Wednesday, November 3, 2010

W3C Mobile Web Best Practices and HAT-Based Mobile – Part 7

Several inter-related recommendations regarding content formatting.

53. [FONTS] – Do not rely on support of font related styling.

Per the W3C – “Mobile devices often have few fonts and limited support for font sizes and effects (bold, italic, etc). …use of font size, face, or effect, for example to highlight an answer or a stressed word may not achieve the desired result.”

This seems obvious. So how does it affect tech comm?

If you’re creating “true” mobile apps, they may have little or no font related styling since you’ll be creating the apps from scratch and thus, hopefully, following best practices. But if you’re mobilizing an existing online doc or help project, it may have lots of font related styling, bold or italics, because it was created at a time when styles and style sheets didn’t have the importance they do now. Those font related styles in your material can affect your project planning, development style, and development process.

1. You have to find out if the devices you’re publishing to can support font related styling. If so, the styling becomes a best practices issue instead of an immediate programming crisis. But even if it’s not a crisis, font related styling, essentially local formatting, is still bad practice in an increasingly single sourced world and will affect your projects eventually. And if any of your target devices don’t support font related styling, you’ll have to deal with it now. To do so…

2. You have to get rid of it. This isn’t difficult but it is tedious, especially if there’s a lot to get rid of. You may have to do large-scale search and replaces in the code to replace local formatting with character styles. This works but it’s scary, even if you’ve backed up the project. More difficult still…

3. You have to stop using font related styling, possibly a major change in how you work. It’s simple mechanically – add bold and italic character styles to the project CSS. What’s hard is breaking old work habits, no longer using the text formatting toolbar in Flare or RoboHelp, for example. This can be surprisingly difficult.

So if font related styling is now off the table, how do we format text?

42. [STYLE SHEETS USE] – Use style sheets to control layout and presentation, unless the device is known not to support them.

Style sheet, or CSS, use has been growing in tech comm for years but still isn’t as widely or consistently used as it should be. CSS styles are used on heads and body content in online help and doc, but less often for things like bulleted or numbered lists, tables, notes, cautions, etc. More rarely still are CSS styles used for text enhancement, again because the text formatting toolbar is so convenient. Some authors are also deterred by the need to create a separate CSS for each target mobile device. (This isn’t necessary – instead, the solution is the media types feature in the W3C’s CSS spec, MadCap Flare’s “mediums”, but this feature is still not that widely known.) There’s also uncertainty in some Word shops about the distinction between how styles work in Word vs. in HTML/XHTML.

The upshot? Any doc group that sees single sourcing to mobile in its future should plan to train all authors on the concepts and use of style sheets and new development processes so as to reduce or even eliminate local formatting.

There’s more to this issue as well, including:

• The need to organize documents so that they can be read without style sheets if a particular mobile device doesn’t support them.

• Editing style sheets to minimize their file size.

• Using relative measures in place of absolute measures like pixels and points.

To be covered in the next installment…

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