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Advocating the quiet revolution

Fighting a solitary campaign for standards within any organisation must lead inevitably to frustration if the responses are either negative or apathetic. So my advice is to not fight one, but to take the path of quiet revolution.

Over the last few weeks I have had several interesting conversations with web standards enthusiasts who work within institutions. Whether they be from a large corporation's web team, a council or even an advertising agency, many of the frustrations seem very similar.

I would love to introduce standards, but my boss doesn't understand.

I can't convince my managers why standards are important.

There's only me on my team who is interested in standards.

I feel very lucky in that every working day I can put into practise the things of which I am passionate. I often get excited about a new technique or technology and rush into the studio saying, Do you think we could use this? or This would be cool on this project!. I can only try to understand how frustrating it must be to work in an environment where you feel stifled by the limitations of others. But if that describes you or your environment, perhaps there are options?

We are very lucky that there are few occassions when our zeal for standards or accessibility is curtailed by a client. Infact the opposite is true in that most of our customers care little about how a site is developed. In most proposals or discussions with our clients, standards, CSS or valid markup are never mentioned, instead we talk about user and business goals and about creative design. Occassionally accessibility will be discussed in the context of Will it comply with accessibility guidelines? but even those instances are fewer and farther between.

In these recent conversations I heard a real sense of frustration about how difficult it can be to either make managers interested in standards or to implement them at all. But I suggest that if you feel that convincing someone that standards are valuable is just too difficult, then don't try, implement them anyway and say nothing. When a manager says We need a page added to our site about our latest product/policy/event etc., don't say We could make this page with valid markup and CSS. If you feeel there might be resistance, do it anyway. I fully expect that in a few days/weeks/months that same manager will be back asking Why does this section load so much faster than the rest of the site?

Fighting a solitary campaign for standards within any organisation must lead inevitably to frustration if the responses are either negative or apathetic. So my advice is to not fight one, but to take the path of quiet revolution. If your manager says But this is a web application, it doesn't have to be accessible, don't argue with him but make it accessible anyway.

If you work for a design or advertising agency which has no interest in valid markup or CSS layouts, don't try to make them interested. Simply use CSS layouts and valid markup wherever you possibly can. You will have a greater sense of achievement and your managers and clients will thank you in the long run. (You mean our site does use CSS? Wow! I never knew that!)


  1. #1 On October 30, 2005 10:05 PM Roger Johansson said:

    Yes. "Just do it" works.

  2. #2 On October 30, 2005 10:30 PM Aaron Gustafson said:

    Yeah, at my job not many of the people who work there (traditional advertising folk) know or care the teensiest bit about accessibility or standards. And whenever I talk about it outside the "digital" department, I get nothing but blank stares or yawns (or both). Traditional ad agencies have no concept of accessibility (few close-caption their commercials and I rarely see a print ad or direct mail piece take into account color blindness or macular degeneration). The truth is that accessibility isn't sexy (at least not to an ad agency).

    Oddly enough though, more often than not, a client will come to us after their site has been developed, freaking out because they have just learned that their site needs to be accessible (many of our clients are in state government here in the U.S., where Section 508 is a big deal). They, of course, never considered it while defining scope and are usually in one of three mindsets when they call:

    1) If I don't do this, I am going to lose my job.
    2) If I do this, it's gonna cost me a lot of money.
    3) Why didn't you (the developer) do this?

    All three are met with a friendly "It's already accessible. We build all sites that way." And that goes a long way toward building trust with a client.

    Lately, however, I've seen a lot of clients come to us and ask specifically for Section 508 or WAI compliance. In fact, because we do it, we've won several pitches (including some which should have been, frankly, a little out of our league).

    I agree that standards are your responsibility and certainly see the benefits to practicing them in secret if there's no client/company buy in, but don't be afraid to make it known to your clients and your superiors when your contribution of standards-compliance or accessibility saves the day.

  3. #3 On October 30, 2005 10:44 PM Khairudin Lee said:

    Yes it's about time we went guirella.

  4. #4 On October 30, 2005 10:45 PM Khairudin Lee said:


  5. #5 On October 30, 2005 11:13 PM Jon Henshaw said:

    I actually left the giant corporation I was working for because of this. I found a small web development shop that shared my understanding and vision of web development, and have been loving every minute of it.

  6. #6 On October 30, 2005 11:44 PM Roger Herbert said:

    I agree with the principle, but the wall I've banged my head off several times is this one:

    In collaborative work environments, what happens when someone else needs to work with your standards-based code, opens the file and freaks out when they haven't a clue how it's doing its thing?

    I've had this issue with my old marketing studio job, where none of the designers knew about Photoshop layer effects, vector masks or Quark XPress stylesheets. They were using the same methods and filters they'd learned back in Photoshop 3.0 on CS and had never so much as tried out any of the new toolsets since then. Anything I put together using newer tools usually got me into hot water as I was being "too smart" (or rather "exposing the lack of training & development in the company"). I don't work there anymore (by choice!).

  7. #7 On October 31, 2005 12:42 AM Chris Lienert said:

    While I've been pushing the quiet revolution for most of my career as a web developer, the most dramatic turn happened recently when one of our appallingly "designed" sites started failing for some clients. Now it's a requirement for us to generate clean, compliant code - even though I seem to be the one person who really understands what this means.

  8. #8 On October 31, 2005 12:46 AM Stuart Colville said:

    I agree with Roger Herbert, I can see that the "just do it approach" could cause an issue when working within a team.

    However all is not lost. When I started working at my current job I really though I was going to have ditch any ideas about web-standards. When I got there it seemed everyone was into table designs produced with DreamWeaver and there was no way of turning it around. Once I had been there a while I realised one of my colleagues (Tim) was into web-standards and as a result the two of use were able to start to push forward a change across the whole team which resulted in this site.

    It's slow progress, we're getting there gradually but if there's anything that will hold us back it's more likely to be other developer's lack of interest rather than a lack of support from management.

  9. #9 On October 31, 2005 12:57 AM M.e. said:

    I only bring them up when people ask. It never occurred to me that anyone in my company would even care. Of course my company wants their sites to be as accessible and efficient as possible, but that has been the expectation since before web standards even existed. Just because things are easier than they were in the early 90's, doesn't mean they should care now. That's what they pay me for.

  10. #10 On October 31, 2005 03:15 AM Sean Fraser said:

    It depends. If they're interested, I will explain the benefits of web standards, and then do it. If they don't have a clue, I'll do it anyway.

    Funny thing, though.

    Several clients wanted standards and they got standards compliant sites. However, when they each got an in-house maintenance person, those persons rewrote everything back into some mutant non-standards HTML. All on their own initiative.

  11. #11 On October 31, 2005 04:31 AM Ben Buchanan said:

    Being an advocate in a large organisation certainly is frustrating, but that doesn't mean you have the freedom to simply go ahead and "just do it". Many large orgs have procedure/policy which is tight enough to require justification for methodology.

    So... some of us do have to stick to the very long road of convincing people. That said, I think you're absolutely right in saying just quiety go about our business - clients really don't want to know how we work, any more than I want to know specifics about how the plumber unblocks toilets.

  12. #12 On October 31, 2005 04:39 AM Andrea said:

    This strategy has worked for me at work as well. When they hired me, my bosses knew nothing about how to build a web site at all, so I just started building them the right way.

    Standards-based designs are still fairly new for university sites, so ours was recognized by the WaSP and a couple of other entities. Once I forwarded information to the bosses about "awards" our site had won for being built with web standards, they got interested. Now they are helping spread the word around campus-- whenever they talk about our site they talk about standards and how they are an important part of site. They still don't completely understand what that means, but they do understand enough to know that it's a good thing...

  13. #13 On October 31, 2005 06:39 AM Nathan Smith said:

    I've been emailing an alumnus of my school back and forth, who is in a position to influence web standards in a major church denomination. He actually said that web-standards were like the Dvorak Keyboard, a possibly useful idea but ultimately not going to catch on. That was typical of most of his responses. They just smacked of ignorance so much that I couldn't really feel upset, just pity. I emailed him back a barrage of links to all the CSS showcase sites, as well as a few major corporate redesigns, and finished with "The case for CSS is self-evident." :)

  14. #14 On October 31, 2005 07:25 AM Mathew Patterson said:

    Andy, this is pretty much the method I adopt, with significant success. I've run into trouble when developers are outputting html that breaks my lovely validating pages, but it is easier to convince them to change if they only have minor changes to make.

    I've sent a link to this article out to my email discussion list for designers inside corporations (Designers Inhouse), it is a topic close to their hearts.

  15. #15 On October 31, 2005 01:18 PM 1981 said:

    Extremely interesting, I used to be the Head of New Media for a relatively small cross media design agency and found it increasingly difficult if not impossible to get anything done to compliant (css/(x)html/design).

    I now work for a large corporate and the one element that is always a constant in the design and development of anything we do is its always accessible to a very high level (normally AAA) and compliant to standards.

    funny eh.

  16. #16 On October 31, 2005 03:23 PM Geof Harries said:

    In my experience working within large corporations - complete with their own huge, highly opinionated IT departmens full of Java developers and Oracle DBAs - it's not as straightforward to adopt web standards as you'd seem to think it is.

    Working in an external agency on contract is much different than working internally, cubicle-to-cubicle, and pushing your agenda forward. The absolute best thing you can do is get an empowered executive(s) on your side, that is, pumped on web standards, and use their influence to leverage your ideas.

    Otherwise, you're going to continue having a quiet voice winning tiny battles, which can be a long and tedious road. Better to make a visible impact with more range - and get the name of yours and the executive on the intelligence radar. Next time around, it won't be so much of a struggle.

  17. #17 On October 31, 2005 04:06 PM Lee McIvor said:

    In general I agree with the responses above about "just doing it anyway", but the problem I encounter more often than anything else is the apathy of other developers.

    In some situations your efforts can be effectively undone by the developers you work with just not giving a sh*t. In these instances you have to try to convince them about standards/accessibility/usability etc.

    Similarly when discussing a new site with clients and they want "flashing bits like on the VW site" and 25 different colours on the landing page....you can't just "do it your way" you have to persuade them you're right!

  18. #18 On October 31, 2005 04:50 PM Kim Siever said:

    If I didn't do it first and ask questions later, our site still wouldn't have standards.

  19. #19 On October 31, 2005 04:54 PM John Labriola said:

    The "Just Do It" approach is the way to go fro anyone large institution or small. I have worked at and with a few large financial, insurance and educational institutions. My experience has shown me that many are not aware of the standards. They have learned the incorrect way of working.

    Thus whenever I come across bad code, I inform the person that their code is incorrect. At times they look and question, ’Incorrect?.’ Thus I explain to them the right way to do what they are trying to do. Most don’t argue, but walk away coding a little closer to standards. Little by little they learn and are switching, with no argument. No one wants to do bad work.

    You need to be kind, gentle, understanding, and have patience to help teach people this is how it needs to be done.

  20. #20 On November 2, 2005 05:19 PM David Mohrman said:

    Over the past couple of years, as I have been learning more about standards based web design and coding-thanks to site like this and their authors books and tutorials-I have been quietly putting them to use in the State Agency site I have to work with. Up to this point it's been largely unnoticed as I’ve taken pains to be subtle and not break the design.

    In fact, I had nearly completed an entire makeover of the site to be even more standards based with a cleaner look and standards compliant coding. And then I was informed that the entire State ’ every agency and department ’ was now being required to adopt a new template for a ’branded’ look and that our site would be managed through a web content management system. You can witness the horror of this coding yourself by checking the source code at this URL: oregon.gov. ’Forward! Into the past!’

    Everything I had just done over the last 18 months was for naught! I had to start from scrap and have been completely left out of the whole process in the planning and implementation of the system. I have the digital equivalent of unpacking and repacking file boxes as I strip the code from our current site to its most basic HTML source. But even as I work, I am re-doing anything I come across that isn’t standards or semantic in structure in the hopes that I have some means to manipulate the content buried under all that ’branding’.

    But then when I had a chance to check a ’test’ version of our site with my stripped down content, they had completely redone it! Gone was my definition list replaced by a table with unclosed paragraph tags! Oh, the humanity!

    I complained to my superior and now I have to justify my code by submitting a written comparison explaining why my code was better than what the system is programmed to put out.

    I suspect that it will be another exercise in futility, but I will plead my case and if possible, try to show the folks what can be done if you actually dig into the system’s XSLT, CSS and DTD to try to produced cleaner, semantic coding.

    I don’t really have a choice at this point but to continue the fight and continue to take inspiration and knowledge from sites like this and the others I read on a daily basis. And I WILL continue to make any coding I have ANY control over as semantic, valid and standards compliant as I possibly can, whether they like it or know it at all.

    Thanks, for letting me cry on your shoulder, mate. Can I buy you a pint?

  21. #21 On November 2, 2005 05:21 PM Mark said:

    I work for a large corporation. This is basically the argument that is currently pulling weight:

    "IE7 is going toward standards. If we don't do something, our IE-friendly designs will need lots of tweeking."


    "What's the point of continuing to make table-based, non-CSS-based designs when the whole browser market will be on the side of CSS design and standards compliance?"

    The writing is clearly on the wall for the old method of html coding. :)

  22. #22 On November 3, 2005 08:07 PM amelia said:

    having worked for both multinats and mom n pop shops, i've found covert standardisation ops are the best way to go. also, every chance i get, i develop and implement template catalogs.

    with templates, i find it (somewhat) stomachable to hand off tasks to others. also, with well-commented templates and corresponding CSS in place, your former coworkers will be able to quickly pick up the pieces when you quit your day job and move to fiji.

  23. #23 On November 4, 2005 10:29 AM karmatosed said:

    I personally think that this is the right line of thought. For me, I have lately taken the fsck it approach to web design with regards to even offering a non-web standard alternative. Just need enough time to whack old sites into line. But, it does work by just doing it - I proved this week that fact. Client wasn't given the choice and is happy (infact they did the "isn't it faster" phrase).

  24. #24 On November 4, 2005 02:41 PM Sally Carson said:

    This is so hilarious, you'd think that if we were going to go behind our manager's backs, it would be to sneak some Tetris or have that 3 martini lunch, but I am currently in the midst of a subversive plot to move my company towards web standards. Eventually, they will thank me, probably after I'm long gone. Either that or they'll shake their fists at the sky whenever they hear my name.

    It's pretty lame that you have to do what you know is best practice secretly, or on Saturdays when no one is around to see.

  25. #25 On November 7, 2005 09:17 AM John Wong said:

    The real question is, does anyone is AGAINST implementing web standards?

    If not, there is no reason NOT to do it, because I doubt anyone who doesn't know web standards well enough to oppose it.

  26. #26 On November 9, 2005 09:12 AM Robert Nyman said:


    It's not that easy.

  27. #27 On November 14, 2005 11:53 AM Damian said:

    After the @media conference earlier in the year, I went back to my agency and I have educated the entire design and development team and sales department, using the presentations made by yourself, Doug and others. We now attempt to build web standard sites all the time.

    The real wall we have hit is a standards compliant CMS (Immediacy is our weapon of choice at the moment, but is far from satisfactory), coupled with clients who use the CMS without a full appreciation for web standards.

    The battle goes on :)

  28. #28 On November 16, 2005 11:47 AM Richard Conyard said:

    There are a few out there dependent on the features you want small scale there is qneCMS and GreenBeast CMS. On the larger side of things you could have a look at Amaxus or Colony. I don't know whether you are doing off the shelf CMS products Andy?

    Anyway Immediacy must be accessible, it's there in big green text on their home page ;-)