Handcrafted CSS

Author: Dan Cederholm & Ethan Marcotte
Publisher: New Riders, 2009
Pages: 240
ISBN: 978-0321643384
Aimed at: A small minority who want want to take CSS to extremes
Pros: Well written and attractively produced
Cons: ... but probably ill-conceived
Reviewed by: David Conrad

This is a fascinating book and it's well written and nicely illustrated but I’m not sure why anyone would want to read it in this day and age. Perhaps more to the point if anyone does want to read it then I’m more worried about what this says for the current state of our technology.

The basic premise of this book is that handcrafting is good. In some fields I can see that this might be true – a handcrafted piece of furniture or some jewellery but CSS? The whole point of CSS and HTML is that they are tools rather than end products and to understand them and use them at the level of detail that this book describes seems counter-intuitive.

Life is too short to concentrate on such low level stuff – are there no HTML editors that would do the job in a fraction of the time? They might not deliver 100% of what you could achieve but they would do it in far less time and with much less sweat. Most of the techniques described are not groundbreaking or even startlingly new and you will have seen many of the ideas elsewhere. Most of them aren’t quite in the category of “tricks” although they are creative and clever uses of CSS and its basic operating principles. Even here, though, you can’t get away from browser incompatibilities and this once again makes the “master craftsman” angle seem misplaced – how can anything so ugly be rewarding to handcraft?

The author's premise is that understanding details such as how to create fancy menus using nothing but HTML and CSS is important. Personally I am of the opinion that if you really want something this creative and novel you would be better off using Flash or Silverlight, or Javascript if you want to stay with a core technology. The book goes into CSS, and other designer details such as typography, at a level that mixes high art with low technical detail. If you appreciate fine typography then you probably aren’t going to want to work at the level of detail that this book promotes. It’s like asking the driver of a Porche to perform the makeover of the engine. There are some fast car owners who could do it and a few who might want to but the majority just like the style and the image and to hell with the low-level engineering.

But if you are one of the few who really want to not only understand CSS but take it to new heights then you will want to read this book and join the select gang of CSS craftspeople – but if you are a programmer you probably have better things to occupy your time.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 29 November 2009 )