What’s the point of web standards?

Over the last month, I’ve encountered a whole swathe of websites and web applications that have been put together by obviously intelligent people — there’s some serious processing going on in some of ‘em — and yet don’t offer so much as a nod towards web standards or web accessibility.

So it got me wondering. What’s the point?

No, seriously, what’s the point of continuing to try to develop sites which are standards compliant when all around other people aren’t bothering? What’s the point in me going to the extra trouble — in some cases a lot of extra trouble — to produce standard compliant websites, when non-compliant sites seem to be the expected norm?

Well, at work, we’ve got no choice. It’s mandatory for us to comply with WCAG at level AA. Even if it wasn’t, our corporate policies are all about being inclusive and non-discriminatory, so designing inaccessible stuff would be going against our corporate guidelines. But that’s at work. I was meaning on a personal level.

Why should I bother? Why should I care?

I came across an article on A List Apart today called How To Grok Web Standards — in other words, how to understand them. In it the author talked about how to get into a semantic mindset, amongst other things. I like to believe I think semantically when I’m writing a web page — Tommy Olsson would say I’m have a structural approach to design — but to me it’s just about using the building blocks of HTML properly.

I’ll use the <ul> element to mark up an unordered list, because that’s what it’s for, I’ll use <blockquote> to mark up a block of quoted text because that’s what it’s for, I’ll use <em> for emphasis because that’s what it’s for and so on.

It’s not rocket science, it’s just using the correct tool for the job.

Which is why I tend to view those people who put together sites who sniff at standards as the web-design equivalents of someone who you’d ask round to your house to fix a leaky tap and they’d start by taking a sledgehammer to your plumbing, because basically they have no idea what sort of tool is appropriate to a particular job.

And yet, there’s still an awful lot of websites out there which aren’t standards compliant and are doing relatively well.

I’d like everyone to produce standards-compliant and accessible websites.

I’d also like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, but I’m not holding out much hope for that either.

Sure, there’s a lot of reasons for making sites accessible and standards compliant. Here’s a few you might already have heard:

  • If you’re site isn’t accessible you’ll be breaking the insert appropriate law here and someone will sue you
  • If your site is accessible, disabled people will be able to use it, and aren’t we meant to be all inclusive and welcoming to everybody?
  • If your site is accessible, disabled people will be able to use it, and they can buy your stuff, therefore you can make more money
  • If your site is accessible, it will likely be easier to use, encouraging more people to buy your stuff, thus giving you more money
  • If you are a freelancer who designs accessible websites, you’ll get work from the admittedly small section of the market who specifically want accessible websites.
  • If your site is standards compliant, it will be more likely to work on something other than Internet Explorer 6.0 for Windows XP and therefore you’ll not be shutting out that proportion of your potential customer base who use Macs or Firefox or something

But here, in my personal blog, I’m writing little posts about things that interest or bother me. I’m not touting for business — although if you want me to, you’re welcome to come and ask — I’m never going to get sued for being inaccessible and I expect that for the vast majority of my users couldn’t give a toss whether I use a Transitional or a Strict DOCTYPE, let alone whether or not it validates.

So why then, do I care? Why does it bother me?

It all boils down to the shaving test.

The Shaving Test

Firstly, the shaving test is only really suitable for males over a certain age, and possibly some particularly hirsute ladies, so if you don’t feel you fall into one of these categories (or you’re growing a beard), feel free to adjust the concept to suit. The Make-Up test would also be fine.

The Shaving Test was my Dad’s way of providing moral guidance. Basically, it states that if you can look yourself in the mirror when you’re having a shave, and you actually like the person that’s looking back out at you, then you’re probably doing all right. If not, then you maybe need to take a long hard look at your self and make a change.

And, as regards building standards-compliant and accessible websites, this is the key reason I do it. I don’t do it because I’m concerned about the legal implications. I do want everyone, whether they are disabled, mac users or even someone wanting to view my site with Lynx to be able to access my content. But most of all, I design and build websites like this because it’s the right way to do it, and if I’m going to do something, I want to do it properly

…after all, I’ve got to be able to look myself in the mirror afterwards.

4 Responses to “What’s the point of web standards?”

  1. mike responds:

    So do you use <B> because that’s what it is for?

  2. John Faulds responds:

    The problem with the shaving test is that, being entirely subjective, someone who is unaware of standards and builds sites the old way or someone who is aware of standards but doesn’t buy into the reasons why they are a good thing and builds sites the old way, can look themselves in the mirror and feel exactly the same way as the person who does care about standards.

  3. JackP responds:

    @Mike - I’d use <b> if I wanted to make something bold without adding emphasis. I’d not use <B> because as an XHTML user, my elements should be in lower case. In general however, I find if I want to make something bold it’s because I wish to add emphasis to it…

    @John, sadly very true. That’s probably the reason why I do it, but like you say it won’t work on people who don’t know and can’t be bothered to find out. But I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable with that approach!

  4. David Zemens responds:

    …if you can look yourself in the mirror when you’re having a shave, and you actually like the person that’s looking back out at you, then you’re probably doing all right. If not, then you maybe need to take a long hard look at your self and make a change.

    That says it all. Ultimately we all have to please ourselves. I am glad that whoever or whomever or whatever designed this world allowed for subjectivity.

    Very nice article Jack, both from the standpoint of explaining why you code accessible sites and also from the standpoint of storytelling. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Leave your comments

Enter Your Details:

You may use the following markup in your comments:

<a href=""></a> <strong></strong> <em></em> <blockquote></blockquote>

Enter Your Comments:

|Top | Content|

  • Worn With Pride

    • Titan Internet Hosting
    • SeaBeast Theme Demo
    • Technorati
    • Guild of Accessible Web Designers
    • my Facebook profile

Blog Meta

|Top | FarBar|

Attention: This is the end of the usable page!
The images below are preloaded standbys only.
This is helpful to those with slower Internet connections.