Review: Interact with Web Standards

(Disclosure: several authors of this book and its technical reviewer are personal friends of mine.)

Once upon a time there was a grassroots group of Web designers and developers called the Web Standards Project (WaSP) that pressured companies such as Microsoft and Adobe to ensure that those companies’ products were more standards-compliant.

They were largely successful; although some companies occasionally relapse, most of the time standards are given more than mere lip-service.

The WaSP then sought to educate Web developers to code to standards, not to browsers. Again, it was broadly successful. While there are many, many developers out there testing only in IE (or doing the 2010 equivalent of testing only in WebKit) it’s easy to find other standards-aware developers out there in the world, and standards are generally understood by professional developers to be the ideal—even if that ideal is not always achievable in a particular project.

The WaSP finally ran out of steam and with Interact became its successor in taking the Standards gospel to the next generation, because learning the right way is so much better than unlearning bad habits. Interact with Web Standards is subtitled “a holistic approach to Web design”: it’s a curriculum to learn from or to teach.

The state of Web education in universities is utterly out-of-step with industry best practice (with some notable and welcome exceptions). Students go into courses in good faith, believing that they’re going to emerge ready to work in the Web industry. Employers, however, find that most graduates are ill-prepared. When I was interviewing for a new member of a team in 2007, I found no candidates whose portfolio sites used valid HTML or which worked cross-browser.

Another employer told me “For the first time ever, this spring we grabbed a couple grads with some solid standards skills”. This means spending time and money training so-called graduates in the discipline that they should already be experts in. “Almost every comp. sci. peep I’ve ever worked with has been around 3 years behind on current tech / standards” says tomnomnom.

The reason is that University Computer Science courses treat the Web as something of an afterthought, and pay no attention to Standards. “I’m a 2004 graduate, and I was actively marked down for using web standards over tables and Java widgets” says Steve Marshall. “We weren’t taught standards in college – it was more ‘here’s dreamweaver, best of luck with it'” adds onepixelout.

The Interact book fulfills a vital need. Like Opera’s complementary Web Standards Curriculum, it is a course textbook, a self-study primer, an on-the-job training manual. Its aim is to equip new entrants to the industry with skills that today’s employers really need: the ability to develop accessible, usable, good-looking web sites that are based on Web Standards so that they work across all browsers, operating systems and across devices.

The pedigree of the book’s authors is excellent: educators, highly-rated conference speakers, industry stalwarts, designers and coders combine to give the reader a well-integrated series of lessons that progresses through project planning, content development, information architecture, HTML, CSS and accessibility. (See table of contents.) The book is also pleasant to read, with attractively designed layout, full colour illustrations and guided “try it out” sections.

Gripes? Not many. There’s little on JavaScript in the book, which is an increasingly important part of Web development (volume 2 perhaps?). There are a couple of minor proofing errors, and I’m not completely convinced that writing for the Web is as different from writing for print as the chapters seem to suggest.

All in all, the book is an very good primer for those beginning their education in Web development, and provides an excellent framework upon which to build knowledge.

Of course, you don’t need to know the contents of this book to find a job in the Web. But if you want to rise above the badly-coded, thrown-together sites that plague much of the Web and join the top tier of Web professionals, you need to know the information this book covers.

5 Responses to “ Review: Interact with Web Standards ”

Comment by Thomas J Bradley

Being a web professor myself I also found the book to be super fantastic and I highly recommend it to my students.

I constantly push my students to use web standards; I’m even introducing HTML5, ARIA and CSS3 to my students this term.

Comment by Rob Winters

If this book gives graduates the basics then that would be a great step forward. I’ve interviewed so many people fresh from uni that fail to grasp the fundamentals. I still see graduates with imagemap navigations and splash screens.

I sometimes point these wayward (and miss-guided) designers to resources such as Google Code University’s HTML, CSS, and Javascript from the Ground Up but its basic stuff they should have picked up in week one. It makes hiring a pain.

Comment by Chris Mills

There’s little on JavaScript in the book, which is an increasingly important part of Web development (volume 2 perhaps?)

Yup – there’ll be a separate edition about JavaScript. We decided that the book had a wide remit as it was, and trying to cram JS in there as well would have been impossible with the page count constraints.

Comment by Andrey Petrov

Requested this book from my employer.
Probably I will not learn from it much, but design and layout are too good to just pass by :-)
Will advise this book for everyone that start writing for the Web.

Comment by Manuel

This book looks very interesting. I wonder how it compares to HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions: A Web Standardistas’ Approach another widely used introductory textbook on web development. I need a primer and I’m torn between these two books. Someone should write a detailed review comparing different introductory books…