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Standards compliant webdesign
Aaah, lovely outrage.

Drew McLellan writes about his frustrating visit to an online retailer's site that failed to work properly in anything but Internet Explorer.
In fact, it's not like it would even cost any more to get their sites right if they'd bothered to think about it from the outset. [...] If the agency you're using can't deliver a site that will allow its visitors to use the site to its full, then umm .. change your agency. If your content management system prevents you from achieving this goal, then what the hell is it actually achieving for you?


I was immediately reminded of my own experiences lately where I've been fighting the good fight for standards compliance, cross-browser/platform development.

So what's up with that? Well, just before I started my holiday I had a fairly constructive talk with the interim webmanager of the college I work for. It seems it is kind of hard to decide who is actully responsible for most of the crap that appears on the pages. Partly it's bad design and partly it's just plain stupidity, both on the part of the designers and on the part of the CMS developers. I can't help but be suspicious of the brief they were given by the management though (more on that later). We agreed that the current situation is less than ideal (only IE/Win users can view the site as intended) but differed on the urgency of this.

If one would care to look at the source code of some pages it is clear that whoever wrote that hates the web.
It's bad enough that the site relies on quirksmode by providing an incomplete doctype so that it can force a tableheight of 100% in Netscape and the like, but what really frustrates me no end is the fact that the site relies almost completely on javascript, and not the most elegant at that. For instance why the f*ck would one want to write a non-animated, non-interactive header image in Flash (it is the name of the faculty you're currently viewing in white text)? Just a plain gif file would do nicely and I think it's highly unlikely that that would take 2325 characters. See a screenshot of the character count.

It's things like this that make me despair. What's most worrying is that apparantly cross-browser/platform design is not high on the agenda. It also appears that someone has convinced the management that an extra effort has to be made to support additional browsers and that this will cost. Of course it will cost now, you'll have to retro-actively decontaminate your entire site.
Jeffrey Zeldman said it best in an interview over at applematters.
It takes the same amount of time and money to design with standards as it does to design for IE/Win only.
If you design with standards, your site will work in Windows, Mac OS, and Linux/Unix. It will work in IE, IE/Mac (which is a different beast), Safari, Mozilla, Opera, Omniweb and Konqueror. It will likely work in Palm Pilots, in text browsers, in web-enabled cell phones, and in screen readers used by people with disabilities. If you spend the same amount of time and money designing for IE/Win only, your site will only work in IE/Win.
It's the same amount of effort either way. One way you reach everyone. The other way you only reach IE/Win users.
The decision is obvious.


It might be obvious to Zeldman, McLellan and me and most of the readers of this site but it clearly is not obvious to a lot of webmanagers. Somehow they are getting talked into the idea that developing for all browsers is difficult.

Case in point: I was recently contacted by someone from the central organisation about which browser(versions) the webinterface of our new library system should support (we're evaluating systems now). I made the case that supporting a particular browser or version was pointless, instead the demand should be that the vendor supplies us with an out-of the-box standards compliant public interface in valid HTML and provides us with an easy method to access and change the output to our own design and wishes. In the end that made it into the questions put forward to the vendors but somehow the desire to explicitly name Internet Explorer and Netscape made it in there as well, which kind of defeats the whole point. Standards compliant output does not and should not require us to name a particular browser to be supported, it should work on all browsers and fail gracefully when there's no alternative (for instance when javascript or images are off).

It's an uphill struggle in Dutch education, this much is obvious. More (undoubtedly) later.

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