DOCTYPE (short for â€œdocument type declarationâ€) informs the browser of which HTML or XHTML standards you would like your code to be checked against. You’re essentially declaring to the browser that these are the rules that you have used to create this page and in return you are expecting that it will render accordingly. Failure to specify a DOCTYPE can lead to unexpected rendering — a developers worst nightmare.
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Most experienced webmasters have left such navigations back in the 90′s with all those AOL discs.
CSS is Not an Option
In the past webmasters could choose to ignore CSS if they so desired. Those days are gone. CSS is no longer an option, it’s part of the trifecta (see The Separation of Concerns for the trifecta) that makes up a quality website. A good webmaster will use CSS exclusively to define the look and layout of a website.
The Separation of Concerns
When building a site, we work through these layers from the bottom up:
1. We start by producing the content in HTML format. This is the base layer, which any visitor using any kind of browser should be able to view.
2. With that done, we can focus on making the site look better, by adding a layer of presentation information using CSS. The site will now look good to users able to display CSS styles.
Any developer that has been building websites for awhile has the battle scars that you get when you try and make your website work on all browsers. Each browser has it’s own idiosyncrasies (some more than others) and designing and redesigning your site to function under each can be a battle; but it’s a battle that must be fought and won.
It’s Not About You
A common trait of the rookie developer is they think the design of a website is about them. That through the design of the site they somehow get the chance to express themselves. The professional realizes that it would be a huge mistake to design the site in such a way that pleases them only to neglect the site’s visitors.
As a developer you must heed the words of Spock in The Wrath of Khan that the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, or the one. You are the one, the website’s viewers are the many; make the website for them, not you.
Standards Are There For A Reason
Let established web standards be your true north when you’re deciding which way to go. Users, when they visit a website, expect a standard convention. For example, the main navigation we expect to be along the top or left hand side of the page, a search box above the fold and vertical scrolling. These are a few of the design traits we have come to expect, been conditioned to expect in Pavlovian fashion. Don’t fight this, don’t make us think, remember these have become the standards because they work, not because they don’t work.
Validation is not just a niceness, it’s a necessity. Paul O’Brien has done an excellent job explaining the significance of validation in his article Why Validate.
Keep It Simple
The novice developer can often feel compelled to flex their design muscles in an attempt to prove themselves. Far too often this can be reflected in bloated pages that are not easy to read, navigate or load. It is a great challenge to design a site that is visually appealing and yet serves to enhance the readability, not take away from it. Sites that cannot be easily scanned or navigated that cause a slow down in the browsing process run the risk of losing audience. The experienced developer has come to learn this, often the hard way. The novice will learn this, in time.
Nobody’s Reading This
Perhaps the biggest giveaway that a website was done by a rookie developer is the verbose content. The novice developer will often try and turn the company’s preexisting marketing material into the website’s context without efficiently editing it for the web. Good offline marketing doesn’t always translate to good online marketing where users are impatient and looking for instant gratification.
In a study done by Penn State University they concluded that web users are picky and impatient; one in five searchers spend 60 seconds or less on a document.
â€œPeople make instantaneous judgments about whether to stay on a site, and if a site doesnâ€™t give the right impression, users will bypass it,” said Dr. Jim Jansen, assistant professor in Penn Stateâ€™s information sciences and technology (IST). “A page has to be well-designed, easy to load and relevant to a searcherâ€™s needs.”
Otherwise, by the time three minutes have elapsed, 40 percent of searchers will have moved on. While some may have found what they wanted, others may simply have given up and moved to a different site, said the faculty member in Penn Stateâ€™s School of Information Sciences and Technology (IST).
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Those are our ten things any web developer worth their spit should know. What do you think? Did we leave anything off the list that you think we should have included?