Standards do not stifle creativity

An argument that is often used by those opposed to web standards is that using web standards will in some (mysterious and unexplained) way prevent innovation and creativity. In Web Blandards, John Allsopp explains why that is simply not true:

Could someone explain to to me the logic that if somehow you had to buy specific CDs for each specific type of CD player you owned, then there would be more creativity in music?

In my opinion, using web standards has no negative impact at all on creativity and innovation.

Posted on November 28, 2005 in Quicklinks, Web Standards


  1. I still find it funny that anyone in this industry could even come out with a line like that. More to the point who do they get away with saying that to and who takes it on board? That is the scary thing…

    I can understand from the viewpoint that there are many many blogs out there that are just default templates, but when it comes to building sites using modern building methods we have infinitely more control over everything we do within the browser environment.

    Anyway… Thanks for the heads up on the article I’m gonna stop now before a rant ensues :D

  2. I have been fighting the “standards limit creativity” arguement for over 10 years. Early in my programming career. I actually had a seasoned veteran programmer tell me, with a straight face, that you physically could not have coding standards in C++. I just stared in disbelief.

    Now, 12 years later it still amazes me that people cannot see that uniform standards free developers from having to constantly re-learn and support multiple proprietary formats. Time that would be much better spend focusing on security, efficiency and overall user experience.

    It makes me wonder how much time hostyle has spent testing that site layouts work cross-browser or if he even cares.

  3. Well, more appropriate analogy would be:

    “Does chosing your instruments limit the kind of music you can make?”

    Probably, but I’ve yet to meet a musician who’d feel his instrument stifles his creativity.

  4. November 28, 2005 by Moedechai Peller

    Is “101” five or one hundred and one? The answer depends on the frame of reference used to interpret the symbols to render the information. Without standardized rules it is impossible to communicate any information. In other words: no standards, no creativity.

  5. November 28, 2005 by Martin Smales

    I have to say that standards lead to greater interoperability of device-independent systems and the increased likelihood of the Web 2.0 hype and other hypes out there, where getting information from other systems are never easier than before.

    Creativity is not limited to design, but where systems talk to each other through standardised means.

  6. November 28, 2005 by Florian Hardwig

    I encountered this argument when talking with print-designers who have to do websites now. If you have limited manpower and time for one job, then spending time on learning web standards, diving into technical languages (let alone caring about accessibility) will take away time from the »creativity part« (in terms of visual surface styling, imagery …). So, as long as their customers don’t care, and as long as their »creative« Wysiwyg-editors work, they will go on.

  7. Are these people confusing web standards with CSS tableless layouts?

    Since I don’t see how closing or correctly nesting HTML elements would make one iota of difference to the creative process?

    I can however, see how switching from tabular in-line styled layouts to external css tableless layouts could stifle creativity for those used to the former, at least temporarily.

    Perhaps the initial goal should merely be to get people to validate their pages. Introducing them to the benefits of the semantic web could come later? Too much change always breeds resisitance after all.

  8. Steve…

    I’m sure they are confusing web standards with CSS tableless layouts, yes.

    And I have to say that there’s absolutely no reason why CSS tableless layouts should be inherently more stifling than table-based ones. Given equal knowledge of both methods, I’d assert that they are are least equally as capable — and if one method is less stifling than the other, it’s CSS.

    What is stifling is not having knowledge. If a person says that CSS is stifling, they are really saying, “I don’t know CSS very well, and therefore it’s stifling for me.”

    CSS is not the problem. People who refuse to learn CSS are the problem.

  9. Designing with web standards using valid, semantic html and css definitely limits the creativity of a designer … who does not know how to fully use those technologies.

    Moving from deeply ingrained old skool habits to today’s standards is a steep learning curve! I’m not surprised that some designers would want to say that it stifles creativity, because that’s much easier than admitting that it’s too much work to learn.

    I think a few years ago when this was all a bit newer that standards-based sites did tend to be a bit hummer drummer than others. But in my opinion this was because we designers were still mastering our new craft. I mean, how creative could you be in the early 90’s before you mastered table-based layouts?

    However, it seems quite clear at this point that no ceiling has been placed on creativity using web standards these days. Just visit any of the numerous css-showcase sites to see for yourself.

  10. Well, I guess it isn’t a crime to be ignorant. Or is it?

  11. @Ara: Yes, it is. The Web Standards black hats (not to be confused with Web Standards noobs) should look for other jobs, that is. They apparently don’t get it. They are like lawyers who never took a look at any law gazette. OMG and WTH - I mean that.

    Ah, sIFR folks, I don’t necessarily consider you as “black hats” yet ;)

  12. The discussion isn’t about whether or not web standards, as in the ones the W3C have provided, stifle creativity, but the standardization of id and class names like “header”, “content”, or “footer”.

  13. Timothy: Even then, I don’t see how that could POSSIBLY stifle creativity. I mean for one thing, classes and IDs have no presentational impact. They’re structural and serve as hooks for CSS and DOM scripting. Secondly, if standardized, you’d simply use “header” or “content” or what have you when using an element such as a div that would contain header information and so on. Nobody’s saying that all of your pages would require a header, a footer, and a content block. That’s just sillyness.

    I’m of the opinion that those who oppose Web Standards are just grasping at straws trying to find reasons not to learn something new.

  14. Web standards are a way to implement a creative idea.

    Initially, the actual idea is completely seperate from the implementation of it.

    Take the following example; regarding layout structure for a web page, one of the age-old technique(s) are to use tables and nested tables to organize and present your ALL data. By switching to CSS layout design, does this change the creative idea? I think not; it just changes the way it is implemented.

    I feel that everyone will agree on that.

  15. November 29, 2005 by Martin Smales

    Web standards are a way to implement a creative idea.

    I agree. It is a Way, but a better and harmonious Way.

    The Standardised Way that allows you to focus more on your creativity, and less worries on debugging of markup not understood by the Way.

  16. CSS is not the problem. People who refuse to learn CSS are the problem.

    I guess that brings us back to the whole Web Professionals debate, doesn’t it?

    Well, I guess it isn’t a crime to be ignorant. Or is it?

    In the eyes of the law, ignorance is no defence ;-)

  17. Painting the Web with broad brushstrokes stifles creativity.

  18. First, let me say that I design with standards and I agree its the best method. However, I do believe it does stifle creativity. No one designing sites with CSS layout can honestly say it doesn’t inhibit creativity. First of all, its impossible to even design the layout if you don’t know all the hacks to make any layout work. Then all you can basically have are 2/3+ columns with header and footer. Just look at all the CSS layout sites, they are all based on the column/header/footer layout.

  19. December 4, 2005 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)


    No one designing sites with CSS layout can honestly say it doesn’t inhibit creativity.

    I can. CSS has nothing to do with it. Like you say it’s about knowing how to create a certain layout. And if anything, table based layouts make it a lot harder to do many things. I can certainly do lots of things with CSS that are extremely difficult or impossible to do without it.

    The fact that more and more sites are using similar layouts is, in my opinion, not caused by lack of creativity, but by the web becoming mature.

    Certain layouts work better than others, so why make things difficult for the visitor in the name of creativity? Even those still using tables for layout generally use a header, one to four columns, and a footer. What is the point in deviating from what works (unless you’re building a playground site to show of your wacky experiments, which would make it somewhat more OK)?

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