I love Six Revisions and Smashing Magazine. They have been absolutely amazing guides to absolutely everything I’ve ever needs in web design. Tools, resources, tutorials, tip, tricks, air conditioning, power windows, am/fm radio; they’ve got it all.
But there’s a dirty little secret they’ve only hinted about…Web design never occurs in the ideal. It simply doesn’t happen. The biggest problem with these design blogs is they have a tendency to assume you’re doing your developing in a box, where everyone has they’re browsers up date, all the platforms you’re working with are impeccably designed, and your boss actually understands you when you try explain anything about how it is you do what you do.
What it comes down to is in most situations, it’s about results. My boss couldn’t pick an HTML document out from a lineup. He told me five times he wanted to make sure that all our images were named descriptively, and with descriptive folder names. Never mind that Google doesn’t index the Joomla ‘media’ folder. In his mind, picture names == Google image hits. Oh, and he’s been paying Google hundreds of dollars a month to promote his web sites to the top of the results list. Uh huh.
What my boss cares about is this: does the web page look how I want it to look, and do what I want it to do? He’ll never know or care if I conformed to standards, or used only external stylesheets. It’s all about results.
But I don’t want to be misinterpreted here. I’m not saying, “GO OUT! BREAK ALL THE RULES AT WILL!” Not at all. Standards are very important, and you should follow them as often as possible. But I’ve noticed that, particularly when building websites that non-programmers can manage, you need to be flexible. Go ahead and throw in an inline style here and there if necessary (just make sure you comment it). Let the user use those <b> and <i> tags, and just style them in the CSS. Maybe I’ll use a <table> here just this once, to avoid the nightmare of floating <divs> doing differing things on different browsers at different places and different times.
Think about your target audience. Are they ever going to know or care? Think about the needs of the site. If you can save yourself hours by putting all those products in a quick table instead, do it. I’ve noticed this in particular while using Joomla and VirtueMart. A table-less layout is hopeless. They throw in too many tables themselves. Even with addons and configurations, it’s impossible to get rid of them all. I’ve even edited core files to change them to <divs> and they’re still all over the place. And you know who noticed my efforts? Nobody. And they never will.
Now once you launched, if you find yourself with some free time, go back and fix up some of those issues. Take the time to clean it up and do it right if possible, and maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.
Just keep in mind that in the real world, compromises happen. They have to, because we don’t live in a sterile web development environment. If we did, there still wouldn’t be such a high rate of IE6 infections.