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Proper Design with Web Standards

As the web continues to grow the concern over how inefficient our web design practices and procedures are is becoming very evident. Technologies such as WYSIWYG editors including FrontPage and Dreamweaver are not helping the cause to make more efficient, leaner websites. So, how are we to approach making websites that decrease bandwidth, improve scalability, and lower maintenance costs? The answer lies in web standards.

The W3C has pushed a series of web standards that are a vital part of where the web is going. The organization was started by Tim Berners-Lee the gentlemen who scaled down SGML into the popular HTML has now realized that his original invention is not being used as it was intended. HTML was never meant to be a formatting/presentation language. HTML has been bastardized by the use of font, bold, and other formatting tags; and now Tim is pushing his organization to move the web back to the original meaning of HTML as a structural language. Enter XML.

XML then becomes the aim of all things web design. XML is often misunderstood by those who don’t understand the aim of using this language. This language is meant to be solely a structural language as HTML was intended to be. Presentation is then separated into XSL which defines bold, italic, and other formatting to the XML document. But the important thing to notice is that they are separate. The last aspect is behavior. Behavior is how the document reacts in a client-side fashion; this includes languages like JavaScript and VBScript (now the standard is ECMAScript and the DOM), but these languages have to been amalgamated with presentation and formatting. So now the focus is to separate structure, presentation, and behavior.

But we are in a time where transition is needed. Millions upon millions of web designers are not going to just move everything to XML, because (1) there is a lack of understanding, (2) it takes time and money to re-train and convert content, and (3) it doesn’t currently offer the presentation features many web designers desire. Therefore, the W3C has CSS while transitioning to XSL and XHTML while transitioning from HTML to XML (hence the X in front of the HTML). XHTML is the first step in encouraging web designers to separate the presentation from content and behavior, and it also uses the syntax of XML such as closing all tags, all tags being lowercased, etc. CSS has already become a robust presentation language used by most web designers today. In fact, many new versions of WYSIWYG editors now do the presentation through CSS.

So, why should you care about web standards, and how can you convince your customers to utilize them? The best list of reasons for web standards are from a book by Jeffrey Zeldman called Designing With Web Standards:

  • Slash design, development, and quality assurance costs (or do great work in spite of constrained budgets)
  • Deliver superb design and sophisticated functionality without worrying about browser incompatibilities
  • Set up your site to work as well five years from now as it does today
  • Redesign in hours instead of days or weeks
  • Welcome new visitors and make your content more visible to search engines
  • Stay on the right side of accessibility laws and guidelines
  • Support wireless and PDA users without the hassle and expense of multiple versions
  • Improve user experience with faster load times and fewer compatibility headaches
  • Separate presentation from structure and behavior, facilitating advanced publishing workflows

This is just an entry-level look at web standards and the goal of them. I would suggest the following resources for understanding more of this important trend.



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