A Book Apart No. 2: CSS3 For Web Designers, by Dan Cederholm

CSS3 For Web Designers by Dan Cederholm

DAN CEDERHOLM IS THE FIRST front-end developer I’ve ever worked with who got everything right. Typically when one person is designing in Photoshop and another is converting that design to code, the coder makes at least one or two decisions that the designer will feel moved to correct. For instance, the designer may have intended a margin of 26px, but the coder writes 25px. Or the designer establishes a certain distance between subhead and paragraph, then accidentally changes that distance in a single instance during a Photoshop copy-and-paste error, and the coder slavishly copies the mistake. No front-end developer, however good, reads minds, right?

Wrong. Dan Cederholm reads minds. When we have hired him to code other people’s visual designs, he gets everything right, including the parts the designer got wrong. Maybe that’s because Dan is not only a front-end developer, he is also an extremely gifted designer with a strong personal vision and style, which you can see by visiting work.simplebits.com. Not only that, Dan invariably translates a designer’s fixed Photoshop dimensions into code that is flexible, accessible, and bulletproof. That’s only to be expected, of course, as Dan is a leading and pioneering advocate of accessible, standards-based design and the author who coined the phrase “bulletproof web design.”

Designer, coder, pioneer. That would be plenty of achievement for anyone, but it happens that Dan is also a born teacher and a terrifically funny guy, whose deadpan delivery makes Steven Wright look giddy by comparison. Dan speaks all over America and the world, helping web designers improve their craft, and he not only educates, he kills.

And that, my friends, is why we’ve asked him to be our (and your) guide to CSS3. To be sure, there are (a few) other high-end CSS gurus who write beautifully and wittily, and whom we might have approached. But most are not designers. Dan is, to his core. He dreams design, bleeds design, and even gave the world a new way to share design.

You couldn’t ask for a smarter, more design-focused, more detail-obsessed guide to the smoking hot newness and conceptual and browser challenges of CSS3. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the trip:

iPad as the new Flash


Jeffrey Zeldman Presents

iPad. Never have so many embraced a great product for exactly the wrong reasons.

Too many designers and publishers see the iPad as an opportunity to do all the wrong things—things they once did in Flash—without the taint of Flash.

In the minds of many, the iPad is like Flash that pays. You can cram traditional publishing content into an overwrought, novelty Flash interface as The New York Times once did with its T magazine. You may win a design award but nobody will pay you for that content. Ah, but do the same thing on the iPad instead, and subscribers will pay—maybe not enough to save publishing, but enough to keep the content coming and at least some journalists, editors, and art directors employed.

It’s hard to argue with money and jobs, and I wouldn’t dream of doing so.

Alas, the early success of a few publications—publications so good they would doubtless survive with or without iPad—is creating a stampede that will not help most magazines and interfaces that will not please most readers.

Everything we’ve learned in the past decade about preferring open standards to proprietary platforms and user-focused interfaces to masturbatory ones is forgotten as designers and publishers once again scramble to create novelty interfaces no one but them cares about.

While some of this will lead to useful innovation, particularly in the area of gestural interfaces, that same innovation can just as readily be accomplished on websites built with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript—and the advantage of creating websites instead of iPad apps is that websites work for everyone, on browsers and devices at all price points. That, after all, is the point of the web. It’s the point of web standards and progressive enhancement.

Luke Wroblewski’s Touch Gesture Reference Guide gives designers plenty of ammunition to create dynamic user experiences that work on a wide variety of mobile phones and devices (including iPad) while these same sites can use traditional desktop browser effects like hover to offer equally rich experiences on non-touch-enabled browsers. Unless your organization’s business model includes turning a profit by hiring redundant, competing teams, “Write once, publish everywhere” makes more economic sense than “Write once, publish to iPad. Write again, publish to Kindle. Write again, publish to some other device.”

I’m not against the iPad. I love my iPad. It’s great for storing and reading books, for browsing websites, for listening to music and watching films, for editing texts, presentations, and spreadsheets, for displaying family photos, and on and on. It’s nearly all the stuff I love about my Mac plus a great ePub reader slipped into a little glass notebook I play like a Theremin.

I’m not against iPad apps. Twitterific for iPad is by far the best way to use Twitter. After all, Twitter is really an internet service, not a website; Twitter’s own site, while leaps ahead of where it used to be, is hardly the most useful or delightful way to access its service. Gowalla for iPad is my constant companion. I dread the idea of traveling without it. And there are plenty of other great iPad apps I love, from Bloom, an “endless music machine” by Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers, to Articles, which turns Wikipedia into an elegant reading experience, to Mellotronics for iPad, an uncannily accurate Mellotron simulator packed with 13 authentic voices—“the same production tapes featured on Strawberry Fields Forever” and other classic tracks (not to mention tracks by nouveau retro bands like Eels).

There are apps that need to be apps, demand to be apps, and I admire and learn from them like every other designer who’s alive at this moment.

I’m just not sold on what the magazines are doing. Masturbatory novelty is not a business strategy.

Paul Ford on The Big Web Show

Paul Ford

Paul Ford is our guest on The Big Web Show, taped live before an internet audience at 1:00 PM ET tomorrow, 14 October 2010, on the 5by5 network at live.5by5.tv.

Paul is a freelance writer and computer programmer. He was an editor at Harper’s Magazine from 2005–2010, and brought Harper’s 159-year, 250,000-page archive to the web in 2007; the system now supports tens of thousands of registered subscribers. More recently he helped the media strategy firm Activate with the launch of Gourmet Live, a re-imagining of Gourmet Magazine for iPad, and co-founded Popsicle Weasel, a small company totally focused on microsites.

He has written for NPR, TheMorningNews.org, XML.com, and the National Information Standards Organization’s Information Standards Quarterly, and is the author of the novel Gary Benchley, Rock Star (Penguin/Plume). Paul programs in PHP, Java, and XSLT2.0, but lately is all about Python and Django. His writing has been anthologized in Best Software Writing I (2005) and Best Music Writing 2009. He enjoys both software and music.

He will teach Content Strategy at the School of Visual Arts in New York City starting in 2011. His personal website, started in 1997, is Ftrain.com. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife Mo and the obligatory cats.

The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) is recorded live in front of an internet audience every Thursday at 1:00 PM ET on live.5by5.tv. Join us!

Edited episodes can be watched afterwards, often within hours of recording, via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web. Subscribe and enjoy!

The future of web standards

Jeffrey Zeldman on the future of web standards.

“Cheap, complex devices such as the iPhone and the Droid have come along at precisely the moment when HTML5, CSS3 and web fonts are ready for action; when standards-based web development is no longer relegated to the fringe; and when web designers, no longer content to merely decorate screens, are crafting provocative, multi-platform experiences. Is this the dawn of a newer, more mature, more ubiquitous web?”

The Future of Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman

Originally written for .net magazine, Issue No. 206, published 17 August in UK and this month in the US in “Practical Web Design” Magazine. Now you can read the article even if you can’t get your hands on these print magazines.

See also: I Guest-Edit .net magazine.

The Self-Published Author

I didn’t have much of a marketing plan other than e-mailing my friends and writing to people who had book-review sites and asking them if they would like a free copy. But the word got around. Soon I was deluged with e-mail, and within days I started getting checks in the mail. Many dozens of ’em. Mostly from the United States, but also from Sweden, Australia, Singapore …

Using the internet to reach an audience and distribute work traditional publishers reject. Novelist edition. Jane Friedman interviews John Sundman in “There Are No Rules – Building an Enthusiastic Fan Base as a Self-Published Author,” Writer’s Digest.

HTML5 Pour Les Web Designers

Sacre bleu! The French edition of the ebook of HTML5 For Web Designers is in the Top 5 sellers on iTunes Français.

Sacrebleu! The French edition of the ebook of Monsieur Jeremy Keith’s HTML5 For Web Designers is in the top five sellers in the iTunes Store Français.

To answer your other questions: an eBook version in English is coming to books.alistapart.com next week, will soon thereafter also be sold via the iTunes Store, and will be followed by a PDF version. Get those downloading fingers in shape now!

I guest-edit .net magazine

Web 2.1. Zeldman guest-edits .net magazine.

A List Apart and .net magazine have long admired each other. So when .net editor Dan Oliver did me the great honor of asking if I wished to guest edit an issue, I saluted smartly. The result is now arriving in subscriber post boxes and will soon flood Her Majesty’s newsstands.

In .net magazine Issue No. 206, on sale 17th August in UK (and next month in the US, where it goes by the name “Practical Web Design”), we examine how new standards like CSS3 and HTML5, new devices like iPhone and Droid, and maturing UX disciplines like content strategy are converging to create new opportunities for web designers and the web users we serve:

  • Exult as Luke Wroblewski shows how the explosive growth of mobile lets us stop bowing to committees and refocus on features customers need.
  • Marvel as Ethan Marcotte explains how fluid grids, flexible images, and CSS3 media queries help us create precise yet context-sensitive layouts that change to fit the device and screen on which they’re viewed.
  • Delight as Kristina Halvorson tells how to achieve better design through coherent content wrangling.
  • Thrill as Andy Hume shows how to sell wary clients on cutting-edge design methods never before possible.
  • Geek out as Tim Van Damme shows how progressive enhancement and CSS3 make for sexy experiences in today’s most capable browsers—and damned fine experiences in those that are less web-standards-savvy.

You can also read my article, which asks the musical question:

Cheap, complex devices such as the iPhone and the Droid have come along at precisely the moment when HTML5, CSS3 and web fonts are ready for action; when standards-based web development is no longer relegated to the fringe; and when web designers, no longer content to merely decorate screens, are crafting provocative, multi-platform experiences. Is this the dawn of a newer, more mature, more ubiquitous web?

Today’s web is about interacting with your users wherever they are, whenever they have a minute to spare. New code and new ideas for a new time are what the new issue of .net magazine captures. There has never been a better time to create websites. Enjoy!


Photo by Daniel Byrne for .net magazine. All rights reserved.

Return to Sender

About 40 copies of HTML5 For Web Designers out of the first 10,000 sold have been returned to us because the recipients moved, or there was an error in their address.

Returns come from every continent on the globe. Japanese returns are quietly beautiful. French returns are vaguely contemptuous.

Returned books – A Book Apart

A List Apart 311: Say No to Clients and Kick Ass

A List Apart Issue No. 311

Something remarkable awaits you in Issue No. 311 of A List Apart for people who make websites. Two wonderfully readable articles tackle the thorny subject of client relationships, providing practices, insights, and tips which, when taken to heart, will help designers, UXers, and (frankly) clients do their jobs better:

One of the toughest parts of the client/designer relationship is that nobody likes to be told “no”—especially not the client who is paying you. But to do your job right, you often have to turn aside requests for what the client wants in favor of what the user really needs. In No One Nos: Learning to Say No to Bad Ideas, Whitney Hess explains when to say no, and how to turn it into a positive experience.

Of course, your ability to speak truth to the client assumes you’ve established a mutually respectful, goal- and team-focused relationship in the first place. And the first place is exactly where to begin establishing just that kind of relationship. In Kick Ass Kickoff Meetings, Kevin M. Hoffman shows how to use the first official meeting to turn a roomful of mutually suspicious turf battlers into an energetic team with shared ownership of the end-product.

Not only are these articles convincing, I know these techniques work, because we use them at Happy Cog.

Also in this issue, ALA illustrator Kevin Cornell outdoes even himself.

Join us, won’t you?

A List Apart explores the design, development, and meaning of web content, with a special focus on web standards and best practices. Explore our articles and topics.