I was involved in rolling out the new HTML5 logo for W3C; I wasn’t the person in charge, but I helped out with some aspects of it.
The interesting thing to me was the reaction to the logo, aesthetics aside. (I like the logo personally, but I also like the retro-futurism of Soviet Realist art, like the statuary in Memento Park in Budapest, and comic books.) I loved the parodies and jokes about the logo, but I was both unsurprised and disappointed at the some of the negative dialog (and in some cases, monolog) about what the logo is meant to represent.
Just like the Gap and Starbucks logos, there were going to be some people who would be unhappy because that’s what makes them happy. There would be no pleasing them, and it’s senseless to try.
But there was another set of people that we really value, and we wanted to make sure that they were comfortable with the logo: the perfectionists. As you can imagine, it’s not the easiest group to please, but they are the ones who make standards work, by reviewing the specs to make sure there are as few errors as possible, by creating exacting tests to ensure interoperability between browsers, and by teaching web developers the precision of terminology and best practices that lead to high-quality web sites and webapps… usually on a volunteer basis.
These are our people, and we wanted to please them. But at the same time, a logo has to serve lots of different communities… including managers and clients who don’t know or care that there is an “HTML5 specification” (whatever that might be), and people throwing around the word “HTML5” like it’s birdseed at a geek wedding. Even people who know better use “HTML5” as shorthand for “Finally, browsers are doing all this cool stuff I want to play with! WHEEEE!”
So, how do you strike a balance between people who want us to say, “This logo is for the HTML5 specification only, and we will sue anyone who puts it on a site that uses HTML4.01+CSS3” and those who want us to give them the shiny and shut up? You make an “identity system” which includes sub-icons for specific technologies and general technology classes, and you say that the identity system, in toto, represents HTML5 and the peripherally-related technologies like CSS3, SVG, WOFF, Geolocation, etc.
And how do you screw it up? You oversimplify in the FAQ and use the word “logo” instead of “identity system”, and let people infer that the main logo, the one for HTML5, is meant to represent not only HTML5, but CSS3 as well. (Interestingly, some of the more vocal people who complained on Twitter don’t mind the geolocation API or SVG being conflated with HTML5 nearly so much as CSS3… that seems too fine a distinction to me.)
But we knew we would make some mistakes. We went out of our way to explain to people that we were not trying to shove it down their throats… that we wanted to have a community conversation about it.
Once we had something we thought was ready to share, we released it to the public, rather in a rush. We took to email, to Twitter, and to blog posts and comments, to collect feedback and clarify our message. Turns out 140 characters is not enough to convey much nuance. After a couple of days of seeing if the message was clear enough, giving people a chance to have a second look and see if the idea of a “logo system” stuck, we decided it wasn’t good enough. We updated the FAQ to split out the HTML5 logo from the sub-icons. That seemed clearer to people, though it’s really saying the same thing in a different way… but the way you say something matters.
And that’s my point, here: The way you say something matters.
W3C started the conversation about the logo by clearly stating, and reinforcing consistently, that we were interested in feedback and we were listening to what people were saying. Sometimes people didn’t believe us, but we were. (And I sincerely appreciate Jeremy Keith taking the trouble to explain what was frustrating him about the “logo / identity system”.)
But some people didn’t hear that we were listening, because they were too busy shouting. Shouting things like “Fire W3C Communications Person Who Led Messaging”… I’m not the person that’s targeted at, but I found it a rude and mean-spirited thing to say nevertheless. (Pet peeve: I can’t stand when people make a public rant in a post and don’t allow others to comment on it… it demonstrates a certain lack of accountability.) Tantek Çelik has been in Web standards for a long while, and knows exactly who the (overworked) Comm person is whose job he was calling for, and I think that’s irresponsible.
Tantek compounded this with a tweet that somehow manages to pretend that W3C wasn’t listening, but all the shouting forced us to change our FAQ, then goes on to say in his next blog post:
Yet with W3C’s first draft HTML5 FAQ, we almost gave up. Almost. But apparently sometimes angry rants can effect change. Sometimes passion works.
Within 24 hours of the last of our posts, W3C updated the FAQ, removed the errant entry, added more clarification
You know what also works? Having a calm conversation, reading the FAQ carefully and seeing where a mistaken impression (or even an outright mistake) might have been made, and making suggestions to the people who have invited you to share your thoughts.
Folks, you didn’t need to get angry. Yes, there was some ambiguity in the FAQ, and that was a mistake… one we were sorry to make and happy to correct, only a couple days after the logo was released. But the result of all the shouting was that, several days later, I’m still talking to people who think that W3C is sending this mixed message with this logo, because that’s what everyone was shouting about… and all the clarifications and updates now aren’t going to put that spilled milk back in the glass, since you sent out the cry to arms. A few simple words and a modicum of patience and trust would have served your cause—the precision we all value—much better.
W3C went out of our way to give you a voice. You’re long-time contributors to standards. You’re all insiders… use your inside voice.