Jeffrey Zeldman, the web design and standards expert behind zeldman.com, alistapart.com and myriad other websites, delivered the opening keynote at Web Directions North on January 30th in downtown Vancouver. After fighting for standards and accessibility on the web for the past decade, Zeldman gave a state of the union address to a rapt audience of his fellow designers and developers.
In a talk dubbed “Web Standards: The Return of the King”, Zeldman broke down the early history of web standards advocacy, and explained how in the early days, the mere adoption of the term “standards” forced people to think of web design in different terms. In Zeldman’s words, “if you make something that looks like crap, no designer will want to sign on to work on it.”
It was with the adoption of CSS that web standards hit a new milestone, though in the late 90’s CSS implementation across all browsers was in a woeful state. He also covered font scaling, the eventual adoption of the Gecko engine by Netscape (which later became Firefox) and the DOCTYPE switch, which allowed support of older browsers for new standards-compliant content.
Selling web standards to designers consisted of sites like CSS Zen Garden, which demonstrated how beautiful standards-compliant design can be, and selling standards to Web 2.0 startups and developers was a matter of explaining how much quicker, more efficient and cost-effective standards compliant sites are compared to custom solutions. In terms of business, standards don’t waste the user’s time or the site’s bandwidth.
Importantly, standards compliance is in effect “honest SEO,” a way to let Google find a site easily while making the web a better place for designers, developers and end users.