[thelist] Are you designing with CSS and web standards?

Ian Anderson ian at zstudio.co.uk
Fri Mar 11 10:04:59 CST 2005

Rich Points wrote:

> Hi,
> I'm curious how many designers out there are using valid html or xhtml 
> and pure CSS layouts these days.  

As a trainer, writer, and consultant as well as a web developer, I have 
been practising and evangelising web standards-based design for some 
years now, inspired principally by Zeldman like so many others.

I did my own site as CSS layout back in 2003; it isn't very complex or 
challenging from a design perspective (it's at zstudio.co.uk) but I 
estimate it took between 5 and 10 times longer to build than the same 
thing in tables. I know a heck of  a lot more about CSS layout now than 
I did then, and there are many more great resources out there to turn to 
when it goes pear-shaped. On my current project I am trying to get the 
design to work as CSS, but I am finding it such a drag having to fight 
with bug after bug; mainly but not limited to IE.

When I found a fix to one of the problems on positioniseverything.com, I 
was happy for about two minutes, until I read about the fixes to a whole 
bunch more problems that I had also come across and worked around. My 
heart sank. This is what we worked so hard to achieve?

You can compromise the design to make it work, or you can spend the next 
couple of days trying to get a bunch of interlocking CSS hacks to work. 
Float this, make that relative, does it work now? Holy cow, what a waste 
of time.

Really, just doing the Voice-Family hack where necessary is enough in 
itself to put me right off doing pure CSS design, then there are all the 
other issues. As a self-employed person, I am terribly conscious of the 
things I am *not* doing because I am trying to build pages without 
layout tables.

Yes, it takes longer to build pages with CSS; it's a fact. Where is the 
ROI of using CSS layout? I haven't seen any benefits other than a warm 
fuzzy feeling yet, personally.

It's a lottery whether your design will hit certain bugs; if it does, 
you can kiss your weekends goodbye. There are more hacks in CSS design 
than in table based design. How is that better for the web? You have to 
write conditional rules in your style sheets and hide them from 
different browsers - there is NO DIFFERENCE between this and code 
forking in JavaScript to support NN and IE in the old days. Most web 
designers don't even have access to all the different browsers you need 
now for testing. I spent £1400 on a Powerbook primarily to do browser 
testing because the inconsistent renderings in the Mac browsers my 
clients used were such a nightmare to troubleshoot (then they brought 
out Mac mini a few weeks later, swines). It's insane, I tell you.

The amount of knowledge you need to have to succeed at pure CSS layout 
is ridiculous. I am only inspired to continue because I see many other 
web designers who have seemingly persevered and achieved what they were 

To be honest, I have my doubts about pure CSS layout; I think the design 
model of CSS 1 and 2 is fatally flawed, and not suitable for real world 
design. Look at the stupid things you have to do to:

1. Center content vertically within a container
2. Create columns with coloured backgrounds where any column can be longest
3. Create columns - full stop!
4. Lay out forms in an appealing way

See, the FUD about tables has become mainstream knowledge; we all 'know' 
using tables for layout is evil and inaccessible, right? Except, nowhere 
in the spec does it actually say you *can't* use tables for layout, and 
having considerable background in web accessibility, I have proved that 
simple layout tables *don't actually have* any accessibility problems as 
long as the content linearises properly. (Excessive nesting is a bore, 

In fact, when used appropriately they occasionally help in structuring 
the information on a page and making it more accessible, even when not 
dealing with strictly tabular data.

Tables for layout are robust, well supported, easy to use, powerful for 
controlling fine nuances of design - especially when combined with CSS 

CSS layouts are usually partially or totally screwed for editing in 
Dreamweaver, even in DW MX 2004; this matters in some contexts where 
non-experts have to maintain the sites. I like using Dreamweaver as an 
environment, personally, but the CSS layouts become barely usable in the 
visual editor. I'm a knowledge worker, not a typist; I don't want to use 
notepad and I don't want to spend all day tapping into Code View.

Why, when you get down to it, are we bothering with pure CSS layout?

Not trolling for a fight; just feeling a bit cheesed off and 
disillusioned with the whole CSS thing today...


Ian Anderson

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