Recently, it seems like I’m writing a lot about web standards from an unusual perspective (for me). Rather than evangelizing techniques such as CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and Web Standards, I’m trying to give every argument a fair discussion. I want to evangelize thinking. This is the result of a notable shift in thought: I’ve been moving in a slightly different direction in my way of approaching web development principles. I believe it’s a more sophisticated way of thinking, but I could be wrong….

On that subject, Jeff Croft came out with an interesting opinion piece today on differentiating between “standards” and “web standards”. It’s interesting, and definitely worth reading. There’s one particular comment in it, however, which particularly got me thinking:

[…] I’ll say this emphatically: I don’t care about standards. Not at all. Not even a little bit.

My first thought, of course, was less than entirely positive, and I’m not going to share it here. My second thought, however, was a bit more virtuous.

Of course Jeff doesn’t care about standards. Standards are the wrong thing to care about. He continues to state that his priorities are these:

  1. Create solutions that solve the client’s stated problems.
  2. Find ways to achieve the client’s stated goals.
  3. Find ways to solve problems the client doesn’t even know they have.
  4. Use tools that are elegant and efficient, and help me produce quality work within the client’s budget and timeframe.

And these make perfect sense. What do I care about? Is it the details of standards, as laid down by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium)? Not exactly. My priorities are more along the lines of:

  • Accessibility.
  • Usability.
  • My client’s business success.
  • The successes of visitors accessing the site.
  • Effectively solving existing problems.
  • Anticipating future problems and preparing for them.

I use web standards as a principal tool for achieving these goals: but the means is not the first priority. There are known instances where support for standards is too weak to make them the best choice. Flash is a perfect example: <embed> is well-supported; <object> is the web standard. Sometimes standards just don’t work.

Now, I’m probably more dedicated to the principle of following standards than Jeff Croft is. He says that 95% of the time he considers standards to be the best decision; I’d probably go 99%, at least. But that probably has more to do with the projects we work on than anything else.

Regardless, the important point is made: it’s not the tool you should care about — it’s the product. I’ve written numerous articles about web standards. One common thread I know I’ve mentioned is the idea that web standards are in no way a path to making a good web site. You can follow standards slavishly and make an absolutely horrendous site. Web standards are a tool, and like any tool they can easily be misused.

It’s important to always consider the end-result of your labors to be the primary goal: not the method you’ve used to reach it. Web standards and thoughtful consideration of semantics may get you there 99% of the time, but you still need to be willing to stretch your way of thinking to encompass the methods in that remaining 1%. Best practices mean making a choice.