The sin of over enthusiasm

Paul Boag

With all our techno babble and enthusiasm for standards it is easy for us to forget that today’s web design is primarily about helping our clients make money.

I have received a couple of comments over the last few days that have made me think about the need for pragmatism in web design. Many of us are so caught up in our new found enthusiasm for standards based design that we have lost sight of the realities of building websites.

The flush of youth

We have all done it. We discover something new and then become obsessed with it. I was certainly like that when I first read Jeffrey Zeldman’s book "Designing with web standards". Suddenly tables were banished forever, everything had to validate and be accessible to the widest possible audience. I found myself spending hours tweaking the site to work in even the most obscure browser. Every site I produced had to be perfect (not that they ever were).

Recently I received an email commenting on the fact that I encourage the adoption of web standards but neither boagworld or Headscape validate. Around the same time I received a comment on a recent site I launched pointing out that it had some rendering problems in a certain version of Opera.

As I considered my response to both of these criticisms I realised that the people posting these comments were still in that enthusiastic first stage of standards adoption. I on the other hand have been working with standards for a number of years now and have come to accept that the most compliant website isn’t always the best website. Let me explain what I mean.

The reality of web design

Take for example the comments about this site not validating. If you actually look at why it fails to validate it quickly becomes obvious that it is because of the Google Ads ads on the site. Now some designers simply wouldn’t include the Google Ads if it invalidated their code. However in the real world things are not always that simple. The cost of running boagworld and the associated podcast are not insignificant and revenue from advertising helps to offset these costs. Without the ads this site may well cease to exist and then the purity of the code really wouldn’t matter. At the end of the day, commercial reality has to outweigh the desire to produce a well coded site.

The comment I relieved about the lack of Opera support on the WFF site is an even better example. Obviously the desire of every good designer is to support as many browsers as possible, however ultimately testing and bug fixing for different browsers takes time. After examining the log files of the previous WFF website it became apparent that only a very small number of users browsed the site on Opera. When you compare the likely value of purchases made by Opera users to the cost of testing and fixing in this browser, it just can’t be justified. There simply isn’t a high enough return on investment.

With all our techno babble and enthusiasm for standards it is easy for us to forget that today’s web design is primarily about helping our clients make money. We should always be asking ourselves whether that cool bit of AJAX or extra browser support is actually justifiable from a business perspective.