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Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Design, random musings, and the Web. Since 1977

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Contests, Quizzes and Semantics

If you haven’t checked out The Old Tech­nol­o­gy Give­away, you are miss­ing some great col­lec­tions of tech­no-stuff. Of note so far: Grant, Emilio, Tim and Dave.

The dead­line for sub­mis­sions to Side­bar Redesign is near (the 31st of this month) — if you have any sug­ges­tions at all, any ideas, or if you just des­per­ate­ly want those Type­Pad dis­count codes, sub­mit some­thing. Any­thing. Be cre­ative. Heck, redesign my logo if you want; at this point, I’d rather hand over those codes to some­one who will use them, than let the entire con­test be a flop. Exper­i­men­ta­tion is the name of the game…

In oth­er news, Dan Ceder­holm has launched a series of quiz ques­tions to gen­er­ate dis­cus­sion regard­ing web stan­dards, seman­tics and the var­i­ous meth­ods employed by devel­op­ers when writ­ing markup. It’s worth a look, espe­cial­ly Sun­ny’s com­ment, which nails it right on the mon­ey (you’ll need to scroll for it though: Dan has yet to pro­vide perma­links for each com­ment). I’m look­ing for­ward to the next quiz already.

There has been quite a bit of dis­cus­sion late­ly (Jason, Dan, Doug, Dave, Jef­fery) regard­ing the dif­fer­ence between valid markup and seman­tic markup. I find it inter­est­ing that some­thing I have tak­en for grant­ed since I began my tran­si­tion from tables-based design to XHTML/CSS should sud­den­ly be the top­ic of the week. After review­ing the thought­ful opin­ions of the authors list­ed above, as well as the com­ments from many oth­er devel­op­ers and design­ers, it is clear that there are many “right ways” when it comes to the con­cept of seman­ti­cal­ly rich markup, which makes the dis­cus­sion worthwhile.

While this site is not a per­fect exam­ple, I have been work­ing to improve the seman­tic qual­i­ties of the markup for quite a while. There are still some things that are not as I would like (the pri­ma­ry nav­i­ga­tion, for exam­ple), but I have used the cur­rent design (ver­sion 2) to build on what I learned from ver­sion 1. New projects are even more seman­ti­cal­ly cor­rect (it’s always eas­i­er to start with a clean slate than to fix in place what is already bro­ken), and I’m begin­ning to think this site is ready for Ver­sion 3: The Seman­tic One.

As I com­ment­ed on Dan’s post, I believe respon­si­ble design­ers will find their way to more seman­tic markup on their own. Grant­ed, books like Design­ing With Web Stan­dards and Speed Up Your Site (both are cur­rent­ly on my night­stand) should almost be required read­ing for any web design­er, and there is no ques­tion in my mind that read­ing both will make any devel­op­er bet­ter at what they do, but there is so much infor­ma­tion avail­able to help guide devel­op­ers and design­ers through the tran­si­tion to XHTML/CSS that their markup will nat­u­ral­ly become more and more seman­ti­cal­ly rich.

It’s all about being com­fort­able: Design­ers have to focus on design first, which means leav­ing seman­tics (a some­what intim­i­dat­ing sub­ject to begin with) alone until they are com­fort­able with writ­ing valid XHTML and CSS, and have left table-based posi­tion­ing behind entire­ly. This is where XHTML and CSS val­i­da­tion is a good thing: it pro­vides pos­i­tive rein­force­ment to design­ers mak­ing the tran­si­tion; for many, those “dumb” val­i­da­tion apps might be the only encour­age­ment they receive (espe­cial­ly for in-house developers).

This item was posted by Dan Rubin on Thursday, August 28th, 2003.

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3 comments on “Contests, Quizzes and Semantics”

  1. Posted by Sunny on Thursday, August 28th, 2003.

    Dan — yes, to a design­er, seman­tics may take them out of a com­fort­able zone. But the beau­ty of the past week’s dis­cus­sion is that it is a tran­si­tion. We will all get their one day. But today we can strive to learn and do bet­ter. I think, this is more impor­tant. Once a bud­ding design­er is com­fort­able with XHTML/CSS, he can move to the more chal­leng­ing semantics. 

    More than ever, the dis­cus­sion has rein­forced the notion that you nev­er stop learn­ing. You can always learn some­thing new, or find a bet­ter way to do some­thing. We can con­tin­u­al­ly move for­ward, make the tran­si­tion. And we can do it at our pace.

  2. Posted by Dan on Friday, August 29th, 2003.

    Sun­ny:

    Once a bud­ding design­er is com­fort­able with XHTML/CSS, he can move to the more chal­leng­ing semantics.”

    I agree entire­ly — my last para­graph states that exact­ly. Design­ers who have not made the tran­si­tion yet, or who are in the mid­dle of the tran­si­tion to XHTML/CSS devel­op­ment, should not wor­ry about seman­tics until after they have a fair­ly thor­ough under­stand­ing of how to write valid markup, and how to use CSS for posi­tion­ing. Those two items alone are enough to keep most design­ers busy for a while, with­out even con­cern­ing them­selves with seman­tics. The con­cept of seman­ti­cal­ly rich markup will be pre­sent­ed to them as they make the tran­si­tion, but my point is that they should­n’t be made to feel like seman­tics are required dur­ing their ini­tial education.

    I also think that the con­cept of seman­tics is more eas­i­ly under­stood after learn­ing how to cre­ate valid markup — this has been my expe­ri­ence, and I’d like to think I’m a lit­tle ahead of the curve…

    As for always learn­ing, I’m in com­plete agree­ment — isn’t that why we’re all web devel­op­ers, striv­ing to work on the bleed­ing edge? ;-)

  3. Posted by John on Saturday, August 30th, 2003.

    Design­ers have to focus on design first, which means leav­ing seman­tics (a some­what intim­i­dat­ing sub­ject to begin with) alone until they are com­fort­able with writ­ing valid XHTML and CSS, and have left table-based posi­tion­ing behind entire­ly. This is where XHTML and CSS val­i­da­tion is a good thing: it pro­vides pos­i­tive rein­force­ment to design­ers mak­ing the tran­si­tion; for many, those ?dumb? val­i­da­tion apps might be the only encour­age­ment they receive…

    I absolute­ly agree. I’ve been bounc­ing all over the web read­ing about seman­tics for the past cou­ple of days. I still have trou­ble get­ting my XHTML/CSS lay­outs to ren­der as intend­ed, val­i­date, and dis­play some mea­sure of cre­ativ­i­ty. For­tu­nate­ly it seems like the seman­ti­cal markup ideals are pret­ty log­i­cal, so the tran­si­tion won’t be too dif­fi­cult. Thanks for the great post.