Web Standards and Tableless Design | September 17, 2003
I belong to a number of web design related mailing lists and see quite a few people asking if they should start doing tableless design. I think it's great that more and more people are starting to design sites this way but feel that these is a bit of a misunderstanding about tableless design and web standards.
CSS based tableless design and web standards are actually 2 different things but are often chunked in together. It's perfectly possible and acceptable to create standards compliant sites that use tables for layout. The idea is to eventually faze out the use of tables for layout. However as long as browsers support tables and the standards say it's OK there is no real problem with using simple table based layouts.
However tabeless design is undoubtedly the future of the web so it makes sense for people to start working towards that goal and upskilling themselves. There have recently been a number of high profile tableless sites launched and this is only going to increase in frequency. So if you're new to CSS layout it really makes sense for to start exploring it as a possibility.
Using CSS for layout has some wonderful benefits like improved search engine friendliness, better site accessibility and potential bandwidth savings. It can ease site maintenance and potentially make site redesigns a simple process.
Good CSS based layout can be a complicated thing to achieve and requires a solid understanding of CSS and browser quirks. Some people fear that because of this complexity, you may have one CSS guru who does all the layout for a site, but unless everybody working on the site are also very knowledgeable in using CSS, tableless design would be unworkable.
Personally I believe that by separating the style from the content, it actually makes life easier for the developer. They no longer have to worry about breaking a sites design because they never have to go near it. No more having to add font tags all over the place and escape lots of tag attributes, or work out complicated routines just to echo out some info in a multi column table layout. So using CSS to control layout can greatly simplify the job of the programmer/developer.
Fundamentally the argument shouldn't be whether to use tableless design or not. The argument should be to adopt web standards, and design to a standard, not a browser version. Then, when it comes to designing the site, make a considered decision about the general design layout. If you think you can do it using CSS (i.e. it's a simple layout and you've got the in-house skills) then go for it. However it's just as valid to use tables to control the basic layout (doing your best to cut out complicated or overly nested tables) and use CSS to control everything else.
This is the way vendors such as Macromedia are moving. DWMX2004 now uses styles by default to control text appearance, page colours, margins etc. However they realise that table based layout will be hear to stay (for a while at least) so have updated their table editing mechanisms as well.
So if you're struggling about whether you should start designing sites using CSS layout instead of using tables, don't (struggle that is!). We're living in transitional times. By all means have a play with CSS based design, but don't cut yourself up if you have to use tables occasionally.
Posted at September 17, 2003 7:19 PM