HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions A Web Standardista's Approach

**** Mar192011

You may have seen HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions on my “Up Next” reading list for quite some time now. The authors were kind enough to send me a free copy, and though it took ages to arrive, the timing in the end was fortuitous, as I have lately been flirting with the idea of teaching some web design classes, and this book is the closest thing I’ve seen to a beginning web design textbook.

An engaged reader of Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson’s book can go from not knowing what an HTML tag looks like to being able to create a functional website with a two-column, CSS-based layout. With roughly the first half of the book covering HTML, the authors lay a solid foundation of semantic markup before introducing CSS in the latter half. They cover topics that can baffle beginners, such as character encoding and the box model, in a clear, concise manner.

Do your homework

The inclusion of homework assignments at the end of each chapter makes this book a practical option for use as a textbook in a beginning web design class, though some of the assignments seem a little over-prescriptive. The instructions are quite detailed and may not allow a student to puzzle through some of the topics on her own. For example, in the homework for the chapter “CSS 101”:

In order to add some CSS rules to this page, you’ll need to add some <style> tags. In the head section, add an opening <style ="text/css">[sic] tag and a closing </style> tag.

Something less directive which would require the student/reader to recall or reference the information in the chapter might be more effective.

Further reading aplenty

Reading this book reminds one how simple the underlying principles and methods of building websites are, yet how complex they can quickly grow to be, and just how many facets there are to the profession with the misleadingly simple title “web designer”. I consider this book a thorough introduction, and indeed you could accomplish quite a lot with just the knowledge it imparts, yet it only barely touches upon:

  • Javascript
  • Principles of layout and typography for the web
  • Microformats
  • Speed optimization
  • Search engine optimization

While familiarity with all of these topics is essential for a competent web designer, I don’t mean to imply that any of them should have been covered in more depth, only to point out the breadth and variety of skills an aspiring web designer must learn. To address this, throughout the text, in the concluding chapter, and on the book’s companion site, the authors provide numerous sources for further reading both online and off. In these recommendations even a seasoned web designer will find something new and enlightening.

One area which should have been given more room is content management systems. In Chapter 14 — “Where to from Here?”, there is a small section titled “Database-driven sites”, which gives a brief description but doesn’t introduce the term content management system, or CMS. Given that the vast majority of websites are powered by some type of CMS, a more in-depth explanation of how they work, their advantages and disadvantages, and some mention of specific systems is warranted. Though avoiding endorsement of any one CMS is understandable (and how refreshing to have a beginning web design book with no mention of Wordpress!), a CMS is really just another software tool, and the authors don’t hesitate to make some helpful recommendations for text editors, ftp programs, and image editing programs in earlier chapters.

Second edition required

This book will soon be ripe for revisions and a second edition. When HTML5 replaces XHTML 1.0 or HTML 4 as the doctype of choice for “Web Standardistas”, this book should be updated with all the new semantic richness of HTML5. At that point, I could imagine throwing beginners a taste of CSS3, with some simple rounded corners or drop shadows to enhance their designs.

There are also a few errors which could be corrected, as in the quote from the homework above, or on page 249:

To indicate a CSS rule is targeting a class, we use a . (period) as shown in the following example:

<div id="blog_entry">
<!-- This is where each blog entry is situated. -->
</div>

I sincerely hope that the publishers recognize this book as an important contribution to the field, and sign the authors on for many editions to come.

Conclusion

HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions is a superb starting point for anyone needing to learn web design from the very beginning. I would recommend it highly, for example, to teachers of introductory web design courses, or individuals who want to take their graphic design skills online.

Respond to this review

Author(s)Christopher Murphy, Nicklas Persson
PublisherFriends of ED
Pages400
Published2008
ISBN-101430216069
Category
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Rating****

2 comments so far…Love it? Hate it?

Christopher Murphy Mar 21 2011

Thanks for the review Nora, we very much appreciate it and your kind words.

It’s always a challenge to know where to draw the line between what content to include and what to omit and in some cases we might have been a bit too restrictive so it’s extremely useful to get your thoughts. We’ll be sure and weigh them up should we be asked to create a second edition (which we’d love to do, to take into account the headlong move towards HTML5 and CSS3 the last year or so has brought).

We’ve been heartened by the number of people highlighting the book as a great place to start for beginners wanting to build on a solid foundation and – as web design educators, teaching in Belfast – we’ve been delighted by the number of courses that have adopted the book. Writing the book was a great deal of hard work so this kind of review is always a pleasure to read.

Lastly, on errata that creep in, I’m sure any author feels a sharp stab of pain when these are picked up and we’re no different. Rest assured, should we be invited to write a second edition we’ll ensure our eagle eyes are on the lookout for any stray errors!

Thanks again.

Nora Mar 21 2011

Christopher — Thanks for your comment, I hope my review supports your efforts towards a second edition!

I always hesitate to point out errors — since I know so much effort goes into weeding them out, and yet it seems some will always remain, but you know — reviewer’s duty and all that. If you need yet another pair of eyes on the next draft, you know where to find me.

If I am able to use your book in an upcoming web design class, I’ll let you know how it goes.

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