Are Web Standards bad for Business


A while ago I was involved in the selection of several people for positions with various organisations. Each organisation wanted to have the best person they could find for the dollars that they were willing to offer.

With this employment selection process I was hoping to find people with skills equal if not surpassing my own. The usual old chestnut; web standards based compliant design and development with unobtrusive JavaScript and maybe a bit a programming scripting skills. I’ve always assume my skill set was average, and not that much on the bleeding edge. I have since learnt this is not the case.

What I didn’t think I would find is table based layouts, font tags, inline styles, and very obtrusive JavaScript. But I did, over and over again. “Okay”, you say “maybe you just got a batch of old designers, none of the graduates would have had coding standards like that?” Sorry you are wrong. The web standard demonstrated by the graduates was appalling. I had to pinch myself several times, as I was sure I was back in 1999.

What has happened? I know Molly has commented on this to death, that the educational institutions just can’t keep up with the demands of the web standards and the pace at which the leading edge of the web industry operates. But the levels of skills I encountered were at least 6 years behind the current best web industry practice.

I normally associate professionally and even to a degree socialise with like minded folk of a web standards ilk. So am I living in a rarefied atmosphere of a sugar coated web standards world? Am I sitting in the 10% of the Web Industry, and the rest of the non web standards crew is the 90%?

This leads me to question, does the client really care if their site is web standards compliant? Do they truly care if their web site is future proofed and has an increase level of accessibility? If it ranks on Google, they are happy, and that’s more to do with good SEO than anything. There are clients that are just not interested in accessibility or standards, if it looks okay in the major browsers and their audience can use the site, then they are happy.

With a business environment becoming slightly complacent towards standards. Where print based designers with no desire or experience in web standards design can churn out “pretty” cookie cutter web sites via using various automated software products. Or where non standards compliant web designers can throw together the web design in less time that a non tables based layout (mainly due to CSS tweaks). Or where software vendors still develop CMS that are not web standards based, using table layouts and font tags. Why should I buck the trend? Why should I continue to wave the web standards banner? It’s basically costing me business. And in the hard light of day, much how I would love to do my design work for nothing, I still have to feed a family and keep a roof over our heads.

I really question are Web Standards good for Web Business. A point in case is the recent factionisation of the various web standards groups into separate camps. This alone doesn’t give much hope for the future.

Should we take the easier conservative road and forget about web standards and best practice and just concentrate on what looks good for the client. Personally I like to be on the fringe.

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  1. It’s hard to pitch the idea of standards compliance to business – true. But in the long run it’s worth it for all of us. They key is to talk real, long term savings – lower bandwidth cost, less time to update/redesign, etc.

    I worked on a site that was table based and successfully fought to update it to (mostly) CSS, non (layout) table code. Download time and further SEO improvement – especially in a competitive niche – were the closers.

    It is difficult to get non-designers to see the value in something they (essentially) don’t see – good XHTML and CSS. But if a little extra work will save us from nested tables 8+ levels deep and endless inline CSS, then it’s worth it.

    Great post.

  2. Wait until you get to design mobile web based on your clients existing content.

    I think you’ll find you get a lot of business 🙂

  3. @Steve – This doesn’t sell the product from day one does it.

    This will only really seriously occur when the mobile browser market stabilises. There are (taking figures from Mobile Interface discussions at WD06 and OZIA06) about 30+ different mobile/pda browsers. Now to cater for that market you have to do one of three things.

    1. Work with each browser. Most of which don’t use CSS really that well, think 1999-2000
    2. Do a simple text only narrow version
    3. Ignore it and hope the opera like mini browsers win the mobile war or we end up with iphone like browsers.
  4. Could you even argue that you shouldn’t even be selling web standards?

    Consider this. A top tradesman, say a kitchen fabricator.

    He would be known for his work quality. For the level to which his design integrity, his craftsmanship and so on represents when compared amongst his peers.

    Subsequently as a result of simply producing the best quality product, without making so much as a peep about it unless asked why.

    Now, he will become known amongst his peers for the work attributes, and his clients will ultimately appreciate that his work is above all, par excellence.

    So does he still need to say in his ads, or on his proposals “hey I do fantastic work and this is the detail as to why” or should he simply be known and continue to deliver astoundingly good products.

    Perhaps it’s the other builders, who cannot admit to themselves that the way they do it, is the best and that they no longer need to really market that, as it simply is a matter of fact, rather than something they need re-inforcement on.

    (a behavior of professional maturity, which is gained from sheer length of experience)

  5. @Ben I could come back on that with, but if the work looks good and appears to be a quality product. How is the customer to know otherwise.

    It’s not till it breaks at a later date (on a browser upgrade say) that we see the web standards based site (hopefully) is the superior.

    It does raise another question this post. Who pays for a standards based make over, the client or the web designer?

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