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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2006
Format: 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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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book doesn't dissect CSS in the way that I expected, but it's still a great book. I'll be visiting the csszengarden website to break it apart myself, which is probably the best way to learn anyway.

Pros: inspiring designs, good CSS hacks, tells you what works in which browser (basically IE sucks, but you knew that already)

Cons: need more detail on how the text and images are pieced together to create the overall layouts, but at least there is the website to reference

Overall: It's good, I actually enjoyed it. But you will need another CSS book to go along with it - especially if you are new to CSS.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2005
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Since I'm a frequent visitor to the excellent CSS Zen Garden web site, I purchased this book hoping that it would enlighten me regarding the technical implementation of some of the more advanced CSS designs. Unfortunately, I think the book just misses the mark. What you get is a brief six page explanation of a particular design concept for each of the 36 included designs. This is all good, but I was hoping to see at least a few of the very advanced designs completely dissected in explanation, from beginning of the source to the end. Intermediate CSS coders will undoubtedly pick up a useful technique or two. Still, it's a good book that could have been great.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
As the web developer in our company I often hear our graphical designers asking me what IS possible with CSS. Well this book gives you a good idea. It is not really about learning CSS but at least it gives a good idea about all the possibilities. Each time I get stuck in the limits of CSS, I get back to this book.....
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
I was very happy with the contents of this book, but it isn't intended for beginners. Much of the content of the book is also available from the ZenGarden website.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2005
Format: Paperback
You know what zen gardens are, right? Like those little desktop trays containing sand, a few pebbles, and a rake that you can use to arrange the "garden" in any way you like, leaving it for the next person to appreciate but ultimately remake according to their own tastes. The Zen of CSS Design, the companion book to the awesome website ([...]) is like that, except that hundreds of web designers have the same flat HTML file and then rearranged it to their own purposes with nothing more than a new cascading style sheet and their own graphics. Go browse through the site and tell me it's not amazing what people have done.

The book takes 36 of the best designs on the sites and uses them as examples in brief and to-the-point chapters designed to illustrate (literally) important lessons in web design and CSS coding. We very rarely use the word "beautiful" but this book is indisputably beautiful. The whole thing is in full, gorgeous color, and the pages are oversized enough so that the authors don't have to compromise when using screenshots to make their points.

As an inspirational tool, the book is superlative. I'm so full of ideas now! My only complaint is that many of the chapters are too short and shallow, relying as they do on only one example. I'd much rather have seen, for example, a chapter on typography and font selection that made a constellation of related points using examples from half a dozen or more designs instead of just one. I also would have appreciated more "nuts and bolts" chapters that discussed some of the clever uses of CSS that the designs so obviously engage in. But where it fails as a technical manual on CSS how-tos, The Zen of CSS Design more than makes up for in beauty and its ability to energize and inspire its readers.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
The Zen of CSS Design is a powerful, engaging book that takes you into the very elemental details that make CSS such a potent tool for use in web development. I would recommend this as a must have book for the CSS library - and the corresponding web site is a must visit and revisit location to get real CSS code to review and practice with.

The book is chuck full of images - each page takes you on a detailed adventure into one of some thirty six actual CSS designs - each very different from the other, and yet each one containing the same content such as verbiage and links. There are six main sections the book focuses on - Design, Layout, Imagery, Typography, Special Effects, and Reconsruction.

Every chapter contains real world advice and many snips of code and several full CSS code sections - I was a joy to read and is going to make a great resource - reference book for the future.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book, combined with the web site (of the same name) provides a wealth of information and inspiration for every web designer. CSS is the only way to design and this book gives you the most variety I have ever found, and they provide compelling, if not inspirational, reasons for switching to CSS.

The only thing I can say bad about the book is it's lack of technical information. There are a few CSS and HTML examples to give you ideas of how you can push the CSS envelop to build exciting page layouts, but I would have preferred more discussion into the code that makes each site an outstanding example of CSS design.

Overall this is a great book...!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2008
Format: Paperback
The Zen of CSS Design is a book about the application of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) over a structure of HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language). I like to look at CSS as the paint and decorating that is applied over the frame and drywall of a house. These things can change over time while the underlying structure of the house remains the same.

Dave Shea, the creator of the CSS Zen Garden, one of the first groundbreaking CSS galleries, and Molly E. Holzschlag, one of the preeminent designers on the web, do well in not only showcasing many of the best designs from the website, but also in explaining the techniques used by them.

Web design can be taken to so many different degrees. There are people and companies who do the bare minimum of design work: text on a plain background with one or two images scattered here and there. But even this is a design choice. The way navigation is designed is a choice, the colors and images and borders are choices, and the use of web standards technologies like CSS or Flash are design choices.

The way the CSS Zen Garden website works is that one HTML file was created, and each designer uses that same structure to create their own design. Their CSS styles are layered -or "cascaded," if you will--over that structure to create an original look and feel, but at the same time delivering the very same content as everyone else. The point of the project is to showcase the efficiency and flexibility of CSS as a design tool. This is in contrast to using HTML-only or proprietary browser technologies for design.

The book is split up into seven chapters, each talking about a specific type of design: examining the structure, a design overview, layout, imagery, typography, special effects and reconstruction. The book does a great job of using more than 36 different CSS designs from the website as examples of exploring the everyday challenges and problems faced by web designers. These challenges include using the right amounts of contrast and color in a design to make the content as readable and usable as possible. Using the correct type and design in typography also goes a long way in design of a website. Normal browser text is replaced by images using CSS to better fit in with the overall page design. Elements of typographical design such as leading and tracking are controlled by CSS to make type readable as well. Design elements are repeated in some different ways, sometimes in different colors so as to mark separate sections of the site.

Overall I think this book does a splendid job of showcasing the multiple ways that CSS can be used to display and enhance content on the web. However, I do not believe that this book should be read as a starting-out point for anyone interested in learning CSS or HTML. This is written for those who have at least some experience with writing stylesheets already, and will be a great addition to their collection. The designers that are included and reviewed in this book such as Shaun Inman, Douglas Bowman and Jon Hicks are some of the top CSS and design experts in the world. They all continue to make breakthroughs in design to this day.

This book is a little outdated now, three years after being published, but the techniques used are (and will be) just as viable if used tomorrow. That is the point of proper CSS design as opposed to HTML design, is that designers should create with forward-thinking in mind. CSS is a web standard that leaves the content alone. Even if CSS techniques expire or are replaced in the future, the content will always be there. The CSS can be changed but will only be a layer of paint over the drywall.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Truly one of the most amazing books I've read when it comes to web design. The Zen of CSS Design is a great book for all levels of knowledge for ideas, but it is recommended you know basic CSS if you want to understand the examples of designs; this book will not teach you css.

Each page in the book is almost like a webpage explaining design. The book has several chapters; some include: Design, Layout and Imagery. There are some more chapters which will give you a handle on Special Effects and Typography. All together there are 7 chapters, each color coded with tips and examples of design and programming/code.

Looking for something specific in the book? Go ahead and flip to the index because this book is equipt with a fourteen page index. The book doesn't have a glossary, but most of the terms they will be using throughout the reading is in the first chapter -- Source.

There are not many weak points in this book. The only thing I'm disappointed about in the book is that the authors took the first chapter and created it into a whole biography of CSSZenGarden.com's website. Other than that I'm pleased with it. If I were to recommend a book that gave good examples of efficient and eye catching designs along with great code examples I would direct you to this book.
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