Designing with Web Standards, 2nd Edition (Book review)

I think almost every Web professional who uses Web standards knows who Jeffrey Zeldman is. If you happen to be one of the few who don’t, he is one of the pioneers of the Web standards movement. Without him and the work he has done, most of us would still be using tables within tables within tables and spacer GIFs to create websites.

This second edition of Jeffrey Zeldman’s book Designing with Web Standards is an absolute must read for anybody who has not yet started using Web standards. I’d even say that it is a must read even for those who have, if only because of how well-written and engaging it is. Oh, if I could write like Zeldman.

The first part of the book is spent examining the current state of the Web and what is wrong with it (which, unsurprisingly, is lots). Then, Web standards and the benefits that come with using them are explained. And they are explained very well. If you need arguments for Web standards, pick up this book and read it. Then read it again.

Despite being a worthy read for all Web professionals, much of the practical parts of this book seem targeted mostly at Web designers transitioning from table-tag-soup to CSS-based design. That probably explains why Zeldman has a little more “flexible” attitude in this book towards certain things than I do (transitional doctypes and hybrid layouts to mention two specifics).

I’m surprised that an ancient browser like Netscape 4 is mentioned as frequently as it is. In the first edition, released in 2003, I can understand the need for Netscape 4 workarounds, but in a book released in 2006? I suppose there are still organisations that require websites to display more or less the same in Netscape 4 as in a modern browser, but I haven’t been in that situation since early 2002. Still, for those who do need that sort of information, it’s good that it is there.

Yes, the practical parts of the book are aimed mostly at Web standards novices, but the first part of Designing with Web Standards makes it a very entertaining read and a must-have for all Web professionals.

Details for Designing with Web Standards (2nd Edition)
Author: Jeffrey Zeldman
ISBN: 0321385551

Posted on January 30, 2007 in Reviews, Web Standards


  1. So,

    I have had this question all along since it was published: If I read the first edition, should I get the second one?

    I’ve heard different things about the content of the book and whether it should be called 2nd. Edition or else.

    I guess this makes me re-hash my question: Since you already read the first one: Do you recommend reading the second one?

  2. I sincerely hope this book about designing with webstandards is still about (re-)introducing and therefore solidifying a semantic and accessible web.

    But (as you mentioned the moaning about the state of webstandards by the author of this book) are webstandards not suffering from ambiguous meanings? Accessible, usable, optimization, …, … ?

    The role of the (web-)designer should be extended to make this state of ambiguity turned into disambiguation …

  3. I thought the table designs were long gone, oh well maybe I’m into this stuff for much to long now and some people still have to catch up.

  4. January 30, 2007 by Frank Taillandier

    I bought the first edition, but when browsing the new table of contents, I don’t see a huge difference between both books - in fact I flickered through the first chapter online and didn’t see much of a single one, Zeldman still writes as in 2003 that millions of users are still using IE 5.5 - but they aren’t in my stats anymore in 2007.

  5. January 30, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    If you have the first edition already I’m not so sure I would recommend spending money on this one - you know the stuff that’s in it already. If you’re a book junkie like me on the other hand… ;-).

  6. So if you already know about CSS and web standards would the book be worth spending money on??

    To me it sounds like a book for people just starting out and I would say from your review that it would be a waste of money to most web savvy people.

  7. January 31, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    It is definitely not a waste of money, especially if you don’t already have the first edition. There may not be an awful lot of things you didn’t already know about or new techniques you can use in your job, but it is a very good read. This is more like a novel than a book of tutorials.

  8. Come on Roger. Belive in your self. I think you might be very near the same authority as Zeldman already. At least if you look at Technorati ratings. Perhaps you should write a book too.

  9. He doesn’t need to write a book, since he posts the good stuff here, instead :) And we don’t have to pay since he uses advertising.

    But I’d say Roger’s content here on web design (and accessibility in particular) measures up well with Zeldman’s book (that I’ve read the first edition of). Still, I must agree with Roger, that Zeldman’s writing is “well-written and engaging” like we only dream of being.

  10. I have been on the fence about whether or not to buy this book based on the reviews of it on Amazon - what is your opinion on the complaints about “rambling, preaching and repetition” in the book? If that is a valid criticism, would it make the book a more laborious read for someone who is already very familiar with Web standards?

  11. January 31, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Marcus: Thanks, but comparing me to Zeldman… no way. About writing a book… yeah I have received such offers, but the more I think about it, the less tempting it seems. I think I’d have to quit my job or my blog, or maybe both, to have time to write a book. And books do not pay well enough to justify that. I’d rather spend my time writing stuff to publish here.

    SCB: I did not find it rambling or preaching. I enjoyed reading it despite it containing nothing I don’t already know.

  12. Thanks - your review and comments have been helpful.

  13. All those Netscape 4 references are pretty annoying, especially since Zeldman is the author of the “To Hell With Bad Browsers” article on A List Apart. =)

  14. I’ve read this book and I would say that it’s a good book to point clients (or bosses) at who need some convincing about Web Standards. It’s more of a “Why you should” do things guide than a “How to” do things.

    “CSS Mastery: Advanced Web Standards Solutions” by Andy Budd would make a good partner to this book.

  15. @DanL: yep, you’re right. This book is not really for web professionals. As Roger pointed, it’s a novel about Web Standards, not a reference for web developers.

  16. This is an excellent book, like DanL said, for helping you explain why web standards is so important. I know most of my clients don’t have a clue there is even such a thing as web standards and accessibility. Most of them don’t care. It’s up to us to drive home the point about web standards and accessibility, and this book is a good start.

    I don’t find it preachy or long-winded at all. It’s a nice easy read.

  17. @Roger - I think you need to tighten up your spam filters.

    @George - bugger off.

  18. February 2, 2007 by Max Bode

    Haven’t read the 1st edition, probably going to buy the 2nd edition soon.
    But i have one question…
    Why did he choose such a picture for the cover..?!
    Keeps confusing me whenever i see it!

  19. Thanks for the post. I was going to get it. But not now… Thanks…

  20. Time to get with the captcha?

  21. The first was awesome, looking forward to the second edition! ^ Wow George has some great offers on mobiles and Pills!

  22. Oh dear. Mr Spam has moved in.

    Anyway, I very much liked Zeldman’s Taking Your Talent to the Web as well. It’s been a longtime since I read it, but I think I thought that was an even greater book.

  23. Our other web standards guru in shop here can’t say enough good things about this book, but personally, the biggest book that changed my life was the Dan Cederholms first book: Web Standards Solutions ( This book changed my entire view on CSS - but I also enjoyed Zeldman’s book :)

  24. The most frustrating thing about the Internet is the plethora of new formats in web design that at times conflict with other existing language. The issue of standardizing Internet programming language would be extremely useful in helping novices like me.

  25. I have read the first edition, so I’m not sure that I’d like to have the 2nd one…

    I think Zeldman has a good style, and it’s a bit of a novel rather than a book with tutorials and techniques to follow and try (although, there are such things, too).

    But what I didn’t like in the first edition, are two things (and as I see from Roger’s post, it’s the same in the second):

    1) Too much time is spent explaining how to fix certain CSS thing for Netscape 4.7x (come on, people, NS 4.7x is a dead browser, why bother with it anymore??).

    2) The so-called “mixed” layouts are nowadays not needed anymore, I believe. Mixed means that you have, for example, a table for the navigation, and you simply style the table cells using CSS. Well, this works, but in 2007 I guess it’s not the best approach anymore, even for older websites, that need some refresh and update. I’ve used similar techniques 2-3 years ago, when I had to fix things for Netscape 4.7x. But now…

    Apart from these two short notes, the book is great, and I read it with interest a while ago:)

    Zeldman possess good sense of humour and it’s a pleasure to read it. Also, the chapter on the pixels/points/measure-the-designer’s-hand-from-3-feet was very explaining why in all of the browsers often the default font size is different:)

    @Roger: I’d like to buy a book written by you, but in case you won’t write one but simply will continue to update this website and publish so much interesting content here regularly, I guess I’ll be happy as well:) Plus, you possess great writing style and sense of humour, too, so I see no difference between Z. and you;-)

  26. I think the book is excellent and I really enjoyed reading it. The difference between first and second edition is not huge but there is plenty new information in second edition. I wish more books would be as “easy read” as this one.

  27. I think its a really good book, and indeed a must-have. However, after reading the first edition, buying the second one isn’t really worth it. Too much of the same content, really.

    Anyways, one of them is a must.

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