Posts Tagged ‘CSS’

Organizing Your CSS Files

When I create a web site, I like to organize my stylesheets and images into a specific folder structure. It keeps things tidy and separates presentation files (stylesheets and images) from content files (pages and images related to the content). It also leaves room for additional stylesheet “themes” for your site.

Here is an example of this folder structure:


Default in this example would be the name of the “theme”. The sites I develop typically do not have multiple themes for the user to pick, so I don’t usually take the time to give them fancy names. However, if your site utilizes multiple stylesheets that the user could choose from (such as at the CSS Zen Garden), creative names would be helpful.

All stylesheets for the Default theme would be placed in the /styles/default/ folder. Likewise, images used by those stylesheets would go in the /styles/default/images/ folder.

This method keeps your styles consolidated and makes it easy to use them across multiple sites. All you need to do is copy the folder to the other site; you don’t need to pick through the images folder and figure out which ones are used by the stylesheet and which ones aren’t.

Technically, you wouldn’t even need to copy anything to another site. You could just specify the full URL in the link element or @import rule on the page, but I urge you not to do this. Your visitors may be using security software that sees cross-site references as malicious, thus blocking the stylesheet from downloading or, worse, blocking the entire page.

—Kyle Blizzard

Logical Structures and Happy Designers

While valid markup and CSS are necessary, they’re not the only things we web designers require to keep our sanity. One can create a valid page that is still difficult to work on. For example, using absolutely positioned elements for page layout is even worse than just using tables. When you add content to one element, the ones below it are not pushed down because they are no longer in the “flow” of the page. This causes overlap of content and makes it extremely difficult and frustrating to add anything to the page. Utilities such as Yahoo! SiteBuilder create pages like this.

A markup structure that is built to logically represent the content of the page and not to facilitate the appearance of the page is much more easily edited and future-proof than the “HTML soup” sites of old. I wistfully say “old”, but the truth of the matter seems to be that HTML soup is still the preferred meal of the majority of so-called web designers. A lot of the web sites we’ve moved to our servers are a pain to work with and rarely validate, and they were, sadly, created by professional web designers!

Another couple things that are bad practice but not invalid are the use of inline style and CSS classes with names that tie them to a particular stylesheet such as “red-text” or “left-side”. What if you change the stylesheet some day and that “red-text” is now supposed to be blue or the “left-side” spans the bottom of the page? The World Wide Web Consortium themselves discourage the naming of CSS classes like this. They also have some other useful tips that all web designers should read and keep in mind.

If you’re a fledgling web designer or perhaps someone who is just looking into having a web site created and wondering what valid code and good design practices can do for you, check out the CSS Zen Garden site, an excellent example that is logically structured and able to accept stylesheets of wildly different appearances without the need for markup changes.

—Kyle Blizzard

Valid code and happy designers

Writing valid XHTML and CSS takes a little extra time but can save a client money and a designer their sanity. In the relatively brief history of web design there has been a great deal of controversy concerning web standards. Designers like to make money and making money means completing projects quickly. Typically, if the client liked it and it rendered correctly then the project is done. The major browser manufacturers carry some of the blame in their efforts to have the latest and greatest features they have implemented web page design elements in their own way. Rather than engendering innovation they have had the effect of creating a Tower of Babel of incompatible tags. In the old days,  some designers used any hack necessary to get a page to display properly in the the most popular web browsers of the time. However, in the past several years, the web standards community has been increasingly vocal about incompatible code and rendering problems. This has been especially true with IE-only sites that will not render properly or at all in alternative browsers such as Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Chrome. However, a standards compliant site provides greater interoperability for the same content on different platforms.

Another additional benefit of writing valid code is that it is easier to read, edit, and redesign. Separating the presentation of a site from its content using stylesheets seems like a no brainer. Theoretically you could redesign an entire site just by editing the stylesheet and the graphics without ever touching the XHTML. We have a number of clients who move to us from other hosts and the amount of spaghetti code that we are asked to edit sometimes makes us want to pull our hair out.

The point is, you can write sloppy code if you want to. You could even use <blink> tags in a site designed entirely in tables and transparent gifs if you were so inclined. But where is the return on investment for the client? There is a high probability that you are not the last one that will ever touch their website. So have a heart and validate your XHTML and CSS. You will get faster at making lean, mean standards compliant sites that look good on any browser.