"A Graphic Design Agency That Takes The Status-Quo and Eats It."

Stop HTMLing!

Pretending that "knowing HTML5" makes you a better web developer is just embarrassing for all concerned.

26 June 2014
Josh Davidson

I call it HTMLing, you ask why? Well, HTML is the simplest and most common coding language around and HTML5 isn’t anything new and shiny either. In fact, Tom Wittlin from Folk shares my opinion too: “HTML5, CSS3, etc, are overused buzzwords and have already been around for years… As soon as they are actually fully used they will have been superseded.”

HTMLing is the act of tooting how impressive this new “version” is in the hope of appearing intelligent and knowledgeable as a community of people who know more scripting languages than you can list spoken ones. It’s much like how over-protective parents rattle on how bad video games are for their kids by stating that they’re turning the poor child’s brain to a sloppy mush, when in reality they’ve never picked up a controller to see for themselves. Only popular terms are used to express an opinion in such industries where people have very little say or influence. (Which is a catastrophic disappointment to them.)

This is the exact type of nonsense I’m talking about…

I’m here to tell you to stop going on about it, in my opinion I believe HTMLing is actually harming the industry, a point I will get to soon enough. If you, however, are insisting on continuing the façade, then at least allow me to educate you on the subject.

Now, anybody who knows anything about HTML understands that it is made up of a collection of tag pairs, (with some exceptions) these pairs hold important information regarding the content of your website. An example of a common tag is the <h3> tag. This tag is specifically designed to retain the title of your webpage, I.E. <h3> Contact Us </h3> telling the page to display this piece of text with the Default styling that a heading tag should have in that particular Browser. Hopefully you’re beginning to see there are more forces at work already with this incredibly simple tag.

Basically the code boils down to these subtle changes. But if you want to use JavaScript you still need to give elements ids to interact with them, mostly.

Let’s take a newer one, say the <video> tag. Surprisingly, yes, it has taken this long to standardize this extremely common format for web usage, and even then we’re still in dispute over H.264 and WebM. It would, however, appeared to have been working all along given the technical prowess of the YouTube team. With the rise of the WebM file type and others similar, that are seemingly replacing .gifs, decent video compression formats are only recently gaining traction. The general consensus was that video was too heavy to render, especially due to the ascension of mobile and 3G networks, and it considered detrimental to burden the originally slow mobile data speeds. Simply put, now the HTML implementation here is writing “video” in between a lesser-than and greater-than mark, but looking at the bigger picture we see that the HTML is merely acknowledging this change rather than really implementing it, the browsers are the ones behind the scenes here.

This looks great, but it’s the designers that made this great not just the <video> tag.

The point I am trying to get across to you, that will hopefully hit another point home later, is that HTML is predicated around content, not creativity or any serious web development. HTML is where you put the stuff that you want to say and display on the page in a static manner. Remember that it is just another format, .html, and not the entire vocalization of web design. On it’s own, html is not web design, very far from it actually.

A site without CSS loaded, this is what life would be without design. Check: internetlivestats.com to see how many websites that would be.

HTML5 is, in the simplest form, some newer tags to hold different areas of content in. In fact certain tags and scripts, not just exclusive to html, actually depend on the support of the browser you’re viewing said element on. Why do think you hear people yapping on about making websites cross-browser and legacy-browser compatible? Well there is (in part) your answer. This conversation would tangent the topic a little, so I will swiftly move on to talk about CSS.

As a front-end developer (which means I design and code websites) .css is my bestest bud. This is a script with a difference and is only currently getting the attention it deserves. It regularly gets new rules added to address different platforms and interaction methods, quite recently being used for animations instead of writing lengthy instructions in JavaScript. .css is what makes websites look the way you want them to, it allows your site to be an extension of your brand rather than an optional extra, or just something you should have because we’re in the “digital age”. This script is getting more powerful in terms of interactivity and responsiveness, which maybe due in part again to mobile, as javascript is not the most reliable code for mobile browsing, so support has been channelled elsewhere. Speaking of .js, it is a format that gives the Internet its true power. The ability to provide conditions and advanced interactivity to the user of the site opens up a world of possibilities. .js can even invade the html code of the site and change things in line with instructions written by the developer, the language is so advanced by comparison that it literally beats html into submission at the click of a button.

There is a world of other programming languages like PHP and database handlers like MySQL that provide the web with impressive data-capture methods. I wont bog you down with details; time is coming on after all.

You don’t even want to go there…

Html itself is important, much like a circuit-board itself is in electronics, but provides diddly on its own. Web design is an arrangement of several formats coming together to produce an experience that your customers will engage in. Having a good understanding of which will put you in good stead to appreciate the hard work and knowledge that designers can put into web design projects as well as have the ability to make informed suggestions. Rather than “Is it going to be responsive?” and “Will it work on mobile?” instead ask “How are we going to give this interactive approach the time of day it deserves on a mobile device?” which you should now start being able clump together an explanation.

That, in itself, doesn’t seem like it would harm the industry right? Well the funny thing is you’re actually not the one at fault here.

Go on, give yourself a clap.

Actually, a lot of agencies use analytics and/or actually listen to people who aren’t in a position of design authority and have no backbone to correct them. This means they know you are showing some “knowledge” of web development and thus, they are trying to capture your attention using the same buzz terms you find yourself saying. So many sites show the HTML5 shield and say that they indeed “do HTML5” as something to be proud of. If, in person, a designer offers to give you HTML5, you should slap them. Slap them as if someone just offered to buy you a drink as a gateway to sleeping with them.

If you see this logo on a designer’s website, close the webpage and try to forget them.

What they really should be approaching you with is a cocktail, a package of opportunity if you will. Admittedly, cocktails are more difficult to produce and require appreciation of the individual elements, along with the vision to bring them together in unique and creative way. But the pay off is far greater and is worth so much more, not only in customer experience, but also in having something your brand can be proud of.


My worry is that developers and designers may get comfortable offering just the basics to people because that’s what they think they want. This would hinder design and development, because, why would they need to push themselves? It’s surely easier than putting the time and resources into learning new methods and scripts.

The position we’re in now didn’t exactly happen overnight, as I said earlier, HTML5 is really not a new thing. In fact an initiative to create pointer-events was submitted by Microsoft to W3C for standardization in 2012. They wanted to create a bridge between user interactions performed via touch and traditional mouse movements; for instance, you can’t create hover effects on a touch screen. With such a major technical player having to wait for something so universally desired to become standard, you can really appreciate how long these steps can take. If you are focused on the HTML5 hype, you’re actually looking backwards.

Above: The “Illuminati” of web standards.

Hopefully reading this will give you some ammunition to have an informed opinion on web design, or even just a spark of curiosity to investigate it further. (Remember we’re open for a chat anytime.) But at least you’ll have something to discuss with your designers, maybe the potential to expand your digital presence and create some innovative approaches, because you won’t be as limited in your understanding of what the web can do for you :)

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Change alone is perpetual, eternal, immortal.