Everyone’s seems to be head over heels about standards based HTML/CSS these days. Web designers and consultancies all seem to tout their ability to create standards compliant and accessible sites. You just can’t use deprecated tags, and you must separate content from presentation if you want to be a high class webfellow. I remember way back when <center> and <font> were considered perfectly good HTML tags, but today web developers scowl at these tags like a half eaten egg-roll in the buffet tray – it just shouldn’t be there any more, and anyone who considers partaking is icky. Time to get serious and learn the correct way of doing things…
Getting Familiar with XHMTL/CSS
I thought I’d do some homework (boring!) and re-learn the HTML that I thought I once learned many moons before. I fired up my web browser and looked up “HTML and CSS tutorials”. There were only 22 million results, and the first one had something to do with learning HTML from a dog. No thanks.
I eventually found the w3 schools, which is a great primer, and has the spectacular feature of trying out bits of code as you learn (learn by doing!). There are scads of websites that are good for reference, but since I like to learn something new by doing something practical, rather than just reading text, a good tutorial or three suits me just fine. Here are a few links to do some good ol’ research on standards based XHTML/CSS:
- Smashing Magazine, “CSS: Techniques, Tutorials, Layouts” – A HUGE list of just about everything you’d need to know to get started with, or enhance your knowledge of CSS.
- Tizag CSS Tutorial – A bit like the w3 schools, but more concise and to the point.
- LeftJustified Site in an Hour – A pretty brief tutorial broken into easily digestible bits.
Sometimes You Just Need a Good Book
Despite spending hour after hour poring over instructional websites, I didn’t feel like I was pulling it all together, nor in a position to build a fully functioning website. I needed something comprehensive, something I could put my hands to, and something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I decided to swallow my pride and buy a book.
My first attempt at learning XHTML/CSS came a few years ago when I was first introduced to WordPress and Drupal. I wanted to know more about how these tools worked, so I bought The HTML, XHTML and CSS Bible. It was large, comprehensive, and utterly boring. In short, it was a textbook. Reading a standard textbook without a teacher to guide you and classmates to discuss the material with is an absolute challenge. Needless to say, I didn’t get very far. This was not the case with my most recent purchase – Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML. This book was spectacular! It reads like a real person is talking to you, does not take itself seriously, and is based around bite sized projects large enough to teach you something, but short enough to keep your attention.
I did a fair amount of research before selecting the book, and the Head First series has received a lot of praise. O’Reilly is definitely on to something here, and I’ll probably pick up a few more of their books as I progress in my career. Rather than regurgitating tons of facts in an enormous tome and tacking on sample problems at the end of each section, the Head First book considers how people learn effectively and applies those educational principles in a way that makes it easier to learn difficult material. Combine this book with the endless reference material and tutorials on the web, and it’s a snap to get up to speed on the foundations of building websites.
Get Graphics, Get More Practice
After wrapping my head around XHTML and CSS, I went in search of applying this knowledge to building a real site. In order to have a halfway decent site that people want to look at, it’ll need to be visually appealing. This requires graphics.
Before coding a site, one will often start with a mockup or wireframe. These pre-websites are often made in Photoshop, with fancy graphics and what not. There are a number of decent tutorials that walk through the practice of going from design to code using popular design packages (namely Adobe Photoshop and The GIMP). Here are a couple good ones:
- NETTUTS, “From PSD to HTML, Building a Set of Website Designs Step by Step” – Shows you how to build a basic blog-style website design with a few variations.
- HelpDeveloper, “Design and Code a Website in The Gimp, HTML and CSS” – A four part tutorial on putting together a simple site in The GIMP, slicing the graphics, and coding a standards based HTML/CSS site.
- Creating CSS Layouts: The Best Tutorials – A meta-tutorial site. More PSD to HTML tutorials that you can shake a stick at. Caution: not all tutorials emphasize standards based HTML, so be careful.
There is Always More to Learn
This post is a brief summary of what got me started down the path of building standards based code for the web. There is much more to learn, and techniques are ever changing. I didn’t even touch on cross-browser compatiblity and the necessary (but troublesome) browser hacks, nor any advanced CSS techniques. I’ll likely post more info on these in time, as I get a greater handle on things. I think the most important thing to know when starting to create websites is that not everyone views the web the same way I do. Some people use Macs, or Internet Explorer 6, or Opera, or a cell phone. Starting with a solid foundation in standards based code will go a long way towards pleasing a demanding audience.