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A Matter of Styles : Comments

By Ethan Marcotte

August 11, 2004



August 12, 2004 2:29 AM

Very nice, points out issues I (will) face in my company. I have redone the web site of one client to CSS-based layout, and the benefits are more than obvious to everyone in the company.

Future clients, if they fall in my lap, will be built that way and that will require more than one person to work on them. If I get stuck with “why we need the style guide”, this article will prove very handy with Eustace example.

Will K

August 12, 2004 3:50 AM

Nice points, Ethan! As a candidate for the Web Coordinator position for a local company, and a “standards activist,” this will come in handy to keep in mind as the projects occur — and the interview happens. The company, its webmaster and its IT director were excited at having someone steeped in CSS apply for the position, and now it may just be up to me: I intend to give it my all, and this article sums up excellent ways to address the concerns of all involved. Thanks!


August 12, 2004 4:22 AM


Great article. I think defining standard naming conventions and CSS file structure would be something that would for people.

Are there are ‘style guides’ for CSS out there at the moment?

Small Paul

August 12, 2004 4:25 AM

Really good article. It’s nice to see things being written about good working practices, as opposed to just the code. Getting actual, real-world results with code requires just the kind of good working practices you outline so helpfully here. The subtleties of working well when coding are often forgotten as we all get excited about the code itself. Many thanks for writing this, and many thanks to Digital Web for publishing it. I’d like to see more articles along these lines.

Morgan Roderick

August 12, 2004 4:50 AM

Great piece Ethan!
Having been pondering how to better ensure quality in our department for awhile, this article came at just the right moment. It’ll certainly spark some lively (healthy) debate.

Hopefully we’ll see more of Ethan’s writing soon.
/me prays that Ethan does not “pull a Scott Andrew”.

Jeremy Flint

August 12, 2004 5:47 AM

Great article Ethan.

We just hired a second designer here where I work, so I am no long the only person writing the CSS and XHTML for a site, and I have been in the process of writing a Style Guide for about a month now. I haven’t really gotten anywhere (internal projects get pushed out of the way by external forces all the time).

Good working standards, whether they be coding, concepting, or cleaning toilets, are always a good thing. The allow someone to drop into a team in mid-stride and fit right in because they can see how things are being accomplished. It also helps prevent clashes between co-workers.

Nick Finck

August 12, 2004 7:18 AM

Kevin, check out Jeffrey Zeldman’s work he did for the NYPL:

NYPL Style Guide

..that seems to be the more popular web style guide to refer to that outlines CSS in detail.


August 12, 2004 8:34 AM

Wonderful article that has generated some very productive dialogue here at work. Something else I’d add (and we’ve all heard before but is equally important in making spring cleaning less painful) is comment, comment, comment.

All too often I see code that has tricky layout elements and the original designer is no longer present. Without comments adjacent to your hacks, tricks, and “sensitive” elements problem solving can become much more nightmarish.


August 12, 2004 9:02 AM

Brilliant call, Andrew — the importance of well-written comments can’t be over-emphasized. Thanks for chiming in with that.

And thanks to everyone else for the positive feedback so far; it’s very much appreciated.


August 12, 2004 9:51 AM

Timely and great article, Ethan. As we are looking forward to expand our company and getting bigger (and better) clients, I have had to realize that, as much of an individualist as I am, we will eventually get to a point where I just won’t be able to do it all myself, unless I want to lose whatever is left of my sanity. As you put it right on, we all have different ways to skin a cat, and probably the biggest challenge regarding team work in CSS (or any other markup language for that matter) is to reach consensus on a single way of doing things and agree firmly upon it. But once that hurdle is passed on, there’s nothing that can bring but benefits as work load gets better distributed and done faster. Plus, I have had the experience of trying to fix someone else’s CSS once or twice, and it felt like trying to decipher an ancient hieroglyphics language or something, which makes your article even more relevant.

Jim Amos

August 12, 2004 12:48 PM

Perhaps it would also be a good idea to decide on only one css editor to use – that way the ‘style guide’ could be plugged in, on-hand at all times – maybe as a pallette like the code pallette in dreamweaver. I’m not sure if you can do this in TopStyle, BBEdit or other popular apps but I think it could be very useful.

Jason Gennaro

August 14, 2004 5:28 AM

Great article Ethan! Just recently, I was in a similar position. I had to hire another developer to help with extra business, and one of the first things that we did was create a CSS Style Guide so that our style sheets matched and were easy to update and use. After reading your article, I decided to post the JJPG CSS Style Guide on my site: Again, great article.


August 14, 2004 1:57 PM

Just wanted to point out that apparently the article’s made its way onto Slashdot; I’m mentioning it not because I’m a craven, self-promoting ass1, but some of the ensuing discussion’s really pretty insightful. A lot of back-end folks weigh in on best practices/processes, and what (to them) constitutes “good code”.
[1] Oh, who’m I kidding.

Nick Finck

August 15, 2004 9:12 PM

Not bad for a first article Ethan. I think we’ll keep ya. :P

Simon Cox

August 18, 2004 2:46 PM

Great artical! This raises some good points when it comes to teams working on sections within a large site. One technique I have recently started to use is splitting the style sheets up, one for layout and one for typography. Splitting the layout from the styling means that complex sites are more manageble.

Russell Williams

August 18, 2004 4:52 PM

We are using css to style our intranet software and find the same challenges. There seems a real lack of advice on how to layout a css for long term maintenance. I hope someone is looking at writing a “design patterns” book on css that discusses useful ways to layout code. At the moment it seems you pick up advice here and there.

Julian Rickards

August 20, 2004 4:12 AM

I have a friend who has problems with the other side of styles, contributors who don’t know when to apply them. Apparently, they are applying a particular class to all anchor tags within a list rather than to the unordered list tags. Might this be the topic of another article.

yves cintas

October 7, 2004 11:25 AM

It’a really brilliant article. Congratulations to the author.


December 26, 2004 3:36 PM

Great points on CSS. Cascading Style Sheets has definitely made my life easier, in the sense that I can concentrate more on developing content and features, as opposed to getting my hands dirty on style and theme, for every single page…One sheet does it all. but it hasn’t been without grief and frustration in trying to get my hands around CSS. There isn’t very good documentation out there, or “best practices”, or standardization, to help the developer in eeking out a method and strategy for proper CSS implementation. In addition, I also agree that the topic isn’t terribly exciting for many of us, so to have something that we can get our hands around, and eliminate CSS as a focal point in our site development, would be a step in the right direction. Put a different way, perhaps that step has already been taken.

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