CSS Layout Books

by Joe Gillespie — Sep 1, 2004

I'm going to review two excellent new CSS books this month. They have a lot in common. Both are by prominent authors in this field and cover similar ground but they are quite different in approach and will appeal to slightly different audiences.

Firstly, Eric Meyer on CSS is somewhat of a departure from his previous, more reference-oriented CSS books. This book is a hands-on layout tutorial pure and simple. It's beautifully presented in full colour, which is rare these days, and packed with very useful, indeed essential, information that every Web designer should have to hand.

The book kicks off with something that almost every designer wants to know how to convert table based layouts into CSS-P and walks the reader through a typical example in minute detail. Then, it shows how to style an online press release from the ground up and an even more ambitious events calendar.

Using CSS for hyperlinks and menus that get away from JavaScript dependencies makes a lot of sense and the clear examples show how you can accomplish these. The style sheets and code examples are downloadable from a companion web site so they don't need to be typed-in to get them up and running.

Other topics covered include styling for print, styling forms, multicolumn layouts and a more, offbeat 'sneaking out of the box, which demonstrates that, with CSS, you are not stuck with rectangular boxes. There's so much more that you can do.

As it states at the beginning, this is not a book for beginners or people who totally depend on WYSIWYG editors. It's for people who are interested in crafting their pages and are prepared to go that extra mile.

Eric Meyer on CSS
Author Eric Meyer
Publisher New Riders
ISBN 073571245X
Price $45 (Amazon $30.60)

DHTML and CSS for the World Wide Web by Jason Cranford Teague is a new Peachpit Visual Quickstart Guide also about layout. Although it lacks the full colour treatment of the other book, it's copiously illustrated and lacking in no way.

Although it's called 'DHTML and CSS', the emphasis is on CSS. Where Eric's book assumes a certain level of knowledge, this one starts from basics. Instead of long, highly detailed examples, it breaks things down into more digestible, bite-size chunks and starts off with CSS fundamentals like styling type and creating CSS-P boxes. If you are relatively new to Web design, this would be a better choice.

The DHTML part is about controlling CSS with JavaScript to make your pages more dynamic. It draws parallels with using Flash and explains the benefits of not relying on proprietary plug-ins. DHTML is about communicating with the DOM (Document Object Model) with 'events' and the clear and concise explanations immediately put the reader at ease in what is potentially a quite scary environment. You are shown how to make objects move, become invisible and visible, how to drag objects around the screen all very useful stuff.

After all the fundamentals, the book gets into more detailed examples further in. Chapters on 'Layout and Content' and 'Navigation and Controls' provide excellent tutorials on all those 'whizzy' tricks that designers like to use.

If you do prefer to use WYSIWYG editors, don't worry, there are DHTML primers for both Dreamweaver MX 2004 and GoLive CS that show how to implement most of these techniques in a point and click environment.

To finish up, a 'Debugging your Code' tells what you have to do to ensure that your pages work in the maximum number of browsers and provides a useful reference of browser differences and shortcomings. In fact, I can't think of anything that's been left out! This is one very complete reference!

DHTML and CSS for the World Wide Web
Author Jason Cranford Teague
Publisher Peachpit Press
ISBN 0321199588
Price $21.99 Amazon $15.39

I would highly recommend either of these books as sources of CSS layout information for Web designers. Some people will prefer the simplicity and 'correctness' of the Eric Mayer book. It is the more advanced of the two, going into greater detail with its very thorough tutorials. If you are a 'visual' designer and like things a little more 'instant' and spicier, DHTM and CSS for the World Wide Web is packed with solid information, excellent tips and is undoubtedly a source of great inspiration.

Hell, get them both, you can't go wrong!

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