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Review: The CSS Anthology

Anyone who has used CSS before and wants to expand their horizons will find the CSS Anthology (external link) a useful resource. Rachel Andrew (external link), the author, presents 101 practical CSS solutions that take into account accessibility and cross-browser compatibility. The book's 101 essential tips, tricks, and hacks will allow any reader to make huge improvements on their own website.

CSS Anthology book cover

In nine chapters, Andrews presents many examples and common uses of CSS. You'll find navigation techniques, ways to style tabular data, methods for practical forms, and more. The CSS Anthology is a great desk reference for constructive methods in applying CSS into your site designs.

The book is divided up into questions regarding CSS. Each question features a thorough explanation and solution to the presented problem. For example, if you're working on adding accesskeys to your website you can quickly flip to the table of contents and find "How do I style accesskey hints?" With the book covering many common problems you'll find the book very useful when you're designing with CSS.

Not For Beginners

If you've never had any experience with CSS then the CSS Anthology isn't what you're looking for. SitePoint, the book's publisher, also publishes HTML Utopia (external link), which covers and targets the basics of CSS in better detail.

The beginning chapters cover the basics, although not in detail enough for a user who has no experience in CSS. Only a meager amount of experience is required to get the maximum amount of results from the CSS Anthology, even just working with fonts in CSS will do.

Navigation

Navigation is a crucial point for any website, as users rely on it to easily guide them through a website's various pages. Before CSS became popular web designers would use complex tables and images for navigation. Scripting languages such as JavaScript were commonly used, presenting usability problems for users who lacked the language's support or disabled it.

Where JavaScript, images, and tables failed in navigation CSS dominates. CSS allows you to create stylish navigation that is just plain text. By keeping your navigation as text not only are you lessening the page's load time, you're ensuring that users will be able to navigate your website despite their platform - even if it doesn't look attractive due to the CSS not being loaded.

Chapter Four of the CSS Anthology provides a thorough walk-through of creating practical, attractive navigation. The chapter starts out with basic navigation, showing you how to replace your table/image setup. It then jumps right into using list for your navigation, a huge accessibility advantage. The chapter continues by showing you how to create more modern forms of navigation such as the inevitable tabs.

Andrews not only shows you commonly used navigational methods, but presents them in a usable, comprehendible manner.

Forms and User Interfaces

One of the most innovative and useful chapters of the CSS Anthology covers forms. Forms are a tricky part of web design as every browser tends to treat form elements slightly different, and this ceases to be fixed despite the huge advocacy of web standards.

Andrews begins by teaching some of the not-so-common XHTML form tags and attributes, such as fieldsets and labels. Although these tags aren't directly affecting the styling of the form itself, they help to make forms more usable - a common goal of CSS.

In the CSS Anthology you'll find a great way to lay out a two-column form using a combination of paragraphs, labels, input tags, and CSS. This method works great, and is completely 100% cross browser compatible. It also eliminates the requirement of tables for neatly laid out forms.

Andrews also guides you through styling a spreadsheet form, along with a few extras in browsers that fully support CSS 2.1.

Experimentation, Browser Specific CSS, and Future Techniques

This chapter's title could be easily swapped with "The Future of CSS." Although all of the provided examples will work fine in standards-supporting web browsers, they're yet to be implemented on most websites due to the lack of support from Internet Explorer.

Most of these experimental techniques are based on proposed CSS3 properties, such as -moz-border-radius - based on the border-radius property that will be part of the CSS3 recommendation. Although some of these properties the book presents are not yet part of the W3C recommendation or have lack of IE support, they still provide useful knowledge for any aspiring CSS designer.

Summary

The CSS Anthology is a great book to get someone started on actually implementing CSS. Many users have learned the various properties and selector methods in CSS, but have yet to find ways in implementing CSS into their own websites. The CSS Anthology addresses this problem by providing practical CSS implementation methods.

Before you purchase the book you can always read the free, online sample chapters (external link) provided at SitePoint.com.

Title
The CSS Anthology 101 Essential Tips, Tricks and Hacks
Author
Rachel Andrew
Publisher
SitePoint
Price
$39.95
Rating
8/10
Purchase
Buy on SitePoint.com (external link)