Web standards

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Web standards – for or against?

July 3, 2008 Posted by

There is a fairly widespread conviction that compliance with Web standards is a utopia – completely unreachable in practice. Many people feel that websites are designed for specific browsers, usually two, and rarely three or more.
If you look for examples, in fact, many pages, which on the surface seem to be compliant with Web standards, could be rendered differently in different browsers. A lot of people blame the standards themselves, but there is a serious error in such a thinking – the standards are not to blame, but some of the webmasters who, having a vague idea, often apply the standards incorrectly.

The objectives and principles

Working as a designer or a webmaster, and developing a number of smaller and larger projects, you can get to know the customer’s typical requirements and expectations. It so happens that the customer may know much about Web technologies, but often has a clear vision of what his/her website should look like and what functionalities it should possess.
Unfortunately, the vision might be based on solutions other than those used by Web technologies. Some presentations, which are perfect for TV and magazines are not suitable for the Internet. Never before have the media provided opportunity to interact with the information recipient in real time. Many people still don’t see the realm of possibilities presented by the Web. They treat it as a business card, rather than as a source of information. Accessibility and functionality of a website is pushed aside, and the most important thing is that their sites are rendered in the same way in all browsers like ordinary print material.
You should however see the difference between various types of media. Printed material is both a source of information and its presentation, whereas the Internet is only a source of information. The browser is responsible for how this information is presented. For this reason,
it is not possible and might never be possible to render the content of a webpage in the same way in all browsers. What can you do, then? You can design a page so that its content is available for a large number of Internet users, with the functionality of a page preserved in every browser, and the overall appearance is similar.

Technical solutions

For a long time browser developers hadn’t paid much attention to the Web standards, but instead, were working on their own solutions. In practice, this meant that you couldn’t make a good-looking site that would be rendered the same way in all different browsers. Partially, the situation was a result of a very slow process of developing uniform Web standards. Webmasters wanted to have a greater influence on the functionality of their sites and on how their sites are rendered in Web browsers. Over time, they were provided with the right tools.
Languages such as HTML 4.01, XHTML 1.0, and XHTML 1.1 (describing the structure of the data) in conjunction with CSS1 and CSS2 (responsible for the presentation of the contents) have allowed the content authors to format the presentation in any way they wanted. For several years now, a number of Web browsers have been able to interpret the code written in accordance with Web standards, with each subsequent version of a browser handling the job even better.

Final effects and benefits

Typical Internet users are not interested in the technical aspect of a standard’s implementation. They expect to have a full access to the content and functionality of a website – without necessity to install additional programs or buying additional devices to
view the Web resources. Compliance with the Web standards and recommendations by standardization bodies such as W3C allows a device independence and user agent independence. Most people associate online services with desktop computers and graphical browsers. Indeed, the two are the only mechanisms able to view the majority of Web pages nowadays. A properly coded page compliant with the W3C requirements is accessible and functional on ordinary PC-class computers, in text browsers, PDAs, and mobile phones. The page will be also available to people with disabilities. A properly written service should be easy to navigate. This is especially important for people with impaired mobility, who are not able to use a computer mouse. A correctly coded structure and complete separation of the content from its presentation will provide access for people with vision impairment using voice browsers or Braille readers. Another important aspect is the size of a page. You have to remember that a lot of people have a very slow internet connection. Properly coded pages require about 25% -80% less space. In addition, users who are looking for information may want to disable images. Standardization allows for the layout of all the elements on the page to be retained.

Unobtrusive JavaScript

June 30, 2008 Posted by

As a designer, you can’t just hope that your active JavaScript is functioning well – some people disable scripts by default, because they put a heavy load on their Internet connection. This makes sense because loading a larger script can severely delay the loading of a single page. This is the reason why you should think of an unobtrusive JavaScript when you are designing a website.
You can meet people, however, who don’t see the need for such an approach. In the end, it is much easier to assume that all users support JavaScript, and this effort for a small group of Internet users is just a waste of time. Fortunately, the number of people who see an unobtrusive JavaScript as something more than a slogan. For those who don’t much on this issue, I suggest a few points to consider when designing a website:

  1. Avoid erroneous assumptions – it is worthwhile to test your site with JavaScript disabled, and if something is not working properly, it’s the result of the erroneous assumption that all users have the JavaScript enabled in their browsers;
  2. You have to design your HTML code logically – both before or during the coding you should preplan all possible interactions between HTML and JavaScript;
  3. Avoid bloated scripts – you want to use CSS, where possible; using JavaScript is slower and often unnecessary, especially if it is just about the visual aspect of an element;
  4. You must understand both browsers and users – It is worth examining whether the huge opportunities offered by JavaScript match the capabilities of the popular browsers as well as the needs of users; it so often happens that fancy interfaces with JavaScript disabled fail;
  5. It is necessary to understand the nature of events – you want to dig into the JavaScript documentation in order to learn the event handling, which will allow you to separate the script from HTML;
  6. You should avoid conflicts – it is worth examining whether the use of two different libraries / scripts will not cause errors in the entire service; it’s good to optimize the existing code;
  7. It is necessary to take into account the future of the service – you want to write scripts, so that the next encoder or developer does not have a problem with the existing coments and annotations.

Talks in June

June 2, 2008 Posted by

Accessibility

May 9, 2008 Posted by

This is a quick guide how to design a web page so that it is easy to use for people with disabilities.
The accessibility issues should be addressed mainly by webmasters, because they are directly responsible for complying with the accessibility standards.

A few reasons why to comply with accessibility standards

  • Google behaves like a visually, mentally, and physically impaired user. You don’t want to help the disabled, help your site rank better in SERPs. Do it for yourself!
  • Users of mobile devices (cell phones, PDAs, etc.) have similar problems as the disabled. Don’t want to help them, think of it as a fast growing market that can make you a lot of money. Do it for yourself!
  • A lot of companies don’t allow plug-ins or scripts in browsers. After all, as an Internet business, you have to think about people who like browsing the Web on their coffee break.
  • Links must look like links. They must clearly distinct color (e.g. blue, because it is the “safest” for all those having problems with distinguishing colors). If the user can’t see the links, how he/she is supposed to navigate through your site.
  • Have you heard of attribute accesskey. People who have difficulties using the mouse will be able to quickly use the link that has an accesskey assigned to it (for instance, <a accesskey=”1″> Home </a> ). If the user doesn’t have a mouse, it’s too difficult to navigate through the site. It means lost customer!
  • Use alternative text for images or your message “Buy here” may never be discovered!.