I never did get a chance to review Dan Cederholm‘s Bulletproof Web Design, but I know the reputation it has in the web design community. That’s why I was excited to grab a copy of his newest book, Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design. Handcrafted CSS is a very good book: well-designed, full of both hands-on projects and commentary, and also well-written.
New techniques require new books
Handcrafted CSS is really a book about a handful of new CSS techniques that weren’t feasible when Bulletproof Web Design was written. A new batch of modern browsers and some designer ingenuity have given Dan new cutting-edge techniques to write about, including new methods for creating rounded corners, parallax scrolling, improved floats and more. Ethan Marcotte also writes a chapter on his own contribution, a fluid grid-based layout.
Some of these techniques are browser-specific: modern browsers like Firefox and Safari make several of Dan’s techniques possible, but old version of Internet Explorer ignore the code because the browser is just plain lousy. Dan advocates progressive enhancement, adding the improvements for those who can enjoy them and allowing the site to degrade—but still work—for everyone else. Handcrafted CSS even has a chapter on this topic (“Do Websites Need to Look Exactly the Same in Every Browser?”). A few years ago, most of my clients would have answered “yes” to this question; today, my clients seem to understand that Internet Explorer doesn’t allow them the web’s full potential.
Leaves you wanting more
Handcrafted CSS lacks a larger perspective that I hoped would be included. For example, in Chapter 2 Dan explores two vendor-specific extensions: -webkit-border-radius and -moz-border-radius. These extensions allow CSS to apply and control rounded corners in Mozilla and Safari browsers. Chapter 2 is a wonderful read and makes the popular “rounded corner” design easy to execute, but it left me wanting to read more about vendor-specific extensions. Handcrafted CSS is focused on specific projects and techniques to the detriment of the broader theory and techniques, and I think some of “the big picture” could have been included without making the book much larger or expensive. It would have also made the book more accessible to beginners, though a book on advanced CSS techniques is not a bad thing for advanced users. This all is a minor complaint though, because the material is so good.
The cutting edge
I would recommend Handcrafted CSS for any experienced web designer working with CSS today. Like Dan says in the book, the cutting edge continues to move forward and new techniques must be learned to stay current and maintain true craftsmanship. I really like the “craftsmanship” angle that Dan sticks to throughout the book, and the DVD (available separately or together) and companion website (used in all chapters and exercises) make this a very hands-on book as well as a good read without them.
I also think that beginner and intermediate designers will benefit from Handcrafted CSS, though this is not a book from which to learn CSS. It’s written to expand your knowledge of the cutting edge and employ new CSS techniques that weren’t practical just a few years ago. I’m already looking forward to Dan’s next book, which will surely be needed just a few years from now.