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Panel: CSS: good bad and ugly

Filed in: design, SXSW2004, Web, Mon, Mar 15 2004 18:34 PT

Tantek Çelik started with the good parts of CSS. Tantek sez: “CSS 2? Forget it.” CSS 2.1 incorporates errata, reflects current implementations, it’s a great spec. CSS Validator has been updated. CSS 3 is coming soon.

“I am probably known for opening the Pandora’s Box of CSS hacks.” But he’s converted, kinda. He advocates avoiding CSS hacks wherever possible. Since the last SXSW, there are new hacks, such as the midpass filter, which will only send CSS to IE5/Windows, so you don’t have to use the box model hack. (Tantek’s slides)

Eric Meyer demonstrated the bad. He used bookmarklets to show off things like table borders, missing alt text, etc. “So, Lockergnome redesigned.” Nested tables, missing alt text in the old version. Much better now, but still overusing CSS classes. They should be having list items inheriting from their container, and saving lots of unnecessary markup.

He showed off the WWW2004 Web site. Meyer was careful (thanks Eric!) to mention that IW3C2 is not W3C. We don’t have anything to do with their broken site, much to our chagrin. It’s an ugly, ugly site. An example: alt="blank space (graphical space holder)". It doesn’t come close to validating. Evil. Eric fixed it real quick. It’s a 60% reduction in the weight of the document.

Doug Bowman talked about image replacement. It can be better than the img element because it can retain structure, and be altered on many pages via CSS. But then, there was Joe Clark’s A List Apart article on Fahrner Image Replacement, explaining that screen readers don’t work with it. You can add title attributes, but screen readers will skip over it unless they’re configured to read them. There are numerous alternatives out there, which all have their own downsides. But experimentation is good because it pushes the field forward. CSS3 has a content property that can apply images, which is good, and you should use it when it comes around.

So, don’t use FIR. It’s over. Figure out how appropriate things are with other image replacement schemes before you do it.

CSS designers are getting ripped off a lot lately, says Doug. That’s uncool when design agencies are doing the stealing. Adaptive Path, Stopdesign, and CSS Zen Garden are some examples of sites being stolen. He says he gets a message once a month saying his stuff has been lifted. (Doug’s slides)

Brian Alvey was next. IE added the contenteditable attribute to allow editing HTML. Mozilla now supports it using the Midas engine, but naturally, they work differently. (Which is to say, Mozilla’s implementation doesn’t, like, suck for output.) There are 13 million different controls available for editing HTML. He’s fascinated by this editing thing. “Things that edit pages, I’m really not into.” He likes tying it into content management systems. He wants more flexibility than just really simple content editing.

Kimberly Blessing batted cleanup. She is from AOL, and is on the CSS working group. They still have customers on IE 4 for OS 9. Yes, they still use font tags, bold, tables, what have you on their site. But they are moving forward. Management has finally learned what there is to gain. Their front page has less tag soup. They’re working on valid XHTML and CSS. They made a grid design that lets them change the look and feel of documents based on where a user is in a site. And the suits dig it.

Tantek says that the way to get what you want in the long term is to watch the W3C, including the mailing list at He says to look at the latest drafts of the W3C documents, and if you see something you like, “speak up.” He showed the list of CSS module work going on, with page after page of information.

Doug was interested in IE7 and is wondering if it’s going to be good enough for design-oriented work on a larger scale.

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