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Weblog Entry

Book Review: Web Standards Solutions

July 11, 2004

If you’ve been following Dan Cederholm’s SimpleQuiz series for any length of time, you’ll be happy to note that his new book Web Standards Solutions is a full-length summary of the best practices that have evolved from it, and more.

Web Standards Solutions (WSS) is a quick, easy read. Broken into 16 chapters, each one takes no more than 15 or 20 minutes to breeze through. Broken into two parts, the first half of the book analyzes general markup and style best practices, while the second half takes these practices and others and applies them to a real site, simplebits.com.

Web Standards Solutions Cover

Dan is interested in the theory as well as the practics; while multiple solutions are presented, he provides the best one along with reasoning why it is the best, and why the others aren’t. Not to say this is a scholarly exercise in pedantry; writing around some needlessly mind-numbing purist issues that weigh down real-world projects, he presents the tools needed to get the job done quickly and well. A common sense approach to designing with web standards, this little yellow book is the perfect complement to another little orange book. Think of the latter as the book that’ll sell you the ‘why’, and the former as the book that will instruct you ‘how’.

Chapter 9, for example, talks about minimizing markup, and it’s the sort of perfectly clear explanation of avoiding classitis and making the most of miminal markup elements that everyone needs to read. Chapter 6 covers basic text formatting markup and style, and in one of the most lucid explanations on the subject I’ve yet read, explains once and for all why <strong> should be preferred over <b>.

This isn’t a design book. WSS discusses the practical approach to using web standards in your work, and provides some visual examples, but the imagery and design skills necessary to create the examples are left for the reader to negotiate using their own experience or another book. Dan discusses how to apply design, not how to design in the first place. If you’re only interested in visuals then WSS may not be for you; if you’re interested in applying visuals to properly structured and well-built sites using methods that allow for maximum accessibility and save you time, then you need WSS.

Some of the chapters are thinner than others; I found chapter 4 on quotations to be particularly wanting. And the good writing and clarity contained within the covers is unfortunately misrepresented by the grammatically and technically suspect marketing copy on the back cover; I certainly wouldn’t be buying it on the strength of that alone.

Luckily there are plenty of other reasons to buy WSS, and these are minor criticisms of an otherwise excellent guide to making the right decisions and understanding why you made them. 9 out of 10, which on my scale means you should have it on your desk, no questions asked.


Reader Comments

July 11, 04h

it’s not bad, with some good, light-hearted writing. i slightly disagree with some of the solutions - i found myself reading it and constantly scribbling little notes and suggestions in the margin, which i may pass on to dan - but that’s just me being one of those pedants ;)
good stuff indeed, and yes…it’s already on my desk (well, my scanner lid, to be exact)

Colly says:
July 11, 04h

Dave makes a key point - it’s a quick read. This is why I think the book will be an excellent introduction to standards-based design for those only recently embracing the methods. By sticking to a uniform structure, each chapter is both in-depth and quick reference.

I’m sure that many may not agree with all of Dan’s suggestions, but I think this is another strength. There are several solutions to each problem, and it’s up to the user to decide which one to employ. I think the last thing Dan would want is for us all to start doing things the same way. Do it semantically, yes. Do it with structured, sensible CSS, definitely - but also do it YOUR way.

July 11, 05h

It’s about time a good book was released that talks about and focusses on proper use of semantic markup. There are plenty of good CSS books out there, of which I’ve only started to read Eric Meyer’s. But I found that there isn’t as much emphsis on using correct semantic and structured markup as I think there needs to be. I feel CSS books tend to be aimed more at those who already know the difference between b and strong, p and br, etc… where as books like WSS would be more aimed at those just starting to learn XHTML, or for those that need to move away from writing tag soup.

I find too many people think about their documents presentationally, rather than structurally and semantically. (hence, the use of bold, italic, font styles, etc… by so many, from the toolbars of common word processors). It’d be good if people actually learned and applied correct semantics before they started styling their documents; then, one day, we may start seeing more accessible, tableless designs on the web.

I’ll definately be recommending this book to some people I know, and I may even get a copy for myself. :)

Brian says:
July 11, 06h

I picked the book up the Friday before Fathers day and read it while at the parents house. It was definitely helpfull and presented a few new things to me, but for the most part I was skimming pages because I already knew the material. So it is definitely geared towards someone starting out with CSS design. The strong vs. b tag was for the first time explained to me well and makes me want to change all the incorrect uses of the strong tag I’ve made recently, but that would be too much work :)

It was a good book though. I let a co-worker borrow it who is pretty much starting out with CSS design. He says he’s learned a lot from it.

Yannick says:
July 11, 07h

I have been frequently visiting Dan’s site and I have learnt quite a bit from him. I just got this book today and I can’t wait to get into it. Thanks for the little review of the book Dave. hehe I also got that orange book you mentioned :)

July 11, 10h

Thanks for saying something about it. Everytime I drive by a bookstore I am so tempted to go in and get it but I am forcing myself to finish my current book before I get it. It looks awesome though and from reading SimpleBits every so often I can tell the author knows what he is talking about. Can’t wait to try it out!

P.S. - I am stuck on a windows machine here at home where I am reading this right now and I noticed your forms look really good in IE! Talk to you soon.

Cam says:
July 12, 01h

I bought the book last weekend, read it through in about a day and a half and have now started doing a ground up rebuild of my code.

Personally, I have gotten a better feel for semantic markup from this book more than any other, even Zeldman’s.

Alex says:
July 12, 06h

You’ve convinced me to buy it. Thanks Dave. :)

July 12, 12h

This book should be in every web designer/developer’s library. For beginners, it’s an excellent introduction to the concept of semantics. And as has been proven on Dan’s weblog, even seasoned experts need to think about this.
There are a couple of questionable things in the book, but they are minor.
Dan’s writing is really enjoyable and makes this tough subject a lot more palatable.

jim says:
July 13, 02h

I’ve just ordered two copies, one for our design dept and one for the software dept, our lead designers may disagree with one or two points, but for the juniors and people who are still coding tag soup, its a godsend, saves me having to write it. thanks

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Johanka says:
July 13, 02h

Pardon my ignorance and curiosity, but could you perhaps summarize the main points of why is <strong> to be preferred over <b>? When we count the letters it’s 6 : 1, <b> saves more space.

jim says:
July 13, 05h

the text in question may not be displayed visually, so <b> has no meaning

July 13, 09h

They aren’t the same thing. <strong> means that the enclosed text is strongly emphasised. <b> just means that the enclosed text should be rendered in boldface.
The fact that many browsers by default render <strong> in boldface is incidental.

If you want to strongly emphasise something, use <strong>. If you want to boldface it, use <span> with a class that indicates what it is and use CSS to make that boldfaced.

Read Dan’s book, and you’ll understand why semantics is a Good Thing and why structure should be separated from presentation. :)

September 29, 08h

It’s the second time I read Dave’s review on Dan’s book and I am convinced again, my orange book needs a yellow friend so: Amazon here I go!