CSS3 for Web Designers

**** Dec132010

Designing and coding your hundredth unordered list navigation has the potential to become pretty tedious. Every now and then, a web designer needs a little something to shake things up. HTML5 and CSS3 have been providing that inspiration lately, and A Book Apart has delivered each in convenient book form.

Looking good, again

This book, like its predecessor, is a lovely physical specimen. The dominant color is a spring green, appropriate for its rejuvenating content, and the layout is again simple but appealing. When so much consideration has been put into a design, it invites close scrutiny and nitpickiness, so here goes: delineating paragraphs with vertical space rather than an indent seems appropriate for the web, not for print. A minor complaint, which I had with the last volume as well.

Clear and concise

The author gives clear explanations and working examples of CSS3 features, such as text-shadow, box-shadow, and new selectors. CSS Transitions get a lot of attention, as a simple and lightweight alternative to javascript for small enhancements. Rather than including JQuery and the colors plugin, for example, to create a smooth color animation of a logo or button, a transition (with appropriate browser prefixes) can be applied:

background-color: rgb(50,0,0);
-webkit-transition:background-color .3s ease;
-moz-transition:background-color .3s ease;
-o-transition:background-color .3s ease;
transition:background-color .3s ease;

.button:hover { background-color: rgb(255,0,0); }

Not comprehensive

This is purposefully a “brief book” that cannot cover everything in CSS3, and the author rightly focuses on features that can be implemented appropriately today. However, while the author or editors may have valid reasons for omitting them, HSLa and border-image seem to have as much support as RGBa or multiple backgrounds, and open up a range of creative possibilities. Also, while the :last-child selector is introduced (p. 96), and good references are provided for other CSS3 selectors, the more general :nth-child and the sibling combinator (~) seem worthy of mention.

The thrill is back

I am old enough for Mr. Cederholm’s story about coding Javascript rollovers, which introduces Chapter 2, to bring back a lot of memories. Actually making the page respond to the user was a real thrill, as primitive (or you might even say embarrassing) as it seems now.

Perhaps more important than the actual details of the CSS3 techniques provided in this book is its overall approach. Of course, “progressive enhancement” and its flipside “graceful degradation” have long been preached by leading web practitioners. But here Mr. Cederholm is also encouraging designers to let web design be thrilling again; make the extra effort to add creative details that may “surprise and delight” the growing number of users that will see them.


Mr. Cederholm often uses the phrase “fold in” to describe incorporating new CSS3 rules:

Now we’ll add a unique :hover treatment to each item, knowing that the catch-all transition will smooth out and animate whatever we fold in.

This brought to mind the process of baking a cake, where ingredients are carefully “folded in” to the batter. Whether intentional or not, it is an apt allusion, as CSS3 can for now (until the spec is closer to being finalized, and browser support is more robust) be thought of as the icing on the cake. A cake without icing, after all, is still a cake and a perfectly serviceable dessert, just not one quite as beautiful or delicious.

View CSS3 for Web Designers on at A Book Apart

Respond to this review

Author(s)Dan Cederholm
PublisherA Book Apart

4 comments so far…Comment

Marc Dec 15 2010

Thanks for the review. The videos are very helpful too! Neat idea. When you mentioned HSLa and border-image, that was kind of a bummer…I love HSL so maybe I’ll hold out for something less lovely but more in-depth.

Nora Jan 10 2011

Hi Marc – thanks for your comment! I’m glad you find the “flip-through” videos helpful. You’re right, especially if you want to dig into HSLa and border-image, better to hold out for a more in-depth book.

Jonathan Nicol Apr 08 2011

Great review. I have read this book and its companion volume covering HTML5, and I found Dan Cederholm’s the more enjoyable of the two. I am an aging, jaded web developer and this book gave me a kick in the pants and made me feel like building cool stuff using CSS3. That was worth the price of admission.

CSS3 for Web Designers is by no means a comprehensive book on the subject, but rather a great introduction, and Dan’s enjoyable writing style makes it a fun read even for someone who is familiar with the material.

Nora Brown Apr 17 2011

Hi Jonathan — thanks for commenting. Yes, this little book (along with CSS3 itself) is definitely a much-needed shot in the arm for anyone who has been developing websites for a while. Personally, I can’t get enough of Jeremy Keith’s clear and witty writing style, but Cederholm does a nice job as well.

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