Paying the price of tables

Paul Boag

Barely a week goes by that I fail to rant about why we should banish table based design and yet here I sit struggling because I failed to heed my own advice.

I am working on an old website that I built a couple of years ago and I am having a hell of a time with it, all because of my own laziness.

I would like to tell you that I built this site before I knew about web standards and the concept of separating design from layout. I would like to blame the presence of a table to set the basic layout as a mistake born out of ignorance. I would like to tell you that… but I can’t.

When I built this site I knew exactly what I was doing. We had been working with standards for well over a year and I had a fairly good handle on what I was doing. However for one reason or another I cut a corner. I introduced one tiny little table. So small you could argue it hardly counted. All this table did was set the basic two column layout. I argued that the time saved from taking this approach out weighed any "purist" arguments I might have against it. And indeed it did make life a lot easier and we turned the project around remarkably quickly considering its size.

Of course, like all good shortcuts it eventually came back to bite me. Recently the client requested a low vision version of the site like the one we offer on our company website. The problem is that one of the basic principles of low vision design is that content is sorted into a single column to aid readability by those with poor eyesight. Suddenly that little insignificant table has become a real pain.

The morale of the story is two fold, dump those table based designs and don’t cut corners for a quick win.