Book Review: The Zen of CSS Design

After suffering from an artistic drought when laying out a web page I went out and purchased The Zen of CSS Design by Dave Shea and Molly Holzschlag. The book is very attractive and filled with colour images of web pages from numerous designers from around the world. It caught my eye when browsing the rows of web design books because it did not actually look like a computer book, in fact if you dropped the acronym CSS you would not even guess it was about technical web programming.

The subject of the book revolves around a single website: Zen Garden, a showcase for leading edge CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and web design. The unique thing about Zen Garden is that the designs use exactly the same HTML code, all the clever formatting is achieved through CSS1 & CSS2 applied intelligently and with a few clever hacks. Whilst I have known about CSS for years I had not fully appreciated its capabilities and potential for vastly improving web user interfaces until I read the Zen of CSS Design. All aspects of web design from colour to layout are covered with case studies from the Zen Garden website used to illustrate these ideas.

Unlike other HTML & CSS books the Zen of CSS Design does not start out at beginner level and work up to advanced techniques. Instead it assumes the reader understands the basic principles of web technologies and intermingles advanced CSS techniques in between theory. This is great for experienced people but may turn beginners off initially. I like this approach and also feel someone with no experience with HTML or CSS could still learn a great deal from the basic principles conveyed.

I have read many books and few have radically changed the way I think about all aspects of web design as much as this one. Not only is this a great book for visual inspiration it also is great for technical programmers seeking to create sleek code that is cross-browser compatible and easily portable to other platforms such as PDAs. I would recommend it to anyone interested in web design or looking for new techniques and principles to improve their existing websites.