Stuff and Nonsense

Malarkey is Andy Clarke, a UK based designer, author and speaker who has a passion for design, CSS and web accessibility.

Andy has been working on the web for almost ten years. He is a visual web designer and author and he founded Stuff and Nonsense in 1998. Andy regularly writes about creating beautiful, accessible web sites and he speaks at events worldwide. Andy is the author of Transcending CSS: The Fine Art of Web Design, published by New Riders in 2006.

Web Standards Trifle

The Web Standards Trifle. Let's get cooking!

Almost once a week during meetings with clients or prospective clients, I need to explain the concept of web standards. Sometimes it's during a pitch, and always to a non-technical person who knows little or nothing about anything remotely 'webby'. I have tried various approaches, but there is one which consistantly raises a smile and works like a charm.

So I thought I'd share it with you, The Web Standards Trifle. Let's get cooking!

Making the Web Standards Trifle

Before we start, remember that in a trifle the ingredients are in 'layers'. That is why they are mostly served in clear glass bowls. You can see how the ingredients are separated when you look in from the side.

1. Sponge

First take some sponge and line the bottom of the bowl. Sponge is your solid content, either as HTML, XHTML or XML.

If your sponge is soggy (invalid), the trifle won't turn out too well as the other ingredients will soak in making a sticky mess. You can still eat a soggy trifle of course, but it won't win many awards.

2. Fruity jelly

Next take a mixture of fruit in jelly and layer it on top of the sponge. Fruit is your valid, standards-compliant CSS and is used to give the trifle it's main flavour. There are lots of different types of fruits which can be used for different types of trifles.

3. Custard

On top of the fruit, add a layer of custard. Custard is the DOM scripting in our Web Standards Trifle.

4. Cream

Now it's time to add some cream in the form of CSS hacks. Maybe one day we can leave out the cream (if we want to lose weight) but for now cream is almost essential for any successful trifle.

There are many different types of cream (low fat, full fat) and what you choose to use will depend on who you are making the trifle for.

5. The topping

Lastly comes our topping, sprinklings of that 'something special', perhaps in the form of browser specific CSS extentions which add the finishing touches. Of course, you could leave off the topping altogether as the trifle won't fall apart without it.

Fruit cake

Now, compare our well constructed trifle with a typical fruit cake. The fruit cake looks appetising, but when you cut a slice you'll see that that all the ingredients are mixed up together and it's hard to tell them apart. Plus the fact that the fruit cake is heavier and takes longer to eat and digest.

And there you have it, the Web Standards Trifle. Is your mouth watering yet?


  1. #1 On February 23, 2005 10:58 PM patrick h. lauke said:

    tasty :)

  2. #2 On February 23, 2005 11:08 PM Jeremy Freeman said:

    Oh God, I hate trifle - it makes me sick! :(

  3. #3 On February 23, 2005 11:28 PM Alex said:

    Whilst we're on the baked good analogy what does that make triple chocolate fudge cake?

    Is the spoon accessibility?

  4. #4 On February 23, 2005 11:47 PM Graham Bancroft said:

    And the alcohol is consumed rather than added ;)

  5. #5 On February 23, 2005 11:56 PM JD said:

    I can't wait to have it! :)

  6. #6 On February 24, 2005 12:08 AM Ian Lloyd said:

    Sorry Andy, but I just *had* to link to this in as silly way as I could ... over at WaSP now. You're lucky it's late in the day ... I could have been *really* awful, not just a /bit/ naff :-D

    You still coming to SXSW, by the way? I'm compiling a list of Brits attending:

    You're down as 'tentative'

  7. #7 On February 24, 2005 12:54 AM Hadley said:

    You have forgotten the most important component of trifle (and fruit cake) - SHERRY!

  8. #8 On February 24, 2005 02:16 AM Sean Fraser said:

    No... it should be whiskey from the Isle of Skye.

  9. #9 On February 24, 2005 05:17 AM Howie said:

    Nice analogy. Of course, your shopping list of ingredients must cater for an array of dietry requirements, depending on what sorts of guests you expect to feast on your delights.

    Sounds like your clients have style. My clients (banks etc.) seem to always just want a 'Big Mac n/ Fries'!

  10. #10 On February 24, 2005 05:50 AM Mike said:

    Excellent analogy. Sounds like the trifle my gran makes. I can picture my family drooling over it now.....

  11. #11 On February 24, 2005 07:51 AM Alex Sancho said:

    Funny explanation, easy to read, easy to understand.

  12. #12 On February 24, 2005 09:15 AM Martin said:

    That's one to keep in mind for the next pitch. Cheers Andy!

  13. #13 On February 24, 2005 09:35 AM Kate said:


  14. #14 On February 24, 2005 09:37 AM Lachlan Hunt said:

    Alex wrote:

    Is the spoon accessibility?

    No, the spoon is just one possible user-agent. As is a fork, your fingers or even chop sticks. Accessibility is the ability for the trifle to be successfully eaten by the user using any implement they like without it falling off or losing any of the important stuff.

  15. #15 On February 24, 2005 09:43 AM Malarkey said:

    @ Hadley and Sean: As a non-drinker, I missed out the alcohol.

    @ Lachlan: Now you're just being silly! Who ever heard of eating trifle with chopsticks? :D

    @ All: I was wondering about making a Web Standards Trifle on-stage as part of my @media2005 presentation. Who should I ask to be my lurvely assistant?

  16. #16 On February 24, 2005 10:11 AM Rob Waring said:

    Me and my gf so we can actually go.

    Like the analogy btw, its simple and obvious. Just as an extension, the sherry could be serverside scripting? Its just a little something added that you can't see in the end but that can give the whole trifle a bit of an extra kick.

  17. #17 On February 24, 2005 10:26 AM Pete Smith said:

    Abi Titmuss! Apparently her hourly rates are quite reasonable and im sure she would provide her own Bikini... Just dont drop the trifle Andy!

    If she is unavailable for the presentation perhaps Lisa Riley who you all may know better as Mandy Dingle from the heydays of Emmerdale!

    Ayyyy those were the days... Frames, Tables, Animated "eMail me" Gifs, flash buttons.

    Anyway... Abi Titmuss!

  18. #18 On February 24, 2005 11:00 AM Chris said:

    "Is the spoon accessibility?"

    There is no spoon.

    (Sorry. Couldn't resist!)

  19. #19 On February 24, 2005 11:22 AM John Oxton said:

    What kind of sponge should we use: Genoise, Mums traditional sponge doorsteps, or sponge fingers?

    Also is that tinned fruit or fresh fruit.

    I worry about this trifle, the recipe is a little loose ;-)

  20. #20 On February 24, 2005 11:53 AM Malarkey said:

    @ John Oxton: I worry about this trifle, the recipe is a little loose

    It depends on what type of trifle you specify, mine is,

    <!BOWLTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD TRIFLE 1.0 Transitional//EN" "">

  21. #21 On February 24, 2005 12:43 PM John Oxton said:


    I guess it also depends on how much the client is willing to pay , I mean, you ain't gonna use fresh raspberries for less than a few thousand, or are you?

    I love the analogy though, it is really useful, especially to an ex-chef! :-)

  22. #22 On February 24, 2005 12:55 PM Andy Budd said:

    Fruit cake

    You're not wrong there :-)

  23. #23 On February 24, 2005 01:58 PM Mark Priestap said:

    lol. Stop this immediately. This website has become silly.

  24. #24 On February 24, 2005 03:00 PM Pat Scopelliti said:

    Web standards are good. English spelling standards are also helpful... apertising?? Is that anything like appetizing? Or have I stumbled across and Englsh versus American difference?

  25. #25 On February 24, 2005 03:10 PM Sean Fraser said:

    Malarkey, Silly? Nah, It's just something completely different.

  26. #26 On February 25, 2005 03:21 PM Will Chatham said:

    I like this analogy, however, I don't think it would work well here in the US because nobody knows what a trifle is.

    I'll have to think about an americanized analogy for your analogy.

  27. #27 On February 26, 2005 01:42 AM Jonathan Fenocchi said:

    Wow... That's the best analogy I've read in a LONG time!! Thanks, Malarkey!! :)

  28. #28 On February 28, 2005 05:52 PM Kevin Cannon said:

    Quick Question.

    Why do you tell clients about web standards at all, if they're non technical?

  29. #29 On February 28, 2005 06:10 PM Rob Collins said:

    I like this analogy, however, I don't think it would work well here in the US because nobody knows what a trifle is.
    Not so. I live in Alabama, where we may not know much, but we do know that trifle is a kind of dessert. But I guess you could always call it a parfait instead, and put it in one of those skinny glasses.
  30. #30 On February 28, 2005 07:47 PM Brandon said:

    Nice. If there are two things you can't skimp on, it's a good trifle and web standards. :)

  31. #31 On March 1, 2005 09:09 AM Kate said:

    I like this analogy, however, I don't think it would work well here in the US because nobody knows what a trifle is.

    Maybe that freakish multi-layered jello with the thin white layers in between the thick color layers?

    Seven Layer Gelatin Salad — that's what I mean.

    (Or was I the only one who had to face that horror at family get-togethers?)

This article was originally published by Andy Clarke on his personal web site And All That Malarkey and is reproduced here for archive purposes. This article is published under a Creative Commons By Attribution License 2.0.

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