Web Standards: Show and Tell Time
I keep mentioning Jeffrey Zeldman, but I like what he says, partly because I so often agree with him and partly because he can get straight to the point so well and so often. Today’s post is no exception in which he responds to frequent questions he receives about how to “sell” standards to a boss, client, or co-workers. His point is not to sell them at all but instead to show them. He also lists a few of the limitless benefits.
My own experience underlines how well that approach can work with standards-based sites. People so often like seeing results more than abstract ideas, plain and simple. At times I explain some of the benefits in addition to showing them, and they’re even more enthusiastic.
My mom was one of the most organized and efficient people I’ve ever known. She was the queen of multi-tasking long before the word even existed. She would also laugh and tell me it was because she didn’t want to work harder or spend any more time than she absolutely had to on anything. For me, standards-based site design fits that philosophy beautifully, and maybe that’s another reason I so instinctively gravitated toward this approach early on. After all, my mom was a huge influence on me.
Why am I so passionate about standards-based site design? Lots of reasons, in addition to strongly believing that standards are critical. I love the flexibility that’s possible, and I love the fact that sites I build can work on old, current, and future browsers and even Lynx, my PDA, and other types of viewers. I love being able to globally change so much to an entire site within seconds just by tweaking a line or two in a style sheet. I’m geeky enough to find tremendous satisfaction in having markup that’s lean and clean and validates while having a visually appealing design. Sites can be streamlined, easier to maintain, pages can load faster, and are far more accessible. If all that’s in place it’s a simple matter to ensure Section 508 compliance, too, if needed.
On the other hand, sites that don’t utilize CSS and are riddled with font tags and complex table layouts have some big disadvantages, even if they validate. They’re often laboriously time-consuming to maintain and tend to load slower from complex table layouts and an endless sea of font tags. They also tend to have more cross-browser, cross-platform problems, and can be more prone to breaking somewhere using older browsers and the next generation browsers, too, requiring even more complexity with workaround hacks. Having to maintain a site like that can cost more money in maintenance time and redesigns, too.
How do I know? In the old days I used to build sites like that, the days when we prided ourselves in getting a site to look identical regardless of the browser or platform, even though it also meant kludgy hacks. I still find some of those old pages that I built that way, cringe, and hope they’ll disappear soon.
Needless to say, if someone talks to me about taking over a site like that, first on the list would be to convert it to more efficient standards-based markup. For the sites I’ve converted so far, when looking at a 6- to 12-month maintenance period it costs less to convert the site than to maintain it with all the font tags and unnecessary complex tables. The site also benefits from faster page loads, greater flexibility, easier and less costly maintenance, improved accessibility, and more, not to mention a happy designer/developer and a happy client.
Speaking of accessibility, so many people ask why they should even care about standards, accessibility or 508 guidelines if their clients don’t care and they’re not building government sites. Clients DO care about their budgets and they DO care that their sites work well. By having a more efficient site, you’ll save your clients money in maintenance costs and in redesign work when their sites break with the next browser versions. More visitors can access the site and the pages load quicker, too. Most clients will appreciate all that, and they’ll bring you more business and refer their friends. And if it’s for an employer who pays you no matter what you’re doing, you may end up being able to go home on time and having a lunch hour no matter what. Everyone wins.
Maybe right now you don’t care if people on cell phones or PDAs can access the site. After all, your client will never know, and you don’t access the Web that way. Maybe right now you and your clients don’t care if disabled people can access the site. After all, you’re not disabled and neither is your client. Well, there’s a long list of reasons like that. There’s another perspective, though, such as how the W3C feels. The W3C wants to provide recommendations that allow the greatest access to the widest possible audience. I happen to like that idea.