Join James Williamson for an in-depth discussion in this video Standards and accessibility, part of Introduction to Web Design and Development.
- Occasionally, you might hear someone talk about a site being standard's compliant, or read an article that mentions web standards and maybe you don't quite understand exactly what that means. Well, to understand web standards, I wanna first talk about trains, yes, trains. In the early 1800's in England, competing railroad companies were building new railroad lines as fast as they can put them down. It was a growing field and each company wanted to dominate the market. Because the field was so new and because the companies wanted to crush their competition, almost all of them used their own gauge of tracks.
The resulting train network was a mess. It was so bad that for a person to travel from one end of England to another they would have to disembark one train and move all of their stuff to a new one multiple times in a trip. So, in 1846, a train commission recommended that all train companies adopt a standard gauge of track. Now, it took a while for that idea to take hold but eventually common sense won out and now you can ride a train all over Europe without having to change trains due to track gauge.
So, what does it have to do with web design? Well, in the early days of the web, it really wasn't much better. Often browser manufacturers would come out with their own proprietary features and they wouldn't support features that were found in other browsers. So, that meant to make a site work in all browsers, designers would often have to create multiple versions of a site. I know 'cause I used to have to do that. Now, this craziness led to the web standards project. Which was a serious effort led by designers, developers, and companies to bring standardization to web development.
Thankfully, they were successful and now pretty much all web clients support web standards to one degree or another. To check out what those standards are you can visit the W3C and read the specifications for HTML and CSS and you can visit the ECMA international site to read the ECMAScript specification. As a designer, having access to these documents lets you go right to the source and ensures that you're developing your sites the right way. Okay, so that sounds great but what are the actual benefits that you get from learning and using web standards? Well, first as I mentioned before, it keeps you from having to write multiple versions of sites.
You write it once and you know it's supported everywhere. Yes, there are still rendering differences between browsers and devices but if you write with web standards, you're gonna have far fewer issues to deal with. It also allows you to time travel. Okay, that part's not totally true but because standards are written to be backwards compatible, although some of the newer features might fail in older browsers, the bulk of your code is still gonna work and people will still have access to your content. By the same token, standards will be supported into the future. So, you're making your sites future friendly as well and that's sort of like time travel.
It also makes your content more portable, searchable, and accessible. Now, that's a lot of bulls, so let me explain. By using standards-based code, you not only make your content more human readable, you make it more machine readable too. Search engines like Google use the semantic rules of web standards to rank and sort information. So, your sites are more likely to get better search results just by using web standards and semantically structuring your site. Because so many applications and systems understand content structure with web standards.
It's a lot easier to reuse content across sites and devices. Your content will also instantly be more accessible to individuals using assistive technologies. Although there is still much you can do to improve your site's SEO and accessibility. Starting with web standards means that you have far less work to do. And accessibility is important enough to talk about on its own for a moment. See, I feel that the web should be for everyone and as an industry, we really don't spend enough time stressing the importance of accessibility.
It's not uncommon for example for designers to write dozens of articles about how to provide fall back support for a certain feature in a specific browser. It's not as common, however, for designers to talk about accessibility, even though the number of people with disabilities far outnumbers the user base of most edge-case browsers. Creating accessible websites means that all of your content is available and easy to browse for all users including those using assistive technology or those with physical limitations that might hinder normal browsing.
Making websites accessible doesn't require any extra work if it's done properly. Starting with standards-based code is a great start. As this will expose content in an easily accessible manner. Structuring content semantically is important for accessibility as well. It makes your content easier to find and navigate. Finally, learning about the accessibility focus standards like WA REA and learning to use them in your sites can make a huge difference. If tackled at the start, creating accessible sites doesn't take any more time than it does to ignore it.
For that reason, I strongly recommend learning how to make your sites accessible as you learn web design and then simply make it a part of your design process. Adopting web standards and accessibility gives you a specific focus for learning HTML and CSS. By focusing on creating standards compliant code, you'll master the languages faster and ensure that you're writing code to the same standards as other designers.
This course is part of a Learning Path approved by the American Marketing Association.
Gain the skills you need to become an AMA Professional Certified Marketer (PCM) in Digital Marketing by using the industry-leading courses and resources in the Learning Path. Take the AMA certification exam to show that you have what it takes to lead the digital transformation.
- What is web design?
- What is a web designer?
- Learning to code
- Choosing a web host
- Working with a CMS
- Exploring how websites are structured
- Choosing your framework or software
- Designing with standards and accessibility in mind