Layout Approach: CSS, Tables, A Combination—What To Do?
I’ve had email about my last Friday Feast regarding a forward-thinking approach and how to decide whether to use a CSS- or tables-based layout or maybe a combination approach. I don’t think there’s a blanket “right” answer, as an approach for each project must be determined by the needs, target market, and possibly other factors.
For example, if you’re building an Intranet for a client’s office that is stuck with version 4 browsers until January 1, 2004 you’ll most likely take a different approach than you would if they’re using version 6 or 7 browsers that support far more CSS, of course. Even if you’re creating a site for version 4 browsers, though, you can still take a more forward-thinking approach that will make the site more efficient, more accessible, more flexible, and a 2004 redesign far easier.
If you’re creating an Internet website, you need to determine the target market, carefully review stats if they’ve already been on the Web, learn the details of the site’s contents, how and by whom the content will be updated, who will maintain the site, and other details. Once you have all the facts, then determine the design and development approach that will work best and last the longest.
Jeffrey Zeldman sums this up quite well in his August 29th post, Table Layouts, Revisited. Here’s just a snippet:
But many organizations are still saddled with 4.0 browsers, and for them CSS layout remains a problem. In some cases — on a search engine’s results page, for instance — it makes sense to use CSS layout, hide the style sheet from 4.0 browsers, and let folks who use those browsers see a plain but perfectly usable page. But on many sites, the layout is too important to hide, and 4.0 browser users need to see a reasonable facsimile of the “real” layout. A blend of tables and CSS makes that possible.
Zeldman will be sharing his techniques at an upcoming Builder conference, and in a new book he’s writing for New Riders, Forward Compatibility: Designing and Building With Web Standards.
Even if you need to use some table formatting you can still think forward with your approach, and in so doing you’ll make maintenance easier, accessibility easier, the content can be far more flexible, pages load faster, and it will be easier to redesign later, too.