If you’ve been following the news about Syria lately, you might have come across the term “realpolitik”:

Realpolitik refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations, rather than explicit ideological notions or moral or ethical premises.

Although the overt justification for an intervention in Syria is mostly moral and ethical (i.e. “bombs are fine, but chemical weapons are not”), once you dig a little deeper you quickly uncover many underlying geopolitical factors, like controlling natural resources or limiting Russian influence in the region. That’s realpolitik in a nutshell.

Well, I want to coin a new word: realdesign, with the following definition:

Realdesign refers to designing based primarily on constraints and practical and material factors and considerations, rather than explicit ideological notions or moral or ethical premises.

In other words, realdesign is what most of us do all day long.

Yet you wouldn’t know that just by reading the design blog posts that usually make the round.

“Ideological Notions”

For some reason, design discussion often ends up framed in terms of “ideological notions”, usually promoted by pithy catchphrases like “progressive enhancement” or “gradual engagement”.

First of all, your app better work without JavaScript (and god help you ifyour site happens to run on a JavaScript framework).

And don’t even think about making users sign up before they can try your product. Users deserve nothing less than a perfect user experience, free of annoying form fields. If you ever want to contact them, you’ll just have to guess their email or something.

Oh, and by the way, I hope you’re planning on supporting Android, IE6, Sony PSPs, screen readers, and “foreign language people”. Because not doing so would be exactly like walking up to a blind person in the street and yelling “fuck you” to their face.

Well, that changes everything. Now that I’ve been enlightened, I guess I’ll somehow make my JavaScript web app work without JavaScript, get rid of all my sign-up forms, and buy an Android phone (and a PSP, and a Windows Phone, and…).

Being Realistic

I’m being snarky of course. I know that Brad, Lee, and Daniel are just trying to inch us all along towards better practices. And I picked their articles to make a point about a trend, not because I think there’s anything wrong with them individually (in fact, Daniel’s post is particularly informative and helpful).

But the thing is, we already know all this. We all want our creations to be accessible to everybody, and support as many platform as possible. Nobody has “Make sure site doesn’t work for blind people” on their project’s to-do list.

However, we also have to be realistic. Some of us might not have access to the same resources, or might simply not be as skilled.

So often, the choice is not between a site that doesn’t support Blackberries or one that does, it’s between a site that doesn’t support Blackberries or no site at all.

Practical & Material Factors

At the end of the day, these posts might get some people to “see the light” and change the way they address those issues, so maybe they’re worth it.

But there’s also a risk of shaming people for things they already feel bad about, and painting things in black and white when they’re actually shades of grey.

So this all brings me back to realdesign. We already make choices and compromises based on practical and material factors.

Now we just need to admit it.


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