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Standards on the web, does it matter?

The concepts on the web aren't hard, provided you care about what you're doing, as opposed to thinking that giving a production person a Photoshop file is "Web design." Sadly, many so-called web designers don't know much about the Web, and little more about design, which isn't just a question of visuals—it goes far deeper than that. And yet, it's remarkably elegant as a set of interrelated systems—markup/structure, styles/presentation, behavior.

All good design happens when you know your constraints. One definition of design is that it isn't possible without a set of constraints, that it is the relationship between the constraints and the solution that makes design possible. All they mean when they complain about these constraints is that they either don't know how to work within them, or they're unhappy that they have to work within them—which mean they're unhappy being designers, and just want to play with colors and shapes and call that design.

Real creativity isn't as simple as coming up with something that looks pretty and isn't obviously derivative of something else. Real creativity involves dealing with problems all the way through, and on the Web, that means thinking about markup, about document semantics, multiple presentation paths, accessibility, and behavior.

Creativity by nature has some kind of parameters. Standards provide parameters. Many other industries have standards. Take the light bulb as one example. The sockets need to be certain sizes and lamps must use those sockets, too. They also must follow electricity standards and pass the safety regulations. Do you see creativity stifled because of that?

Creating a Web page to look the same or not isn't related to standards. It's about understanding the nature of the medium with its flexibility. The Web is NOT print. Someone looking at a printed brochure can't change it as it's printed that way; however, the Web isn't at all like that print brochure. Pages are rendered differently on the multitude of browsers and platforms out there. Visitors can also change the window size to whatever they wish within their display settings, change font sizes and colors, and use their own style sheets. This is a highly flexible medium. Trying to force Web pages to look identical regardless of platform or browser is trying to force Web pages to be something they aren't. Instead, of marveling at this flexible and amazing medium and learning how to use that flexibility rather than trying to prevent it.

Consider how amazing it is that the content can be displayed on millions of computer displays around the world in all kinds of dimensions. Pages can be stretched out and reduced, colors can be changed, fonts and font sizes can be changed at the whim of the viewer, and much more. PDAs and cell phones can access Web pages, voice devices can speak the content, and more. How does any of that relate to standards? Creating standards-based sites can help facilitate this medium's incredible flexibility and use its potential. I think it's exciting to see seemingly limitless possibilities. Understand the medium. Don't try to force it to be something that it isn't.

If designers and developers can immediately see benefits and advantages to Web standards I think they'll be more inclined to learn about standards and try a standards-based design approach.

Clients often don't know standards exist. Some of those who do may not care, which may be from lack of information or from being misinformed. We can help educate them by explaining standards to them at a level they'll understand so they'll easily grasp the benefits. Explaining cost benefits to using standards may be a language clients may far more easily understand while their eyes may gloss over if you try to explain style sheets, XHTML, or the DOM.

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Last modified on 27 june 2004

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