This is the way we do things around here

Derek Featherstone describes something that seems to be a common feeling among “web standards advocates” right now. For those of us who have been using and evangelising web standards for the last few years it all seems so obvious. In my own company our use of web standards saves us time. Over and over again the benefits are there – cancelling out a hundred fold any extra bit of time puzzling over an IE CSS bug. This is just the way we do things and, over the last couple of years lots of other people have started to see that working in this way, validating mark-up, creating semantic and accessible web pages is a good way to work.

However, as Derek describes in his article, there are sites being launched every day that are full of nested tables, spacer gifs, paragraph text styled as headings – even font tags. When does web standards stop being an added extra and just become the way things are done around here?

I don’t actually remember at which point I realised that valid mark-up, or CSS for layout, or creating accessible web sites was the way to go. Although looking through my archives I found this post, written just before I launched my first CSS layout for this site. Despite having learned to handcode HTML, prior to there being tools like Dreamweaver available, I remember those first CSS layouts being a great struggle and I don’t think I would have got anywhere had it not been for the layouts at

Times have changed though, there are so many excellent resources if you want to learn CSS, or web standards or accessibility. However, the people who will go out there and learn the new thing, and keep themselves informed of best practices have already learned this stuff. How do we get to those people who don’t even know that the issues exist, or don’t care? You only need to look in your average basic web design magazine, or hang around on a design mailing list that doesn’t have a strong web standards evangelist user base to realise that the battle of getting people to realise that web standards are important, or even that they exist, is a long way off being won.


Andrew Hume November 24, 2004 Reply

My guess is it will be a fair little while before the standards angels can impart their light to everyone out there. But it must only be a matter of time.

I for one, can remember exactly when the dawn of possibility crept across my horizon. Eric Meyer’s first ‘… on CSS’ book probably did more for standards based design than any other (including Zeldman’s bible) title will ever do.

No one reading Eric’s book could have failed to understand the possibilities of what he was offering. I still get a warm, kind of fuzzy feeling, when I remember the simplicity and beauty of his examples, and the path that they were leading me down.

It is with showing by example exactly what can be done that we will win over the last of the old school developers. Perhaps it is unfortunate that the most high profile organisations, such as The Web Standards Project, are probably a little daunting to people wishing to take their first steps on the road to standards fulfilment – despite the wonderful part that the project plays.

As you say Rachel, for those that wish to keep themselves informed, the WaSP is the first port of call; but for those wishing to learn, it is not as welcoming.

ben November 24, 2004 Reply

Indeed- it seems obvious to me, although judging by this new site at the university I work at, not everyone has cottoned on yet.

The problem at this institution is that most people simply don’t realise, and that’s something we are working on, albeit slowly. Fortunately, things like SENDA and the DDA are lending some weight to our arguments

Phil Gregory November 24, 2004 Reply

I think the reason no is taken up standards is because there is a lack of compulsion.

Perhaps the browser companies should just refuse to display pages that dont update.

Phil Gregory November 25, 2004 Reply

My other comment on this Issue is. ..Rachel, i try. I really do.

I always have a master style sheet which controls all my text and layer. I use includes and external js files. The problem for me is that my css knowledge is not as sharp as my html. and when i cant remember or find exactly what i want , I jusy “stick it in a table of hit the bold button, simply because it is quicker.

What we need is a workspace in dreamweaver, that lays everything out just using css.

Andrew Hume November 25, 2004 Reply

Some day, no doubt, there will be software that will solely use CSS for layout – Rachel’s probably one of the best people to ask about that! This will most likely go a long way to furthering the spread of standards amongst developers.

However, just as you have to tweak the (X)HTML that Dreamweaver produces – you would certainly have to tweak the CSS by hand. As for being ‘not as sharp’ with CSS, I doubt there is a developer in the world that doesn’t have to reach up to their book shelf sometimes to pull down a CSS reference book of some sort. The more you do it though, the more you’ll learn – and the art of CSS is constantly changing with new specs from the W3C, new browsers, and new techniques developers come up with.

It’s an art well worth being on top of though.

Peter Gaunt November 28, 2004 Reply

The school where I work has possibly the worst website in the world. It’s all done with absolutely positioned divs as if it were a PowerPoint thingie. On some pages the ‘page heading’ is at the end. Most of the buttons are image maps and some pages contain huge graphics scaled down with ‘width’ and ‘height’.

To be fair the two people who designed it (the Head’s PA and one of the IT techs) had no prior experience at all. They did ask for comments but have ignored everything I said (over a year ago).

If you fancy a laugh try it.

Dustin November 29, 2004 Reply

it’s very difficult to persuade those who use spacer gifs, nested tabbles and endless font tags to start writing valid markup because their site will most likely still work and look like the way they want it to.

When they think of accessibility, they don’t think of the web…they think of handy cap parking spots. The 508 means nothing mainly because it doesn’t apply to anyone…really.

It’s almost like telling everyone to start obeying the speed limit which is seen moreover as a guideline rather than an actual law.

The only real convincing factor will be the day that all windows users download the new version Internet Explorer and see that font tags and table layout doesn’t work.

Or could you imagine if a browser wouldn’t display a page if it didn’t validate, lol. It would make web developers think twice about this standards thing…but that would be going a little overboard.

Jeremy December 8, 2004 Reply

I think this will happen when it occurs to people that design is not limit to aesthetics. A great many people trivialize the Web Standards movement in assuming it is an anti Microsoft movement, or limited to making sites accessible to the disabled. Both of these ends have merit though, as a “designer” to whom aesthetic weighs heavily in my work, Web Standards made perfect sense. When reminded that the “purpose” of any publishing medium is to disseminate information it follows that the information should be well organized, accessible to as many people as possible, and attractive for those of us inclined to place value in this.

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