Pro CSS Techniques (Book review)

Once you’ve learned the basics of CSS you need some help to advance your skills to the next level. That’s what the authors of this book – Jeff Croft, Ian Lloyd, and Dan Rubin – intend to do by sharing solid, practical techniques that you can use in real, professional Web projects. And they do it well.

The book starts with a quick recap of why modern, well-structured markup is important and what CSS is, and then moves on to cover CSS syntax, specificity, the cascade, browsers, CSS management, plus a chapter on hacks and workarounds. After that the actual techniques promised in the title start appearing.

The techniques cover areas such as CSS layouts, typography, and examples of how you can style tables, lists, and forms (form layout, not form controls), and how to use CSS to control what your site will look like when it is printed. Everything is explained in a clear and structured way, making the book easy to read.

Since it is so well-structured, and thanks to the CSS reference, the CSS specificity chart, and the Browser grading chart provided in the appendixes, I think this book actually will work quite well as a reference guide, though obviously not as complete and detailed as Eric Meyer’s CSS: The Definitive Guide.

All in all, this is a very solid book. Despite that I do think it could have been even better. First of all, in the book’s introduction the authors state that the book is not intended to be an introduction to CSS. Well, perhaps it isn’t the very first book to pick up if you are completely new to CSS, but before reading it I thought it would contain slightly more advanced CSS techniques.

Second, I don’t know why the authors felt the need to explicitly state that the book is not “a preachy bible for web standards”. I didn’t find anything in the book that goes against best practices and the spirit of Web standards, so I think that part of the introduction would have been better left out. Just my opinion, of course.

The third nitpick I have is the lack of information about who wrote what. This is a multi-author book, after all, so stating at the beginning of each chapter who wrote it, like in Blog Design Solutions, would have saved the brain cycles I spent on trying to figure out who wrote the part I was reading.

Don’t get me wrong–this is a very well-written and solid book, but in my opinion the “Pro” in its name is slightly misleading. “Intermediate CSS Techniques” would have been a more appropriate name. Nevertheless, unless you’re already a pro CSS designer, Pro CSS Techniques is well worth its place in your pile of Web books.

Details for Pro CSS Techniques
Authors: Jeff Croft, Ian Lloyd, Dan Rubin
ISBN: 159059732X

Posted on March 26, 2007 in CSS, Reviews

Comments

  1. March 26, 2007 by chris

    but before reading it I thought it would contain slightly more advanced CSS techniques.

    Wich book do you recommend for people who wants to read about “more advanced CSS techniques”?

  2. I would suggest Andy Clarke’s book Transcending CSS.

  3. March 26, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Yeah, Transcending CSS is good (I’ve got a review of that coming up as well), but it isn’t super-advanced either. To the best of my knowledge there is no book about the really advanced stuff.

  4. March 26, 2007 by Johan

    To the best of my knowledge there is no book about the really advanced stuff.

    We need that for sure. About browser inconsistencies,CSS bugs, complex lay-out, server-side CSS (eg shaun inman did some stuff about that). You can fill thousand pages.

  5. Thanks a lot for the review, Roger! Your nitpicks are understandable, and constructive. :)

    Just one word on the “Pro” thing: when we say “Pro,” we mean “someone who works as a web developer.” We don’t mean, “an expert web developer” (although I can see where the confusion lies).

    Having worked at a couple of Universities on web teams, I can say with a great deal of certainty that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of people who have real jobs working on the web every day but don’t read blogs, don’t keep up on feeds, don’t read ALA, and don’t real Digital Web, and don’t read Vitamin.

    Not everyone that works on the web has our passion. The people who have to build web pages for their jobs but don’t live and breath CSS and XHTML every day…this was our target audience.

    I see what you mean on the “preachy bible about web standards” bit, too. I think what I was trying to say when I wrote that was that it wasn’t our goal to sell people on web standards with the book. Instead, we figured the peopel reading our book were already sold and now needed to learn how to apply the stuff in real life.

    Also, for your reference, here’s a list of who wrote what:

    Introduction: Jeff Croft

    1. The Promise of CSS: Jeff Croft
    2. The Language of Style Sheets: Jeff Croft
    3. Specificity and the Cascade: Dan Rubin
    4. The Browsers: Jeff Croft
    5. Managing CSS Files: Jeff Croft
    6. Hacks and Workarounds: Dan Rubin
    7. CSS Layouts: Ian Lloyd
    8. Creating Common Page Elements: Ian Lloyd
    9. Typography: Jeff Croft
    10. Styling Tables: Jeff Croft
    11. Styling Forms: Jeff Croft
    12. Styling Lists: Ian Lloyd
    13. Styling for Print and other Media: Ian Lloyd
    14. Everything Falls Apart: Dan Rubin

    Finally, I too would recommend Transcending CSS. But, I don’t see it exactly as a competitior to Pro CSS Techniques. The former is more of a design book, whereas Pro CSS Techniques is more of a code book.

  6. One more thing: you can always tell Dan’s chapters, because that egomanaic insists upon using screenshots with his name in them for examples. :)

  7. March 26, 2007 by chris

    i know andy, he’s one of the better most complete designer, knowing lots about css while he’s still a designer. I’ve read the Transcending book, its really nice, but it is about css design, not about css pro coding really.

    There are some rumors Roger is going to write about the really advanced stuff in 2008.

  8. March 26, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Hey Jeff. Great that you took my minor criticism the right way :-).

    there are hundreds, maybe thousands of people who have real jobs working on the web every day but don’t read blogs, don’t keep up on feeds, don’t read ALA, and don’t real Digital Web, and don’t read Vitamin

    Oh yeah. I’d say the number is much larger than that. I understand the “Pro” part of the title much better now, and I think that target audience is covered pretty well.

    Thanks for the list of who wrote what - I’ll have to go through the book and try to guess the author and then check your list to find out how many correct answers I got ;-).

    chris: Hmm… where did you hear those rumours? ;-)

  9. I was talking with someone at work about this book and then decided to buy it. They said just about the same things you did.

    I will have to second the needing a “Pro” CSS book. I have read most of the CSS books out there, and would really like to see something a little more advanced. Let me know when you write it ;)

  10. I reached a lot of the same conclusions when I reviewed this book. I particularly thought expectations were mis-set with the word “pro.” Anyway, I’m glad to see that someone else agrees with my opinion for a change. Here’s my review: webteacher.ws/2007/01/review-pro-css-techniques.html

  11. I’ve just picked up CSS Mastery (alas, also not as advanced as I would’ve liked it to be, but a nice read), and having read your review my guess is these two are very similar am I right?

  12. Thanks for the review, Roger, much appreciated - I think we all agree (we meaning Jeff, Ian and myself) about the lack of author credit on each chapter (that was something we wanted, but wasn’t in the Apress template for a multi-author book - grr), and with the title, I would have preferred it to say “Professional” instead of “Pro”, as that would avoid some confusion.

    As for a true “pro” reference on CSS, I’m curious about what folks might want to see - as I start to talk more about techniques I use every day, I find strange things that I consider commonplace, but many people don’t know about or even consider asking about until I mention them. Maybe we can start the ball rolling in this direction?

  13. March 27, 2007 by DougWig

    I’ve read CSS Mastery and I’m finding the chapter titles in PRO CSS to be eerily similar to the ones in Andy Budd’s book (CSS Mastery) —not that there’s a conspiracy, but I’m wondering if anyone/Roger has any a FAVORITE CSS book -something readable, something that might stop me once and for all from trying to add padding to inline elements…

  14. Which one would be the better one to buy out of CSS Mastery and Pro CSS techniques if you were on a budget and could not afford both??

  15. I think no one can suggest that for you. if you are a beginner, you can choose CSS Mastery, if you are an advance programer, then you can go to PRO Css techniques. :)

    Which one would be the better one to buy out of CSS Mastery and Pro CSS techniques if you were on a budget and could not afford both??

  16. While I haven’t read “Pro CSS Techniques”, (and I’m NOT a Pro) I have read a fair few books on the subject. Each reader will find they appreciate different styles of instruction and I’m no exception there.

    Before reading CSS Mastery I had found Eric Meyer’s “(More)Eric Meyer on CSS” books the most suited to my learning style, but Andy Budd’s (with the additions from Cameron Moll and Simon Collison) “CSS Mastery” took their place as the most helpful of any I’ve read on the subject.

    Now, of course if Roger (and / or anyone else) were to come up with something that took over where that one left off, I would eagerly devour it.

  17. March 27, 2007 by Johan

    In the chapter Hacks and Workarounds by Dan Rubin?

    What is exactly meant here: workarounds for IE WIN?

  18. Johan, it probably should have been mentioned in the “Conventions used in this book” part of the Introduction, but IE WIN refers to Internet Explorer for Windows.

  19. March 27, 2007 by Johan

    But no (hilarious), I have not read your book yet. I was just thinking what could be meant with hacks when referring to them as in book chapter titles. Hacks and workarounds could imply different angles. Like Moz FF (no pun intended) vs Opera, or IE WIN (not mac).

    I remember we used to talk about hacks vs filters. Filters could imply workarounds or CSS development workaround. CSS can be fun (when it works I mean).

  20. March 27, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Harmen: Yeah they cover pretty much the same areas. They’re far from identical though.

    Dan: Hmm. A book called “Expert CSS Techniques” ;-) would contain… less going through the basics and more getting into the stuff experienced CSS users still have problems with, plus lesser-known but very useful tricks. Something like that. The ball is rolling I guess ;-).

    DougWig: CSS Mastery, Pro CSS Techniques, Beginning CSS, Bulletproof Web Design - there are plenty of good books.

    Jermayn: I find it very hard to recommend one of CSS Mastery and Pro CSS techniques over the other. They’re both good.

  21. March 28, 2007 by fdsah

    In the New York Times today, there’s an article on Institutional Review Boards (the board that handles human subjects issues for academic institutions). I’m definitely amongst the people who constantly bitch about the absurdity of IRBs (even if their intentions are good) and this article discusses my frustration in much more polite terms than i ever could.

  22. Thanks for posting this review Roger. This is exactly the type of feedback I like to see before I buy a book. As pompous as it sounds, I understand the frustration of buying a book and realizing that is doesn’t really push my abilities to the next level. Honestly though, I’ll probably buy Pro CSS anyway simply to see what techniques I can adopt from these guys — all of whom I have great respect for. Even if I don’t learn much, I’m sure this will be one worth recommending.

  23. March 30, 2007 by Haarball

    There’s definitely need for a really advanced CSS book that completely assumes the reader knows all the basics, and is already experimenting with advanced techniques.

    My biggest gripe with a lot of the current CSS books is that they’re focusing more on explaining and rationalizing things many of us already know and take for granted (which is obviously important in regards to raising awareness towards web standards, accessibility and the likes, but do they ALL have to be about that?), rather than delving even deeper into the complexity of CSS and putting all of its effort into really teaching its readers something new and useful.

    My impressions are that people will put off getting books due the uncertainty that they may not really come away with enough new knowledge that a purchase is warranted.

  24. The problem, I think, is that the niche of people who already know basic and intermediate CSS is quite small. And not only is it quite small, but it’s a group of people less likely to buy books, because they all read blogs all the time. In other words, these people oten know as much as the would-be authors — how can a book possibly teach them anything?

    I think the publishers are more focused on selling books. And that means targeting the HUGE audience of people who are developing web site professionally but aren’t reading blogs and ALA.

    Bottom line: there’s a pretty small group of potential buyers for a super-advanced CSS book. There’s an unbelievably huge potential audience for basic and intermediate level CSS books.

  25. Thanks for the review, it was just in time as I was trying to decide which books to pick up next!

    Also, to the authors and others contemplating an advanced, expert, super-human book on advanced css techniques, I can say that I would definately buy it! And here is my reasoning.

    Even though I am fairly new to CSS design and standards, I often find myself looking to solve a problem, or more often, just trying to fully comprehend how things work. There is a huge market for the beginner and intermediate CSS books right now, however, I feel that if there was an expert or advanced book out there, I would buy that immediately, ahead of anything else. I would do this so that I can fully see what can be done with css, and then work my way ‘backwards’ in the understanding of how things are working.

    Works for me as I really enjoy diving right in and figuring things out, may not work for others.

    Anyways, great book and I can’t wait to see more!

  26. The problem, I think, is that the niche of people who already know basic and intermediate CSS is quite small. And not only is it quite small, but it’s a group of people less likely to buy books, because they all read blogs all the time.

    Bottom line: there’s a pretty small group of potential buyers for a super-advanced CSS book. There’s an unbelievably huge potential audience for basic and intermediate level CSS books.

    Hey, Jeff, are you sure in what you’re saying? :-)

    I am pretty familiar with CSS, I write CSS everyday, I am aware of Webstandards and current trends, I read ALA, I read other CSS designers’ blogs (this one, Dan’s, Doug’s, Mike’s, Jeff’s, Jeff’s;-) and many more - this is how I first learnt CSS design:) …and yet I would buy a good book on advanced to very advanced CSS:)

    I guess, other people would do the same?

    Currently I also try to learn small bits of AJAX/DOM scripting and looking for good books in this are as well:)

    Now, to the point - 3 years ago CSS was something almost unknown. To make a commercial website with a CSS tableless layout was almost a blasphemy;-) CSS was a new word, and because of browsers and because of lack of people who understood well this topic, there was a hunger in this area - for knowledge, practical examples (including commercial sites), books, seminars, developement of new techniques and things that would work quite well in more than 3 browsers;-), etc.

    Now CSS becomes almost a standard. IE7 is out, IE6 starts to go down. IE5 is gone. NS4 is gone. Firefox is on the rise;-) Lots of people write and speak on CSS. Table layouts start to vanish one by one, new CSS websites and redesigns with Webstandards in mind grow every day. You can’t impress anyone with good CSS website. DOM scripting becomes the “new CSS”;-)

    So, in the light of these events, I would say that a book on very advanced CSS would be something great, and would fill perfectly a niche in the market!

    Everyone talks CSS. Few understand all of its intricacies and aspects to a depth that would make them high end experts.

    And a lot of people would like to learn more! One way of doing this is practical experience, reading blogs, experimenting every day, etc. But the other also includes good books - and a book like this would fit great:)

    Or so I think:)

    Cheers, my $0.02, Michel

  27. thanks guys for this review, you make choosing css-related books much easier! Really appreciate it!

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