By Stewart McCoy

CSS Mastery: Advanced Web Standards Solutions (Book Review)

It’s 2010, about 12 years since the Web standards movement began. If you’re serious about designing or developing for the Web, you strive for standards-based code, not only to make your designs more sustainable, but also to increase your client’s bottom line. That’s why CSS Mastery stresses the importance of semantic, well-structured HTML to provide good hooks for your CSS. Andy Budd clears up any misconceptions about divs and spans, discusses what semantics means in regards to naming conventions, and explains how to determine which DOCTYPE you should use.

The first edition of the book was well received by the design community, and Budd, an industry-recognized designer, has maintained good form. The second edition is 100 pages longer, but the additional discussion is all timely, relevant, and insightful.

The early chapters solidly introduce the fundamentals. You learn how to avoid hours of frustration by using the syntax of more complex CSS selectors. With plain language and well-documented code examples, Budd explains how the cascade works and how to use different selector techniques to target and style even the most specific elements in your code. You learn about child and adjacent sibling selectors, the cleverness of pseudo selectors (especially the :last-child selector), and the power of attribute selectors.

No Web designer can push pixels efficiently without clearly understanding the box model, which Budd concisely recaps with helpful diagrams. You also get discussion of positioning, floating, and clearing, which are essential techniques if you’re laying out complex, elegant designs.

Budd’s readable explanations teach in detail the finer points of CSS craftsmanship, such as drop shadows, image replacement, opacity and RGBa, rounded corners, sprites, and faux columns. If you haven’t heard of these techniques, rejoice, because they will save you hours of hassle in Photoshop.

As great as Web standards are, we still all have to deal with the legacy of the browser wars, namely Microsoft Internet Explorer’s proprietary code that necessitates nonstandard conditional comments such as <!–[if !IE]>–>. Budd dedicates an entire chapter to the most common bugs and their fixes. With seasoned expertise, he explains the usefulness of hacks and filters and then explains why you’ll be better off in the long run understanding how to isolate bugs rather than relying on the “black magic” of hacks.

The second edition, like the first, features case studies by masters Simon Collison and Ethan Marcotte. Their practical chapters apply the advanced concepts you’ve learned, including ways of using CSS3 to progressively enhance your designs in Webkit and Mozilla browsers.

The creativity of this book will help you grow as a visual designer and begin thinking about the most effective and clever ways CSS can turn your inspired designs into stuff worthy of a Webby.

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