HTML5 for Web Designers Review

Filed September 2nd, 2010 under Web Technologies

HTML5 for Web Designers by Jeremy Keith

I sat down to read Jeremy Keith’s HTML5 for Web Designers this morning. At a slim 95 pages, it’s exactly the kind of introduction to the future of HTML that warrants the attention of the general web designer.

Keith swiftly illuminates the subtle political squabbles amongst competing standards organizations in a historical overview of HTML itself. With the pilloried politics and regulations of the WC3 on the one hand, and the business gumtion of Ian Hickson and the WHATWG, it’s anything but a boring recap of an otherwise theoretical dispute.

It’s exactly this kind of overview that mirrors the philosophy of HTML5: much of the markup specification is a recognition of the practical applications of HTML over the last decade, rather than the wishful thinking of XHTML 2.0. His jabs at the WC3 are backed by a design philosophy of “Priority of constituencies,” whereby consideration is given to users over authors over implementers over specifiers over theoretical purity.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the debate behind the merits of any particular specification design principle, but Keith’s language displays a kind of knowing recognition of his audience. Web designers don’t really care about vendor politics – they care about features they can use right now. To that end, Keith elegantly uses humour to explain the seemingly archaic incubation time of HTML5: “[it] seems to have been written with a level of detail normally reserved for trainspotters who enjoy a nice game of chess while indexing their stamp collection.” This wry humour continues throughout the book, including a particularly choice section where Keith describes the wrongheadedness of disabling JavaScript to remove HTML5′s boolean autofocus attribute as “a heavy-handed solution, like gouging out your eyes to avoid bright lights.”

Beyond the politics and theory, HTML5 for Web Designers contains an excellent description of rich media. He masterfully explains the audio and video tags, and how to progressivel support Ogg Vorbis, MP3, MP4, and Theora Video. Again, he gives a passing nod to the patent-laden politics behind the brewing codec war, but the real depth of his description comes in the form of practical advice to web designers today.

Although much of the community’s attention has been given to the canvas, audio, and video tags, I found the Semantics section to be the most engaging topic in Keith’s overview. HTML5 introduces contextual tags such as section, article, header, and footer – but I was only aware of these new tags in a cursory way. Keith illuminates some of the inconsistencies, and admirably tries to explain the design philosophy behind these new semantic tags.

tl;dr: HTML5 for Web Designers is a highly recommended and practical introduction to the HTML5 spec for web designers. It is available in a softcover print edition or in the electronic ePub format from books.alistapart.com for $18 or $9, respectively.

You can follow Jeremy Keith on Twitter or follow his blog at adactio.com/journal

Joshua Kelly
Director of Human/Machine Synthesis

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