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Introduction > One Size Does Not Fit All

One Size Does Not Fit All

In this book, we'll examine some of the ways that standards can solve common problems of design and production. No book can cover every problem and solution, and another author's book might take an entirely different approach to any issue discussed in these pages. This book is biased toward meeting practical and immediate needs in a way that anticipates future requirements. The techniques and ideas advanced in this book have been tested and found useful in my agency's design and consulting practice, and these ideas, or variations on them, have been used on thousands of forward-looking sites.

Not every reader will immediately use every idea discussed in this book. If your style emphasizes tight grids, you might not cotton to rules-based design as described in Chapter 16, “A CSS Redesign.” If your site must look great in 4.0 browsers, you might be interested in the hybrid techniques described in Chapters 8, “XHTML by Example: A Hybrid Layout (Part I),” through 10, “CSS in Action: A Hybrid Layout (Part II),” and indifferent to the pure CSS layout techniques discussed in Chapter 16.

Any thinking designer, developer, or site owner will endorse the general notions advanced in this book. Standards are vital to any medium. Because the software through which the web is viewed finally supports standards, it makes sense to learn about and correctly use them. Doing so saves time and money, reduces overhead, extends the usable life of our sites, and provides greater access to our content.

The latter point is important to anyone who wants to reach a wider, rather than a narrower, audience—particularly as nontraditional Internet access increases. It also has legal implications as more nations and more U.S. states create and begin to enforce accessibility regulations. Web standards and accessibility can help your site stay on the right side of these laws.

Theory Versus Practice

But some specific ideas and techniques advanced in this book are open to debate. If you are a hardcore standards geek (and I mean that in the nicest way possible), you might be unwilling to use XHTML until all browsers properly support sending XHTML documents as application/xhtml+xml instead of text/html. For details, see Ian Hickson's “Sending XHTML as Text/HTML ” (http://www.hixie.ch/advocacy/xhtml).

If you agree with Ian's view, you might choose to use HTML 4.01 for now, or you might want to configure your web server to send application/xhtml+xml to browsers that understand it and text/html to those that do not (http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-archive/2002Dec/0005.html). In this book, I have avoided such issues because of my bias toward getting work done under present conditions—a bias I believe most of this book's readers will share.

Hybrid Layouts: On Their Way Out?

Likewise, some hardcore CSS fans might despise the idea of hybrid CSS/table layouts. Hybrid layout methods (Chapters 8 through 10) are offered for those who need them. Specifically, they are offered for designers whose work must look almost as good (and almost the same) in old, noncompliant browsers as it does in newer, more compliant ones.

We might not need these methods for long. As I write this page, ESPN.com has relaunched using CSS layout [I.1]. Ten million readers visit this sports site each day. When a site that big and that commercial adopts CSS layout techniques, the day of web standards is at hand. Although the site's initial use of standards was neither purist nor perfect, here is what art director Mike Davidson and his team got right:

  • All CSS positioning. There are no tables for layout except in sponsored elements beyond the design team's control.

  • No font tags.

  • Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth. Front-page markup and code weigh half of what they did before the relaunch while displaying a much richer page. (With more structural markup as discussed in Chapters 5, “Modern Markup,” through 9, “CSS Basics,” even greater bandwidth savings would be attained.)

  • Only one style sheet for all browsers—no detection used or needed. The site looks more or less identical in all browsers that support getElementById, including Apple's new-for-2002 Safari browser, which is still in beta.

I.1. Are web standards too risky for commercial sites? ESPN.com didn't think so (www.espn.com). The vastly popular sports site relaunched with CSS layout in February 2003.

ESPN.com has attained significant benefits and delivered bandwidth savings to its readers by using many of the techniques advised in this book. But the site's first CSS incarnation does miss other ideas contained in this book (which, after all, had not yet been published when ESPN.com was redesigned with CSS). The site uses more browser detection than necessary. Its markup errs in the direction of presentation and does not validate. Accessibility could be better, and CSS could be more logical and more compact.

By the time you read this book, ESPN.com might have improved in some or all of these areas. But even if it hasn't yet done so, is the glass one quarter empty or three quarters full? Where ESPN.com leads, less brave and less popular commercial sites will surely follow. When a site with 10 million daily readers moves to CSS layout, it is a win for standards-based design and development methods.

A week before ESPN.com took the plunge, Netscape's DevEdge [I.2] was reborn as a standards showcase. The site had always provided solid information on web development—including tutorials on the proper use of standards—but its construction belied its content. With the standards-based redesign, the site began following its own advice and serving as a role model. Features included table-free, CSS layout; user-selectable styles; standards-based drop-down menus; and link URLs that print out for the reader's convenience via the CSS content property.

I.2. In February 2003, Netscape DevEdge followed its own advice and converted to standards-based layout and markup (http://devedge.netscape.com/).

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