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by Stevi Deter

HOW COULD YOU be so lucky? You have been hired to be the HTML hack for a new website. You're going to get paid to surf the web. Replying to email is now networking. You can submit the charges for your PPP account as a business expense. So what if the people who hired you have combined spent less time on the internet than you spend surfing in a typical month? You've found the ultimate slacker job.

The first few weeks are going to be pretty brainless. All you have to do is update and design new pages according to their established "look." Then you discover the horrid truth. You're going to get paid . . . to write horrendous HTML for a site with a design that seems intentionally to disregard aesthetics, never mind user interface. Yes, you've been hired by yet another company in a rush to get on the net while it's still hip and cool. They don't know why they're on it, they don't know how to use it, but they do know they want every single Netscape-specific tag and Java applets everywhere.

Despite the fact that you have worked for a few years and know a little about how the business world, you're still hopeful. You can make them see the light. You begin a campaign to improve the look of the site. You try to introduce rationally written HTML, explaining there is no need for tables nested four deep. You fight for judicious use of graphics, so that your dilapidated PC (a cast-off from the accounting department) doesn't crash when trying to test the site. You emphasize the importance of sensible layout, pointing out that if a user can't find the product button, he can't buy anything. You imagine them recognizing your superior web wisdom and taking your advice for a few changes. Okay, a radical update that includes attractive graphics and a reasonable background.

Foolish you. The designer of the site, chosen for the job because he had an AOL account, is convinced that his design is state-of-the-art, hip, cool, daddy-o. He will not cotton to opposition. He is full of absurd justifications for why those tables are nested four deep ("It's the only way to get the graphic centered."), why the navigation system is incomprehensible ("If you understand the concept, it's very clear."), why the site is so dark that it is unreadable on a black and white screen ("Most users will be using a color screen, to see the graphics.").

But then, hope of all hopes, there is a decision to update the look of the site. Your chance is here. You eagerly share your ideas, shaped by hundreds of hours looking at websites yourself, based on training in graphic design and page layout.

"Um, I have a few suggestions . . . ."
"I'd be very interested to hear them."
"Great. First, maybe you should try for a little more contrast between the text and background. Black text on a navy background is, well, hard on the eyes."
"Actually, I've developed this wavy black and red background pattern, and was thinking of yellow text."
"Oh. Um, perhaps you should put all the navigation buttons in one line; a bar if you will. Make them easy and accesible."
"Well, that doesn't really work with the concept I had in mind."
"Concept. I see."

Still, hope exists. You wait to see the final decision and . . . it's worse than the original incarnation. Not one of your ideas has been included. In fact, it seems as if the opposite of every suggestion you've made has been incorporated.

"I see that you took the home button off of all the subsidiary pages."
"Yes, we need to control navigation through the site."
"But all the users said that they get lost . . ."
"That's because they don't understand the concept."
"Concept. I see."

You feel defeat. You begin to wonder how to get out.

The problem is, of course, that it does a bit of damage to your resume if you dash from every company that produces a product with which you cannot bear to be associated. You cannot always tell ahead of time that this will happen. This wouldn't be such a problem if you decide to try contracting. However, working for yourself can be uncertain, and if your criteria is that you'll only take on clients you can shape and mould to your will, you'd better be a Big Name or be willing to ask for government assistance to make rent.

There's always the chance you're making a mountain out of a molehill. If your employer wants to create something ugly, that's her prerogative. If good taste prevails in the world, the site will die as people refuse to return.

And don't forget we live in a time when '70s stylin's are cool again. Your employer just may be on to something, horrific as it is to look at. She may have her finger on the pulse of graphic design, and it may be retina-staining. Holding out for judicious use of white space and high contrast between type and background may just be a foolish throwback to the days when people actually read for pleasure.

Yes, that's it. You're just overreacting. Everything's going to be okay. Just nest those tables deeper, steal that javascript code, and never, never look at your own creation.

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