Transcending CSS: The Fine Art of Web Design

Reviewed December 31st, 2006 @ 12:57PM

[Book Cover] Transcending CSS: The Fine Art of Web Design

Transcending CSS by Andy Clarke literally ‘transcends’ other CSS books that I have read. Now, to bring that into context — the other books I have read were incredible books, this one just takes CSS from a different perspective than the others (so you should still read the other books too). The writing style of this book was different from other CSS books which were very instructional. Along with a different writing style came a different design. This book is designed beautifully from front cover to back. The full color photos, original artwork, sidebars, quotes, and even the way he slips in photos from other developers into newspaper articles makes this book visually pleasing.

Mr. Clarke goes down a different path and calls for true progressive enhancement. Ideally this book would not be one for beginners (and he makes this claim), but I do believe it has some great inspiration throughout. He makes a good point when he questions how progressive enhancement could be progressive if we haven’t really moved anywhere in the past few years? As web developers we have many hurdles to jump when creating sites that function well across all platforms and browsers. There are certain browsers that are worse than others. However, do we simply let them hold us back or do we move forward with the browsers that are proactive and support standards. This is not to say forget the older browsers, but it does call for a higher standard of quality available to use in standards compliant browsers.

The book is divided into 4 sections:

  1. Discovery. This chapter instantly jumps into the ‘transcendent CSS’ approach and discusses some of the different selectors and options. Most sections are brief, but get right to the point. This chapter is devoted to seeing markup in everything that you do. He advocated a ‘content-out’ approach to your designs, where you start with a solid foundation and structure with your content and build from there. This chapter was fun as there were little ‘quizzes’ of how you would markup different sections in a given photograph. It stretches you to really see the markup and structure first and foremost.

  2. Process. Just like the first chapter, each section was touched on briefly — but was right to the point. This chapter discusses the many processes available to building your website. Starting with content and moving to things like wireframes, The Grey Box Method, and Interactive Prototyping. He discusses best practices as you work through these processes. This chapter came to a close with a little practice session (just to get your feet wet).

  3. Inspiration. This was probably my favorite chapter of the entire book. I found that this chapter was very rich with artwork, photographs, and screenshots — oh, and some text, too. He challenges you to look beyond the web for your inspirations and designs. He brings examples to the table, as well as in-depth discussion of using a Grid in your designs. This chapter really encompassed The Fine Art of Web Design.

  4. Transcendence. This was a perfect way to bring this book to a close. This chapter looks to CSS3 and all of its possibilities. CSS3 may seem like a long stretch away, but it is very important to be aware of what will be available and to begin thinking creatively — prepared for what is to come. This chapter was rich with examples and screenshots of the possibilities.

As I stated earlier, this may not be a book for beginners — but it sure is full of inspiration. There are some books that you read and think ‘Wow, this book is going to transform the way we think about CSS’ — and this book is just that. CSS Zen Garden had the same feel to it, but this is more updated. Not that you don’t need other CSS books — but this book is a must read as we move forward into 2007 and years to come.