10 mistruths about Web Standards

Web standards can be technically described as a collection of strict disciplines we use to create content accessible via the World Wide Web. The term is also associated with building said content according to the best practices outlined by the W3C and other professional web organisations at large.

But Web Standards aren’t immune to the myths perpetrated by noobs and professionals alike, and heck even I’ve been guilty at an early stage of my career of contributing. But if you tell anyone I said that I’ll deny it.

Myth 01: Web Standards inhibits creativity

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve encountered this. Web standards have nothing to do with – let me repeat that – nothing to do with how you want your web design to look. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to make a lacklustre design that conforms to web standards, but the former is never the result of the latter.

Myth 02: Web Standards is web 2.0

Curiously, the same people I’ve known who believe myth 01 also associate web standards with web 2.0, a term that makes most designers cringe at the mention. While the recent rise in web standards awareness seems to have coincided with the web 2.0 movement, it is nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence that provides the marketing team with a new buzzword. Web standards are not web 2.0.

Myth 03: Web Standards means W3C Compliance

A web site that validates doesn’t necessarily always conform to web standards. Web standards casts a wide net over several disciplines of web design, of which W3C Validation is just one. Other things to consider are semantics, accessibility, cross platform compatibility and usability just to name a few.

Myth 04: Web Standards do not allow for tables

At risk of sounding like a broken record, we all know that tables are never to be used for layout. But as long as it’s used for its intended purpose – tabular data – a table is perfectly at home in a web standards world. In fact, to use anything else for tabular data would be breaking web standards.

Myth 05: Web Standards don’t mix with Internet Explorer

You can’t really blame some people for thinking this, as the most common response to a client asking “why doesn’t this work in Internet Explorer?” is “Because IE is a non-web standards compliant steaming pile of poo”. While this might be true of IE6 and IE7, IE8 has made significant improvements in the way it renders our XHTML and CSS even if it isn’t quite there yet. That said, even IE6 will display a web standards compliant design, but it’ll will usually just look awful even with the hacks.

Myth 06: Web Standards will increase development costs

Using my best John Hogdman voice: “Not true”. There is an exception to this though, and that is if the designer is still finding his feet in the web standards world. But to any web standards aware designer, development time will, if anything, be faster and most certainly consume less time when making edits. Additionally, conforming to a web standards code base means that other web standards aware designers will be able to jump into your project without having to learn everything all over again, which is ideal in a team environment.

Myth 07: Web Standards means accessibility is guaranteed

Close, but no cigar. It’s true that a web standards compliant site will contribute to greater accessibility, but there are many additional things to consider besides just W3C validation: screen contrast, text legibility, adding transcripts and general usability are just the tip of the iceberg.

Myth 08: Web Standards are difficult to conform to

Like any discipline, once learned you will wonder how you ever got by before. The truth is most designers already have the skills, but they just need to use them properly. Furthermore once you gain an intimate understanding of why web standards matter, you’ll find everything becomes much easier because some of the rules have already been written for us (thanks W3C!), which means you don’t have to make up new ones with every design.

Myth 09: My customers don’t care about web standards

Actually they do care even if they’ve never heard of them, but they just don’t realise it. For example, the fact they are using their browser of choice to view your web site from a PC or even a mobile device without any problems, means the chances are the designer deliberately made it work on different browsers and platforms. The designer made this freedom of choice possible by paying close attention to web standards.

Myth 10: Web Standards won’t increase my profits

This myth closely relates to myth 09. Web standards compliant sites have the best chance possible of working across all platforms and browsers, so the audience (potential customer base) is maximised because they won’t be forced into any particular browser or platform. What client doesn’t want that for their site?

Who is That Web Guy?

Michael is a veteran web designer / developer / usability evangelist, practitioner of W3C guidelines, occasional judge for the Australian Web Awards (2011, 2012, 2013 & 2014) and creator of Task Rocket.

  • Josh

    Very interesting article mike. When I first started learning about web standards, which wasn’t that long ago, I was shocked to learn a lot of my techniques for designing were bad. I felt very overwhelmed actually, but I very much agree with point 6, in that once you know what you are doing you will save time and find most things easier.

    No one can create a 100% standards-compliant and accessible website, but as designers we have to do what we can. Thanks for another good one mike!

    PS That Web Guy Blog is quickly become a favourite of mine.

  • That Web Guy

    Thanks a bunch Josh.

    Yeah we’ve all been at point 6. I think dropping layout tables was my biggest challenge way back then but it’s just practice practice practice.

  • Design Demi

    The gospel according to the web guy. Love your work – keep it up.

  • Janine

    Excellent. I’m forwarding this to my boss who still doesn’t get it. I’m in love with your design.

  • Wendell

    Thank you for pointing these out! Once you’ve learned how to create standards-based designs, they become second nature and now I don’t know how I ever designed without them.

    Since diving in a few years ago, I’ve noticed a significant change in page rank for many of my sites that had been stagnant prior to that. So to further comment on #10, I’d like to point out that I’ve had several people approach me simply because they wanted to know how I achieved a Google PageRank of 6 on a friend’s web site. Now those people are clients.

  • Anna

    Where would you recommend a newbie designer to start if they want to educate themselves about how to design in compliance with web standards?

  • Ed

    I enjoyed the 10 myths.

    Although I am new to developing for the web, I have been building applications since punch cards were still in use. I have found the W3C standards useful as they fit into standard frameworks. This evolution has happened before in mainframe coding through mini’s, servers and now the web. The newest technology platform is first exploited by a few pioneers (those with the arrows in their back) followed by the rest of the crowd – some of whom actually have prior application development experience and cringe at what they see.

    I had one web developer tell me that standards were for old folks and the web was totally different. The developer’s next gig was selling used cars.

    With the advent of “Web 2.0″ applications, web development moves into the mainstream and will have rules to follow.

  • That Web Guy

    Hi Anna. There are plenty of on-line resources, but the best way is to use them in conjunction with a good set of development tools.

    Use Firefox if you aren’t already, and grab:

    Web developer toolbar (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/60)

    HTML validator (http://users.skynet.be/mgueury/mozilla/)

    Firebug (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1843)

    These tools will assist in keeping everything valid and the WAVE toolbar will check for accessibility problems, which includes but is not limited to semantic construction.

    The HTML toolbar will be your best friend for checking that your site validate, as it reports errors and warning in the status bar of the browser and provides descriptions of anything non-valid, and shows examples of how it should be done.

    Unfortunately there is no tool or test that can say “yes – your site is fully web standards compliant) – it’s really an honour system when you try to judge that for yourself. Peer review is also great if you have access to someone in your team or a friend in the industry who can make an unbiased assessment. Feel free to send me a message if you ever want one too.

    Also have a head of this if you haven’t already: http://www.thatwebguyblog.com/post/regarding_semantics

    Good luck and kudos to you taking the initiative.

  • CSS Babe

    I think number 5 could be argued especially if your talking about ie6.