In the last few years, books on CSS have crowded the book shelves as designers clamored to better understand how to use the mighty tool that blew away tables. This, however, isn’t just another book on CSS its syntax, and positioning. Professional CSS uses real Web sites to show how the designer did the work and why the designer took the specific steps or approach with the design. One hundred people can build the same site, but do it 100 different ways. Certain methods work better than others and the authors back up their decisions with clear explanations.
Get the inside story on Blogger’s rounded corners and rollovers; FastCompany.com’s three-column layout; strategies for style switching; the process of revamping the giant ESPN.com site from tables to CSS; the evolution of The University of Florida’s site, as many sites realistically evolve throughout the years, and a look at the structure of The PGA Championship Web site. Then the book ties it all together using Christopher Schmitt’s personal site as the closing chapter.
Don’t expect start-to-finish walk-throughs and how-tos for the sites. This would take more than a book to do. The authors pick a few areas and hone in on them. The book as a whole should be enough to give readers an idea of how to work through a site from the beginning to the end. An intermediate or experienced designer can take her skills and knowledge to another level thanks to the thorough and clear explanations accompanying them.
The first two chapters are different animals from the rest of the book. Chapter 1 is “The Planning and Development of Your Site,” and Chapter 2 covers “Best Practices for XHTML and CSS.” Some people might find them a waste, while others might appreciate them. These two topics are better covered in the later chapters, as they look at the planning of real sites rather than dealing with theories.
For instance, one chapter looks at how the decision to convert ESPN.com to a CSS-based site came about. Additionally, the author describes how the three content modes (regular, skirmish, and war) are managed on the front page depending on the importance of the headline. “Regular” mode describes basic news items—like who won the game, who got traded, and an update on a strike. “Skirmish” typically reports on record-breaking events, while “War” is the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series. This is planning and strategy. Because the information is tied with to a real scenario, readers are more apt to come up with ways to adapt the concepts for their own sites.
The XHTML and CSS best-practices chapter is more about the rules than about the best ways of doing things. Closing empty elements like the line break with a slash on the end like this <br /> is a rule example. Creating left-side menus using list items instead of line breaks is a best practice. The chapter focuses on the former.
The book closes with four helpful appendices. Troubleshooting CSS is the most useful. It has tips on how to find where the CSS “bugs” are—much like troubleshooting code. It also contains other resources where readers can go for help. This section is only a few pages long, but packs lot of useful information in a small space.
Reading about the processes and techniques used in these projects taps into a collective of some of the best designers. The reader is a “fly on the wall” listening to the authors describe how they work—offering advice along the way that can be used in the reader’s projects. Expect a few “aha!” moments in which you suddenly find a better way to approach a challenge. After all, five heads are better than one.
With five authors, some might wonder about the different writing styles. Since every chapter covers a different Web site, readers will find themselves more interested in the process and less affected by the differences in writing style. Intermediate and expert designers will find this solid book complements their other CSS resources nicely.
Meryl is attempting to have her site redesigned as she is her own worst critic. It’s a pain to move to a new design, but it’s nice once it’s done. She is also the keeper of the CSS Collection.