On Web Standards

At this point in time, the best web applications aren’t built using web standards. Web technologies, yes, but these sites certainly do not validate, which if you ask any standardista, is absolutely necessary. Joe Clark states the most extreme view: “It indicates not merely unprofessional Web-development practices but outright incompetence.” However, I think this is […]

At this point in time, the best web applications aren’t built using web standards.

Web technologies, yes, but these sites certainly do not validate, which if you ask any standardista, is absolutely necessary. Joe Clark states the most extreme view: “It indicates not merely unprofessional Web-development practices but outright incompetence.”

However, I think this is the wrong message to send to fellow web designers. Designers should not dismiss sites simply because they don’t validate. They should judge sites on completely different criteria: usefulness. After all, the three sites I mentioned above are some of the most useful sites out there…are their designers unprofessional or incompetent?

The answer is not “no”. It’s “who cares?” Who cares whether or not the designers are incompetent if they consistently deliver their users a great user experience? Certainly not the folks who are happily using the sites…they wouldn’t care a whit. The fact that a site doesn’t validate says more about the designer’s priorities than it does about their competence.

So instead of tearing down designers whose code doesn’t validate, let’s re-evaluate our work by asking what is the most important thing we can do to make our user’s experience better? Let’s question the questioners, and not view the world in black (does validate) and white (doesn’t validate). Some time ago I wrote a long riff about why we are having trouble articulating design.

Anyway, here’s a start:

The most important standards on the Web are not technological, they’re social. They are the standards that software and web sites need to reach before people find something useful. If you can, yes, use web standards to make your app more accessible, or to save on your bandwidth costs, or give you better visibility among your peers.

But standards are a false idol, and praying to validation is putting technology before humans. The mere act of validation doesn’t suddenly make something accessible to all, so judging designers on validation doesn’t say much either. Don’t make standards validation an absolute necessity if they’re going to hold you back from coming up with something like Gmail that completely changes the way we use the Web.

Published: February 26th, 2006

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