Converting your team

Being the only person on a team of web designers and developers who knows or cares about web standards is probably very common. I’m sure many of you feel like you’re fighting all alone, and that taking a stand for web standards costs you a lot of energy. In extremely hostile environments, I suppose it could even cost you your job. I haven’t actually heard of that happening, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if it has.

I’ve been there. All alone, trying to convince the people around me of the benefits we as developers, our clients, and our clients’ visitors would get if we started using web standards in our work. There have been times when I felt like giving up on the whole web thing and start working as a plumber or a bus driver.

I didn’t, though. And after years of nagging, hard work, endless arguments, frustration and self-doubt something happened. People started listening. Colleagues started asking questions about XHTML, CSS, and accessibility. Clients started asking for accessibility. Some clients even asked for web standards. Not many, but such clients actually exist.

And now, all sites we build are standards compliant and accessible (some more so than others), without being ugly or boring (though what is “ugly” or “boring” is highly subjective). The other people on the team understand the importance of web standards and accessibility, and our boss can see the business value in offering something that is still pretty unique.

What it all comes down to is showing real examples of the benefits, instead of just talking theory. I’d like to share some of the things I’ve done (and still do) to get the team I work with to start using web standards. Maybe it will help someone who is in the position I was a while back. My actions include:

  • Showing that search engines love semantic HTML. Obviously, good content is also needed, so I help out with that too.
  • Talking a lot about accessibility, emphasising that it’s not just about catering for blind people. Pointing out that better accessibility equals more possible visitors, which is what almost every website owner wants.
  • Explaining semantic HTML by showing that it’s usable and accessible even when unstyled, while non-semantic HTML almost always needs styling to make sense.
  • Demonstrating the flexibility that using CSS for layout gives you. The CSS Zen Garden is great for this. It can make jaws drop.
  • Being a teacher, or mentor. I help my colleagues learn the techniques they need, and explain the business benefits of using web standards to my boss.
  • I didn’t give up. All the time I just kept going, implementing web standards as much as possible, in all projects I was involved in.
  • Avoiding elitism. When someone doesn’t understand, I do my best to help them understand.
  • Constantly learning. The more you learn, the better you understand how little you know. This is probably more true in this business than in many others.

I’m interested in hearing your story. How did you make your team start using web standards? If you don’t work in a team, what made you learn about standards? If you haven’t yet had any success convincing your team (or yourself), what are the stumbling blocks?

Posted on September 15, 2004 in Web Standards


  1. I’m verry lucky because all of my colegues knows about standards, and all of them obeys them!

    In my country (Serbia), meaning of standards is not yet precisly defined, adn we are pioneers in that segment of web design!

  2. I don’t know if this could be classified as converting to web standards or not, but I first switched to using CSS over font tags and what not when IE3 first introduced its CSS support. As someone using a text editor (notepad) as opposed to a WYSIWYG tool not having to repeating type all those silly tags was a god send. Made the pages smaller too ;)

  3. Actually it can be pretty easy!

    I changed my job from an agency which was very aware of standards to one where the staff, if they even knew about them, disregarded them to say the least.

    In my old job we grew into the whole standards and accessibility stuff over the last 3 years, embracing it wholly after we could convince our customers to forget about layout (pixel) compatibility in NS 4.X.

    When I started my new job in august, I was in the very position you describe. In the beginning, I was very contained about standards (meaning everything from structured (x)html to accessibility guidelines) because I had seen the agency’s previous work which was “partying like it’s 1999” at its best (I love this Zeldman-quote).

    But after some chatting over a beer or two with the collegue who is responsible for the project I am working on right now, he instantly saw the advantages. After the next weekend had passed, he even urged to redo the whole projects markup and css. It took us some 2 weeks, but we were ahead of schedule and it worked!

    So we at least arrived at validating HTML 4.01, pretty structural markup and a dramatically reduzed filesizes (didn’t check the actual figures, but it’s obvious).

    So that’s my 2 optimistic Cents.

  4. And well if you were working in the government sector it could take a lot longer to realise the process and see the change happening. I guess it happens everywhere at the end of the day people are people and they always follow the path of least resistance. But there is a gradual change in the mindset. I know it is frustrating and sometimes it drives me up the wall… but I know at the end of it all things will come out good. Yes the journey can be very straineous! It mostly is!

  5. I think the point about constantly learning is the key for most folks. There are those in the industry to make money whatever way they can and those who take a pride in their craft and are constantly learning in an effort to produce a top quality product.

    This is true of all aspects of IT, but of course is much more evident in the world of web design.

    Standards based developers therefore display a greater commitment to quality than those 1999ers.

  6. September 15, 2004 by caffènero

    Avoid geekery, this is a very difficult goal to reach. I always have to remind to myself that the person I’m speaking with does NOT share my passion for clean code, separation of structure and presentation and all that web standards are about.

    Here in Italy there is almost NO culture for Web Standards, even the local “big names” in web design act like Flash and DW are the only way to go…

    Sure, thay talk about this CSS thing, they sometimes even mention words as XHTML, but no one really cares. Because, you see, their websites work (i.e: the work in IE at res. > 1024x768, aka “the whole known universe”) so why bother? More bang for the buck: DW/FP, a cheapo hosting, some 1337 h4x0r JS counter/menu, a touch of even more l337 flash mumbo-jumbo, and presto!, you’re done.

    I simply can’t work this way.

  7. I gave my co-workers Designing with Web Standards. They converted after reading it. It was simple because the arguments in the book are so compelling. Showing them CSS Zen Garden was icing on the cake.

  8. September 15, 2004 by John B

    CSS Zen Garden helped a lot. Making my own mini-garden, about six designs, for a web application prototype sealed the deal.

  9. Give the people in your team, you care about, the right matter to read at hand and the rest will almost always come by itself. That happened to me often enough.

    But also contrarily, taking in advocacy and being desperate of what you think is right, is also often enough the necessary task to convince people that the usage of standards will give them very practical benefits at hand.

  10. I guess I was quite lucky when I took my current job for a Swedish government office. They were just about to launch a new external web site plus a new intranet, and I had the opportunity to get into the development team. My four team-mates were very receptive about accessibility, so it wasn’t hard to convince them.

    Then I gave a little speech for a somewhat larger group of people who would help us convert the old sites into the new ones. I explained why accessibility was a good thing and showed them examples of sites that didn’t work very well unless you have 20/20 vision and use Internet Explorer at 800x600. I also showed them the CSS Zen Garden, of course.

    That’s all it took. They all got into accessibility big time, and we managed to create two accessible, standards-compliant sites in less than three months. Now that we’re beginning to receive some praise for our work, they find it even easier to keep up the good work.

    I did a short demonstration for the management people as well. After that, there were no problems from above.

    In fact, today I was asked to give a similar demonstration to a group of representatives for other government offices in town.

    I think the main thing is to avoid coming across as a zealot. Instead of telling people that they have to do this and that, show them the consequences of doing things the old-fashioned way. Then show them how well it works if you do it right. You don’t even have to explain it, most of the time, because the examples speak for themselves.

  11. September 15, 2004 by mr. nobody

    Our office was a pretty simple process. Everyone just kept getting laid off, and that left only those of us who were still actively learning new techniques.

    I know I’m sooner or later also going to end up on the chopping block (as we all eventually do at my company), but the State of Standards now vs. one year ago is like night vs. day.

  12. September 15, 2004 by Kevin Tamura

    For me; it has been mostly on the sly. I work in a small shop where I do half the building of sites I design: thus I use web standards. I’ve been ask by the CD to give a talk on web standards since I keep talking about them and sending out articles. So far I’ve been to busy to give the talk. Hopefully in the coming months.

  13. In Spain nobody cares about web standards. But if you simply tells your client that cost are lower and potencial visitors higher, they do understand

  14. September 20, 2004 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Thanks for posting your experiences. It seems like some are more fortunate than others with regards to how difficult it is to make your team understand.

    Something that is very inspiring to me is giving demonstrations and talks. I first did this in-house, and was then asked to hold a full day workshop on web standards for another company. A great experience (if you disregard my voice becoming very hoarse by the end of the day ;-) ), and something I’d like to do more of.

  15. Yeaah, I really feel what you are writing. I been there too, or should I say I am there right now. I work inhouse for a large corporate company as a webdesigner. I quite new to webstandards and all things connected to this. I found and Zen garden when I surfing one day. That was when I saw the light :) I bought the Designing with webstandards and then I really got this. I started to bug my companions at work that our site really sucked ;) I said -“We need webstandards”. They said -“Eeeek, why? It works in IE, why should we care about 5% of users when everyone is using IE”. So it has been really hard getting all people understand why we would benefit by evolving to webstandards.

    I found it suprising that that it has been hardest to get the developers and designers to understand the benefits of webstandards. They always say, it doesn´t work in IE, it looks boring with webstandards and so on. The business people was no problem at all, I said -“We save money by going with this”. They said -“Super, lets do it” :D

    A good thing to do working for a large company is too make a web standard policy or strategy. Instead of supporting browser we have now started supporting standards instead. We have set up what we are supporting and why. This will cause less questions and help both developers and business units when they order new web work.

    Also, as written, start educate your collegues, I had a crash course in xhtml + css. Help them understand, do not sit on you knowledge. Tell them the benefits. Lend them your books. Let them understand that webstandards are the future :)

  16. It’s lonely where I’m from—-Penang, Malaysia, and I think there are only 2 other web designers in this state who cares—-and in this country, 20, tops.

    Converting the other web designers at my previous workplace was mildly successful. It’s difficult converting people who still rely on tables and font tags.

    One person alone can’t convert people. It’s got to be a team effort and I think the blogosphere is helping a lot.

    Right now I’m freelancing and doing commission work for a few companies and I have more control since I’m a one man team but it’s still a challenge convincing other web designers I meet. It motivates me to push myself and keep on advocating web standards and accessibility.

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