The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web (Voices That Matter)

The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web (Voices That Matter)
Dave Shea, Molly E. Holzschlag
27 Feb 2005
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Proving once and for all that standards-compliant design does not equal dull design, this inspiring tome uses examples from the landmark CSS Zen Garden site as the foundation for discussions on how to create beautiful, progressive CSS-based Web sites.

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  1. Editorial Reviews
  2. Customer Reviews

Customer Reviews

Brad Bice said
The Zen of CSS Design is a book about the application of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) over a structure of HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language). I like to look at CSS as the paint and decorating that is applied over the frame and drywall of a house. These things can change over time while the underlying structure of the house remains the same.

Dave Shea, the creator of the CSS Zen Garden, one of the first groundbreaking CSS galleries, and Molly E. Holzschlag, one of the preeminent designers on the web, do well in not only showcasing many of the best designs from the website, but also in explaining the techniques used by them.

Web design can be taken to so many different degrees. There are people and companies who do the bare minimum of design work: text on a plain background with one or two images scattered here and there. But even this is a design choice. The way navigation is designed is a choice, the colors and images and borders are choices, and the use of web standards technologies like CSS or Flash are design choices.

The way the CSS Zen Garden website works is that one HTML file was created, and each designer uses that same structure to create their own design. Their CSS styles are layered -or "cascaded," if you will--over that structure to create an original look and feel, but at the same time delivering the very same content as everyone else. The point of the project is to showcase the efficiency and flexibility of CSS as a design tool. This is in contrast to using HTML-only or proprietary browser technologies for design.

The book is split up into seven chapters, each talking about a specific type of design: examining the structure, a design overview, layout, imagery, typography, special effects and reconstruction. The book does a great job of using more than 36 different CSS designs from the website as examples of exploring the everyday challenges and problems faced by web designers. These challenges include using the right amounts of contrast and color in a design to make the content as readable and usable as possible. Using the correct type and design in typography also goes a long way in design of a website. Normal browser text is replaced by images using CSS to better fit in with the overall page design. Elements of typographical design such as leading and tracking are controlled by CSS to make type readable as well. Design elements are repeated in some different ways, sometimes in different colors so as to mark separate sections of the site.

Overall I think this book does a splendid job of showcasing the multiple ways that CSS can be used to display and enhance content on the web. However, I do not believe that this book should be read as a starting-out point for anyone interested in learning CSS or HTML. This is written for those who have at least some experience with writing stylesheets already, and will be a great addition to their collection. The designers that are included and reviewed in this book such as Shaun Inman, Douglas Bowman and Jon Hicks are some of the top CSS and design experts in the world. They all continue to make breakthroughs in design to this day.

This book is a little outdated now, three years after being published, but the techniques used are (and will be) just as viable if used tomorrow. That is the point of proper CSS design as opposed to HTML design, is that designers should create with forward-thinking in mind. CSS is a web standard that leaves the content alone. Even if CSS techniques expire or are replaced in the future, the content will always be there. The CSS can be changed but will only be a layer of paint over the drywall.

Hedley Finger said
I bought this book understanding that it would help me learn CSS design, but soon found that it was not for the beginner but for an experienced CSS practitioner. The book is divided into themes such as 'Layout', 'Typography', etc. and illustrates the points being made by references to examples on the web site.

You can browse to the relevant pages and read the CSS code to understand how effects were made. As such the book is an inspiration for beginners to aim for after they have had some experience with CSS, perhaps by going to the original inventors, Lie and Bos: Cascading Style Sheets: Designing for the Web (3rd Edition).

James G. Swanson said
Very readable and enjoyable book. The authors' carefully chosen example designs are dissected to highlight key CSS concepts. The process examples were especially enlightening for me. Even the references at end of the book were spot-on.

Leo Mckenzie III said
I bought this book years ago wanting to learn CSS before it became popular. I have always loved the artwork produced on csszengarden's web site. I figured that the book would teach me css. I was somewhat wrong. The book covers techniques the page developers used to create some of the artwork, but never really explains what the different settings mean. The book also seemed to jump around and did not flow with any explanation. I ended up learning CSS from the web. Even now that I know CSS extensively, I have gone back and read this book again and can really see how it jumps around and does not explain the techniques very well. I do still keep the book in my toolbox for some reference, but hardly ever look at it anymore.

Derek Colanduno said
I came across this book due to my love of the great website of the same name as the book. If you are a web designer or want to see some better ways to make your online web presence look better, and more slick, this book is a great addition to your tool box.

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