Recently I’ve been interviewing intern candidates at the day job and none of them really have any web knowledge- at all. One that did had a very twisted view of file and folder structures and told me that “this is the way they teach it at USF.” I replied with a series of hmms and ahas, and really? I had asked if this person knew anything about e-mail marketing and the programming involved for these types of things. No dice. I then asked if this person knew anything about tables for layout. Still, no dice. Surprised, I sent the candidate on their way and pondered this.
I’ve either been in this business too long and getting old or they’re still just teaching BS in universities. Now, we must remember, everything I know about the web, was never taught to me in a traditional 4-year university like these students have learned. It actually makes me kind of annoyed that these kids aren’t learning on their own. Annoyed and nervous.
CSS started dominating, when? 2004? 2005? 2007 tables were dead? Not really sure the turning point of when using tables for layout was a faux pas, but I remember when I stopped, which was about 2007 when I had gotten my first professional web day job and said, okay Alison, time to strap up and ditch the bad practices you do in your spare time.
Today, it’s rare you see tables for layout. Very rare. They still exist in legacy web applications that were originally built. Or you’ll see them used in the wild for other things as well. Not very often. However, when it comes to e-mail design, there is no using CSS for layout. It’s all tables! Props to Apple Mail for supporting virtually every documented CSS3 property imaginable (Apple Mail seems to be doing better than IE9, now that’s just sad). But, not everyone uses Apple Mail. In fact, the most used email clients are probably the worst: Gmail, Outlook, Hotmail, etc.
Now there are some basic CSS properties you can use such as font-family, font-size, etc. But don’t go whipping out padding and margin thinking that’s going to do anything for you. Because it’s not. Unless your entire list is using Apple Mail, I recommend against it.
So alas, what do we do? We go back 10 years and take it back to tables for layout. Not only tables, but don’t use background images either, gmail hates them.
With that said, you still need to learn how to lay out a design in tables. Table nesting is the best practice for email design. Until e-mail desktop clients and webmail offer better support for CSS, it’s tables all the way. For a list of support, check out campaign monitor.
For e-mail designs, check out Beautiful Spam.
Jason Ferguson says
Interesting post, and something I haven’t thought about for a long time. As languages develop and adapt, it’s important to phase out techniques and structures that no longer properly fit within the scope of the design, but at the same time it’s important to remember these “legacy” coding standards that helped build the web into what it is today. All browsers are not created equal, and e-mail clients are even further behind on today’s “acceptable standards”.
Nested Tables and Image Maps became replaced by the Box Model and Sprites in modern development, but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t a place for those “old school” ways of thinking in today’s world. A well rounded developer knows there is a time and place for everything, and just because something isn’t the flavor of the month any more, that doesn’t mean it has no practical purpose in today’s environment.
I still refuse to use Comic Sans ever again though.
Alison Foxall says
Great points Jason!
I’m not sure I ever used Comic Sans, honestly. I can’t really find a time and a place to use it!
That’s because the schools are teaching the kids — no, spoonfeeding them exact instructions on how to solve every possible problem when they should be focusing on training students to analyze the problem first and come up with their own way of solving it.
The first approach results in graduates who can whip up a pretty layout in an hour. Throw in a curveball like quirky CSS support and they’re left staring blankly at the screen: “We’re not supposed to do this. They told me this isn’t possible.”
But we can try to be a little bit forgiving and check for potential by perhaps giving them an exam and challenging them to re-layout a given design using tables. What do you know, maybe one of those interviewees knows how to think independently after all…