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26 January 2008

Right, Different or Excellent?

Looking back I can recall conversations with people where this was their response to my behavior:

Why do you always do it that way? It's not like there is a right or wrong way to do it, so why do you act like your way is right?
A long time ago I may have thought to myself, 'Well of course my way is the right way.' But over time I've come to the conclusion that there is more than just right vs. wrong when it comes to behavior. In fact I'd probably break it out into three categories.

  1. Right vs. Wrong: There's no getting around the fact that there are things that are considered right or wrong. People will try to confuse you by injecting situational ethics, but it doesn't change the fact that we (as Christians) take a pretty hard line on a variety of Biblical truths. Adultery for example: If someone asked me why I was being faithful to my wife I would say two things. First, 'Because I love her with all my heart.' And second, 'Because it's the right thing to do.'
  2. Just Different: Next there are those things that really don't matter. There isn't a right vs. wrong issue at work and there is no significant reason why you would do it one way or the other. These are typically things that have become habits over time. Putting on your pants for example: People typically put a certain leg into their pants first. No problem - no right or wrong in this situation. You simply do it this way so your brain doesn't have to waste processor time on the various micro-behaviors involved of putting your leg into your pants. Don't believe me? Just try putting the other leg in first next time. You brain will actually have to think about what you are doing to make it work. And there is no recognizable difference between left or right leg to speak of.
  3. With Excellence: Then there are those things that don't fit in either of the above categories. They aren't an issue of right vs. wrong but they do have the potential to be seen as excellent or less-than-excellent. And this is where I'm going to spend the most time. Read the two case studies below in order to see what I mean. I'll use one real life example and then a web example just for fun:

The Starbucks Lid Placement Dilemma
Starbucks has great coffee. They have cool looking cups with a great (recognizable) logo and the fun little heat sleeve. But if the lid is not put on the right way - you'll have problems. I know from experience. Allow Bob to explain:

Cups leak. All Starbucks cup leak by design. The cups leak at the seam due to the inability of the lid to seal this discontinuity... -Bob of Goodrich MI (01/03/05)
Now I can hear one Barista saying to another, 'Why do you always have to put the lid opening facing the same way?' And the simple answer would be, 'I don't want Starbucks patrons to get drips of coffee on their freshly pressed white shirts...'

Perfect example of an 'excellence' decision.

The ALT vs. TITLE Dilemma
Those of you that code html will understand this. When you place a picture in a page, or you have a picture or graphic that is a link, it's helpful to describe the picture or action that will occur so the user won't have to click to figure it out. You also want this description to show on the page in case the image doesn't appear quickly or so there is content on devices where only text and links are displayed.

The dilemma exists because there are two ways to accomplish it. You can either add an alt="description here" or title="description here".

Or, if you strive for excellence, you'll use both.

Why? Because if you only use the ALT attribute, only your Internet Explorer audience will see the 'tool tip' when you hover over the image/link. In order for your (ever growing) Firefox audience to see it you need to use the TITLE attribute too.

And again I can hear people saying, 'Why do you always use both?' And I would say, 'So my entire audience gets the same experience.'

In Summary: In every situation or decision you have to make:

  1. First determine if there is a moral or ethical component - and do the next right thing.
  2. Second, if there is no moral or ethical component, ask yourself if there are a variety of ways that it could be done.
  3. If there are multiple ways to do it, pick the one that makes this world a better place, makes life easier for people or just seems to be the 'excellent' choice.