Interview on Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) with MicroAssist Instructor Scott Allen

 

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Scott Allen

 

Sanjay Nasta: 
Today we are interviewing Scott Allen.  Scott teaches many of our Web and database classes at MicroAssist, including Dreamweaver, Access, SQL and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).  He is the coauthor of The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online and a contributing author to several other books on technology and entrepreneurship. Today we are going to talk to Scott about Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).  Welcome Scott. 

Scott, what is Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)?

Scott Allen:
Cascading Style Sheets.  In its simplest application, it's a way of making the look-and-feel of your site consistent. More generally, it's a way of separating your presentation from your content.  At first, people were just thinking of that in terms of things like fonts, margins and spacing.  But now it's expanded to be used for the entire layout. For example, with CSS, you can make two radically different versions of a page - one with all of your ads and a multi-column layout, and another that's printer-friendly, i.e., one ad at the top and a single column of text with no navigation. Those can both be generated from the same HTML page, just switching the CSS stylesheet. For a great demonstration of the potential of CSS-based design, visit csszengarden.com

 

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Sanjay Nasta:
So, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) are a methodology that will be used by web site designers to separate content from presentation.  This makes content easy to change and presentation consistent and easy to change?

Scott Allen:
Exactly.  It also helps make it so that content creators are insulated from design issues. Content producers can now stick to very basic HTML - bold, italics, ordered/unordered lists, headings, etc. - and not have to worry about making sure it's formatted properly for that page, or that portion of the page, or that device, or whatever. This is especially important as more and more output devices are used to access the web. Five years ago, the only way you accessed the web was through a browser. Now it can be your cell phone, your PDA, a touch-screen kiosk, even your refrigerator!

Sanjay Nasta:
Great.  That's something we've been advocating for a long time with content management systems (such as the one we put together for TCEQ and TSSWCB).

Scott Allen:
And content management systems depend on CSS.

Sanjay Nasta:
It was interesting that you mentioned that CSS was your favorite class to teach.  Why?

Scott Allen:
Two reasons.

One is that it's very "pure".There aren't a lot of gray, fuzzy areas -- good CSS design is good CSS design. CSS isn't buggy and quirky, like many applications are. It does what it's supposed to do, consistently.  The second reason is that of all the classes I've taught, it's flat-out the best-written curriculum I've seen, from either Element K or Thomson.

Actually, one more reason... It's a paradigm shift for people.  People seem to have more "ah-hah" and "wow" moments in that class than any other class I teach.

Sanjay Nasta:
What are the most important things that your students learn from your Introduction to CSS Class? 

Scott Allen: 
Three things:

  1. How to properly construct style rules that are more than just a redefinition of HTML tags. I think the most interesting aspect of that is the ability to define contextual CSS rules, e.g., that the paragraph tag is formatted differently in, say, the main content story and the right sidebar, or that links in the story look different from links in the navigation -- all without having to do any formatting or even style selection within the content itself.
  2. CSS-based layout. We spend a lot of time on using CSS to do full-page layout instead of tables. CSS is much better behaved then tables and puts full control in the designer's hands, rather than having the browser do things automatically (and sometimes unexpectedly).We also learn to do cool layout things to make efficient use of the screen, like putting scrollbars within a small region of the screen or creating buttons or tabs that swap out the content within a region of the screen. Go to Yahoo's page to see some of that stuff in action.
  3. Accessibility. In the class we talk a lot about designing for accessibility and how CSS helps with that. And I'll use the term accessibility very broadly to include access by different devices -- mobile, kiosk, etc. -- as well as accessibility for people with visual impairments or disabilities.

Sanjay Nasta:
Who is the audience for this class?

Who should take this class?

Scott Allen:
Anyone doing web design work, whether basic or advanced. Simply put, CSS is how modern professional web design is done.  I would also recommend it for people doing web-based marketing through things like blogging and social networking.  For example, I use CSS to spiff up my social networking profiles on sites like MySpace and Ryze and pu