What If Table-Based Layout Had Never Been Born?

I have been creating Web sites using Web Standards, Valid XHTML/CSS since Spring of 2003. Over 3 years now. It was a wonderful change in my career.

I remember some early CSS reading where someone posited the following:

Imagine a world where CSS had been implemented properly by browsers when it came out as a recommendation. Most Web designers would look at a table-based layout, scratch their head and wonder: “why in the WORLD did they do it THAT way??”

I don’t remember who said it, and I remember chuckling at it, but this last week I came face to face with the reality of it.

I was doing some subcontracting work for a client inside of a CMS that had a text-editor that:

1. Is A java applet
2. Produces crap code
4. Is nested inside of a DOCTYPE-less template that had numerous validation errors, assuming an HTML 4.01 trans DOCTYPE.

I was attempting to massage my lean, CSS-based design into this system and having absolutely no luck. After hours and hours of cursing, tweaking, bloating my markup and CSS out of control, it dawned on me that a simple table would do the trick just fine. But here’s the deal:


On this side of the fence: understanding the LANGUAGE aspect of htmL, understanding what tags mean, and how to use them properly, the “simple” solution is to use code that is utterly incoherent. It produces something that is relatively stable across browsers, and uses a bit less markup than my CSS based version was turning out to use to get this wonky rich-text editor to understand it, but looking at it from a semantic markup perspective, it is incomprehensible. If I were to read it as a screen reader sees it, it would be difficult to follow at best, misleading at worst. It’s going to do them no favors, if not be detrimental to SEO and Accessibility. Attempting to maintain this in the future will be as fun as a root canal, but by golly, it appears like it’s supposed to in the browser.

I’m done venting. Thanks for listening.






3 responses to “What If Table-Based Layout Had Never Been Born?”

  1. Ross Johnson Avatar

    I hate to say it, but I think table based designs help develop the web to the level that it is now in terms layouts. While the hard core coders probably would have had no problem picking up CSS-P (even in the more buggy stages than today), those who liked the idea of web design but were shy on the debugging/coding/non-wysiwyg side would probably have dropped the idea all together instead of using tables as a stepping stone.

    By all means table based layouts should no longer be used anymore, and browsers should actually use and render CSS properly, but it did act as an easy step into the web design/development community for a lot of people. The larger group in the community helps develop the web as a whole.

  2. Matt Avatar

    You are correct, but WHAT IF…

    Would Dreamweaver, et al, have made a WYSIWYG solution that handled CSS properly? The reason entry level designers used tables was NOT because they understood table based layout, but because that is what Frontpage and Dreamweaver produced.

  3. Ross Johnson Avatar

    I agree completely! That would have been the very best situation. I still think it would have caused some people to shy away (although much less) simply because of the complexity of CSS-P vs Tables. Even though css is a pretty easy and intuitive scripting as is.

    Then again… maybe Microsoft and Macromedia could come up with an easy method of aproaching it in wysiwyg baby steps?

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