Is designing with valid HTML code worth it?

Valid XHTML 1.0 TransitionalRecently, I received an email from a young designer, enquiring about whether or not producing websites using valid HTML code was worth it. This young designer had visited the recently re-designed BBC website and other leading websites, noting that they did not validate. He further noted that, when inspecting the source code, the code was not clean and simple. But, he noted, some of these bigger sites look great, offer lots of functionality and attract thousands, if not millions of visitors. Is using valid HTML code really worth all that effort when it seems that some of the big players on the internet don’t bother?

Good question. Fair question. And as it was me who taught this young designer how to build websites, I felt I owed him an answer. The following is what I have come up with. (Well, this is an expanded, more detailed version of the answer that I emailed through to him several weeks ago.)

To begin with, I believe it’s important to establish a definition of what is ‘good code’. I am of the mind that good code is valid (i.e., follows W3C guidelines) and clean and simple. The validity of a web page code is easy enough to check, using the W3C validation service. The cleanliness and simplicity of a site’s code is a bit harder to define. I suppose it is a bit subjective, but generally speaking, a web page should be produced in as simple a way as possible. The code should be well organised.

Valid coding is very important. It’s important for several reasons:

1) The internet is about sharing information. It’s about getting our messages to as many people as people as possible in a fashion that allows them to access what we have to say. By following the guidelines set out by the W3C, we can ensure that our messages are delivered in a way that achieves that – no matter what the browser or, perhaps, the disability. That’s very important.

2) Good coding is an art form. Just like graphic design. For code to be beautiful, it should meet certain standards. Those standards are in place to help ensure that the code is clean and simple (so as to increase efficiency by reducing file sizes and thereby download times.) A well-coded site will use the simplest, most direct method to deliver a website.

3) Valid coding makes updating and adding new elements easier. If the initial site was designed in a way that follows standards and norms, then it will be much easier to make updates and add-ons as and when needed. A hap-hazardly coded site is a nightmare to update. (I’ve actually refused to update a few clients’ sites because the coding was so bad.)

4) If our websites follow coding guidelines, then someone else can edit or amend them. As a designer who takes a non-proprietary approach to my work (i.e., once the work is completed and I have been paid, then the client can very much do what they like with the site, including getting another designer to update it), I want to make sure that my websites are of maximum use and value to my clients. Constructing them in a such a way that allows others to repair/alter them allows my clients the ability to shop for updates in the general marketplace, knowing that any qualified designer or developer can update the site code.

5) Non-valid code is shoddy workmanship, if one is aware of the standards. Come-clean time here for me: I must admit that I have not always coded to standards. I was not aware of them earlier in my career. But over the past several years, I have become a convert to validity – and it has made my coding-life easier. I now appreciate the value of simple, valid code.

6) Hand-coding valid sites encourages a much greater understanding of HTML code. In the process of my conversion to the use of proper mark-up, I have developed a much more thorough appreciation for HTML, CSS and all that comes with those. By developing my knowledge of HTML code, I have come to a better understanding of web presentation, web technologies and web development. I now hand-code all my sites, rather than using a WYSIWYG approach. This further spurs on my interest in web technologies as I look to delve in PHP, MySQL, javascript and more. No, I don’t want to evolve into a web developer – I am a designer and I love being one. But, by strengthening my grasp on the core structures I use to create my designs, I am learning to produce better, more beautiful, more efficient and therefore more valuable websites.

Before ending this post, I must stress (if it were not already obvious) that I am not a web developer. Whilst I enjoy a good, clean bit of code, I have no love for it. My approach to the creation of websites always has – and always will – be from a designer’s standpoint. In reviewing the reasons that I have listed above, I am most certain that I will have overlooked additional, strong arguments for the use of valid code. So I welcome and encourage, both designers and developers to comment on this post. What salient points would you add to this discussion to help convince my young designer friend that designing with valid HTML code is worth it?

5 thoughts on “Is designing with valid HTML code worth it?”

  1. It is worth remembering that a lot of these huge sites may get a facelift but are often running on old content management systems, with vast quantities of legacy data that cannot be updated, making moving to completely clean code difficult or impossible.

    If you are building a new site or application you have a chance to actually start out right, and build something that won’t leave future developers having to work round these issues.

  2. Really enjoyed reading this post Liam, it is a really useful in depth answer to my previous question.

    Rachel Andrews comment above is interesting too, about how these huge websites sometimes can’t adere to valid coding due to restrictions put in place from the original website build.

    Thanks again.


  3. Rachel does raise a very good point and would certainly explain why big sites don’t – or can’t produce valid pages.

    And thanks to you, Pete, for posing the question. It certainly made me ponder the matter a bit more thoroughly.

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