Just for the heck of it, and just because I couldn’t find the books that I was after in my local branch of Waterstones, I had a leaf through some of their other books on Web Design. Now, I knew I couldn’t expect great things, and I was sure that none of them could even hold a candle to Bulletproof Web Design (which I’d bought just one day previously and was carrying with me to read while waiting around for Manda to try on half the contents of the various women’s clothes shops); actually, holding a candle to any book is a bad thing to do (unless it’s a Jeffrey Archer novel, perhaps). So, I picked up Creating Web Pages for Dummies …
Oh. My. God.
Like I said, I had an idea that web design books out there were probably quite bad, but I’d never had the inclination to buy one of them, and consequently had never really flicked through. With the “Dummies” book, I flicked through and on almost every page that I settled upon I saw bad examples of presentational markup, general bad advice and supposed ‘tips’ for best practice that went out with the stone age (if not before). I found one section that was so bad I felt compelled to take a picture with my cameraphone so that I could transcribe the words here (emphasis added is mine). It read:
Believe it or not, this whole ‘tables for layout’ thing was a bit controversial at first Why? Because there were some idealistic objectives behind the original design of HTML, with it having web pages be able to display on just about any screen. Table-based layouts, by contrast, only work well on screens of at least a certain minimum size, such as a PC screen rather than, say, a mobile phone screen. The controversy has now largely faded because the people who pay for web site development demand that their sites look good on most of the PCs and Macs out there, and tables are just about the only way to create a complex design that looks good.
And again, !!
I picked up another book, Web Page Design in Easy Steps. It was written by a guy based in Austin, Texas, home of one of the best Interactive conferences in the world whereby each year the cream of the web design crop descend and from it wonderful things usually happen (either that or they just get sloshed). Evidently this author has never met any of these people and is blissfully unaware that things have changed since the year 2000 (or even before that). Once more I found myself flicking through a book that would appear to the uninitiated wannabe web designer to be a well presented, nicely illustrated book that would teach them what they need to know. I, however, found myself mumbling the words “No, no, no!” to myself as sin was heaped upon sin on the pages in front of me. The advice given was, once again, of the type that would only require extensive fixing later.
Who in these shops decides what goes on the shelves? Can a librarian really be expected to know everything? No, of course not. And how could a buyer (and by that I mean the person buying in stock for the shop to sell) be sure that one book is better than another in terms of the advice given? Perhaps the main factors for sellability are presentation (does it look pretty?), the cost of the book (an obvious one) or how pushy the publisher is (or maybe it’s more a case of how much money is being exchanged in brown envelopes for featuring ‘their’ books on the shelves)? I have to say that I don’t know - I am not part of the publishing business, so it’s only guesswork on my part. What I can say without a shadow of a doubt is that it’s no wonder that so many people out there build crappy web sites. And the thing is, they’ll keep on building crappy web sites until they get that Eureka! moment and switch to buying books like those linked to above, whereby us standards bods try to convert those who have been led down the path of presentational tag soup.
So, maybe my advice about holding a candle to a book being a bad idea was itself a bad piece of advice? Maybe that’s precisely what we need to do? Perhaps we should march into these shops and set up a little ‘camp fire’, Fahrenheit 451-style, to remove these heinous blots on the web publishing horizon?! Just don’t say that I sent you …
(Note: I’ve deliberately not linked to these bad, bad books)