Buzz Archive: February 2005 CSS redesign

Update: Apparently, we BUZZed too soon; it appears that Staples has rolled back their site to its previous design. Hopefully this is a temporary hiccup, and Staples will soon be CSS-licious yet again.

Following on the heels of its standards-savvy redesign of their customer rewards center, has just launched with an all-CSS redesign. And as a sometime shopper of the site, I for one seriously appreciate how the now-lightweight markup has made the pages' rendering times faster than greased bunnies.

Okay, I officially shouldn't BUZZ before coffee.

Sexy though it may be, it's worth noting that the hours-old design isn’t without its issues. The site’s main navigation is rife with javascript: pseudo-links, rendering completely inaccessible to anyone browsing without JavaScript; a quick skim of the source suggests that the functionality could easily be replicated through some intelligently applied onclick handlers, which would allow a wider array of users to enjoy the site.

And sadly, much of the site’s XHTML doesn’t come close to validating, due largely to the ol’ bugaboo of unencoded ampersands. One would hope that a brand such as Staples might leverage some of its clout against its CMS vendor, so that they can slap some truly future-proof markup on its homepage.

But all in all, I think Staples deserves a high-five for the work done to date, and a hearty congratulations on their redesign—I’m looking forward to further site innovations and improvements in the weeks ahead.

Selling Standards the Sweet Way

If you find yourself having to explain for the umpteenth time to a client why building web pages to web standards is a good thing, you might feel a trifle annoyed. Trifle, you say? Aha, now there's the answer! So, let Andy Clarke explain what his dessert-based explanation is all about - Web Standards Trifle. I seem to remember having a similar idea at SXSW2003 regarding Progressive Enhancement. Scott Andrew was busy doodling during the presentation, with various layers of enhanced functionality which I immediately recognised as onion-shaped."Aha!" said I, "The Onion of Inclusion ™". Strangely, it never caught on. Anyway, this post is silly enough already, I'll leave you be ...

Inclusive Design?

Now, the Disasters Emergency Committee web site is not exactly a textbook example of good standards-based design, but apparently it will allow users with Lynx running on Sun Solaris to access the site and make donations (just turn a very blind eye to the nasty markup). It's a shame, though, that using that particular browser/OS config can get you in to so much trouble. Surely one of the strangest examples of 'sorry, you can't use that browser on this site' type messages I've seen.

Two Kinds of Web Developers: Those with Clue…

Joe D'Andrea has produced an informative write-up on the new home page he and Vincent Murphy developed for AT&T.

It's pretty, it's elegantly coded, it's valid XHTML Strict. Joe has even added print and handheld media stylesheets. What more could you want?

…And Those Without

Dan Gillmor, tipped by a post from Robert Scoble, notes the irony of Demo conference award winner Homestead's slogan, "your website company".

It seems that Homestead isn't fond of non-Microsoft OSes. The 'official' requirements seem to be Windows and IE4+ or Netscape Navigator/Communicator 4.x. As a practical matter, their SiteBuilder app worked straightaway in Firefox on Windows — just ignore the nattering about Communicator in the warning dialogs and you're set. Strange that they would be flogging a painfully obsolete browser when the very latest and best works just dandy.

The actual output of the tool is a mixed bag too. It eschews layout tables — a nice surprise — but uses style attributes and absolute positioning to put things in place. Kludgey, and not at all in line with what I would consider best practice, but I'm not at all sure how I'd do better with a WYSIWYG tool.

Digging further, the tool still generates old-skool <font> tags for text styling, inserts a funky combination of <br> and >div> tags for paragraphs and piles on the Java, text GIFs and JavaScript. Those JavaScripts, in turn, generate truly nightmarish <table> and <font> tag agglomerations for navigation menus and the like.

As for validation…well, the output is close in most respects — an odd attribute here and a smattering of unencoded ampersands there is all the validator can find to complain about.

I've only really done a cursory review, so I may have missed a great deal. Nevertheless, my initial impression is of an app that would've been really cool five years ago but feels painfully out of step with current trends in both design and technology.

Bad Form

There's an interesting article over at ZDNet about the future of forms on the web. Is the way forward Xforms? Or is Web Forms 2.0 the way forward? Or are we gonna find ourselves having to deal with both? Read the article and decide for yourself whether this is a storm in a teacup or another great battle of emerging standards waiting to kick off.

CSS Hacks - A Timely Reminder

With the news of IE7 somewhere on the horizon, there's something that all web developers should be aware of if - and it's a big if, I believe - Microsoft does take the opportunity of updating and fixing the CSS rendering problems with their browser. As Anne van Kesteren points out in his web log, there is a real chance that workarounds developed to deal with IE-specific CSS problems - and by that I mean 'hacks', folks - could unravel somewhat. As we've pointed out before, though, hacks are a necessary evil but if you do things right, it's an easy enough problem to sort out should something in the CSS playing field change suddenly.

There's Nothing Mystical about Standards

Vincent Flanders writes on his Web Pages That Suck site that one of the biggest web mistakes of 2004 (actually, number three in the list) is the 'mystical belief in the power of web standards, usability, and tableless CSS'. He writes:

There is nothing wrong with any of the above except they're being touted by...guess who?...people who offer web design services specializing in...guess what?...Web Standards, Usability, and tableless CSS. These are simply tools. Remember, nobody gets excited about the tools used to build a house ("Please tell me what brand of hammers you used!"). People get excited about how the house looks and performs.

Here we go again.

There's nothing 'cool' about web standards, per se, and it's true that the CEO of a large company will usually care little about the tools used to create that good experience, but it is, nonetheless, important. You can save significant bandwidth and money (like 40,000 Gb per year). Who wouldn't want to save money? That imaginary person building the house that Vincent refers to? Well, perhaps he spent a quarter of the money on the proverbial hammers and had enough left over to have a great house-warming party, who knows?

The point Vincent makes is essentially that some people are putting faith in web standards above many other things. It is not a magic bullet, though; using web standards is just one tool in your toolbox (let's not get on to hammers again), but a very powerful one nonetheless.

Celebrating Serious Bandwidth

25 million downloads is a very respectable figure by anyone's standards, and standards are what we know and love here. That's the figure for Firefox downloads since version 1.0 was released 99 days ago, and Spreadfirefox is celebrating/commemorating the milestone with some very limited edition Firefox coins.

Personally, I'm over the moon that the browser has taken off as well as it has, and every day I find myself extolling its virtues to colleagues and friends, whether it be the oh-so-easy-to-find bookmarks (Command + B, type a few letters and hey presto, my bookmark revealed) or the ability to save groups of pages as my home page (or pages). I've convinced a number of people around me to switch, and most of them do so permanently (only resorting to IE if they really have to, as in they are using a site that has not been built to standards), and I'll continue to preach on that topic.

Microsoft may well have done a U-turn on its policy of not releasing a standalone version of IE because it's worried about the popularity of Firefox, but we'll probably never know for sure. I'm interested to see just what does get released from MS stable, although I'm tempted to say that whatever they release I won't be switching back. Or will I?

I have moved to Firefox probably for the same reasons as most people, namely the tabbed browsing, the pop-up blocking, the general perception that it's more secure and its customization options. Oh, and there's the small matter of it supporting web standards far better than IE currently does. But what if Microsoft finally put things right on that front? What if they sorted out the now very dated-looking interface and gave us tabbed browsing? What if they offered everything that Firefox does and then some? Well, I think that's the challenge for the Redmond team now, because if it's anything less than that, I'll be sticking with the fox. In the meantime, roll on 50 million downloads, I say.

Standalone IE To Be Released This Summer

While details are still scant, Microsoft today announced that it will be releasing a standalone version of Internet Explorer this summer. This is a drastic reversal of Microsoft’s stated intention to cease developing IE as a standalone product—and one that will have standards advocates biting their fingernails with trepidation. Is this new browser simply a high-profile security patch, in an attempt to assure users that IE can provide them with a safe browsing experience? Or can we finally expect more robust support for such web standards as CSS?

Cancel your summer vacations, folks—we just might have a few months of browser testing ahead of us.

Hakon Gets Hot

Hakon gets hot and tells Bill Gates what's what about interoperability. The article, Opera to MS: Get real about interoperability, Mr Gates must be read by every web developer and standards geek. Now.

MSN Gets Religion

WaSP Advisory Committee member Douglas Bowman has some nice things to say about MSN's new CSS-based look.

And why not? While the XHTML Strict DOCTYPE is a bit optimistic, they come closer to achieving it than many high-profile sites. Quibbles or no, clearly someone on the MSN team 'gets it'.