What is your level of CSS knowledge?

Within any area of expertise, it’s interesting to look back at how you progressed from knowing nothing about the subject to whatever level of knowledge you are at now. Learning about web standards in general, and CSS in particular is no different, so I find Emil Stenström’s Levels of CSS knowledge an entertaining read.

I recognise the different levels of CSS knowledge that Emil describes very well. I also agree with Emil’s statement that the Level 2 people can be the most dangerous since they do not want to use CSS for layout but many still have worked in the industry for long enough to be in a decision making position of some kind. It can be difficult to reach these people, but it is not impossible. If you do manage to reach them and make them realise that CSS is very useful once you learn how to use it, don’t be surprised if they come back to thank you later. It has happened to me several times.

Looking at my own progress with CSS I think I went straight from Level 1 to Level 5, perhaps being a Level 3 for a short while. I like to think of myself as being at Level 6 now. Despite not having written a book. Yet.

So what level are you at, and how did you get there?

Posted on March 8, 2006 in CSS, Quicklinks


  1. I would say I am about a 5. I strongly advise others against the use of tables (for anything the doesnt NEED tabular display). I used to know a little ‘remove the underline from the links’ type of person, but I feel that I quickly evolved to 5.

    I dont have a book, nor plan on it - so that eliminated 6. hehe.

    Good read…

    peace, Nate

  2. Top end of level 5 in that if i find any ‘minor problems on the sites they produce’ i can usually beat them into submission one way or another (and never resorting to tables) :D

    After figuring out html I hung around level 2 for a year but not really even knowing what CSS was.. FrontPage and Dreamweaver were obscuring it for most of the time.

    I never got proficient enough in the wiles of table layout (spacer gifs, guide columns etc) in order to find it much easier than divs. So while there was a stage when i was laying out in tables AND finding out about CSS I don’t think it lasted even six months.

    From there I was on steep CSS learning curve that took me through levels 3 and 4 in about a year, and then another year getting to the top end of 5.

    I have occasionally read bits of the CSS Spec but I don’t really do super amazing wonderful stuff that garners the awe and admiration of the web standards community!

  3. I’m a 5, but then again, there’s a huge difference between 4 and 5. Either way, I’m gunning for 6, but it ain’t easy. I can hardly find the time to write decent articles. Let alone get published. sigh

  4. I rememeber seeing that article, then commented somewhere around number 10. Basically the first four seemed to be of what I would lump together and then weed the talkers from the professionals.

  5. I’m feel myself somewhere in the middle between 5 and 6. I’m not planning any book and write a little. But, hey, maybe I start to write in a close future. ;)

  6. I went from 1 - 6 (and currently have two books out, heh)

  7. It’s funny, most people I talk to are level 5. Perhaps I should have made the list a bit more fine grained at the upper levels. Then again, people that regularly read our sites are often good already. Thanks for mentioning the article Roger.

  8. I am a 10, no doubts :-)

  9. Nice article, I am in level 5 now, and i dont believe that i go to the position 6…

    greetings from spain :)

  10. Definitely a 5 now. I started at the first of the year and basically took a month off of work to push it to the extremes and learn all I could about CSS. It was very intimidating at first, but once I started designing with it and saw how much better I could design with it I never looked back. I still have to redo my own site, but all sites I do for now on are all fully accessible & tableless. I’m still ‘massaging’ my perfect 3 column layout, but it’s extremely solid and works in all tested browsers on mac and pc (I develop on a mac and test on pc.) When I get time to write some of my personal CSS discoveries I’ll move to a 6, but business is good so time is limited!

  11. Six, with the exception of the book. (That will be about food, anyway.)

  12. 5, but could do 6 without a problem.

  13. I’m level 7. I’ve been coding exclusively in CSS 3 for two years and I wrote the Gecko rendering engine in my spare time. I live in a land where Internet Explorer doesn’t exist due to a benevolent dictatorial government. I’m currently extending media queries in CSS 4 to fight global warming.

  14. I’d consider myself a six if it wasn’t for the writing part. My writing is atrocious :)

    I feel I’ve truly known CSS for the best part of three years and it’s fascinating to watch it grow and evolve. Or at least it would’ve been if IE7 had been out in ‘diggety-four.

    Being the resident standardista at work has really expanded my knowledge. I can quote the specs like a priest could quote the bible. “w3c 3:16: And as I walk through the tables of the shadow of spacers…”

  15. I’m somewhere between level 5 and 6. I’ve read all the specs, I’ve come up with some new techniques and published articles; but, like yourself, I’m yet to write a book about it.

  16. March 9, 2006 by Scott

    I started out as Level 0 writing webpages in Netscape Composer. Didn’t render properly in Internet Explorer so I tried a lot of different programs until finally settling on Frontpage. A friend of mine introduced me to CSS and I quickly jumped to Level 1. As I learned more about CSS, I progressed to Level 2, where I stayed for a few years because I just couldn’t get the hang of CSS positioning. Five years ago I switched from Frontpage to Notepad after seeing what Frontpage did to my code. Two years ago I discovered A List Apart and the blogs of many Level 6 people, and jumped to Level 5 where I’ve been ever since and loving it!

  17. Oh, yah… dreaming… Netscape Composer… I was a kid back then…

  18. I went from level 2 to level 5 in a matter of weeks. Mr Zeldman makes it so easy to understand the “why’s and what for’s”, and I spent tens of hours on what should have 2-3 hour jobs trying to learn the processes. While I’ve only now just gotten back to the same time-frame as the old table layouts, I’m still having the odd hair-pulling problems, but I’m enjoying the problem-solving aspect of the work a lot more than I used to.

  19. Level 5. I probably moved to level 3 relatively quickly after I started learning about CSS and moved into 4 after about a year, once I had really dug into the guts of things. I don’t think I was in level 4 for very long though before moving into level 5. I’d love to have the flexibility in my day job to move to level 6, but that will have to wait for now.

  20. I would have to go with some others and say that I jumped from a Level 1 to Level 5. After truly appreciating what CSS had to offer, the other Levels didn’t appeal to me at all. After studying at Level 5, I believe I’ve hopped to Level 6 save any publications. Thanks for pointing out the entertaining read.

  21. I’d put myself at level 5 with shaky legs as I’m getting used to my new mentality. I understand the whys and hows and the pitfalls but my main downfall is browser compatability. I went from wysiwyg disciple to where I am now pretty quickly - it takes just a couple good articles from level 6ers to motivate one out of table cacka land. I’m still learning though… lots of browser grumpiness. It’s funny though - I still maintain some sites I built in wysiwyg land and man, it’s a headache - how did we ever put up with that crap?

  22. 1, then 4, then 5.

    I am waiting to convince my first person to use html+css instead of tables.

  23. 5 these days, with enough knowledge to understand what the 6s are on about. I did start as a 1; and went from there to 5 in a relatively brief period. I suspect I stopped off in all steps in between, even if it was just for a few days ;)

  24. Defintely a level 5. Not sure if I’ll ever get to level 6. I’ve written tutorials on the subject, but I’m more of a person who can master what has already been established. I don’t quit have the drive (or time!) to come up with new techniques.

    But I do think the levels are still quit broad.

  25. I’m at a level 5 now, but lingered way to long in level 3. I’m a full blown standards pimp. Another thing I’ve found myself doing is referring properly to elements instead of over using the word tags.

  26. In the old days, I prided myself being able to hand code complex tables to completion, before first hitting the preview button. I was always a fanatic for hand coding + always valid.

    I spent years longingly reading about css layout, while - remember that 1% Netscape 4 browser share? - they were my clients!

    More separation of style from content gradually seeped into my code. Then as I saw the ancient browsers fall off the stats, I made the leap to standards based css tableless layout.

    The “designers” this article didn’t really define, that are so prevalent, prolific + because of that, I feel do harm the web, are “web professional” businesses using wysiwyg editors, where one can see they never look at code + do not validate.

  27. March 9, 2006 by Joe P

    I was worried I would be lower… but I am 5. Phew.

    I know a one-er… but they are harmless :P

  28. I probably started on 3 in ‘99 and am around 5 at the moment; 6 is just about marketing.

  29. I probably started on 3 in ‘99 and am around 5 at the moment; 6 is just about marketing.

  30. Hmmm, accidental double-post.

  31. Reckon I’m a low 5. I got to a 1 then had years of being moved into backend development and very little need to learn CSS as I never did the HTML. Last year I got dropped right in it at a new job and had to learn all about CSS on the job, luckily I have some very clued up friends so I mostly learnt the right ways to do things straight away. Thanks to sites like this I’m slowly learning better ways of doing things :)

  32. I’m about level 5, but I only started learning web design in 2002. At uni we had about 1hr tuition on “tables for layout” design and the rest of the time we were shown CSS. So I started off at level 4 really.

    I guess in another 4 years I might be ready to write a book then. Maybe someone can fill in the steps required to reach level 6…

  33. March 9, 2006 by Martin Smales

    I’m a 5, but I agree with Dunstin Diaz that the number classification is flawed if we are to teach web standards (rather than CSS knowledge), i.e. too many classifications for ameteurs but not enough for professionals.

    But a great classification to measure only CSS knowledge nonetheless.

  34. March 9, 2006 by DutchKid

    I’m almost a 5. I’m interested in semantics but I don’t know all the ‘common pitfalls’ - not enough experience because I spend most of my time designing print work. I might become a full-blown 5 once I’ve designed a couple more sites.

  35. Hilariously, I best fit level 5 - the system doesn’t really account for folk like me who first learnt how to make very simple sites four or five years ago, and so never even considered using tables for layout (but never progressed beyond making very simple sites!).

  36. March 9, 2006 by Justin WIgnall

    I went from a 3 to 5 via Zeldman’s Designing with Web Standards.

    I’m continually shocked at how long it took me to make ‘the switch’ having written numerous templating and skinning engines that achieved basically what GOOD use of css can do. i.e complex layouts, moving content position independant of source order etc.

    I find myself rather quick to condemn people who share my ‘level 3’ opinion held 2 to 3 years ago.

    I’m slowly learning that we just need to continue preaching and they will follow.

    Thankfully one of the (from experience) most resistant camp (ASP.NET users) can join in with the fun. .NET 2.0 ain’t perfect but it is allowing me and others to do the job re: standards and CSS where it really wasn’t practicle in 1.1

  37. I’d say I’m about a five. Still a long long long way to go before I write a book though

  38. Low 5 here. Still have to work on my theories.

  39. I am a five; although, I did publish an article on ALA once.

  40. I think I’m on Level 5 right now after poking about as a Level 4 for some months…and I jumped to Level 4 from Level 1 fairly quickly. I think Level 6 is already pretty well filled up as it is….so I’d rather be in Level 5 in many ways! :)

    (But good luck Roger if you are trying for Level 6 and some stage in the near future!)

  41. I’m on level 6, and that even before Zeldman wrote The Book. :-) Went from level 1 (good ol’ 1997) to level 3 to 5 to 6, while skipping 2 and 4. Oh, but I wouldn’t write a book about that stuff. Well, not yet. ;-)

  42. Somewhere in the level 5 band.. Possibly a level 5.5… Never written any books, and I really doubt I would write one about CSS - there are some subjects it really helps to talk about online!

  43. I started at 0 in 1998. (Photoshop slices, hundreds of spacer gifs and BBEdit.) I went to 1 after someone recommended CSS for those pesky fonts. I read all of the Golden Age of CSS books; they seemed odd. (How can they do this!) I began using “divs” in table cells for typography only: it circumvented browser rendering. I liked reading Tantek’s site in 2000 [The Brown version] even though it was horrendously rendered in Safari. Then I found, Tantek’s Examples. All of the books were fine but this page was astounding. I remember thinking that these examples would be impossible to duplicate. I - Finally - did manage to use this knowledge and - Fundamentally - construct a webpage based on a 1950’s Bluenote album cover.

    And, after re-engineering much source code, I got 5.

    I believe you know when you’ve attained Level 5 Status when you look at things like album covers (e.g., print media) and mentally construct that design (and, typography) with CSS.

    These days I’d say 5/6ths.

  44. I’m somewehere between level 5 and 6 but struggling to have the time to learn about new css possibilities. But it will come! :-D

  45. I think I am level 5, I have started advising people to use CSS more. I used tables for my site layout for a few years so was on level 2 but quite knowlagable about CSS in other areas.

  46. I’m a 5, but I’d like to be a 6. I do a lot of experimenting, how-can-I-achieve-this kind of stuff..though as soon as I find a solution and google it I usually find that someone else has already figured it out. Like trying to use bullets to make rounded corners. Or using slanted borders for design effects.

    Are there any unsolved problems left in CSS2? Or is it now just a matter of improving on the existing solutions?

  47. Tables are great, even if you are a 5 or 10. Tables are supposed to be great and to be used, not to be ingored or laughed at.

    Modular data should be in tables, semantically wise. I don’t believe using css for everything makes one a great designer. I believe in semantics and standards, not css alone.

  48. March 11, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    George: Oh absolutely. Tables should be used for tabular data. Is anyone saying otherwise here?

  49. I was at level 2 for a short while then turned to level 3. After a while I go the thing going and advanced to level 4 - making silly CSS but with a nice result. Now I am at level 5 and it feels lovely :) Nice list that - it certainly describes the evolvement of CSS-knowledge

  50. I was lvl 0 for a long time.. :-).. but now I’m moving from 5 to 6..

  51. March 14, 2006 by Andrew

    I’m 2 and for a good reason. I can do more with tables than many of you with divs for 5 column layout either you wrote a book about it or not. When 95% of users will be able to see 5 column layout the way it’s intended for my marketing goals I switch to divs in 20 minutes.

  52. March 14, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Andrew: Can you provide an example, please?

  53. I saw this a while back when it was first posted, then I remembered it today and thought I should read it again. I may print this out and thumbtac it to my cubicle. Although I usually use one table with a couple rows (don’t hate me), I still think for websites that matter in the world they can usually become non-existant for the structual integrity of the site. Yeah, I will print this article out.

  54. I’m a 5, but I’d like to be a 6. I do a lot of experimenting, how-can-I-achieve-this kind of stuff..though as soon as I find a solution and google it I usually find that someone else has already figured it out. Like trying to use bullets to make rounded corners. Or using slanted borders for design effects.

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