Handcrafted CSS Book Review (Video Edition) and Giveaway

Posted: August 30, 2009 Comments


Handcrafted CSS Book Cover

Just recently, Dan Cederholm (also well known as SimpleBits) released a brand new book, Handcrafted CSS. Dan is well known for far too many things to list in an introductory paragraph, but regarding his efforts as an author, he is well known and experienced. There’s a very good chance you’ve read one of his other wildly popular books Bulletproof Web Design or Web Standards Solutions. Both publications are extremely well regarded, and on the shelves of a good percentage of talented designers.

Aside from being a talented and respected author, Dan Cederholm is one of the first names when you think of those few designers you can really look up to and consistently learn from. For me, he’s been a leading designer since I wrote my first line of CSS. I remember his publications helping me shape my craft from a very early time in my design-life, and to this day I learn from him consistently. I was thrilled to see that Dan was coming out with another book, not only because it’s something I aspire to do someday, but because he setting the bar so high in doing so.

About Handcrafted CSS

Handcrafted CSS is, as described on the official website:

Seemingly non-obvious details can often separate good web design from great web design. You might not appreciate the quality of a well-designed website until you start using it, looking under the hood, putting it through tests, etc.

Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design is an attempt to share some of these details that matter most. By encouraging “progressive enrichment” to utilize advanced CSS and CSS3 properties that work in browsers today, to reevaluating past methods and best practices. This book will show how craftsmanship can be applied to flexible, bulletproof, highly efficient and adaptable interfaces that make up a solid user experience.

Not surprisingly, I couldn’t have explained the book better if I took six months to try to do so. This book is specifically targeted at discussing modern Web design using bleeding edge technology for the sake of a better user experience.

What I loved about the book

By far, my favorite part of this book is the fact that Dan hit the ground running with a fully complete, chopped, marked up, and styled design to discuss. He worked backwards in comparison to nearly every other Web design book I’ve read, and the effect is beautiful. From the first pages, you see that we’ll be going over how Dan used his talents (and his smarts) to build a site that I wouldn’t be surprised to see in his personal portfolio. That’s not to say designs used in other books are sub-par, it’s just one of the many apparent reasons Handcrafted CSS was written by a true talent.

Beyond that, I really love the way Dan Cederholm writes. I know that’s something I often say about books, but Dan does indeed write extremely well. On top of that, I really enjoyed how everything was presented. As mentioned, Dan follows suit with other books by continually referring a single point of reference to which he compares subject matter. This is super helpful when reading, as you don’t have to familiarize yourself with an example before analyzing the topic at hand.

I also enjoyed Dan‘s agnosticism toward his own methods. While he prides himself on the experience behind his decisions, he knows, respects, and acknowledges that “there are approximately 3,296 ways to achieve the same result in Web design”. Dan takes the time to explain, apply, and support his reasons for using his techniques and tools, but also discussions alternative approaches which solve the same problem.

Lastly, I’d like to emphasize how much I appreciate the overall quality of the book. Not only the content within, but the design of the book, the cover, the type used throughout, the beauty of the full color screenshots and other imagery.

Content Summary

Handcrafted CSS is packed full with 200+ pages of to-the-point explanations surrounding CSS, HTML, and a splash of JavaScript at the end.

Chapter 1: Always Ask, “What Happens If…?”

The first chapter dives right into the breakdown and reassembly of a single design element in the reference design. Dan takes the time to rebuild the element from the ground up, teaching you the ins and outs of the reasoning behind his decision making, all the while exemplifying the results via full color reference images. Time is taken to fully explore alternative methods, including the improper use of a table, just to show why it’s a poor solution.

Chapter 2: Rounded Corners with border-radius

Web designers love rounded corners. This chapter is completely devoted to them, and discusses how CSS3 is going to make our loves easier to the umpteenth degree when we’re able to use border-radius in our day to day work. The chapter begins by dissecting the old (and busted) way we’ve been forced to implement rounded corners, and then juxtaposes the new hotness that is border-radius. This chapter also acts as an introduction to vendor-specific extensions, something new(er) Web designers may not be familiar with. Various browser implementations are analyzed both for successes and failures, it’s always good to know.

The entire chapter is based upon the rounded corner elements within the reference design, and Dan takes the time to show us the wonderful world of “progressive enrichment” (not to be confused with progressive enhancement, details in the book.)

Chapter 3: Flexible Color with RGBa

RGBa will be another huge boon to productivity as a Web designer. This chapter discusses how a more intricate color property will help us create more versatile and effective designs. All the while making things easier to implement and maintain. Dan discusses where opacity fails and RGBa shines. The chapter closes off with again referencing the book-wide design, but targeting a very specific element on page to which RGBa has been (beautifully) applied.

Chapter 4: Do Websites Need to Look Exactly the Same in Every Browser?

If you know Dan, you know his stance on this subject: NO! This chapter focuses a bit more on the theory behind modern Web design, and explains the importance of embracing the fact that designs don’t need to be pixel perfect works of fragile art. We’re walked through a number of examples that appear perfectly readable cross-browser, and those using deficient browsers won’t ever know the difference.

Chapter 5: Modular Float Management

Modular Float Management tackles the most difficult thing to master when it comes to CSS; document structure from floating elements. After a brief refresher on floats (reminder: this isn’t an introductory book), the chapter dives right into modularizing your floated elements. More specifically, the topic of clearing is discussed in great detail. Dan explains his experience working with clearing elements, and gives some tips on his method of easily implementing a page structure that doesn’t need to be completely reworked once you start testing in IE.

Chapter 6: The Fluid Grid by Ethan Marcotte

Dan brought on the Unstoppable Robot Ninja himself, Ethan Marcotte to guest write a chapter in the book. Ethan gracefully took on the challenging task of not only explaining a fluid grid, but also walking us through the design and thought process behind building it. Ethan was a great addition to the book not only as a variant voice, but also the subject matter itself. I believe that Ethan explained the problem, the conceptual solution, and the implementation extremely well, and a fluid grid is something every Web designer should know and understand if for nothing more than marking it as a possible solution when planning a new design. It’s one of the longer chapters in the book, but it’s completely full of great instruction and even better reference images throughout.

Chapter 7: Craftsmanship Details

As a conclusion, Dan chose to group a number of smaller subjects into something larger: craftsmanship. SimpleBits is branded from top to bottom with craftsmanship, and it’s something I’ve admired since first reading about the company and Dan. He uses the chapter to give us a bit of insight toward what goes into a SimpleBits project. From details with ampersands, to implementing custom type to bring a design to a new level, right down to using JavaScript to improve the user experience with certain design elements. This chapter is all about details, and how you can bring your designs to an entirely new level by taking notice of the little things that will really pull it together.

Handcrafted CSS: Bulletproof Essentials DVD

This version of the book comes bundled with a 60+ minute DVD starring Dan Cederholm himself, speaking one-on-one and outlining ten essential concepts to embrace to produce bulletproof designs, markup, and styles. I’ve never met Dan face to face, but seeing him at length in this video only solidified that what you see both in his work and what you read in his writings is the real deal. He seems like a truly personable guy, someone you can talk shop with or just go snag a beer (or three) with and talk about anything to do with anything.

The branding of SimpleBits as well as Handcrafted CSS continues through with the DVD as Dan discusses his ten essentials for bulletproof design. Right down to Dan’s interludes accompanied by the sounds of his very own ukulele. Much of the material is referenced in the book as well, but the video takes a slightly different approach, and includes a few choice differences. If you’re interested in the DVD, I would have to suggest that you buy the bundle that includes the book as well. There are tons of detail in the book that just wouldn’t have made sense to include in the DVD.

It’s a great companion piece, and from the looks of it, other authors are on the same path in providing video materials along with downloadable examples and the original print versions as well.

Recommended?

Not that it will come off as surprising, but I wholeheartedly recommend this book to designers new and old. I recommend it if you think you know everything there is about CSS and Web design. I’ll even recommend this book to young designers still learning about CSS in general. Although Dan has indicated the book isn’t meant as an instructional resource to those completely new to the field, it will be an essential resource once you’ve become comfortable with CSS.

Giveaway Details

With the past two giveaways, I’ve been lucky enough to randomly select winners residing in the continental US. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to limit any sort of ‘free shipping’ option with this giveaway to North American residents only. If you live outside North America, I’m terribly sorry, but my wallet can’t accommodate the shipping. That said, I don’t want to completely restrict entry to a limited number of people, so if you live outside North America and are willing to prepay shipping costs, absolutely feel free to enter!

That’s about it for changes to the rules. The same old applies; leave a comment if you’d like to enter your name in the drawing, and I’ll leave entries open for approximately seven days. Update: This time, however, posting a Tweet with the following link to the review will count as a second entry: /x/3. Be sure to use that link and that link only if you’d like to count it as an entry! The winner will first be notified on Twitter and I’ll ship the book (including DVD) as soon as possible! Good luck!


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Comments

  1. Great review. You have definitely snagged my interest in reading this book. I’m also going to start teaching my son CSS. This sounds like it would be a great book for him as well. Thanks for the review and giveaway.

  2. I’ve been really interested in this book since I came across its website a few weeks back. You’re right in saying that Dan’s other work is top notch. Can’t wait to pick this up.

  3. Great review- I’m usually a little leery about design books, but this one sounds like a winner. Love the site; you always give me something to think about.

  4. It seems to be a great book which every designer should own.
    I live in Germany but will certainly pay the costs for shipment. It’s still cheaper than buying it at amazon…

    Thnaks in advance,

    OLE

  5. i completely agree with u and simplebits as to how many ways there are to do things on this here medium. with so many options and exceedingly low barriers of entry for small sites, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with it all.
    i follow dudes like ya’ll & unstoppablerobotninja to guide me through the darkness and into the light.
    alpha phi.
    cheers,
    albert

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