Trent Lucier writes "If you've browsed the web design section of any bookstore lately, you've seen him staring at you. The blue hat. The mustache. The blinding neon background. He's Jeffrey Zeldman, publisher of the influential web development magazine, 'A List Apart' and author of the book Designing With Web Standards (DWWS). The first edition of the DWWS was published in 2003, and now 2006 brings us an updated 2nd edition. In a market flooded with XHTML, CSS, and web standards books, is DWWS 2nd Ed. still relevant?" Read the rest of Trent's review for the answer.
|Designing With Web Standards, 2nd Ed.|
|summary||Foundations for creating standards-based websites using XHTML and CSS.|
Out of this mess came the web standards movement, whose goal was to encourage browser-agnostic design practices. However, the web standards proponents faced several problems at the outset. "Standards compliant design" was synonymous with "ugly." CSS was a 4-letter word, due to buggy and inconsistent browser support. Additionally, few people understood that standards compliance was a continuum and not an all-or-nothing affair.
Which brings us to Zeldman's book. Part 1 of DWWS explains the concepts above in terms that non-technical people can understand. The book states that it is for "designers, developers, owners, and managers..." Of course, the idea that a non-technical person would choose to read a book on web standards doesn't comply with what I like to call "reality." But tech leads may find some ammunition in these chapters for their arguments with management about the benefits of browser-neutral web design.
XHTML and CSS are the main focus of the second part of the book. Readers without any HTML experience will likely have difficulty following these chapters. Those with some experience will learn to master the DOCTYPE, tame font sizes, and conquer annoying Internet Explorer bugs.
Zeldman is a pragmatist, never forgetting that his readers live in the real world with real limitations. Some developers still have to support older browsers, or integrate with proprietary technologies (ex: Flash and Quicktime). He recommends solutions for these circumstances, letting his audience know the pros and cons of each approach. Early in the book, Zeldman states his motto of "No Rules. No Dogma." The book adheres to that statement, explaining that some standards can be maddeningly vague, or that the XHTML Strict DOCTYPE isn't for everyone.
As always, Internet Explorer 6 requires special attention. The (in)famous CSS box model hack is explained, in which jujitsu-like techniques are used to fix one IE bug (the way width is measured) by exploiting another (broken support for the CSS voice-family rule):
width:400px; /* All browsers read this line */
voice-family: "\"}\""; /* IE chokes here and bails out of this block */
width:300px; /* Other browsers make it to the end and use the correct width */
Every time someone codes this, a kitten dies. But it is valid markup, and it is used by many standards supporters. A few references to IE7's improvements are sprinkled here and there, but this book was published before the browser was formally released so don't expect too much info.
One of the hottest topics in CSS is the pure CSS-based layout. Pure CSS layouts usually involve the concept of floating elements and calculating widths. In DWWS, we get a chapter dedicated to the hybrid layout. Hybrid layouts make use of CSS and HTML tables to layout a page, although the table usage is minimized. Zeldman is correct to take this approach, which gives readers practical advice and then lets them decide if they want to move on to more complicated CSS layouts.
The chapter on accessibility is one of the most illuminating. Zeldman has well-reasoned retorts to all the common graphic designer excuses for ignoring accessibility. Accessibility does not mean that a site has to be ugly. Rather, accessibility is something that happens under the hood, in the markup itself. The business case for accessibility is also strongly made. Think you can ignore blind users because your flashy site targets a small, hip audience? Be prepared to get punished by Google, since the GoogleBot is the most powerful blind user on the web ("The Blind Billionaire", as it is called in the book).
I have not read the first edition of DWWS, but the second edition makes it clear where Zeldman has changed tactics and techniques. For example, the image replacement technique described in the first edition wasn't accessible in certain screen readers, so improvements are suggested in the second edition.
Overall, DWWS is a good book for web developers that already know the basics of HTML and CSS, but want to update their 1997 coding techniques. Those new to web design, however, may want to start with a book that is a little more comprehensive. Zeldman does a good job of explaining how to create leaner, lower-cost, and more maintainable web sites. On more than one occasion, I put down this book mid-sentence, loaded up my text editor, and was able to make a quick change to solve a problem that was bugging me. In a book dedicate to making the web designer's life easier, what more can you ask for?
Trent Lucier is a software engineer. His latest experiment is localhost80.com
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