You can have your standards and eat them too.

Thanks to my recent completion of Jeffrey Zeldman’s book “Designing with Web Standards” and my subsequent epiphany, I am now infected with a rather infectious bent to put into practice the promise of creating some truly standards-compliant, truly useable, truly 100% cross-browser/device accessable websites. Dammit – I didn’t think such a thing was possible – to create a compelling visual design and have my content render just fine in the Blazer and EudoraWeb browsers on my PalmOS-Based Handspring Treo. At least not without some major code forking and JavaScript madness, or creating alternate text-only versions of my sites. This has been my goal – to make a one-stop shop for all devices when they hit a given URL. Zeldman shows me the way, and explains it in an intelligent and humorous way so that you come away knowing what you have read.

I think the key takeaway from the book is to focus on writing your XHTML the way it was intended to be – semantic markup that represents your document’s content structure, and leave the presentation to CSS. Using some of these basic, basic ideas, I was able to quickly go in and rework some of the pages I had adopted at my new gig. The pages to be reworked were nice enough – a clean design that was readable and compelling – and thoroughly laden with font tags and deeply nested table layouts. Right away I was able to cut the file size down by an average of 66%. And that’s before I get to redoing the drop-down navigation menus. This was all much easier than I had suspected, thanks to Zeldman’s clear examples and thoughtful concepts that I had gleaned from the book.

I really appreciated the fact that the code examples in the book were accurate, thanks in no small part to a couple of all-star technical reviewers. My biggest pet peeve in tech books is to go and sit down and try to hammer out code examples only to find that they had committed a fatal bug to print in 20,000 copies. That experience sucks because not only have you just written a bunk piece of code, but all that enthusiasm for said technology and all that trust you placed in the book has now been shot to hell as you curse the author and editors for leading you down that black hole of despair. I can tell you how many books I’ve been through getting pumped with the first few philosophical chapters only to then find out that the friggin’ code doesn’t work. Errata on the website? Well all too often those sites don’t exist anymore or were mothballed too soon after the book went to distribution. And that’s just a pain in the ass.

Zeldman shows realistic and practical strategies to achieve standards compliance, accessibility, and best practices for writing code that treats all browsers and devices with respect. This book is highly recommended for any webslingers like myself that are looking to take their design practices into the 21st century.