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Web Standards Solutions: The Markup and Style Handbook

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In: Reviews > Book Reviews

By Krista Stevens

Published on October 6, 2004

Defensive Design for the Web The one thing those who work and play in the world of Web design know to be true is that the learning is never done. To expand on D. Keith Robinson’s well-rounded Web craftsman theory, making Web sites and doing it well is an art and a craft. Those dedicated to making Web sites well know how to provide great content using techniques to make their sites as inclusive as possible. In Web Standards Solutions: The Markup and Style Handbook, Dan Cederholm gives us a volume that teaches just that. It deserves space on the desktop or bookshelf of every well-rounded Web craftsman.

In Designing with Web Standards, author Jeffrey Zeldman’s case for Web standards was open and shut. Dan Cederholm’s book is the logical extension for the converted (those of you who believe using Web standards to build Web sites is a must) who want to learn some tips and techniques to use in your Web design work and play. Where Zeldman is like your dad, helping you understand right and wrong in the world of Web design, Cederholm is like your big brother. He shares his secrets to success and challenges you to take your new knowledge and experiment.

The book is divided into two parts. The first, “Get Down with Markup” shows readers how to effectively use the semantic markup available to them. The second part, “SimpleBits of Style,” offers easy-to-understand CSS techniques to elevate the visual design of your sites to maximize flexibility, accessibility and usability.

Part I: Based on the SimpleQuiz series

In “Get Down with Markup,” the structure of each chapter mirrors the SimpleQuiz series of Web standards questions and answers Cederholm moderates on SimpleBits, his personal Web site. Cederholm poses a layout “problem” and offers four methods to achieve essentially the same visual result. In a friendly, humorous tone that is the hallmark of the book, Cederholm illustrates the pros and cons of each choice, leading the reader to the option that gives flexibility to the Web designer and maximum accessibility and usability to the user.

Markup best practices: Let semantics be your guide

As Cederholm discusses each possible solution to the markup conundrums he poses, he closely examines the semantic purpose of each tag to help readers learn to make better choices. Readers may feel a pang of guilt when they recognize their own markup in the options. However, true to the big-brother simile, he never chastises or derides an option as wrong; instead, he guides us to make better markup choices based on good semantics. What the reader gets is a series of best practices for lists, headers, tables for tabular data, quotations, forms, anchors and phrase elements like <strong> and <em>. Additionally, Cederholm details several of the markup and CSS techniques used on SimpleBits and on the standards-compliant redesign of the Fast Company magazine Web site.

Part II: The meat

While “Get Down with Markup” offers some great discussion on how to use semantically correct markup to achieve desired visual results, “SimpleBits of Style” is the meaty part of the book. Cederholm starts at the beginning, showing readers various ways to apply CSS to a document. He includes great tips on creating separate style sheets for layout and typography to speed maintenance, and how to use the @import rule and the cascade to serve content to browsers based on their capabilities. Cederholm also details how to implement alternate style sheets to give maximum visual control to the user.

Chapter 12 describes four methods to combine CSS and structured markup to create a two-column layout. Beginners will appreciate the easy-to-understand explanation of the box model problem in versions of Internet Explorer and tips and techniques to overcome it. Chapter 14 is a valuable, in-depth discussion of the pros and cons of Fahrner Image Replacement, Leahy/Langridge Image Replacement and the Phark Method of Image Replacement. Cederholm gives readers the goods on each method, but lets us make the final decision about which one to use.


Part I – Get Down with Markup
  1. Lists
  2. Headings
  3. Tables are Evil?
  4. Quotations
  5. Forms
  6. <strong>, <em> and Other Phrase Elements
  7. Anchors
  8. More Lists
  9. Minimizing Markup
Part II – SimpleBits Of Style
  1. Applying CSS
  2. Print Styles
  3. CSS Layouts
  4. Styling Text
  5. Image Replacement
  6. Styling body
  7. Next Steps

The Look of the Book

This book is all about the “how” of Web design. Its clean layout makes it easy for new readers to grasp code snippets and for advanced readers to scan examples to quickly glean tips and techniques they can employ immediately. The book is entirely in black and white, and although the illustrations are good, many would have benefited from being in color.

The Bottom Line

This book is well worth the investment for beginning and advanced Web professionals alike. Readers will find new tips (and, more importantly, techniques) no matter their level of Web design mastery. To see for yourself, check out the companion Web site and have a look at the downloadable chapter on CSS layouts (PDF).

Visit the publisher’s site to download files from the book.

In all, the book is a great, quick read; Cederholm’s writing is original in style and insight. To sum up, Web Standards Solutions: The Markup and Style Handbook is a resource no well-rounded Web craftsman should be without.

Web Standards Solutions: The Markup and Style Handbook
Dan Cederholm
friendsofEd, 2004 253pp:
$34.99 USD
$50.95 CAD

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Related Topics: Web Standards, CSS, XHTML


Krista Stevens is the Editor in Chief of Digital Web Magazine. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada, but considers the cottage on Lee River home. She's a confirmed sled-head who has snowmobile oil running through her veins and "Polaris" tattoed on her behind.

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