Fork in the Road - Web Standards or Not?

Signal vs. Noise has a lively thread going following Thursday’s post:

"It seems like we’re at a crossroads in web design—one where we could all consider changing our ways and support the W3C or we could keep plowing ahead with tables, spacers, and other tricks. . . ."

So must we code for the lowest common denominator, as some have stated? Must sites look absolutely identical on whatever platform or browser, forcing designers and developers to use old hacks and workarounds that will end up breaking in new browsers in the future?

Are there other possibilities besides all the workarounds and hacks we’ve learned to use? What about thinking forward? What about considering the possibility of creating accessible, usable, nice-looking sites that are forward thinking and not dependent on all the workarounds and hacks?

What can we do in the real world to provide our clients with good sites that make them happy, present their companies or businesses well, and don’t require all the hacks and workarounds to look good?

I maintain that it’s possible to create forward thinking sites that are standards compliant and still keep the clients happy. There are more sites popping up daily that are doing it quite successfully. My own observations are that a shift in thinking is needed regarding how we design and implement those designs.

If you haven’t done much with CSS yet, try thinking about a simple design that isn’t based on tables to hold it together, for example. Play with some CSS to make it visually more interesting to get used to using CSS for layout. Play with some CSS layout templates and see how they’re put together.

Another possibility is to minimize the use of tables and refuse to go for all the hacks and workarounds. Take advantage of CSS2 while making sure the site still works for the notorious Netscape 4 browsers.

I’m of the belief that a site doesn’t have to look absolutely identical in all browsers. It can still look great and work well without having to be identical, and that shift in thinking can dump so many hacks and workarounds. Take a look at Brainstorms and Raves and my business site in a variety of browsers, for example. You’ll see that they don’t look identical in every browser; however, they’ll still work fine and should look OK, too, through version 4 browsers. The newer browsers will provide the best viewing experience, but they’ll still work in older browsers, too, and even work fine with Lynx.

When I’ve discussed cross-browser issues with clients and used these two sites to explain what I mean, I’ve gotten tremendously positive responses and so far they’ve each agreed with a more forward thinking approach and that "identical" isn’t necessary. This was a shift in my own thinking, too, as I used to be one of so many designers who prided myself in being able to achieve a nearly identical appearance regardless of the browser.

On the other hand, I designed when Netscape 4 still had a larger market share than Internet Explorer (yes, that’s how long ago I last redesigned that site—ugh!). It’s very tables-heavy, takes a lot longer to load, but it looks nearly identical in version 4 through current browsers. I use CSS mostly for the font information and not much for layout, but most of the pages are now converted to XHTML, and they usually validate (there may be an occasional glitch that I need to correct). Its heavy tables-based layout drags it down tremendously, in my opinion. There are far better options now that will also allow me much more flexibility with maintaining it.

Needless to say, I’m in the midst of planning a new design for it. It will load more quickly, the structure will be separated from the content, and I’ll have much more flexibility with dropping the content into any format I wish, quickly changing the design with the style sheets, or any number of possibilities that aren’t possible with the current design.

So what do you think about the quote above from Signal vs. Noise? Go add to the comments. As of my post there are 25 comments already.

[hat tip:]

08:10 pm, pst 1 February, 2002 Comments, Trackbacks ·';}?>

Categories: Browsers, CSS, Standards

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