The making of the standards

"For those who labor long and hard to craft good and just standards, as well as for those who have suffered from their absence. On the one hand, the fight against the tyranny of structurelessness. On the other, the fallacy of one size fits all." —Lampland, Martha, and Susan Leigh Star. 2009. Standards and their stories: how quantifying, classifying, and formalizing practices shape everyday life. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Making standards is not only a technical job. It is a social process in which power, negotiation, coercion and compromises come into play. Standards both discriminate and refine, include and exclude. Whether de-facto or negotiated, how do standards affect graphic designers? What makes a standard successful or not? This chapter contains three clusters of texts which address these questions.

The first one (Jacquerye, Unicode Inc.) deals with Unicode, the unified standard aiming to describe all characters in use on Earth. The texts discuss the implicit hierarchy between central and peripheral languages, and how the very structure of Unicode classification mirrors an established geopolitics. At the same time Jacquerye presents collective typographical projects that try to compensate this imbalance, within this system, and set out to honour the richness of the world’s languages.

The second cluster (Froshaug, Open Source Publishing, de Montrond) investigates the implicit and explicit rules and standards that regulate the relationships between designers and printers. The texts evaluate the weight of the print infrastructure and the relationship between quality and access, as well as the importance of a common vocabulary between the different parties involved.

From different and converging perspectives, the third cluster (Arnaud, Pilgrim, www-talk, Schrijver) documents how the HTML language is debated and defined, influencing the way the web is shaped. It gives a historical account of how the <img> tag and the HTML5 specification came to life and the various tensions and conflicts revolving around the negotiated standards for the web. The contributions insist in different ways on the active role taken by people who care about the web as a creative space.