Compliance and Standards… Why?

I’m seeing more and more people talking about how they build compliant sites these days and how their code is built to W3C standards but I have to wonder… do clients care?

Personally I believe in standards, to a degree. I think that they produce better developers and help bring about better support for the technology us computer geeks love to play with, but if a client can choose between a site that is compliant or not would they understand the difference? Would that standard even be a factor in their choice of designer / developer?

I have only known of a single contract in my last 10 years of website design and development where standards, of ANY kind, were a factor in the purchasing process and that was for a company providing equipment to physically impared clients. Even for that client it was accessibility standards which had to be adhered to.

So should we all be checking our websites to make sure they are compliant? Well in the case of accessibility standards the short answer is yes – in fact it’s UK law that your site should be at least level A compliant. However if your site is cross browser compaitble but not HTML or CSS standards compliant I wouldn’t be panicing just yet. In fact if your designer is keeping up to date with his CSS theres no way your site is going to validate against current CSS standards.

“What!!??” I hear you cry, an up to date site won’t be compliant? Well CSS3 is not yet a standard but I for one am using it wherever I can as it really helps to soften a site and speed the loading as you need none of those pesky corner graphics to create rounded boxes and so on. Rounding and shadows are really just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to CSS3 and HTML5 but thats for another article, the point is you will not have a CSS standards compliant site if your designer puts CSS3 elements within it and makes them cross-browser compatible. That doesn’t make it a bad design, if anything it’s ahead of the game, but it does point out that saying your sites are compliant doesn’t really mean that much in the grand scale of things.

So why bother with standards at all? Well, the fact is that without standards we would have nothing to work towards. Now that most browsers support some CSS3 features, yes even IE, designers will use it, standard or not. Eventually CSS3 will become a standard and people will then add icons to their footers to show they are building sites that wont give W3C’s validation routines a heart attack. Will that influence peoples choice of designer?

I’m not convinced.