Book Review: CSS3 for Web Designers

CSS3 for Web Designers is the latest release from A Book Apart which also recently released HTML5 for Web Designers.

Having received a copy of this lightweight book in electronic format, I promptly loaded it onto my iPad in preparation for a flight. The book proved to be so brief and easy-to-read, in fact, that I was through its 130 pages before I even boarded my plane. Therefore, I took some time on my flight to write up my thoughts on said book.

Like HTML5 for Web Designers before it, A Book Apart books aren't meant to be exhaustive tomes but instead focus on the current state of affairs: what should we be aware of and can implement right now. And to that point, CSS3 for Web Designers hits the mark. Cederholm's comfortable and affable writing makes this an enjoyable read and definitely covered a number of popular CSS3 features such as border radius, text shadow, box shadow, transitions, animations, and more.

One particular sore spot for me was how Internet Explorer was dealt with. Cederholm briefly mentions the use of the Alpha filter as a substitute for CSS3's opacity property. Unfortunately, no other equivalents were mentioned such as gradients or box shadows. I know many have no love for Microsoft and its woefully maladjusted browser. And yes, the syntax isn't exactly elegant. And yes, the rendering on some filters aren't exactly spectacular. But I digress. In any case, I don't expect this to be an issue for most people.

There are many CSS3 modules that aren't covered like advanced selectors, border-image, multi-column layout, and flex box layout. These modules (with the exception of border-image) don't necessarily tie into the same visual realm as the features that are covered in the book and I can certainly understand why they were left out. (And it certainly wouldn't surprise me to see another A Book Apart publication released that does delve into one or more of these topics.)

Cederholm's demo project shows practical examples and implementations and does so with exquisite style. If you've been holding out on jumping on the CSS3 bandwagon then CSS3 for Web Designers is a great book to get you started.

Published November 17, 2010
Categorized as Book Reviews
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19 Comments · RSS feed
Anton said on November 17, 2010

I was considering buying the electronic version for my own iPad, but wanted to wait for the reviews to come in.

Stephen Fairbanks said on November 17, 2010

Thanks for the review, I was thinking of getting myself a copy of this after enjoying HTML5 For Web Designers by Jeremy Keith and being a fan of Dan Cederholm's Handcrafted CSS book.

I quite like the breezy nature of the writing and it makes sense to see this as an overview / introduction of a technology in transition, rather than the only CSS3 book you'll ever need.

Kev Adamson said on November 17, 2010

It's often the IE "hacks" that allow you to jump the client sign-off hurdle which, in-turn, allows the developer to get CSS3 "out there".

I intended to blog about this a while back but never got around to it.

Of course it is important to communicate that these work-arounds are not CSS3, but if we're going to be using some of this advanced CSS3 stuff on everyday projects, knowing some appropriate methods to cover IE are necessary. Unfortunately.

In terms of Dan's book: He is writing about CSS3 and not filters / JavaScript, so I guess the book's doing what it says on the tin / cover :P

Jonathan Snook said on November 17, 2010

@Kev Adamson: Indeed, you are correct. Filters aren't part of any specification, draft or otherwise and needn't be covered. Hence, why I didn't think it would really be a big deal to most people. :)

Marvin Brock said on November 17, 2010

I'm always surprised at how little folks can write on new topics, and how forgiving pro's are when they read them. It seems you can sell anything so long as it is accurate. I'm sick of buying overly simplistic 'well laid out' books that are not books for developers but are gimiky books for, well, children I guess. I wish designers would get off the book sales bandwagon and just stick to tarting up real books.

Thank you for your article though.

Note: isn't it about time these comments allowed for tweet links by commenters as well as email and urls?

Jonathan Snook said on November 17, 2010

@Marvin: I'm curious... did you feel that I was being forgiving? or just saying, in general? (I suppose the question might be whether you consider me a pro or not. ;)).

As for Twitter links, I haven't liked any implementation I've seen from elsewhere. I also don't have pingbacks or trackbacks. I want engagement and discussion, and while I don't mind if that happens elsewhere, I haven't seen an elegant way to integrate that discussion into my own site.

NICCAI said on November 17, 2010

+1 for Snook. I bought the book (haven't opened it yet), simply because I like to stay abreast of different approaches - I'm more interested in Dan's approach to styling implementation, than I am in reviewing many of the CSS3 techniques that we are likely already using. The biggest issue I have with many of the books being written on CSS today is that they aren't advanced enough. They tend to elegantly summarize the features, but they typically don't tackle real world scenarios very well. Sometimes it is more important to discuss the trade-offs that come with complex problem sets, than it is to collate a series of blog posts. Just my two bits, but I'd love to see more on the trade-offs, performance issues, and other decisions you are making at Yahoo for instance.

Right now, I'm dealing with establishing standards within a company with north of 200 developers, styling a site with greater than 17 million visits, and the need to grok cross-browser styling alongside movement in HTML5 and mobile browsing. The point is I think those of us that follow the trends closely have greater need for more complex discussion.

Catherine Azzarello said on November 17, 2010

I just (1 hour ago) finished Andy Clarke's Hardboiled Web Design (PDF) and loved it. Next up is CSS3 for Web Designers. I suspect reading them in reverse order of what I did is recommended, based on your assessment. ;-)

Clarke's book is broad, yet still covers lots of CSS3 nitty gritty. In fact, I think A List Apart could easily devote an entire book to border-images and multiple backgrounds, following with a later publication just for transforms and animations.

Since Clarke mentions Cederholm's techniques so many times, I see all the books as worth my time.

I did very much enjoy Jeremy Keith's HTML5 For Web Designers, too. Reading from all the various 'guru' perspectives only increases my understanding and coding skill.

Zoe Gillenwater said on November 17, 2010

Thanks for the review, Jonathan. I'm looking forward to reading the book. Dan Cederholm's stuff is always great.

Would you be interested in a copy of my upcoming book, Stunning CSS3, to review as well? Or at least read and do with what you want. ;-) Just let me know. It's out Dec 10.

Niccai, I think you make great points. Knowing how to make some buttons have rounded corners is great, but knowing how to implement CSS3 in a huge site by tons of people in an elegant way is a whole other ballgame.

Jem said on November 18, 2010

I've had a year out of dev following the birth of my daughter, as a result I'm ridiculously behind on what's what with HTML5 AND CSS3. Sounds like both books you mention will ease me back in nicely :)

Graham B said on November 19, 2010

I liked the book and found it informative, although I consider it a little lightweight even in comparison to HTML5 for Web Designers. I think I would feel a little cheated spending $18 on the paperback but the digital version is about right.

Paolo Omero said on November 26, 2010

Thank you for this review. CSS3 advanced selectors and multi column layout are, in my opinion, two of the most important topics about CSS3.

Then, I will not buy the book.

Kredyt Mieszkaniowy said on December 14, 2010

Hello! I just thought I would tell you something… it’s an amazing website! Nice work!

Tiyo Kamtiyono said on December 17, 2010

Thanks for the review, even I prefer to read on line tuts rather than buy a thick book :)

John Tidey said on December 23, 2010

I got an early Christmas present of a book voucher, so I pick this up.

Brad Bombardiere said on December 30, 2010

Great review, I like that you did not smash the book even though it is not an exhaustive programming book. (others have as I have been reading other reviews to compare on it) It sounds like a perfect getting started and see where it goes. Thanks

Richard said on January 01, 2011

I've seen a couple of blogs mention this book, all have been very positive.

It's currently winning on the 'inevitable book I need to buy to get up to speed with CSS3' stakes!

Any recommendations for a html5 one?

Joomla Web Development said on January 06, 2011

I want to buy this book because this brief intro gives me a lot.So, i want to read this whole book.

Greg said on January 12, 2011

Thanks for this helpful review. I was actually having second thoughts of buying this book.

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