It's not Divitis
Nate Koechley writes eloquently on the appropriate use of
DIVs. While he doesn't come out and say it, I feel like he’s speaking about those who quickly wish to label something with a heavy use of
DIVs as divitis.
“According to the authoritative W3C spec, DIVs are specifically designed “for adding structure to documents.” Reasonable examples include encapsulating distinct modules (e.g., this is the weather module; this is the module’s footer region) and grouping together modules that live in the same structure (e.g., these modules belong to the secondary group/column). This is the appropriate use of the DIV element.”
This aligns well with how I often approach my markup. When I look at marking up a part of a design, I start with the
DIV to define the container. Within that, I begin to break it down into its constituent parts. Take a look at the code for this page even, and it’ll become quite evident. Each column within the footer, for example, is a
DIV; with each section within being a
DIV as well. From there it goes into the
Some might say, “well, you have a list of panels, it should be a list.” Thing is, the moment you have more than one of anything, you could argue you have a list. And I’d rather simply not trade accusations of divitis to replace them with listitis.
DIVs, I have dutifully given them structure.
Furthermore, I don't think anybody has been hurt by the overuse of DIVs. As I recollect Dan Cederholm saying in a presentation, "DIVs are like empty calories". When we try to give things too much structure — either unknowingly through tables or knowingly through lists — we can get in the way of the people we try to help.
(As a small aside, this reminds me of when I was developing sites back in 1999. One of the things we used to do at the agency I worked for was to put "Link to Home" and "Link to About Us" on everything. We thought to ourselves that we were being so helpful to those people who use screenreaders by informing them what was a link. However, we got to put our work in front of people with various disabilities and we were surprised to discover that the person who used the screenreader had the capability to bring up all the links on the page. Unfortunately, everything kept saying "Link to..." which became repetitive and annoying.)
We often make assumptions on what we think might be more appropriate for our users but nothing beats actual user testing.