The state of the use of Cascading Style Sheet on the web is really beginning to get boring. Why haven't designers begun exploiting its benefits yet?
I understand that making the jump away from tables to pure CSS based layouts might be intimidating, unfamiliar, or perhaps even uncomfortable for some. Does that justify the cookie cutter look of the vast amount of tableless designs that are becoming popular the web? Is there more to CSS then derivatives of templates found at sites like glish and blue robot?
The Template Problem -or- Where are The Designers?
Let me get this out in the open right now. I am not trying to rag on anyone who has built a 'tableless' website, either from scratch or one that is based off of an existing template. And I certainly don't have anything against those who have spent their time creating the templates. This site isn't much to look at — its clean, simple to navigate, and easy to read, perfectly appropriate for the type of site that it is. I find the same is true for most content based sites that employ css.
I can remember a time not to long ago when individuals were running amok exploiting the simplest of html tags and creating works of beauty. But now, after browser vendors have stepped it up and given us much of the control we've been asking for, I can't seem to find web designers that are exploiting these new found powers. Everyday I see a tremendous amount of visual experimentation using web technologies other than CSS. I visit sites like Born Magazine (primarily Flash & Shockwave), look to designers like those at testpilotcollective (static images), and see a rise in PDF based zines like Beast. What I long to see is a move to embrace standards based web technologies in similar efforts.
What could be exploited?
I've talked before about how the use of CSS allows page builders to return to using proper markup (like headers and lists) without fear of the visual repercussions. That's great, but structural integrity is only one benefit. Other benefits over old html methods include:
Absolute and Relative Positioning.
Always wished you could move html elements around the screen as easily as you can photoshop layers? Well you can. This provides a much easier translation from layout development to live document and frees you from having to think about how complex a grid system you might have to build.
More Precise Typographic Controls.
Font tags are the most archaic tool we have.
Oh look, I can change the font color, size, and face. Yippie!CSS provides the facility to change normal typographic properties like leading (line-spacing) and kerning (letter-spacing). But can we do something more than make our content sites more readable?
Ease of Design Iteration.
You no longer have to have your designs set in stone before you move to 'production'. If something doesn't quite work you can work with the design inside of the browser. Small tweaks that might have once impacted the entire html document are insanely easy. Even major overhauls are possible with few changes.
So what's the problem?
Is it the limited selection of fonts? The fear of potential degradation in older and non-graphical browsers? Are the available tools to blame? Or is it simply that people have already written html off and don't want to bother?
What will it take to get people to seriously consider CSS based designs as viable outlet for their creative en devours? Please email me your thoughts.
After writing this article a lot of reponses I got were from folks who weren't quite sure that CSS could do what I was asking. While I don't claim to be a designer I thought I could at least attempt to put my money where my mouth is. The resulting project entitled Daily CSS Fun, in which I have redesigned that site many times by only swapping the linked style sheet, is now completed and available for all to see. Posted 03/24/2002.