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Tables Vs. Cascading Style Sheets Report

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Updated: Jan 22nd, 2020

Introduction

Tables have been used in creating web pages for very many years, and even as new design systems come to the fore, they remain a favorite of many designers. This has been attributed to their ease of use. Today, more than two thirds of all websites utilize tables for laying out the various components and arranging them on web pages.

However, table use in web page layout has come under competition as some designers opt for cascading style sheets (CSS) due to the numerous advantages attributed to them. CSS has traditionally been used for text formatting.

Unfortunately, CSS, just like tables, has its own weaknesses as it is time consuming and difficult to use (Villarreal 2004). Tables are very useful in laying out various elements of a web page such as catalogs, forums, search results, product listings, address books, and so on.

This paper will explore the factors that place tables above CSS when it comes to laying out web pages.

Tables are Convenient and easy to use

Designers normally find themselves writing very complex CSS codes just to do things that would be done easily using tables. For instance, in styling, it is possible to lay out even the hardest forms through the use of tables in just a few minutes. Although a similar result can be achieved using CSS, it is a lot more involving and time consuming.

For a CSS expert, this would be fun, however, for a regular web page designer this can be extremely frustrating. Another thing that can be easily done through tables is page footers. It is very simple using tables (Decloak 2010).

While doing this using CSS only, it would not be a wonder when a developer turns to tables. It takes patience and skillful experience to do these simple things using CSS with the same precision and speed as tables.

Although CSS is always said to have a better visual appeal than tables, tables offer a simpler alternative, and using tables for a layout does not imply that a designer cannot use style sheets to enhance the aesthetics off the web page (Dornfest and Hefferman 2007, pp. 260).

Issues Relating to Accessibility

The use of either CSS or tables in page layout brings up the critical question regarding accessibility. A number of people have been trying to advertise web standards, particularly CSS, by playing on clients’ accessibility concerns.

This is an erroneous belief for there is nothing inherently inaccessible in a table-based webpage layout. While it is true that a website needs to be published to a standard set of grammars to have an AA accessibility rating, a tableless layout is just a suggestion, not a prerequisite for the more strict AAA rating.

It is known that using CSS can reduce load times by up to 67 percent as it removes heavy HTML brought about by table-based layouts. However, it is observed that accessibility benefits of CSS over tables is only applicable when the whole web page has been created using tables, and no CSS has been used in any section (Mansfield 2005, pp. 207).

CSS has a higher obstacle to entry than table based layout

While contrasting a table-based layout to a CSS-based layout, the syntax of CSS is found to be very simple. Learning CSS can be very simple even though some sections can be hard to assimilate. In the same line, it is observable that there are numerous bugs that need to be fixed that even the experts sometimes spend an unreasonable amount of time fixing.

For an amateur designer, this process can be daunting and extremely frustrating (Mansfield 2005). Not knowing whether the problem is due to a lack of understanding of CSS or some bug worsens the situation. On the other hand, table-based layouts are simple to learn and use, and problems with the code are easily fixed. Hence, CSS has a higher barrier to entry of new developers than tables.

SEO friendliness

It is a fact the search engines favor semantic pages, a fact that favors pages that have a CSS layout. It is also widely agreed that search engines prefer lean codes. Therefore, creating a web page using CSS and web standards can almost certainly promote the design of search engine friendly sites. However, this is not a guarantee that the page will definitely be search engine optimized.

This depends on several other design features (Darell 2011). There a number of sites with table-based layouts that feature prominently in search results. It is similarly possible to create a CSS based webpage that scores poorly on search engine ranks. The most significant thing factor that affects ranking is content and incoming links, and not on the type of layout.

CSS Flaws in Page Layouts

When CSS is used in page layouts, in presents two flaws:

  • The layout primites are inadequate since they do not permit components to be situated relative to each other. Only relative to their containers.
  • The way a CSS is rendered causes inevitable interactions between the style sheets and the basic content so that even when CSS is used as planned, it becomes practically impossible to separate content from layout.

CSS Performs better in Some Areas

Despite scoring low on its use in page layout, CSS does excel in some areas at the expense of tables. One of the strongest points for using CSS is the ability to have visual evenness across pages. This stems from the fact that design elements can be declared in one line and will repeatedly be applied on all pages (Warner 2011, pp. 249). Hence, a designer does no have to declare the style on each page.

Secondly, as CSS separates design components from content, a site created using a CSS-based layout will be easier to redesign or change since only few files are altered. This could incredibly reduce the costs and improve the efficiency of any changes undertaken on the website.

Conclusion

CSS is very cool and is quite useful for doing numerous things. The essential thought of separating content from presentation is perfect. However, when it comes to page layout, CSS is principally unusable. Tables are the best in this area. Table-based designs have been around for many years now, but this does not mean that they should be discarded as they offer more convenience for some tasks more than CSS.

Web standards and CSS certainly hold the future, but in the hurry to adopt these new techniques, designers end up being shortsighted. Tables, when used with a high level of perception relating to how and when they are used, can provide an absolutely flexible and fast page. Although there are flaws with table designs and how they present information, a number of these problems can find comparables when using CSS-based layouts.

References

Darell, R. (2011). . Web.

Decloak. (2010). . Web.

Dornfest, A. and Hefferman, L. (2007).Microsoft Expression Web for Dummies. NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc.

Mansfield, R. (2005). CSS and Tables: The hype and the trends. Web.

Mansfield, R. (2005). CSS Web design for dummies. NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc.

Villarreal, S. (2004). . Web.

Warner, J. (2011). Dreamweaver 8 For Dummies. NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc.

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