Tables are Dumb (part I)

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  • August 28, 2007

This is a bit of a soapbox rant aimed at other designers and developers, but one the general audience of our readers should enjoy as well.

Ok, maybe that’s a little harsh, but tables for layout is stupid. It’s hard to believe four years after that little diddy was published this conversation would still be relevant. Why have we, as designers and developers, become complacent? Stagnant if you will. Has the internet become boring? Sure, if you had the wads o’ money Mark Cuban does the internet might be boring. I’m sure thousands of businesses, designers, developers and marketers would disagree (strongly), but I digress.

So why is it taking so long for web standards to become the standard? I think for many interface developers it comes down to two problems – training, or lack thereof, and time. I believe these are ridiculous, petty arguments when viewed in the grand scheme of the benefits to client and self of implementing and coding to a modern standard.

Many, if not the majority, of the code jockeys out there learned to write html haphazardly through chance and circumstance by choice or by force round about the time of the big bubble, when the internet was in her infancy and many didn’t know better. They knew they could beat the browsers and create any kind of layout they wanted by changing the columns, rows, and cells of a data table. Accompanied by abuse of the transparent gif image and border=”0″ they beat the purpose and semantics out of each and every html tag until they were satisfied with their pixel-perfect layouts. The browsers never complained. They took everything these tag slingers could throw at them and figured out some way to display it. And so their methods were ingrained and passed on to other code jockeys for replication in their haphazard tradition.

Slowly the browsers became aware of the poisoned tag soup they were swilling. By then it was too late to abandon the millions of malformed, nested tables out there.Only when the jockeys began to realize their good intentions had created document after document with no hierarchy, no meaning or semantics, did some begin to look for a better solution.

Creating a table layout is easy, systematic, and not complicated for the brain to process. Not to say I haven’t seen some pretty complicated table layouts, but for the majority of the time to process transforming a graphic to a grid begins in the top left corner and works across the columns of that row to the end and then moves down to the next row and so on and so forth. A standards or “div” layout shatters that thought process and blows all the years of training and know-how of the jockey out of the water.

They’re now required to think about blocks or groupings of elements, how those elements build relationships with other blocks and the hierarchy of each, not in a graphical perspective but in a coding perspective. Why not in a graphical perspective? Because we have a new boy wonder, a super hero he-man to solve all of our presentation pixelation problems – Cascading Style Sheets.

Many jockeys cannot make this leap of gray matter marvel, for the old process is so ingrained in the fleshy folds of stuff between their ears. It’s natural for humans to fear the unknown, to fear change, but only through the admission and conquering of our own fears can we become better humans and therefore better jockeys.

So I stand with many others and humbly make this sermon. Stand up fellow jockeys, shed your shields of transparent images and your swords of colspans and join us in a new battle to build a better web.

Join me tomorrow as I beat down the argument of “I don’t have time to learn new ways to code”.

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