Review: The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightment for the Web

Zen of CSS Design The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web by Dave Shea and Molly E. Holzschlag is a valuable book. It would not serve as the basis for a semester’s curriculum, but is a resource to augment the curriculum. I suggest you make students engaged in any form of visual communication for the web aware of this book.

The premise of the book is to discuss some of the designs from CSS Zen Garden. Sometimes the discussion is visual, sometimes it is technical. Depending on the design being deconstructed, the discussion might deal with anything from classic design principles, typography, Photoshop techniques, CSS techniques, browser filtering, creating thematic elements, best practices, semantic HTML, or even the creative process itself. The authors took an all-inclusive approach to visual design, and delved into everything from the importance of negative space to the uses of negative margins.

I found it to be the kind of book that sparked a good deal of creative thought in me, causing me to to consider how an idea or technique could be used in my own work, and sending me to the computer to try things out myself. My graphic design skills are meager at best, so any new way of improving the graphical appearance of my sites is always fascinating to me. In particular, many of the techniques used on CSS Zen Garden involving background images seem within my powers, so I read slowly with frequent pauses for pondering.

Since each example at CSS Zen Garden uses the same HTML, the discussion of many of the examples dealt with the array of creative ideas and CSS layout techniques used to present the page in unique ways. Technically speaking, there is a vast amount of knowledge about CSS worked into the exploration of each design.

In the history of the development of the web, CSS Zen Garden represents a major world-shaping milestone. CSS languished on the fringes before CSS Zen Garden demonstrated its possibilities. Now, all-CSS sites are more and more common, even mainstream. If you are trying to bring your students into a standards-based, all-CSS world, this book will help you show them the way.

As an aside for those of you who were interested in my previous post Why colleges should stop teaching Fireworks as a primary web design tool, take notice of the way this book presents the image files used to make up a site’s graphics. Not as a layout to be sliced up and exported to HTML, but as a set of related graphics that can be used individually to build a look.

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