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Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Suffering from chronic idiocy 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 is 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.