Why Standards Still Matter

Throughout my Web design and development career I have found incredible amounts of valuable help and fantastic resources while searching for solutions to various problems. In the last few years I have found most of this helpful information on Web standards and accessibility-oriented blogs and forums. It’s amazing that so many people are willing to spend so much time to share their knowledge with others and help make the Web a better place.

However, and that gets me to the subject of this article, occasionally I hear mutterings from some people who seem to think enough has been said about best practices and that we should find something else to write about. Some say that Web standards aren’t important anymore, because most Web developers are already using them. Others say that it’s boring to read yet another article, blog post, or book about CSS, HTML, accessibility, or usability. They don’t see the point in writing articles or books on those subjects since there are so few left to learn anything from them.

Are you kidding me?

The clued-in are a small minority

If you really think that the majority of people in the Web business have fully embraced Web standards, accessibility, and usability, and strive to follow best practices in general in their work, I’d like to know what planet you’re living on. On Planet Earth, standards-aware Web designers and developers are still a tiny minority of the people working in the Web business. Tiny. We may be vocal, and we may be the ones writing articles and books, but we are seriously outnumbered.

I encourage anyone who thinks we do not need yet another article or book on Web standards, CSS, accessibility, graceful degradation, progressive enhancement, or anything else related to best practices, to take a quick look around you.

Go on, examine some of the work produced by Web agencies and IT consultancies in your town, city, or country. Look at the work of your colleagues and competitors. Would you say that the people working there have nothing left to learn? That they would not benefit from reading an article that explains how to replace their old school Web design techniques with modern, accessible, and search engine friendly methods? Did the sites you just examined really use valid, semantic markup and have no accessibility problems? Really? Wow. You must live in a very small place, with your place of employment being the only company in the Web business.

What those saying they don’t want to read more articles on best practices do not seem to realize is that only a fraction of all people who design and build websites for a living read blogs. Even fewer read blogs related to Web development, frequent sites such as this, or read books on modern Web development. Most (as in “more than fifty percent of”) people who build websites do it first and foremost to make a living, not because they are passionate about the Web or get a kick out of the idea of giving everybody equal access to information. As long as they get paid, that’s good enough for them. If the techniques they learned several years ago still seem to work and nobody complains, that too is good enough for them.

Many articles and a whole bunch of books have been written about Web standards, CSS, accessibility, and semantic markup. But I can assure you that not even those of us who spend most of our time working with and advocating best practices in front-end Web development have heard it all before. And the things we have heard about can almost always bear repeating. Web standards and accessibility are not “dead”, “boring”, or subjects that everybody knows everything about. Actually, I don’t think anybody knows all there is to know about them. But if you find the subjects boring or think you know all you need to know, fine. Nobody is forcing you to read everything that gets published.

It is my firm belief that Web standards are just as important to talk about now as five years ago or last week. The message needs to be repeated over and over again as long as the vast majority of Web workers continue to produce sub-standard websites.

The problem is how to deliver that message to more people than those who already know.

Reaching those who need to be reached

Like I said, most of the people we need to reach do not read our blogs. They have never heard of A List Apart, Zeldman or the css Zen Garden. So we have to find ways of spreading information outside our small group of standardista blogs. Here are a few suggestions for where we can find these people:

  • Discussion forums and mailing lists. Perhaps you frequent a forum where the main focus is on PHP, ASP.Net, graphic design, Flash, or some other subject not directly related to Web standards or accessibility. Do what you can to plant seeds of information when you see an opportunity to do so.
  • Local meet-ups. Organize a simple Web design get-together at a pub. Don’t mention anything about a special theme for the meet-up. Your first goal is to get a bunch of people together and start talking about Web design and development. You will likely be able to find at least a few people who are interested in talking about best practices. Then they talk to their friends in the business, spreading the information.
  • Printed magazines. In my experience many Web workers prefer reading offline magazines instead of online publications. Contact your local (national) Web design and Internet related magazines and offer to write articles. It doesn’t have to be long feature articles. Start by sending them short tidbits to publish in their Tips and Tricks section, if they have one. You may even get paid to do this.
  • Education. This is a big one. So many schools still teach students outdated ways of designing and building websites. If you can somehow influence teachers and instructors to update and improve what they teach students, much will be won. The WaSP Education Task Force is doing a lot of work in this area, but if you get the chance to affect what gets taught, take it.

Reaching those who don’t want to be reached

Reading an article or listening to a presentation does not necessarily mean that you will change the way you work, however. Many will be interested in learning how they can improve the quality of the work they do, but there are two groups of people that I find really hard to influence (please forgive me for generalizing):

  • Purely visually oriented designers and Flash developers who do not want the Web to follow any logical rules at all. They want the Web to be a purely visual medium, and approach it as if it was a printed brochure, a computer game, or television.
  • Back-end programmers who don’t really want to touch client side programming, and let their IDE create the HTML, CSS and JavaScript for them.

I don’t really have any good suggestions for reaching these groups. Maybe you know what it would take to make them interested?

We still have a long way to go

If you consider yourself a Web standards and best practice advocate, please continue helping, explaining, and making it easier for the vast masses of Web workers out there to adopt modern ways of designing and constructing websites.

Let’s not stop fighting too early. The battle, if you choose to see it as a battle, has not been won. I would say that it has only just begun.

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Comments

10 comments on “Why Standards Still Matter

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  1. A fantastic read….very literate and informative. Many thanks….what theme is this you are using and also, where is your RSS button ?

  2. As a person who also is involved in this industry, I am very greatful for the great info you have put up on here. As you may know, web design and development is ever-changing, and to keep up with the pace of that growth we have to keep learning and experimenting, and your info has given me some great ideas and advice. Looking forward to more of your ideas…

  3. Coding standards are important for many reasons. First and foremost, they specify a common format for the source code and comments. This allows developers to easily share code, and the ideas expressed within the code and comments, between each other. It also specifies how comments (internal documentation) should be handled. More importantly, a well designed standard will also detail how certain code should be written, not just how it looks on screen.