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2 July 2004
There's so many things you have to worry about when you're making a table-free web site: box models, 3-pixel mystery whitespace, relative font sizes, cascading rules, floats ... but really, none of it matters. When you're designing a web site you shouldn't think about them.
When it comes to web design, pure graphic designers have blessed ignorance. They don't have to think forward and think about how they're going to implement their design; they don't have to wonder exactly how you can get a footer at the bottom of the window all the time. And this is how web designers should do it.
Standards-based design is still at a fledgling stage. Everywhere you look you see tutorials on how to make XHTML/CSS Web sites, and new techniques come out every day. Without pushing design, without not thinking about implementation, no one would push the boundaries of Web Standards and they probably would have disappeared right about the time that someone asked "how do I make 2 columns equal height?"
Design isn't about the tools, it's about creating the best experience for the user. A design should be based on usability, accesibility, aesthetics, but never on floats, lists or background images.
When I start to design a Web site it's purely a graphical excursion. Photoshop and Illustrator are my only limits – within those bounds I can create a five column, sticky-footered layout with drop down menus and a floating font-colour chooser. Don't care whether I can implement it or not – it's what I'd love to see.
Then ... then the problem solving begins. It's the analytical side of web design that makes us web designers lick our lips, makes us part Turing, part Picasso (really small parts). Maybe finding that solution to that layout shouldn't be as hard as it sometimes is, but I relish in the challenge and take on all comers.
The goal of Web Standards is to make them invisible, display no differently than tables or a quagmire of presentational tags. So it's our duty to design well and Standardise later.
(Adapted from a talk given to the Web Standards Group)
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