Tips for Reviewers & Requesters
When reviewing a Web site, do so in a more detailed manner. Often I see replies such as, "Lose the tables for layout, use CSS and semantic, meaningful markup." In fact, I see such replies too often. It casts a careless atomosphere about, and causes a very negative attitude. A better approach would be to explain how and more importantly why. If you're in a hurry or sidetracked, perhaps you should avoid replying until you can dive deeper into the site you are reviewing. Often times, if you are replying hastily, you either miss important things or appear careless. This is frustrating. Parents, though not particularly interested in "childish games," participate to show their love. In the same way, we should review Web sites with care, even if we are not interested in the actual purpose of the site. Don't try to review every site, unless you feel lead; you are not obliged to respond to any one of them. I say this because, again, a careless, quick response often turns out negative. The purpose of this forum is more to help web developers see their errors and possibly learn new design skills, ideas, and useful practices. I believe if we are more specific and careful, our posts will be much more positive, convincing and helpful.
I am going to explain a few things which are relevant to any design you make. Most of these statements are technical.
- Validate your HTML. In every web site you ask to be reviewed, someone is going to check the validity of your HTML code. You can use the W3C HTML validator to beat them to the punch, however. What is valid HTML? Allow me to explain further. Each document requires a document type declaration (DTD). You have to define, in the first line of your HTML code, just what is allowed. If you don't, browsers revert to a default one (usually, though not always, HTML 4.01 Transitional). A DTD specifies all allowed HTML elements. If you use an HTML element that is not in the DTD specification - whether or not it "works" in the browser - it is invalid. More information can be found at <http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/struct/global.html>.
- Do not use tables. The purpose of tables is for tabular data - what you see in Excel spreadsheets. Columns and rows. Using tables for layout makes absolutely no sense. For you it may be different, but chances are if you want to design with tables, you don't suffer from any form of disability. There are many blind, dyslexic, and other handicapped users who browse the Internet. And, though you may not realize it, these sites can become very confusing. What's more, the W3C has a specification regarding accessibility. You should always respect and obey the rules set by the W3C; doing otherwise is promoting bad practices and discouraging the proper use of recommended technologies. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines specify all the rules that you should take into consideration when designing a site. It is generally a good idea to avoid breaking any of them, but you should always strive for priority 2 accessibility (known as "AA"). You may notice, in the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines mentioned above), that it says you can use tables for layout if they linearize. This is absolutely not recommended, as it breaks priority 1. It means, basically, if you can see the table-based layout well enough in a text-only browser, then your layout is bearable. However, it is breaking priority one and therefore is a very bad practice. Instead of using tables for your layout, use Cascading Stylesheets. Their purpose is for Web site design. Their use also saves you file space and bandwidth (because of cache). You can include a single file on each page and use minimal markup (excluding actual text content) to turn 8KB files into 4KB ones. Need more reasons or a longer, more in-depth explanation?
- For users with CSS: use valid CSS. Colored scrollbars, proprietary "filters," and the like are not recommended W3C technologies and are not specified in the CSS2 specification. Hence, they are invalid CSS and should not be used.
- High-contrast hurts, but helps; high-contrast helps, but hurts. "It's a cool site! It has a black background, red text, and an awesome fiery header image!" So it's valid HTML, CSS, and uses semantic markup. That's great, but how's it on the eyes? Black backgrounds tend to be strenuous. These high-contrast sites can be difficult to view for a lot of users. However, don't turn around and use a white background with light-blue text that is not readable. Make sure your colors contrast enough, but not too much. Often a white background with medium-colored text or a medium-colored background with light text is the best choice (though light text on a light background may work well sometimes). You want your text readable and not strenuous, but you don't want the site to look ugly as a result. This is a key point for those of you who are on free web hosts (see below); when first starting out, you may like the black background and red text, however it is tough on the eyes and 99.9% of the time is the worst choice you can make. Updated: 10/16/04.
- Test your site in multiple browsers. Do you browse happy in a browser, or do you muck around the Web in a proprietary markup translator? Hopefully the first. There are alternatives for your default browser. Check your site in other browsers to ensure that it functions properly. If it doesn't, you're probably breaking priority 2 somewhere along the line. ;)
- Avoid free web hosts that give advertisements. It's acceptable to use if you're just beginning, and need somewhere to place your work for others to view, but do not try to make a free host your perminent residence. Advertisements - popups, banners, especially - are very annoying and will cause your site to look much different (worse) than it would in the first place. Added on 10/16/04.
That's it, I hope this post helps those reviewing sites and requesting their site to be reviewed!