My Increasing Wariness of Dogmatism

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Chris Coyier on (Updated on )

A couple of definitions, if you are unclear:


Positiveness in assertion of opinion especially when unwarranted or arrogant.


The tendency to lay down principles as undeniably true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.


… it is applied to some strong belief that the ones adhering to it are not willing to rationally discuss.

Hardly a day goes by I don’t see a dogmatic statement about the web. I was collecting them for a while, but I won’t share them as there is no sense in shaming anyone. I’m as guilty as anyone.

The dogmatic part comes from the way an opinion is phrased. I feel like people do it sometimes just for emphasis. To sound bold and proud, via brevity.

Never use more than 2 fonts on a page, they say.

Stop using jQuery, we’re scolded.

Never style with ID’s, I’ve extolled.

Web fonts aren’t worth it, the tweet reads.

Websites should never have more than one column at any width, it’s declared.

The cascade is evil, or so we’re told.

Those are softies, relatively speaking. The fun ones start with “Say it with me:” or have non-ironic 👏🏽 emojis 👏🏽 between 👏🏽 each 👏🏽 word.

Who cares? You might think. It’s just people spouting off opinions. Everybodys got ’em. That’s what the world is these days. In the end people sort things out for themselves.

I’m not so sure. I see ideas that start as dogmatic claims spread. I’ve heard people regurgitate a dogmatic statement years after I’ve felt like the industry had moved on. When you happen to agree with them, they feel good. They feel powerful. They feel like something you want to get behind and spread yourself. They don’t have that wishy-washy “it depends” feeling that doesn’t provide hard and fast answers.

After seeing a string of dogma the other day, I created these for some self-catharsis:

I’m sure I’ll never do anything with them for real. But now I can imagine myself peeling off one of them and sticking it on my screen whenever needed. It beats starting a Twitter argument, that’s for sure.

What is to be done? Two steps.

First, make peace with the fact that the world (and the web) is a huge place with incredible diversity, in every sense of that word. Everyone’s situation is different than yours. You can’t know everything. There is endless gray area.

Second, it’s possible to re-work a dogmatic statement into something more productive. For example:

ID’s come with an extremely high specificity value and, in my experience, limit opportunities to override styling and lead to awkward specificity and selector battles. Here’s an example I came across recently…

We’ve spent more hours chasing CSS bugs this year than we’re comfortable with. After tracking them down, they are often rooted in styles bleeding into areas they person who wrote them never meant them to. In this light, we’re experimenting with encapsulating our styles with…

The web at large is suffering from poor performance. Web sites are getting heavier and slower faster than networks can speed up to handle it. Our own site follows the trend. In an effort to tighten our belt and reverse that trend, we’re adhering to a new performance budget. We determined that web fonts weren’t nearly as crucial to the site as other things, so we’re…

It’s certainly wordier to avoid dogma when you’re trying to make a point. But it’s more honest. It’s more clear. It’s showing empathy for people out there doing things different. It makes it easier for others to empathize with you.