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July 25, 2006

Professionalism and Best Practice in Web Design and Development

For the last 12 months of so, I've been thinking quite a bit about the issues of what professionalism means in the web development world, and best practices in web design.

It seems a little surprising to me that neither of these has really received a lot of attention. Molly Holzschlag has recently been writing on the issue of professionalism and web professionals (she's actually goign to be adressing this issue at the Web Directions Breakfast in Sydney in a couple of months), and Roger Johansson at 456 Berea Street among others [1] has spent some time on the issue of best practices, but neither subject has really received the attention that any number of web development and design subjects, from image replacement techniques to search engine optimization, have got over the years.

Certainly, this area isn't as sexy as "sliding doors" or SIFR or other technique based subjects. They are complex issues, open to interpretation, and don't have an immediate pay off, the same way learning a new trick does. But I think it's long past the time we should be addressing issues like "what does it mean to be a professional web designer or developer?" and "what does constitute best practice in web design and development?"

Now we do hear a lot of talk about validation, doctypes, correct use of CSS, semantic and structural markup, accessibility and so on. These discussions are all very very valuable. And together, these areas, and others, go together to build up the overall field of "best practice".
Now where does professionalism come in all this? I'd suggest that a useful definition of professionalism (which is not as easy as you might think to define) would include something along the lines of

A professional web designer and developer understands best practices in their field, among them the use of valid HTML and CSS, the appropriate use of CSS and HTML (separating presentation from structured content, using the appropriate semantic HTML elements where available), and the development of accessible web content.
A professional designer and developer uses these techniques knowledgeably and intelligently to develop solutions which meet their client's, employer's or own needs, and which meet the needs of the users of the sites they develop.

Recently I spoke at an event organised by Adobe in both Sydney and Auckland, addressing the issue of what constitutes best practice in web design and development, which built on my survey late last year of 83 web sites by major Australian companies, as well as significant Australian government web sites.

I'll write again shortly with a detailed proposal for a set of best practices, and ways of measuring adherence to these, but I'd be very interested in people's thoughts as to what constitutes areas of best practice in web design and development, how these might be assessed or measured, and how these tie in with the idea of professionalism among web designers and developers.

For some light reading on the subject :-), the slides for my recent presentation are available as a PDF and there are slides, a podcast, and a detailed article, along with data on how well major Australian sites adhered (or otherwise) to these areas of practice.


1. Here are some other sites which directly address the issue of best practice in web design which may be worth taking a look at

Do you have any suggestions for this list? What does it mean to be a professional in our field? What constitues best practice in our industry?

Tags professionalism best practice web design web development

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Comments

The nature of the web is one that is rapidly changing in some areas, while dragging along in others (CSS3). This is not due in part to the developer directly, but to the medium and devices. BUT - this is an important part to discuss when you are referring to professionalism. A true professional needs to be aware of these things. They need to be up to date with what is happening in the industry.

A professional does NOT mean jumping on the newest buzzword. It does NOT mean doing something because the client said so. Being a true professional means understanding your trade, your medium, and your practices. It means understanding HTML, CSS, and how to piece those together WITH meaning. It means understanding your medium - the browser. Understanding how this works, how it interprets what you send it, and how it communicates with your server. It means understanding the nature of the web. This entails understanding usability and accessiblity. No, not just for the 'blind guy' that everyone refers to - but for those who prefer to access the internet via different devices. It means understanding HOW people use the web (it is NOT a print advertisement). It means understanding how EACH and EVERY thing you do will have an impact on how your site is used.

Ok - so I could go on an on about what I think a professional web developer looks like - so I will stop with that.

I think it is time for some accountability and education.

Peace,
Nate

Posted by: Nate K | Jul 26, 2006 12:41:23 AM

I'd include points like - always acts in the best interest of the client first, has integrity, doesn't rip people off or misrepresent their credentials - ie resumes, or saying a firm can produce valid xhtml when they are only going to put an xhtml doctype on a tag soup page - and perhaps shall not act in any manner to bring the profession into disrepute (ie making porn, being overtly abusive to clients or anyone else for that matter)... and probably some more.

If you look at professional bodies this kind of unsexy stuff is the glue that binds the code of best practice. For example just building a valid site is not professional if you charge for hours you don't work for example.

K that's my 2 cents lol...

Posted by: nortypig | Jul 26, 2006 9:22:04 AM

You've highlighted important ingredients which makes a professional Web developer. However, you may have neglected to mention the allocated resources which sets the upper-bound on such practices.

I do agree that best practices should always be present, however given the limitations of the Web technologies - http://www.csarven.ca/where-are-my-web-standards - it is crucial for the Web developers to acknowledge them within their work.

In other words, 'best practices' may be open to a range of possibilities as far as the applicability of given recommendations. If a developer happens to reach a point where they find themselves altering the original project goals to match the highest Standards, then I do not believe that would be a step forward.

Posted by: Sarven Capadisli | Jul 26, 2006 10:38:36 AM

I think ethics plays a major role in professionalism. I believe that a code of ethics for our profession should arise out of a common group.
http://www.alierra.com

Posted by: Joy, web designer | Aug 19, 2006 7:50:05 PM

I think it would be a combination of following standards (accessibility, w3c), plus ethical practices, avoiding conflicts of interest, etc. But I would be wary of making a list of hard rules one must follow in order to be a professional. Sometimes you have to make compromises. I guess that's what is implied by "Best Practices": that we should be aware of the ideal and do our best to acheive that.

Posted by: Jesse Skinner | Aug 25, 2006 7:08:30 PM

Thanks for this very good article … Can i translate this and insert on my site in Poland? … Thanks

Posted by: Meble | Feb 1, 2007 7:55:26 AM

Meble,

please do

john

Posted by: John Allsopp | Feb 1, 2007 1:26:56 PM

the most interesting now is how this Practices should be changed to be more relevant for web 2.0, because it is fact

regards
dimi

Posted by: Web Design | Mar 2, 2007 10:45:52 PM

Hi,

I actually think "web 2.0", the emergence of Ajax, microformats, and other such stuff has little real impact - professionalism to me is about core practices - see Nate K's comment, the very first one on this post where he puts it very well.

john

Posted by: John Allsopp | Mar 3, 2007 6:30:51 PM

A professional web designer and developer understands best practices in their field, among them the use of valid HTML and CSS, the appropriate use of CSS and HTML (separating presentation from structured content, using the appropriate semantic HTML elements where available), and the development of accessible web content.
http://www.internetsolutionsireland.com
A professional designer and developer uses these techniques knowledgeably and intelligently to develop solutions which meet their client's, employer's or own needs, and which meet the needs of the users of the sites they develop.

Posted by: web design ireland | May 14, 2008 8:42:25 AM

i want to ask. how come some real ugly web sites rank very high on google. and how come some site with a very bad and a hard to use design can be so big, for example facebook?
thanks

Posted by: webstigma | Jul 26, 2008 1:36:44 PM

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Posted by: Web Design Companies | Jun 13, 2009 3:25:32 PM

Great article! More people need to focus on professional standards based design, I agree. Thanks for the links, these are great.

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Posted by: Web Design | Oct 13, 2009 5:39:30 PM

thanks for this article...

Posted by: ryan | Nov 8, 2009 1:20:19 AM

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Posted by: web 2.0 development company | Nov 9, 2009 9:49:25 PM

Professionalism means how you understand the requirements of the clients and then how you put them into effect so that it can fulfill the requirements of your client. How you employ all of the web designing and web development techniques.

Posted by: Shopping Cart | Nov 18, 2009 10:58:51 PM

Professionalism can have many definitions but regarding the Web I think it means that your site is relevant and functional for the user that is visiting. Visual appearance is important but should not be the biggest factor in design. Clean, fast loading, and intuitive.

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Posted by: Affordable Website | Jan 28, 2010 10:17:00 PM

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Posted by: dental care | Apr 30, 2010 7:51:50 AM

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Posted by: Neil Web | Jul 2, 2010 8:07:00 PM

I am quite sure they will learn lots of new stuff here than anybody else!....There is also a lot of visual symbolism that is sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle..

Posted by: Web Design Sydney | Aug 18, 2010 8:00:31 PM

Thanks for this very good article … Can i translate this and insert on my site in Poland? … Thanks

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A professional web designer and developer understands best practices in their field, among them the use of valid HTML and CSS, the appropriate use of CSS and HTML (separating presentation from structured content, using the appropriate semantic HTML elements where available), and the development of accessible web content.
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Posted by: reverse phone detective | Aug 25, 2010 4:03:12 PM

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