Planning a website: Getting your head around HTML5 and CSS3

HTML5 and CSS3 are the new kids on the block when it comes to web design and development. Like Web 2.0, Social Media, SEO and Social Networking in the past we are seeing many customers coming to us saying “we need an HTML5 website”, without really understanding what they are asking for. This problem is further entrenched when we see adverts promising HTML5 websites to customers.

Without getting into the nerdy history and complexities, my blog today is going to briefly explain what HTML5 is and what many (not all) people generally mean when they ask for such a website.

Loosely speaking, HTML is the language used to construct websites and give them structure. Generally speaking it allows your web browser to read and display a website according to a defined set of rules, the latest is HTML5 – just to give some perspective, HTML4 was ratified (nailed down) in 2000.

The reason why people are talking about HTML5 is that, as it’s an evolution of HTML4 developers can begin to use certain functionality as some web browsers offer support for it. The main problem though is that HTML5 hasn’t yet been ratified and some believe that won’t happen until 2022. This means that the websites that have been built for use today, may be using techniques that won’t work tomorrow – saying that though Google use it for their mobile version of Gmail.

So what is different in HTML5? Without getting too techy, the new additions include (but aren’t limited to):

  • We can write more semantic (well structured, human readable) code – for example where we used generic tags before we can use things like ‘nav’ for navigation and ‘footer’ for the footer
  • We can embed video without resorting to proprietary technology such as Flash

So why do people ask for an HTML5 website? The emerging design styles of websites tend to be focused heavily on subtle animation, print-style fonts, drop-shadows, strong colours and gradients. I believe that this new style has somehow been muddled with HTML5, when in reality it is a new style-sheet standard called CSS3 that provides most of, if not all of this functionality (I knew I would get to my point eventually!).

Certain parts of the CSS3 standard have been ratified and it is this that enables many of today’s latest design trends. It allows for unusual fonts to be embedded, gradients and drop shadows to be used by the website and not embedded into images as was the previous technique. In addition to this, it enables animations to be incorporated without the need for Flash or other third-party plug-ins. This is great for what we call an ‘open web’ and Apple love it! There is obviously much more to this than that, just off the top of my head you can organise text into columns and have multiple background images.

When push comes to shove though, as an end user your primary goal is to have a website that you are happy with, both in looks and functionality. At Save9 we try to integrate these new techniques when we feel they are required or add that something extra special to a website. The major problem is that you need to be aware of is that your site could look different in different browsers, a problem we already face. Certain browsers have embraced these standards more than others and as developers we take steps to ensure that our websites ‘degrade gracefully’. This means that we will make it look its best in the modern browsers but crucially, they won’t look broken in ones that don’t support it.

I hope this helps!

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