Review: Designing with Web Standards

Designing With Web StandardsHe comes in peace. He has a message that he wants to convince you to accept and make your own, but he does it with gentle humor and reason rather than with strident zealotry. His approach makes good sense.

He is Jeffrey Zeldman, author of Designing with Web Standards, from New Riders Press (2003). Zeldman is one of the mainstays in the Web Standards Project (WaSP) and the man behind A List Apart, an influential online journal for Web designers.

The book explains the ins and outs of creating a basic structure with XHTML that can be used in any user device from a braille reader to a Palm Pilot to a computer. Fine points in the XHTML structural design (such as selection of the proper DOCTYPE, and the judicious use of the div tag) get a thorough discussion. Then Zeldman shows how to use that carefully planned structure with CSS to achieve design goals in a variety of ways.

Perhaps I shouldn’t claim that he isn’t a zealot, because the topics he chooses to explore at length reveal his purpose: box models, pixels vs. ‘the heartbreak of ems,’ accessibility, the DOM. He deconstructs some sites down to the decisions that went into each design choice and leads us into the light of web standards.

From a teaching point of view, Zeldman’s philosophy in action would mean teaching the basic XHTML needed to tag a page structurally, but without spending any time on various attributes and values that may or may not be used with each tag. Just the tag, ma’am. Then learn how to use the div and the id to organize that structure into containers for possible styling purposes. And the rest of the class would be spent learning CSS. He shows over and over again how this approach produces documents that can be used in multiple devices and still pack the needed punch to deliver the message meaningfully. This feels like a practical outline for a semester to me.

I can’t review the book without commenting on the cover. Jeffrey Zeldman is not a tall man, and the image of him falling off the bottom of the page as if he weren’t quite able to get his whole head into camera range for a head shot is clever. The addition of the cap gives him the look of a punk, which is quite funny in light of his reasoned arguments in favor of standards in web design. The cover may not say anything about web standards, but it says a lot about the humor and originality of the author.

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