Tableless Design, CSS, and W3C Compliance is Not the End Goal

The following opinion has made me unpopular with more than one web designer.  My primary focus is not web design, while I do fulfill that role at times, I find myself working with and around web designers and developers more often than competing with them.  When looking at a web designer’s work, it is very common to have people promote themselves because they use CSS and W3C compliant code, not tables for layout.  While I have no problem with that at all and am quick to compliment designers for taking an active role in a new form of web layout, I do resent the growing belief that it is the only way of doing things and anything else is inferior.  Furthermore, many designers focus solely on this aspect of their work and often ignore the real site goals.  At the end of the day, most people and companies don’t care about how a site is constructed, they care about the results it achieves. 

If a designer or developer is only focused on their tableless designs, be wary.  Chances are they are focused on a web professional’s ideal, not about what results you want to achieve with your site.  There are more and more sites being built focusing more on tableless layouts rather than sales or lead conversion.  While that makes the web designer proud, it rarely satisfies the site owner.  Remember to have goals for your site and if the designer or developer is forgetting those to fulfill their own ideals, it’s time to abandon those ideals and refocus.

So what’s the difference?  Traditionally websites have been built on a table system with images or text or both inserted into the table fields.  A new method of building a site has arrived that puts all the layout and text styles into a separate CSS file.  All that exists on the actual webpage is the content.  All layout information is referenced from the CSS file.  As I see it, the biggest benefit to using tableless design is that the designer can separate the content of the page from the layout.  The advantage here is that it opens up many possibilities for content changes without changing any layout files which can be leveraged for easier updates and maintenance.  The other benefit is that there is an attempt to make web code more standardized and adhering to W3C compliance should allow some future proofing to a newly built site.  Meaning the site won’t need redone within several years because of outdated code.

Having said that, I’d like to lay out several reasons I think designers make it a focus and why the average person doesn’t, and probably shouldn’t, care how the site is laid out.

  • Table design is not going to be outdated anytime soon. 
  • Tableless design seems to limit layout
  • Tableless design can be problematic across browsers
  • Tableless design doesn’t effect search engine rank
  • Tableless design doesn’t change site conversion
  • Tableless design is an excuse to raise rates (sounds official)

In my coming posts I will deal with each topic and provide some insight into discovering whether someone looking to build a site should or shouldn’t be concerned with tableless layout and W3C code compliance.

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