Book Review: Web Standards Solutions

July 11, 2004 5PM PST

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.