Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Review: Designing with Web Standards

Another book down! I just finished Jeffrey Zeldman's Designing with Web Standards (3rd Edition). This book is widely respected and Zeldman has had quite an impact on the move for designers and developers to embrace standards.

I took away a lot of good lessons from this book:
  • Standards should make things easier! This is not really very intuitive. Adding rules usually makes things more complicated. Standards, however, should make your code more readable, maintainable, accessible, and portable between browsers.
  • Standards improve SEO. I am admittedly ignorant when it comes to SEO. I really have no idea what makes a site turn up at the top of a search engine list. Zeldman's message is that the best thing you can do to improve SEO is to write standardized code with meaningful ids, classes, etc. This can get lost in translation when using a code generating program.
  • IE6 is a thorn in the web developer's side. Zeldman often paints a beautiful picture of how the standard works in all modern browsers. Then he goes on to make you cry over how IE6 butchered something and makes things not work. There are some workarounds in the book, but overall it is just painful to support IE6. It seems that Microsoft is behind the curve constantly when it comes to browsers. I won't let my bias come through too strongly, but surprise here.
  • It's important to stay on the cutting edge. Things are changing constantly with browser support of features, HTML5, CSS3, and web design trends. To stay competitive in web design and development, continuing education is critical.
I learned a lot of good theory and mental practices from this book. For what the book intended to do, I think it did a great job. I like to look at things from a more practical and hands on approach with a developers perspective and that was not the intention of this book.

Some things I would have liked to see improved:
  • No downloadable code! For as simple as it is to add the code examples to a website I feel like it should never be left out. There weren't a ton of examples, but I still wanted to try them out. Some of the code was very repetitive and not so much for learning as just getting a working example.
  • A lot of topics just skimmed the surface. If the book covered everything in depth it would be 10,000 pages long. I understand that not everything could be covered fully. However, without a lot of experience certain chapters left me desiring more explanation. The typography chapter was the toughest for someone without typography experience.
  • Code beautification. This is totally nit-picky, but I have serious issues with code that is hard to read because of indentation and trying to fit everything on one line rather than spacing things out. There were several examples in the book that were intended to be the right way to do things that were an indentation cluster. For a book focused on standards and making code easier to maintain and use I expected more.
Overall I enjoyed this book. It is useful for designers as well as developers. While I found this book educational, I think the companion book, Developing with Web Standards by John Allsopp would be more to my liking.

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