Listening To Reason

random musings about technologies by Andy Norris

18 June 2006

Book Review: Web Standards Solutions by Dan Cederholm

Summary: A terrific book for intermediate web designers

Web Standards Solutions is an essential book for anyone who designs websites with CSS or wants to learn how. It's a solid book on CSS, and perfect for someone who is familiar with the basics of how CSS styling works, but is looking to learn how to use it effectively in real-world designs. But while this is an excellent book on CSS, it is a groundbreaking book on HTML.

This is a perfect second or third book on HTML. Everyone who works with HTML ought to have a nice big reference book, such as O'Reilly's HTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide. Many people also have some kind of "Learn HTML Fast!" book. After you've worked your way through those and understand how HTML works, "Web Standards Solutions" is the book to have. It won't teach you how to write a web page: it will teach you to write a better web page. This book goes through repeated examples of how you might want to format some piece of information -- a list, a heading, a quotation, emphasized text -- and goes through various possible ways of makring it up. Cederholm explains the advantages of using HTML tags that imply meaning like "li" or "strong" over tags that imply presentation like "span" or "b". He also has a lot of coverage of useful semantic tags you may not be familiar with, such as dictionary lists, fieldsets, table captions, and citations, as well as discussion about how to use semantic tags to make your site more accessible to alternative browsers, such as screen readers for the blind and older browsers that don't support the latest design techniques.

The whole first section of the book is focused on producing effective semantic markup, along with some good examples demonstrating how that markup can be styled in various ways. The second section then goes on to cover additional CSS topics that don't require any changes the underlying content. Separate stylesheets for printing, producing an overall page layout, elaborate text styles, and replacing text with images are all covered.

This book won't teach you a huge arsenal of advanced CSS design techniques used by cutting edge professionals, but if you work through what's presented, you'll have a solid foundation, and you shouldn't have any trouble understanding new techniques you read about. The one real weakness of this book is that while it teaches a good selection of individual elements and techniques, it doesn't focus on putting it all together into building cohesive pages and sites.

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