Confessions of a Change Agent

(originally posted 7/25/2004 but re-posted for a friend)

Getting management at any large corporation to change to a radically new process can be a daunting challenge. Getting a highly successful commercial site with millions of registered users to change from table-based design to CSS/XHTML design based on web standards is almost impossible. The trick is to use reasons that those wearing the suits will listen to.

Here is the path to success:

  • Enlist the help of your fellow designers to champion the cause

  • Lose the geek speak and trumpet the money saving reasons

  • Don’t give up

Despite the myriad of reasons for any organization to adopt web standards in their online presence, those that affect the bottom line are the silver bullets to breaking through and getting heard at the ?berCorp of your choice.

Like many other designers, I first heard of web standards from the greatest resource a web professional ever had - Jeffrey Zeldman’s website, A list Apart. Every article challenged what I believed to be professional web design. When Zeldman’s booked shipped (Designing With Web Standards), I wasted no time ordering it from Amazon.

Soon after it arrived in the mail, I was convinced that I possessed one of the best books ever written about web design. How was I going to get web standards implemented where I work?

My first attempts were to convince some of the more influential designers that this book was a must-read and that we need to get on board with these new fangled standards. These designers eventually came around and saw the light but did not shift the gears out of first when it came to convincing design management about the need to change.

One obstacle than I consistently ran into was management’s misconception that “web standards” and “open source” were of the same cloth. Perhaps, IT managers of major corporations have been assaulted too many times with the virtues of open source web solutions by enterprising junior programmers who see the beauty and savings of the open source community. Anything that reeks of the open source movement can be seen by some as a threat to a stable, profitable e-commerce platform.

After explaining the differences between the two phenomena, I was better positioned to posit my bullet points (in writing is the key) of all the ways web standards would save the company money. It was only after these things were accomplished that I was able to get management from making fun of the cover, to actually reading Jeffrey Zeldman’s book.

Before you could say “CSS positioning”, management made the book mandatory reading for all designers and web producers and made significant steps to phase-in the change to XHTML/CSS based design. Now if we could just change Internet Explorer?