The Skeleton in My Closet

    Corrie Haffly

    First, thanks for all the friendly, welcoming comments to my previous blog! As I looked at some of the initial questions posted, I thought I should start out sharing a deep, dark personal secret. I’m going to confess that, despite the plethora of great articles on CSS (even a book!) on SitePoint… lean closer… I still use tables for layout. (Gasp!)

    As soon as you’ve collectively collected yourselves, I’ll explain further:

    In the real-life arena of pleasing clients, I’ve found that most clients, when presented with a choice, aren’t willing to sacrifice the low-end of their user/customer base for the sake of being able to say “our site meets all current web standards!” (And when I say “low-end,” I mean low — some of the logs show people using Netscape 3.) Even a gracefully-degrading web site, which can at least still be read, isn’t enough for companies who are aggressively pursuing ecommerce sales and want to have their sites “look good” for 95% of their customers. On the other end, for cheap clients who don’t want to pay me to make x number of style sheets and y lines of JavaSCript, the only real recourse I have is to design the basic layout using tables and follow CSS 1 definitions for fonts, background colors, and the like… and hang complete accessibility. (No wonder that Trenton Moss found in his article that most of the “big players” fail, in more ways than one, to meet all current accessibility guidelines… even in basic ways.)

    Don’t get me wrong; keeping accessibility in mind — which means using CSS generously — will help you structure your site better and separate as much of the content and layout as you can. Learning as much as you can about CSS and current standards will definitely pay off in the long run — not just for you, but for your viewers. That’s why I love reading stuff by the CSS and Accessibility gurus of SitePoint; they push for the pure, higher standard. But there is a pragmatic streak in me that, well, needs to work with clients who have customers who use Netscape 4.

    So my advice:
    1. Learn about CSS, accessibility, and valid code. Practice it!

    2. Thoroughly research your customer or viewer base. Pay attention to your server logs and the percentages of browsers and systems used.

    3. Then, draw a line (“No Netscape 3!”) and be prepared for the possible cost of losing some of your viewers.

    4. As you build your site, use as much CSS and accessibility concepts as you can while testing continuously in the lower-end browsers.

    5. And if this means using tables… well, so be it. But be prepared to redesign your site in the next few months or years to be compatible with future (and present) technologies (i.e., handhelds and such).

    Anyone out there with a better or equally reasonable compromise? Please share!

    **Note: I’m still new to this submitting blogs thing, so I realize the formatting is totally screwy. Hopefully it’ll be fixed soon!