RTFM

14 August 2009, in Rants | 3 comments »

We, web designers, like to complain about how little recognition our profession has, how everyone likes to think they can make a website, and how clients don’t respect our work. But when it comes to actually doing something that could make us a bit closer to any other “official” profession, we’re bored and dismiss it. It’s so much funnier to complain about IE6!

The W3C Specifications: the closest we’ve got to a manual

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Photo by foreversouls

For the past few months I have been reading the W3C specifications on CSS 2.1, CSS 3, HTML 4.01 and, more recently, HTML 5. My main reason was to be able to write more accurate posts here at Web Designer Notebook, but also for two articles that I wrote for Smashing Magazine (only one of them has been published so far, but the other one will be published within the next few days, hopefully and so has the second one).

The first reaction to the specs, when you know you have to read them, is a very big sigh, but after a while I realised they were actually quite easy to read and that they answered a lot of common daily questions: some things finally made sense!

I haven’t read them all, yet, but I should have, and so should all web designers, in my opinion. Why?, you may ask. Because it’s the closest thing we’ve got to a proper manual, a proper book that we are required to read at “school”.

I’m not saying we have to read every single bit (I guess the ones I mentioned previously are the most important ones), we don’t have to know them by heart, but they should be used as a reference, like any other professional book. After all, those specs lay the foundation of what we work on everyday, so we should at least have an overall knowledge of them and of what they address.

We’re visual people, we need books with pictures

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Photo by SiamEye

It’s true. We are attracted to shiny stuff, and pretty pictures. And there are a lot of good books and websites that take the specs and turn them into a more readable piece of text, with nice illustrations, graphs, charts, demos, car crashes and explosions. No one seems very keen on reading the specs, only as a last resort, when all hell breaks loose.

But still, if we’re so eager to be respected as professionals, why is it so hard to accept that this is our mandatory assignment?

Yes, we have a lot on our plates already, it’s not fair

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Photo by Sara Björk

The fact is that we are bombarded with new stuff to learn everyday. Anywhere we look at, there’s something new coming around the corner. It would be impossible to learn even the basics of all the things I would one day like to understand.

One of the things that I love about being a web designer is that I have to be willing to improve my skills constantly — if I stop, I’m at risk of being easily dated and replaceable. So just take it as another occupational hazard. Also, you can’t really complain about something if you haven’t even read it, right? And I hear a lot of complaining.

I promise you, it won’t hurt

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Photo by Capture Queen ™

So go on and read a few chapters; do some examples at the same time, for more complicated sections (it’s true that some sentences make your brain explode).

You may even find little gems like this one:

This specification should be read like all other specifications. First, it should be read cover-to-cover, multiple times. Then, it should be read backwards at least once. Then it should be read by picking random sections from the contents list and following all the cross-references.

:)

Discuss!

There are 3 comments:

  1. Stanton says:

    Great post! It’s prompted me to give the specs another read, particularly the HTML5 one :)

  2. Robin Cannon says:

    While the W3C specifications can be useful, I disagree that we should be considering them a “manual”. I see all too often, from both designers and clients, playing to a W3C checklist in preference to genuine usability.

    The two are often consistent, but not always. While the W3C recommendations are often a great guide, many of them are outdated and in some cases archaic. As designers we might know that this is the case, but many clients don’t – and indeed in the public sector they specifically *require* adherence to obsolete aspects of W3C.

    W3C is definitely worthwhile and has done a lot of great work to encourage good practice, but I think they need to be far more responsive and flexible in their approach before we can genuinely consider them to be anything approaching an effective manual of good practice.

  3. Yaili says:

    @Robin: One thing is reading and understanding the specs, another different thing is following blindly a checklist.

    By reading the specs you will at least understand some of the browsers’ behaviours that otherwise can seem just random. What you do with that knowledge is up to you.

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