Tableless Design Seems to Limit Layouts
I am by no means an expert on layouts with tableless design, so this is based on my perspective of the sites I’ve witnessed being produced. They all have a similar layout. There is a banner along the top, often a set of links along the right or left, a footer, and a blank area in the middle with content. The imagery and colors change but the fundamental structure is static. While there isn’t anything wrong with that, it is limiting. There also seems to be a standard set of roll over options that tend to pop up. I suspect this is because many designers are reusing others code in an attempt to be “modern”. If tableless design does limit layout, it can make a site seem less professional because of a “template feel”.
I tend to believe that this isn’t actually a problem with the technology but with many designers/developers. While the structure of the layout seems pretty static (if anyone knows of a unique tableless layout with unconventional or custom layout, please leave it in the comments) I have to believe that given enough time and expertise that almost any layout could be achieved. The problem is that many designers/developers want to be tableless and WCC compliant but don’t have the knowledge to build a site like that from scratch. So they end up using preexisting templates and claiming them as there own. This is extremely common when a separate blog is created.
Why is this a problem? The first is that you aren’t getting what you pay for. Building small customizations on top of a preexisting template is not that challenging. Furthermore, unless significant testing is done, it might cause layout conflicts down the road. Finally it makes the site more generic. Templates have a way of surfacing in a lot of places and it always detracts from a site if people see the layout as a cookie cutter of someone else’s. Most company’s are carbon copies of their competitor so their site shouldn’t be either. Especially if they’ve bought a product they believe is custom. While table design does have draw backs, I’ve seen just about any layout succeed. The method has had years of innovation where designers and developers can achieve some extremely impressive layouts on the web.
So if you want a tableless design, make sure you understand how the layout will be created and that there might be some restraints on the look. Is it a custom site or is it a template with a few changes made? Neither choice is necessarily wrong, but you need to understand the pros and cons and should be seeing a discount on any template tweaked site.