CSS Mastery

I have always hated CSS simply because anything I ever did would break in either Firefox or IE. I would spend countless hours tweaking and experimenting to get things consistent, and even then it felt like things where hanging together by a thread. Once things worked, I prayed I never need to “change” it. I have to confess that up until recently I still believed that tables were the solution to most web UI problems. A table here or there never hurt anyone. Really though, tables are sooooo Altavista. Thus, I’ve been making a conscious effort to move towards styled divs without tables full of spaced out cells containing transparant spacer gifs. I have been pretty much fudging my way through it so I thought I should read up on the subject and saw that CSS Mastery had gotten some really good reviews. I stole the office copy, made my way through it and can honestly say, with hand on heart, that it is an absolute must read for anyone involved in any sort of web development. My CSS ability has developed by leaps and bounds. I recently put together our new site which gave me a chance to flex some of my new found CSS skills and it made such a difference. Everything came together quickly and painlessly. For the first time ever I had a site that worked in both Firefox and IE pretty much off the bat and I had a tidy HTML and CSS file. Will this book make you a CSS Master? Probably not, I’m not one yet, that’s for sure, but it will get you on the right track to eventually getting there.

To go off on a bit of a tangent. Some work places have a specific team that do all the styling and formatting of whatever the developers give them. Maybe on huge projects, it makes sense, but in small teams I see no benefit apart from massaging the developers own egos and beliefs that HTML/CSS is beneath them or something. This divided approach really bugs me, simply because I believe that it causes developers to not give the asthetic or functional side of what they produce any consideration. Un-usable? Hey, it works and that’s all that matters, it’s not my job to make it look pretty! The process is circular. Good design begets good functionality begets good design begets… You get the point. Design is not just about making things pretty, and that’s the trap that people fall into. It is about communication; giving the user an experience they understand and can relate to. I’m not a UI guru or claim to have all the answers, but I’m a big believer in at least trying. The curse of knowledge from the book Made To Stick plays a big factor in this. People find it extremely hard, if not impossible to imagine not knowing what they know, and that is what stifles communication. I once argued with a company director about an existing system’s poor UI. They claimed that it was sooooo easy and quick to use and I pointed out that’s because had been walked through it so many times and used it nearly every day. So eat your own dog food and do your own HTML/CSS. Use your own system and pretend like you’ve never used it before. Do a hallway test and ask someone to perform a task without telling them how to do it. You might be surprised by the results.