Handcrafted CSS book review

09 May 2010

This book, Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design, is all about innovative and effective CSS techniques to improve the user’s experience using a transitional approach we call progressive enrichment. Dan’s book explores CSS3 techniques that work in today’s browsers. This book’s timing is just perfect, as I too believe that it is now time to start experimenting with it…

Who's Dan Cederholm?

For most people the name Dan Cederholm will ring a bell, but if it doesn't, here is some background. Dan Cederholm, also known as Simplebits, is a well-known veteran web designer. There's also a very good chance you've read one of his other popular books: Bulletproof Web Design or Web Standards Solutions. Dan's most recent project is called "Dribbble," a community for sharing small (400x300 max) screenshots of your work. Anyway, back to the book now.

It's all about craftmanship

Craftsmanship is the theme that runs through the book. Dan shows us that there is a connection between craftsmanship and web design. This book shows you that attention to small design details can sometimes make a big difference by using this transitional approach. What I truly love about this book is Dan's writing style: down to earth and practical. He explains different scenarios and thinks about the things that should be taken into account when designing websites. While doing this he also keeps flexibility in mind. These are the small details that can turn a good design into a great design.

Handcrafted CSS book

It's okay if a design looks slightly different in one browser than it does in another

— Handcrafted CSS

Case-study based

A fictional website called Tugboat Coffee Company is used as a case study. The book is focused on aspects to make a website bulletproof while demonstrating progressive enrichment techniques over more traditional labor-intensive methods. Progressive enrichment is Dan's adjustment to "Progressive enhancement" and refers to things we can do to enrich our designs for users who are using the most modern browsers. This means that things may not look the same in every browser, a subject that Dan talks about in Chapter 4. If you're doubting, here is the definite answer to that question.

Subjects covered

Some of the subjects covered in this book are:

  • building for unanticipated future use
  • progressively enriching designs using CSS3 properties
  • using RGBA color for transparency with an alpha channel
  • modular float management
  • crafting flexible frameworks
  • fluid layouts using grid-based design principles
  • craftsmanship details on typography, jQuery, and shifting backgrounds

Modular float management

There is one chapter that is written by Ethan Marcotte. It's about fluid layouts using grid-based design principles. This particular chapter was the one that I personally learned the most from because as a designer I hardly move away from fixed layout based web designs. However this technique requires that you make a mental click to step into the unknown. You have to release control a bit and that's a daunting thought for a designer sometimes. It's definitely a technique I'll keep in mind for future website designs.

My conclusion

For me, personally, this is a book I would recommend to any web designer who is forward-thinking and proud and passionate about his or her job. You see, I never have problems with starting a book, it's finishing it that is usually a problem for me. Either I lose patience or I just lose interest and skip parts and pages. I think it says a lot if I tell you that I completed this book in one week and I loved every bit of it. While reading it I was still in the middle of the CSS coding of this site and it gave me a lot of inspiration. So, thank you, Dan :)

Comments

  1. 1 Ethan 11 May 2010

    Thanks so much for the review, Veerle! Thrilled that you liked the book. (And personally, I’d love to hear your thoughts/feedback on the fluid grids chapter in more depth at some point.)

    Thanks again. And congratulations again on the redesign. It’s really lovely.

  2. 2 Veerle Pieters 11 May 2010

    @Ethan

    Thanks so much for the review, Veerle! Thrilled that you liked the book. (And personally, I’d love to hear your thoughts/feedback on the fluid grids chapter in more depth at some point.)

    Yes for sure. I’ll have a look and refresh my memory and maybe do an article about it.

    Thanks again. And congratulations again on the redesign. It’s really lovely.

    Thanks for the kind words :)

  3. 3 Eric Di Bari 11 May 2010

    Thanks for the review.  I’m familiar with some of the work of Cederholm, and would certainly agree that he is a veteran and respected web designer.  I’ll certainly have to pick up a copy of this book

  4. 4 Bron Squire 11 May 2010

    I read this book recently, and can honestly say it is the most useful book I have ever read on website development.

    I have already used many tips and tricks from the book, so many times I thought “why didn’t I think of that, that’s brilliant!”, but in particular the fluid layouts section that you mentioned yourself, I am using it now in a site development and it feels so clean and accessible, just using these skills makes me feel like a craftsman, even if I’m not!

    Veerle, I hope your review guides many others to get their hands on this book, and I think it should be required reading for every web development.

  5. 5 Damjan Mozetič 12 May 2010

    Can’t wait for the book to arrive, just ordered it today along with Dan’s Bulletproof second edition.

  6. 6 Bene 12 May 2010

    I really enjoyed reading this book. It stays on my desk when i’m designing/coding a website, full of cool tips and well explained, really helpful.

    Congratulations with your new design Veerle. It’s really adorable. It’s a pleasure to hang around here.

  7. 7 Veerle Pieters 13 May 2010

    @Bene

    I really enjoyed reading this book. It stays on my desk when i’m designing/coding a website, full of cool tips and well explained, really helpful. Congratulations with your new design Veerle. It’s really adorable. It’s a pleasure to hang around here.

    It’s true, this book is a very helpful companion while working in case you need a refresh. Thanks so much for the kind words! Will try to keep it that way :)

  8. 8 Jim 13 May 2010

    I too loved the book (and this new site design!).  It’s a great book to keep going back to when designing a site as there is tons of inspiration throughout.

    Hopefully he’ll do more.

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