The Truth of Universal Web Design – John Allsopp Revisited


It is refreshing to see John Allsopp’s smart article about “The Dao of Web Design” re-surface on the December 2008 issue of “A List Apart” (as editor’s choice – hat off to the editor). 

Constantly shifting and evolving web paradigms (then pull – now push; first Web 1.0 – soon Web 3.0) make us frown when Google returns results as old as 2006 on top of the list. We hesitate to click on it, after all, a two-year old article can be nothing but obsolete.

Yet, every now and then, we stumble accross some timeless words, written not out of the spur of the moment, but revealing greater insights rooted in a universal truth. And that is why John Allsopp’s 2000 article “A Dao of Web Design” still has all its appeal eight and a half years later.  In 2000, with the web just taking off in a big way, and as a son of the 560-year-old print era, he was aware of how the web is the “child” of the printed page and shares a lot of its characteristics. Comparing it to the evolution of  TV out of the same format that characterized its predecessor, the radio, John concludes that the web shares some useful characteristics with the printed page, but is at the same time restricted by the parent model.  He describes the result as “Desktop Publishing for the Web.”

To help the web evolve to its fullest potential, a Web Designer should look beyond the pixel and develop “a new relationship with the page.” Flexibility versus need for control. This adaptibility also makes the design accessible. He calls this road to accessibility an “imperative of web design.”

Fast forward to today. At the end of 2008, the majority of web developers and their customers are still not familiar with the concept of accessible design. I guess, for some reason, it sounds like more work, more expensive, more complicated.  However, there is no need for such a concern (I know from experience).  All that is necessary is to take a breath and to realize with John that “[i]t is the nature of the web to be flexible.” Just start with something small, like adding meaningful “alt” attribute values to your images and slowly work your way to creating accessible AJAX scripts. Because “[a] journey of a thousand miles begins at the spot under one’s feet.” (Tao Te Ching, 64a – as quoted by Allsopp)