What is an HTML5 Website?

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by Cameron Alcorn August 15, 2014   Web Design

One of the biggest buzzwords (or abbreviations) in the web design & development industry today is HTML5. I’ve seen this advertised by web designers and developers more times than I can count. So, what is an “HTML5 website”? What constitutes a website being an HTML5 site, as compared to any old, monotonous “Web 2.0” website? Well, there are actually two different meanings, each dependent upon one’s perspective.


The Developer Perspective

As a web developer, you likely already know what HTML5 is – the latest standard of HTML. What does this mean for developers? A few really awesome things, actually, such as:

1) New Features

There are some fantastic features included in HTML5. One of the most popular is, without a doubt, the built-in HTML5 video player, which has even taken off on Youtube. Finally, we are free from Adobe’s grasp. Another is Local Storage or Web Storage. Now, us developers can get a little more sleep at night, not worrying about whether or not our users disabled their cookies.


2) More Semantic Code

In the words of Paul Boag, co-founder of the Headscope digital agency, “HTML was originally intended as a means of describing the content of a document, not as a means to make it appear visually pleasing”. In other words, your HTML should describe the content of your web page, not simply serve as a crutch when styling web pages. With the introduction of the <section>, <article>, <nav>, <header>, <footer>, and many other new tags, HTML5 makes semantics easier than ever.


So, HTML5 seems pretty straight forward, right? Think again.


The User Perspective

When discussing HTML5 with a user or prospective client, it seems as if HTML5 takes on an entirely different meaning, evolving from a W3C standard to a term representing the latest web design trends, including (but definitely not limited to):

1) Responsive Design

As more web traffic begins to come from mobile devices, accommodating users on smaller devices has never been more important. Responsive Design is one of the best ways to ensure that no user is left behind or stuck pinching, swiping, and squinting at his or her mobile device. As this design trend (if it can be called that) takes off, users are coming to expect it.


2) Parallax Scrolling

While not as common, parallax scrolling and other similar effects are becoming more common. The introduction of CSS3 has allowed from some amazing creations. Users are expecting a better experience, not only functionally, but also aesthetically.


3) Off-Canvas Menu

Yesterday I read an article on seven different ways to make the “hamburger” icon: the icon typically representing hidden or off-canvas menus. My first thought was, “so, it’s come to this”. The truth is that users are coming to expect that navigation will be convenient and stay out of the way of content.


What’s interesting about all these new trends is that none of them are reliant upon HTML5 – perhaps CSS3 or JavaScript to some degree, but certainly not HTML5. Most users don’t care about Local Storage or proper semantics, so why is it that so many web designers and developers are advertising their services in HTML5? It’s all a matter of perspective. So then, what is the right perspective?


The “Right” Perspective

The honest answer is, there is no right perspective, since, of course, perspective implies that there are alternate ways of looking at something. It’s all dependent on one’s audience. For example, responsive design, parallax scrolling, and off canvas menus are all centered around the usage of CSS3, an entirely separate standard from HTML5, but advertise your skills as an HTML5 expert, and I’m going to assume you’re actually referring to your understanding of the latest web design trends. And if I, as a client, ask you what HTML5 is, you had better have a concise explanation (or hope I’m ready for a long-winded discussion on what constitutes semantic code). On the other hand, tell other developers you “know” HTML5 and they’ll probably just nod their heads, because, deep down, they know what HTML5 is – 50% buzzword, 50% new HTML standard.


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Business professional by day, web developer by night, when I’m not creating solutions for my clients, I’m writing or creating meaningful content for the Web.


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