As I begin my research for the required graduate project in my Hypertext class, I find myself gravitating to two particular web experts: Sherry Turkle (more on her work later, trust me) and Eric Meyer.
I was hooked by Meyer’s CSS: The Definitive Guide on page 2. After beginning an explanation of the differences between HTML and CSS in a section entitled “The Web’s Fall From Grace,” he establishes a dichotomy between HTML as a structural language and CSS as a stylistic construct. “Why do authors run roughshod over structure and meaning?” he asks in regard to an example of using font elements rather than heading elements. This rhetorical approach to the highly technical building blocks of the web pulled me in by making me feel as if I not only understand what Meyer is talking about, but I also have a stake in it.
Although I don’t plan to read this entire book straight through—and I think the word “guide” in the title discourages that, anyway—I do like this opening chapter that sets up the differences between CSS and other less nuanced methods. Besides offering understandable explanations and examples, this book makes me feel validated as a web designer who doesn’t know a whole lot about “code.” The rhetorical functionality of web design simply doesn’t rely on HTML, and maybe it can even be hindered by it.
In other chapters, Meyer discusses Selectors, Structure, Values and Units, Fonts, Text Properties, Visual formatting, Borders, Colors, Positioning, Tables, Lists, Interface Styles, and Non-Screen Media. I haven’t gotten there yet, but I have a feeling that all these chapters are as enlightening as the first. Part of that feeling comes from the fact that the author, Meyer, is “the best-recognized CSS authority in the world,” according to Jeffrey Zeldman’s Designing with Web Standards, which I’m also working my way through right now. Although I don’t like Designing with Web Standards as well as CSS: The Definitive Guide (it’s less accessible), it’s still a handy book to have around for somebody struggling with web design.