1. Technology

Why standards still matter

By September 20, 2006

Follow me on:

It's funny, sometimes when I write about Web standards and accessibility and usability I get emails thanking me for taking the time to explain it. But as Roger mentions in his Vitamin article Why standards still matter, more and more often people are saying that they're bored with this message. But if people were really doing it, and not just bored with the message, I wouldn't be seeing comments in my blog along the lines of "tables ARE a layout tool" and "I don't want to learn CSS". And I would see fewer and fewer sites in my Design Gallery that use tables for layout, but as you can see, most of them still do. You may be bored with CSS and standards-based design, but until everyone is using it (or at least most people are), we all need to keep encouraging the hold outs to try it.
September 21, 2006 at 9:24 am
(1) Dwight Blubaugh says:

I’d admit that I’m bad about design. However, there seems to be so many standards to choose from. :-) My biggest issue with standards is they change with which ever browser is the hottest thing out there. I also find that over half my webpage work is always accomodating non-standard browsers. Are there any 100% safe rules to follow?

September 21, 2006 at 10:19 am
(2) Sean McGee says:


Good rules of thumb are the W3C standards, not just for XHTML but for accessibility as well.

The key thing to remember is that now, the “standard” is to make a page viewable by all browsers, not just the hottest one out there.

For instance, I love to use “Firefox”. When I go to a web page of a company that doesn’t display properly in FF, I lose respect for that company. Not because their website looks crappy, but because the didn’t make the effort to make sure it was accessible to everyone.

That’s why I have the IE plugin for Firefox.

Anyways, I digress. If your code falls in line with W3C standards, you are a good coder.

However, good code doesn’t always equal good design. You have to determine if your website is C.R.A.P. or if it’s just crap.

C = Contrast…strong contrast between page elements is necessary.

R = Repitition…keeping your design consistent

A = Alignment…visual connection is key…nothing should stick out like a sore thumb.

P = Proximity…grouping things that are related together creates meaning.

If you want to read more on the subject, check out this helpful article on Vitamin.

September 21, 2006 at 12:02 pm
(3) MIke says:

My customer dont care if the website is layed out in tables or CSS. The end product is that the page can be seen in all browser correctly. Tables is a layout tool and I still use them, but use CSS as well.

September 21, 2006 at 12:12 pm
(4) Dwight Blubaugh says:

Well, I guess I don’t understand which set of standards you’re pushing. There seem to be design standards which are from the visual arts realm that deal with the psychology of how we view information. And then there is the standards of the technology of presentation of information (CSS vs frames vs tables, etc). But in all cases, a web designer can easily be twarted by non-compliant browsers. Why else do you the end-user have to have special plug-ins? I find that I have to write at for 3 types of browsers and hope that I’ve hit 90%. Then I have to try and verify that I am pushing consistent content. I try to use tools (like Tidy, et. al.) to just make sure that I haven’t messed things up. Then I call my friends with Macs and limited PC browsers to verify that my website functions and looks good. As my blind friend once asked “What good is the Web?”

September 21, 2006 at 12:44 pm
(5) Jennifer Kyrnin says:

Dwight: When I say standards-based Web design, I’m talking about the XHTML, XML, and CSS standards defined on the W3C.

It is possible to write designs that are standards compliant and work on the most popular browsers. It’s not possible to write any Web page and have it look identical in every browser there is. That’s not the point of standards-based design.

The point is that Web design does have standards and a standards-making body. And the companies that make browsers are actually a part of these standards committees. The fact that they still create browsers that don’t follow the standards doesn’t make the standards wrong.
And finally, even if you were writing non-standard HTML, you’d still have to design multiple versions of your Web pages. With standards, you do a little less work, but there’s still work involved. :-)

September 21, 2006 at 12:48 pm
(6) Jennifer Kyrnin says:

Mike: your customer may not care today but tomorrow when the page has to be maintained, he may change his mind. Standards-based design is easier to maintain. It’s hard to learn, I’ll grant you. It’s also easier to change a standards-based design. So that if next week he wants his navigation to be on the top, not the left that will be much easier to do with a CSS design than a table design. Also, table based layouts are not accessible, and they tend to load more slowly than CSS designs.

September 21, 2006 at 1:00 pm
(7) Sean McGee says:

You’re right Jennifer.

In fact, correct me if I’m wrong, a table doesn’t display until all content within that table is loaded.

So if you have a lot of icons and pictures and information within that table, all that stuff has to download before it’s even displayed.

I think I’m right. Aren’t I?

September 21, 2006 at 1:13 pm
(8) Jennifer Kyrnin says:

Sean: it depends upon the browser, but the browsers do need to get more of the information downloaded before they can load even one row of a table. With a CSS layout, the layout is in the CSS and is downloaded at the same time as the content – so it tends to be faster to render.

September 21, 2006 at 4:42 pm
(9) Mike says:

You have a good point about loading speeds etc. But I viewed the source of your own website, and noticed it has many tables in it. It would seem that your site should be totally CSSk, since it is what your preaching

September 21, 2006 at 7:02 pm
(10) Jennifer Kyrnin says:

Mike: yes, the sites that I write the HTML for are all CSS and XHTML based. I don’t write the HTML for the About.com Web site. I write articles about Web Design and HTML. Yes, it would be nice if the About.com designers followed my recommendations, but they don’t. That doesn’t mean that the recommendations are wrong. :-)

September 22, 2006 at 9:51 am
(11) Sean McGee says:

Jennifer, How many times is that now that you’ve told us that?

At least once a week for as long as I can remember!


September 22, 2006 at 12:32 pm
(12) Jennifer Kyrnin says:

Why Sean? You getting bored of it? :-D

September 26, 2006 at 2:06 pm
(13) Irene Hahn says:

It seems to me that too many people don’t know yet about W3C Standards, or fail to understand their importance.

Jennifer, I’m sure you have an article about it; may be it would be a good thing to revive it.

September 28, 2006 at 10:20 am
(14) b says:

i just wrote a nice long reply, but since your form coding sucks and I didn’t have an emaila ddress, I lost everything I wrote. You’re not the god coder you think you are

September 28, 2006 at 2:07 pm
(15) Jennifer Kyrnin says:

B: I’m sorry you had trouble. If you’re talking about the form to write a comment, I had nothing to do with the coding of that – in fact, it comes straight out of the box from the blog tool About uses.

And actually, I’ve never thought of myself as a “god coder” :) I make mistakes just like the rest of the human world. I hope things work out for you in the future.

February 23, 2007 at 10:33 am
(16) webdesign says:

Maybe some of you smart designer/developer folks can help out a young naive beginner by helping me understand why Iím using only divs, why I spend so much time getting everything to validate, etc.

February 23, 2007 at 1:17 pm
(17) Jennifer Kyrnin says:

“webdesign”: You shouldn’t be using only divs, there are lots of other HTML tags out there that have a purpose and are useful. Check out my Divitis article for more information.

As for why you’re spending so much time getting everything to validate, well my first (yes, somewhat sarcastic) answer that comes to mind is “because you are a young, naive beginner” :-)

Seriously, validating is important to make sure that your code works now and in the future. I’ve got an article on this subject too: Why Validate Your HTML.

As you get more experienced you’ll spend less time working on code to get it to validate. But if you don’t spend the time now, you’ll never learn it.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.