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170 of 178 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A most unique and inspirational book...
If you've already picked up the basics of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and want to see what is *really* possible, check out The Zen of CSS Design by Dave Shea and Molly E. Holzschlag (New Riders). This is a unique book...

Chapter List: View Source; Design; Layout; Imagery; Typography; Special Effects; Reconstruction; Closing Thoughts; Index

This...
Published on May 8, 2005 by Thomas Duff

versus
56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not exactly what I expected
This book should probably be called A Portfolio of CSS Design. It contains lots of nice pages showing examples of some lovely CSS design. However, it doesn't present enough constructive information to really help you. Tell me exactly how the page put to together rather than some obscure problem which the average CSS user is unlikely to encounter. I don't know who this...
Published on November 13, 2006 by W. Boon


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170 of 178 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A most unique and inspirational book..., May 8, 2005
This review is from: The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web (Paperback)
If you've already picked up the basics of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and want to see what is *really* possible, check out The Zen of CSS Design by Dave Shea and Molly E. Holzschlag (New Riders). This is a unique book...

Chapter List: View Source; Design; Layout; Imagery; Typography; Special Effects; Reconstruction; Closing Thoughts; Index

This book covers the topic of CSS in an unusual fashion. Dave Shea came up with the idea for a web site called csszengarden.com. The basic premise is to have a standard HTML file, complete with class and id tags that can not be changed. The goal is to then use a CSS style sheet to apply unique styles and graphics to the page, resulting in some stunning visual displays of web design. But the basic thing to remember is that the page content doesn't change, just the CSS design file that's applied to it.

Shea and Holzschlag take some of the more unique designs that have been submitted and use them to explain various CSS concepts and techniques that can be used to push your design efforts beyond the ordinary. The techniques are very well documented, as well as giving explanations on what will and will not work in the major browsers due to differences in CSS rendering. Since so much of the design is driven by choices in graphics and typeface, you'll also be exposed to quite a bit in the way of design concepts, how to choose and render text, different graphic formats, and so on. While none of the information would be considered a complete reference work on any given subject, you do have enough information to apply the technique and continue on from there if necessary.

In addition to being a book to teach technique, it also does a wonderful job in providing inspiration. If you're looking for ideas to create a site that stands out, a leisurely perusal of the pages (or of the website) will offer up endless ways to reach that goal. "You can do that?" will be a phrase that escapes from your lips on a number of occasions.

Beautiful, instructional, and inspirational... This should probably be the second or third CSS book you buy once you buy a tutorial and/or a reference guide. A recommended read...
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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not exactly what I expected, November 13, 2006
This review is from: The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web (Paperback)
This book should probably be called A Portfolio of CSS Design. It contains lots of nice pages showing examples of some lovely CSS design. However, it doesn't present enough constructive information to really help you. Tell me exactly how the page put to together rather than some obscure problem which the average CSS user is unlikely to encounter. I don't know who this book is aimed at. There's not enough in it for it to be a tutorial book and while it's nice to look at, is this any better than viewing the actual web pages on the Internet?
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Let's review, one more time, December 8, 2005
This review is from: The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web (Paperback)
This is important to understand: this is not a book that will teach you the fundamentals of CSS. Repeat, NOT a primer on CSS. Rather, it is a book aimed at users who want to write or improve the aesthetics of their website by incorporating CSS. For that reason, it is fairly solid. Most of the premises are fairly basic and straightforward, covering the usual elements of type, layout, images, grids, etc. It is a decent resource for ideas and perhaps some alternative ways to approach building or rebuilding your site (using CSS presumably). Advanced designers would probably want to look elsewhere for ideas, theories and techniques.

If you want to understand what CSS is really about, in terms of writing it (to make your site as pretty as the examples in this book) you should turn elsewhere, like Eric A. Meyer's book on the subject. And you can easily check out the publisher's website and probably see everything you need to that is in this book.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars where is the css?, October 3, 2005
This review is from: The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web (Paperback)
Like the review below, this book spends most of it's time talking about design, and really, it reads just like an art history book 101 ... So if you like reading art history books, then great! The examples that they choose are great, but they don't go into detail about how the artists actually created the site using CSS. This book, might inspire you, but I don't think it help you design sites like the ones in this book using CSS, because there is just too much fluff and not enough content. I recommend you save your money, and instead, look at the css code on the beautifule csszengarden site. I found that 10 times more useful.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rich visuals, April 19, 2006
By 
Kate (Bloomington, Indiana) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web (Paperback)
This book is about extraordinary web page design. Thirty-six designs are featured from the web site Zen Garden: The Beauty of CSS Design [...], which was created by one of the authors, David Shea. The Zen Garden web site is really a great concept. Start with a simple, well-formed HTML document, coded for maximum flexibility in applying a style sheet, and then invite designers to submit a CSS document with image files to "style" that basic HTML web page. The challenge is to explore the possibilities and push the limits.

The book focuses on fundamental design concepts such as typography, color and layout. This is not a typical step-by-step book, which often has really ugly visual examples of what the code will do. Shea and Holzschlag look at CSS-formatted pages through a different lens. Each showcased project is introduced with an explanation of the design principles examined, followed by a breakdown of the elements and how they were formatted with CSS. Snippets of code are included, and you can go to the web site and download both the HTML and the CSS for that particular page if you want to follow along.

At first glance this is a visually rich book, but the screen shots are unfortunately small (they were created at 72 dpi after all) and some of the details are noticeably pixilated. Some include an expanded view of the web page, something you'll never see through the browser window, but helpful for seeing how it all fits together. Another thing I found useful was the view of all of the images used on the webpage, spread apart so I can get a good look at them. I may be stating the obvious, but what makes these designs so exceptional is the use of images. And to really appreciate the designs you need to look at them in the intended presentation-on screen. Also online is the complete style sheet for every page-you can deconstruct to your heart's content.

The authors state that the book was written for anyone with an interest in designing and developing web sites, from novice to advanced users, designers and programmers. I would argue that you have to have a pretty good grasp of CSS for most of the explanations to make sense. I'm a graphic designer struggling to learn CSS. I've given up font tags and rollover images for CSS formatting and text-based rollover effects for links, but I still use tables. I haven't yet grasped using CSS for positioning elements on the page. What I was hoping to find in this book were simple, straightforward, engaging CSS-formatted web pages. Unfortunately this wasn't the case. The featured layouts relied on a number of hacks and workarounds to get the pages to appear as intended. Is this a reflection on the state of browser compliance to web standards? For folks who enjoy the challenge of finding unique coding solutions there are plenty of clever examples in this book. However, it is definitely not a reference book. It's even hard to find anything specific through the index.

Is there any long-term value to this book? Or is it like so many other computer books that become outdated after a few years, sometimes as quickly as when a new version of software is released? The Zen of CSS Design may serve as a snapshot of the early days of CSS design and an inspiration for today.
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198 of 243 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars more about design, not about css, May 22, 2005
By 
W. W. Van Broek (Rotterdam Netherlands) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web (Paperback)
Bought the book, looked good and was hoping to find more information about CSS. The book is mostly about design. It has beautifull pictures of different designs for one website. If you're looking for inspiration on how to design your site, this book could help you. If you're looking how to use CSS, buy another book.

The book doesn't clearly show you how to make the sites, the lessons of this book are not useless but could be told in a book of 30 pages instead of 296.

If you really want to know how to use CSS buy Eric Meyer's books.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An advanced web design reference, July 4, 2005
By 
John Davey (Valley Forge, PA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web (Paperback)
(...)

The Zen of CSS Design is divided into seven chapters. The first is a brief but informed review of the development of web standards, leading to the idea of the Zen Garden site. The book then moves into Laying the Foundation, an outline of the Zen Garden HTML source. There are some honest critiques of Shea's own HTML, proving that even the best can find ways to improve. This section is valuable in itself to understanding that a good CSS page starts with solid HTML, a point that is often lost on new designers.

The next five chapters cover design, layout, imagery, typography, and special effects. Each chapter takes six submissions to Zen Garden and analyzes the techniques each designer used to create the styles, in the process expounding on different web design issues. The commentaries vary in detail. The review of Night Drive (#064) was particularly informative as a step by step analysis, and that makes sense as it is one of author Dave Shea's contribution. Other reviews are more general, but for most of us, they are all are more instructional than just reviewing the source would be.

Throughout the book the authors give their insights into issues that challenge web designers all the time, such as font sizing (they suggest that three methods are reliable, each with pros and cons), web-safe colors (generally not important any more) and fixed versus elastic design (your call, but they give you some good advice). An unexpected bonus is a section on Photoshop techniques that Dave Shea used in Coastal Breeze (#013).

Most important for getting to this level of web design are image replacement techniques, and the authors give a nice rundown of the current methods. I knew about this idea and had actually wondered how to do it. This book is a very good starting point.

The final chapter is called Reconstruction. Again, it uses six sites as examples, but this time goes step by step through the development of the style sheets. It can be difficult to see how effects were created just by looking at the source, and this section shows how the code was brought along from start to finish. The individual images used by each designer are shown by themselves so that readers can see the raw graphic material that was then incorporated into the design. This touch is particularly helpful, and the chapter gives a good picture of how image replacement techniques work.

There are insights that one might not pick up from just looking through the Zen Garden website. I did not realize, for instance, that some of the submissions render differently in different browsers, usually as a result of designers having to deal with the peculiarities of Internet Explorer. It was remarkable to discover that Egor Kloos' Gemination site (#062) has two completely different renderings. Open it in Firefox and then in Explorer to see the difference. Easier yet, open it in Netscape 8 and use that browser's dual-engine design to switch between IE and Mozilla. One style sheet, two different pages!

One of the best things about this book is in fact the attention to cross-browser design. The inconsistency of current CSS support can be daunting, but it helps to know that even high-level designers are struggling with the problem. And it's great that this community is willing to share its solutions, giving the rest of us an idea of the possibilities that exist within the limitations we have to deal with.

Throughout the book, there is sidebar material that is a veritable encyclopedia of CSS resources on the web. One could just run through the sidebars and get an excellent education. The Closing Thoughts section is another valuable resource, with additional web references plus a nice "Crib Sheet" of solutions to common problems. And the index got me right to topics when I wanted to go back and check them again.

A comment should be made on the book itself. As befits a design book, this one is beautifully done. The graphics are nicely reproduced, and the type and page arrangement are attractive as well as effective. If there is such a thing as a coffee table book for computer jocks, this is it.

Some details on some sites might be too small to be seen well in the book. In those cases, the site needs to be pulled up. Probably the best way to use this book is to do just that--prop it next to a computer and open each site as you go along.

This book is not for CSS beginners. My own choice is Callihan, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) By Example (Que 2002). And despite its broad coverage, The Zen of CSS Design is not a general CSS reference. Meyer, Cascading Style Sheets, The Definitive Guide, 2d Edition (O'Reilly 2004) is probably the classic in that regard. But just as the CSS Zen Garden site is unique and belongs in every list of bookmarks, The Zen of CSS Design is itself unique and belongs on every web designer's bookshelf.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing..., October 26, 2005
By 
Jeffrey A. Bail (Madison, WI United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web (Paperback)
As a big fan of the web site (...) I was very excited to hear that a book concerning the web site was going to be released. This excitement was quickly stifled upon reading the books...because, frankly, the book is horrible. The discussion of how to actually create such beautiful designs using advanced CSS techniques (and hacks) is pretty much non-existent from the book. Instead, the book focuses on general design principles...principles covered in MANY other books. This fact, essentially makes this book worthless. In the end, it has VERY LITTLE to do with CSS design, making the title deceiving and the book as a whole, quite disappointing.

My recommendation: (...) If you want a book on web site design principles, there are much better titles out there as well.

Too bad though...this *could* have been a GREAT book...
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Wish I Had Previewed it Better Before Buying..., November 2, 2005
This review is from: The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web (Paperback)
It's basically a book that hypes the parent website. I read this book hoping to actually learn HOW to do some of the stuff I'd seen on csszengarden.com. It does go into some detail, but at such a shallow depth you soon realize you would've been better served just checking the source code on the site itself. CSS is a huge topic, and I wouldn't even give this book credit with scratching the tip of the iceberg.

I would definetly recommend skimming this at a bookstore before purchasing, I think you'll find it's not quite the book it's made out to be.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice Resource, March 26, 2006
This review is from: The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web (Paperback)
Good book. My only recommendation for the authors would be to NOT encourage CSS hacks within a CSS document as this can only lead to future trouble. I would recommend using IE conditional statements as a method to point IE hacks to a different style sheet that can be easily altered when IE someday gets something right. In fact IE 7 beta version fixes a lot of these issues addressed in the book.

The idea of the Zen Garden is genius. I recommend the book only to those who want inspiration and to learn the history of the CSS Zen Garden. NOT to those wanting to learn much about CSS. You can learn more by just viewing the designs and downloading the CSS from ZEN Gardens site. It is allowed.

-MAK
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The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web
The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web by Molly E. Holzschlag (Paperback - February 27, 2005)
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