody cared and that nobody was passionate about what they are doing?
    And like you said “Make a decision and stick to it” – and make sure you have an answer when someone asks you “Why did you do it that way?”. If you don’t have an answer, then you probably haven’t thought about it enough.

  3. Colly says:

    ‘Feather’ is spot on. Whilst we can probably expect a set of absolute rules for web building at some point in the future, currently the cross platform/browser issues have caused developers of all levels to exchange dialogue about every quirk, and in turn suggest how we move forward, and which methods become standards.
    The industry has been quick to make sense of it’s obstacles, to attack them head on, without being too dictatorial about what to do. With this in mind, I hope that collectively we don’t jump for blanket ‘fixed not liquid’, or ‘pixels not ems’ just yet. Lets keep exploring for a while…

  4. I agree — that debate is very important. Out of the debate comes the ability to better make your own choices.
    I suppose it’s as necessary to have people on either side of the fence, as it is to have people that make informed decisions based on opposite viewpoints :-)

  5. yafujifide says:

    not hackful.

  6. amon-re says:

    Where’s the closing ” ? :)

  7. Keith says:

    This is one of the things that makes designing for the Web so fun, and so different from other design disciplines, like graphic design for example.
    No matter what you decided to go with ultimately the user can override just about everything you do. Sure it’s a challenge, but a good one and one that allows for lots of flex and lots of creative thinking.
    There usually are many ways of getting a Web design problem solved and as I often say — there is no such thing as a perfect Web site.

  8. I Agree, i am a regular poster on alt.html and where the ‘codies’ defend their stringent design ethics – whereas i like to break the mold and try something new, even if it isnt compatible with netscape 2.0! :) web design leeds

  9. Faruk Ates says:

    I love this entry of yours, Dan. It lightly touches the philosophical debate about choice, opinions and differences, and that’s one of my favorite things to philosophize about. ^_^
    I agree wholeheartedly with Dan’s entry and the first 4 comments. They explain it so well, so nicely. If only people outside of the Webdevelopment area would take a moment, drink a beer or soda and think about these things for a while. See the GOOD aspects of a heated discussion, and don’t get riled up or frustrated. People will always have differing opinions, it’s what makes us people, and it’s what has made us come this far in the universe. If it weren’t for ideas sparked during discussions, we wouldn’t be anywhere near this technologically advanced right now. So be thankful, the next time someone calls you a “stupid tit!” ( ;) ) during a debate, only because you don’t agree with him/her. ^_^

  10. Masisaki says:

    SPAM lol

  11. Will says:

    Without the passion that drives both the debate and design, I think the web would be a pretty boring place to be. The clichés are true: you can’t please everyone. Strive to please yourself, your client, and your core audience (to a satisfactory extent, at least), and you’ve done your job. And if you can answer the question why, yet remain open to trying new ideas and to accepting a better solution when it comes along, so much the better.
    The best debates are really dialogs in which we can explore the current state of affairs, discuss alternate means of working within existing confines, and dream about what things may be like in the future. If our shared vision is to inspire passion (isn’t the flipside of loathing usually passion for an alternative?), then we truly elevate the art — and I mean art, rather than business — of web design.
    P.S. — Perhaps you meant “hacked vs. unhacked CSS”?

  12. Alex says:

    Stumbled on the original blog.
    Could not agree more.