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