Home / Books / Book Reviews / Book Review: HTML Utopia: Designing Without Tables Using CSS by Rachel Andrew and Dan Shafer

Book Review: HTML Utopia: Designing Without Tables Using CSS by Rachel Andrew and Dan Shafer

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CSS has completely changed the way that websites are designed. That is, if anything, an understatement: CSS has revolutionized Web design. Designers can do things with CSS that would have taken a LOT more time and effort to do using straight HTML 3.2 – if they could have been done at all.

But for old-school designers who haven't kept up with things, or the self-taught HTML coders who cut their teeth on 3.2, CSS can seem a bit daunting. The temptation is always there to use the old methods, like tables. And that's where HTML Utopia comes in handy.

HTML Utopia isn't a beginner's tutorial; Andrew and Shafer make it clear at the beginning that you should have "at least a little experience building sites" to get the most out of the book. It builds on the experience that you already have to show you how to do things better with CSS.

I appreciated the fact that the book doesn't start out with the nuts and bolts of CSS – what an attribute is, what a property is, etc. It starts with how CSS can help you. I think that's important, because if you overwhelm someone right away with a totally different way of coding a page, they're going to run away, no matter how much better it is than what they're currently using. Andrew and Shafer start off with showing how CSS benefits the designer, and from there gradually introduce the nuts and bolts.

Another benefit to this book is the website.  You get all the code from the examples in the book, as well as updates and errata.  With any tech book, a good website is crucial – things change too quickly, and a book that is static is pretty worthless.  With ready updates, and the Sitepoint discussion forums, there is a steady source of new information and support.

So many web design books end up being a step-by-step guide to creating a website (and never show you how to design anything that is different from their example), or go the other direction and end up being a reference book that doesn't show you how to use any of the tools it contains.  HTML Utopia does both.  It is a great resource for anyone who has been wanting to use CSS to spice up their existing sites, or who wants to create something from scratch but doesn't know how to do it. 

While it's not designed for advanced CSS users, it's perfect for the beginner who is trying to bring their Web design skills up to date.  This second edition adds content concerning Internet Explorer 7, and gives a lot of great information about cross-browser design techniques.

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About Warren Kelly

  • Rob

    Great blog! I’ve added a link to your blog on Blog of the Day under the category of Design. To view the feature of your blog, please visit blogoftheday.org

  • I have read HTML Utopia. It is a great book for unravelling many css mysteries….

  • Thanks for the link to the sitepoint website, was just what I was looking for. I’m just a CSS beginner, so it could come in handy.

  • Hmmm I am kind of put off by the title (I mean really who really references tables in a CSS book title anymore – it seems kind of 1999).

    Still on the look out for a good CSS manual to use for new staff so if there are anymore suggestions?

  • Oddly enough, my mother has insisted on me reading this book… I was also (John) put off by the title, but she insists it is an insightful read.. Mom knows best..

  • There are much more up to date books than this now, as far as I know.