Why WYSIWYGs Suck

It’s a new year, and what better way to start off than with a lengthy rant. Strap yourself in.

People often ask me why I am so concerned with writing standards compliant HTML, and they have good points, mainly that it takes longer to develop something that is compliant, and the only people who really know if it is are other developers. I’ve always been in favor of standards compliant code, but to be honest, for a long time I didn’t even know why I did it, it was really just nerd lore to me, the big nerds wanted it, and I agreed blindly. You might think that a production environment with constantly encroaching deadlines would make me throw my compliance to the wind, well to a certain extent it does (although I write standards compliant XHTML out of habit, I do not have time to fix other people’s code). However, this high-pressure environment has made me appreciate standards compliance all the more.

When I think of standards compliance, I can’t help but think of the most disgusting feeling in web development: code that is generated by a WYSIWYG. Good luck validating it. It really is the least compliant code there is, and it causes me lots of headaches in development. I am the resident CSS guru where I work so I handle a lot of the styling of our sites. If it’s done with a WYSIWYG it is practically impossible to style, or at least it takes forever. And even if someone doesn’t use a WYSIWYG but is an old-school HTML coder and still uses a lot of tables, it is still difficult to style, but at least manageable if they include enough class / id tags on the tables.The bottom line remains the same–too much work for not enough styling.

With a large WYSIWYG site there is basically no recourse besides a ton of CSS hacks (ugh), and the result isn’t ever really pretty. For smaller WYSIWYG sites and for sites handcoded with tables, it’s manageable. I first replace all the tables with divs, and if I’m feeling REAL nerdy I close the breaks hehe. After that it’s no sweat, but still a big waste of time.I’d really like to develop a WYSIWYG that uses divs instead of tables.



Jon Raasch

Jon Raasch is a UX nerd and free-lance web designer / developer who loves jQuery, Javascript & CSS.




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4 Comments to “Why WYSIWYGs Suck” RSS 2.0

  1. Xtence says:

    Where i use to work, all designers worked with a WYSIWYG, to save time !?! If you know your html and css well, you make it even faster, cause you write no bugs, and make it work in different browsers without a whole bunch of hacks in the code, if you can’t validate you know why and what did made it happen.
    I know “webdesigners” who don’t know nothing bout html, css and then they give they’re template to a developer, who spontanious give it back because the code is like spaghetti.It just sucks.

    Nice blog, like it very much, keep on the good work!

  2. Gary Hepting says:

    I like your rant, but it must be slightly out-dated… There are CSS/xHTML producing WYSIWYG editors (I think even Dreamweaver has been updated to use CSS layout methods and content styling) currently available. Of coarse, there is no substitution for a knowledgeable and experienced web developer being involved in the web development process… People that use WYSIWYG editors are most likely not creating applications that will last for years and support new technologies and internet applications as they emerge.

    It’s all about future-proofing. That is why we “waste” time converting old deprecated code with valid xHTML and CSS when we are forced to work on old code structures. We know that it SHOULD be like this and that all technologies, current and in the future, will be more than likely to support and properly interpret our code if it is structured properly and within the W3C and other standards.

    Besides, if we don’t, we get phone calls from clients we’ve worked with in the past to “fix” things that break when new browsers that DO support standards are released! :)

    It’s our duty as passionate developers of the internet to do things properly, advise our clients of the importance and necessity of these things, and ultimately make the internet a better place for future developers and users alike!

    – Gary

  3. Jon Raasch says:

    Thanks for the update to this post Gary and your many good points!

    To be honest I was a bit nooby when I wrote this one. I still think that no developers should ever use WYSIWYGs since they will never be able to compete with a human programmer with a vast knowledge of HTML/CSS. However I have learned to deal with WYSIWYGs since they really are an inevitability.

    There really is no way around WYSIWYGs for content managed websites. Content management means there is user generated content, and we can’t hold average users or even our savvy clients to the same standards we hold ourselves. For instance when doing Drupal integration we have to interface with TinyMCE content. A good CSS programmer will have no problem styling this content.

    But I am very interested in improvements in web based WYSiWYGs, since they are integral to the new web. I’m considering doing a blog post soon comparing a few.

    Thanks for your comment,
    jr

  4. Becca Carter says:

    -Jon
    i have used a few of the “cut and paste” build a site software packages…in the end no matter i still go back to my roots for the tricks i know i can do myself instead of wasting my time looking for the application that is supposed to do it. no matter what software you use…you still need to learn some coding. ~.~ Especially if you are a perfectionist about your site ;p
    Becca


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