The Importance of Being Compliant

My friend Lucian, who’s been freelancing as a web designer, writes of the difficulties he faced while convincing a potential client of the importance of web standards.
I can completely empathise with him, though after being in the industry for three years I’ve become less idealistic. Face it, clients in Singapore haven’t heard of the W3C, Zeldman or the Web Standards Project, and they aren’t going to care about it unless you convince them that it helps them save money AND time. Times are hard. Budgets have been cut, deadlines are tight, and our clients have performance reviews to worry about. As a result, I usually keep my sentiments to myself and implement compliant code on my own, after we’ve won the pitch.
There are times when people ask me how I get my work done so quickly. It’s then that I tell them, because I use stylesheets to control the look of the entire website. All I need to do is change ONE file, and the whole site ‘looks’ different. That’s when they want to find out more, and I’ll gladly teach them. I conducted a training session on CSS for some overseas counterparts recently, and was glad to see this new knowledge being worked into their current projects.
However, it is still an uphill battle. We still have to live with the fact that most people use IE – not the world’s most obedient browser. Many other people working on the project with you may still insert chunks of code which don’t agree with the Validator, and you just have to change it after they’re done.
People may not be impressed with the reduction in file size that stylesheets usually bring about. Some are, some aren’t. ‘Lots of people in Singapore having broadband connections’ is an excuse I hear, myself. Not necessarily the rest of the world.
This is the reality we have to face. We won’t get the sort of reception others have been getting elsewhere. We don’t have anything resembling Section 508 or a Web Accessibility Initiative (maybe we should implement fines, Singapore-style). Design schools (as far as I know) do not emphasise this in their curriculum. Many local designers themselves don’t know about web standards, or find it too troublesome to implement – despite the fact that other highly reputable web designers have. Employers do not encourage it either, because many do not know about it, or fail to see how this can win more clients, who in turn wonder how this is going to woo more customers and improve sales. It’s a chicken and egg thing.
But enough about standards et al. I’ve ranted enough. I’m announcing my departure from web design. My design workload is slowly being offloaded. I will still maintain my personal weblog, and provide consultations. But my job scope requires research into other areas, and to be frank, I don’t see the point of fighting in a market based mostly on price, not quality. Or maybe I’m just too cynical. Try working in Singapore as a web standards evangelist, and see.


  1. Lynn

    Hi! I stumbled upon your blog and would like to ask u some questions. I intend to take up courses in dreamweaver, flash and fireworks. ANy suggestion which IT school is good?

  2. vantan

    Hi Lynn,
    Being pretty much self-taught, I don’t know from personal experience of any IT schools to recommend for web design sofware. How about Informatics?
    However, it is still good to know basic HTML on top of Dreamweaver to have more control over your coding.
    Also, while I do most of my initial work in Fireworks, I still feel Photoshop is more powerful in terms of image manipulation.
    And Flash is something you grow into. Its potential has evolved – from simple animations to heavy duty applications. Take your time and have fun with learning.

  3. Cheah Chu Yeow

    Stumbled across this old entry as I was going through your archives.
    Yes I couldn’t agree more. I recently took on a website redesign for a department at NUS (as a student assistant) – guess what? The IT guy who’s some kind of head in the department who’s in charge (a youngish web designer guy) frowned and asked how I designed webpages if I didn’t use tables or Dreamweaver. I hope this turns out well. Sigh.

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