In my current search for a job as a web designer I have encountered many job descriptions that state a desire for "pixel-perfect" designs. And in the next sentence they state a desire for designs to be rendered identically by all browsers.

Is this expectation reasonable? Where did it come from?

The internet began as a technology of government agencies, military, schools, and researchers to share information. The World Wide Web, which has come to be seen as today's internet, was envisioned in 1989 and defined with objectives and a set of standards for electronic communication protocols, text formats based on SGML, and image formats.

To quote the HTML 4.01 standard: "SGML is a system for defining markup languages. Authors mark up their documents by representing structural, presentational, and semantic information alongside content. HTML is one example of a markup language."

At some point advertising agencies, whose traditional work was designing print media such as magazine ads, corporate reports, stationery, posters, etc., began designing web sites. They brought with them excellent graphic design skills welded to an expectation of "pixel-perfect" design.

There are many obstacles to achieving designs that can be rendered identically on every monitor and with every browser. The obstacles are based on (1) the absence of a unit of measure that can be rendered identically on any monitor and (2) the deviations in the implementation of the standards by browsers—the so-called non-compliance.

JavaScript can access information on the client's monitor and browser. It is perhaps theoretically possible to code web pages to handle every combination of monitor and browser. Oh the expense! Why bother at all?

Instead, let's adopt a philosopy that focuses on communicating information with a design that is cost-effective. Let's find a practical limit to the number of "hacks" used to accommodate client variations. Let's pressure the browser vendors to achieve 100% compliance.

Let's solve strategic, conceptual, and architectural problems and let the pixels fall where they may.

Written: 5-17-2008.