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CSS Continued… Part 2:Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Making the web cleaner, one project at a time…

Remember the Cascade To Reduce Selector Use
Try a minimalistic approach to the number of ids and selectors you create. Use the cascade to your advantage by creating child elements of your current class instead of creating a whole new class to describe what you want that additional element to do. So for instance, you have a main body area, and in that area you have a unordered list that has a new list item style. You can code for this one of two ways. You could make two separate selectors (one for the main content area and one for the ul) and have these be totally unrelated to each other and have to reference the ul selector every time you create a ul in that content area, or you could do this:

#contentMain {float: left; width: 660px; padding: 20px;}
#contentMain ul {list-style: disc;}
#contentMain ul li {padding-bottom: 5px;}

This allows you to declare only the <ul> in your xhtml instead of <ul class="ulMain">. This keeps your code really clean and cascading down from the parent class is great because you’re not stuck using those styles everywhere for each ul. This is extremely handy when your dealing with user entered content from content management systems because they don’t have to remember they have to apply particular styles to these elements during development or even worse, when the client is entering the content themselves.

Don’t be afraid to style base xhtml elements, you can always go back and make it specific to a parent selector, or even add a selector to it if they really are necessary.

Create Reusable Selectors
If you notice yourself reusing a lot of css calls in every single selector you create you may want to make a reusable base class. Got a lot of elements that need to float left? Create:

.floatLeft {float: left;}

Then just double up your selectors to reduce the number of times you have to declare the float: left; CSS call in your stylesheet.

<div id="contentMain" class="floatLeft"> </div>

You can create reusable classes for all kinds of things, aligns, floats, widths, etc.

Make Your Classes Carpool
Doubling up your classes can really give you an upper hand when you have elements that need multiple reusable selectors. Instead of creating a selector that will change one aspect of a current class, try doubling up your classes instead.

.product {width: 150px; color: #666;}
.floatLeft {float: left;}

<div class="product floatLeft">Product details here.</div>

Minimize CSS Class Footprint Using Shorthand
You can shorten up your css calls per selector by taking advantage of some of the great efficiency built right into CSS. To help you remember margin and padding short hand use the word: TRouBled. The uppercase letters stand for Top, Right, Bottom, Left, so for instance you’re declaring padding for an element:

p {margin: top right bottom left;}

or you can even shorten it to two entries if your top-bottom and left-right margins are the same, like:

p {margin: topbottom rightleft;}

Another call that is really handy is the font call. So instead of:

p {
font-style: italic;
font-variant: small-caps;
font-weight: bold;
font-size: 1.2em;
line-height: 1.6 em;
font-family: Arial, Verdana, San-Serif;}

you get:

p {font: font-style font-variant font-weight font-size/line-height font-family;}

Another smaller short hand notation is three value hex color codes. So for instance instead of #cc0000 you can do #c00.


CSS Continued… Part 1:Organization Boot Camp

Keep it Together Man!

Always keep your styles in external style sheets when possible.
Inline styles, while they seem handy when you just need to make a quick update, will spell trouble in the future when you need to make full design changes. They also make troubleshooting that much more difficult since you have to remember everywhere you’ve put styles.

Use multiple stylesheets whenever handy.
Don’t be afraid to break your styles out as you see fit. While importing additional style sheets can cause additional server load, the benefit is far greater to break out these styles by relevance. So for instance, you might have reset.css, screen.css, print.css and ie.css all for one project.

Use comments, quick colors and tables of contents.
Make sure to comment all of your css style sheets, if you feel so inclined you can add a bookmark type symbol such as an equals (=) sign. The equals sign is a good symbol to pick since it never occurs in css styles regularly. Then add it to your section comments like so:

/* --------------------------- =header ----------------------------------*/

This allows you to do a find on your document so you can quickly jump from section to section. To make this tip even handier, add a table of contents to your document like so:


You can also use the top of your document to reference color codes you use quite regularly throughout your document to help you remember.

Body Background: #2f2c22
Main Text: #b3a576
Links: #9c6d25
Dark Brown Border: #222019
Green Headline: #958944

Thanks to Jina Bolton for all these handy commenting/bookmarking suggestions.

Use consistent organization.
When laying out your stylesheets and styles themselves, try to keep consistent organization project by project, sheet by sheet, style by style. If you work in a larger company, you may want to sit down as a team and discuss how everyone would like to standardize their organization, that way everyone will have the same method to the madness. How you organize your styles is really up to you ultimately, but there are several ways that are common among front end architects.

Sheet Naming and Breakout
Most use the following breakout for their sheets:

  • reset.css,holds the Eric Meyer CSS reset or some variety of it
  • default.css or screen.css, holds all the screen styles, this sheet can also be broken out into the following if you prefer:
    • layout.css, holds all the layout styles
    • typography.css, holds all the typography styles
  • print.css, holds all the print styles
  • ie.css, specific ie style corrections to remain cross broswer compliant, see Conditional Comments on how to implement these

Again, these naming conventions and suggested breakout is just… a suggestion, you and your team can really decide what you want to call these and how many sheets you ultimately end up with. There may be situations in which you want to have a separate style sheet for each theme you use within a site, etc.

Remember the cascade when you import your style sheets, each time a new sheet is called the styles are overridden by the new style sheet if it’s included within. For instance, say you call your ie specific style sheet first, your element style has a width of 200px, and then you call your default.css sheet which has an element style of 205px, the element will pick up the last style it was told, which was 205px from the default, which is not what you want, you wanted the 200px from the ie specific style sheet.

ID vs. Class
I notice that most people who start learning CSS have a tendency to like to use classes more so than ids. When making the choice between using ID or a class, ask yourself one question, “Will this selector appear more than once on a page?” if the answer is yes, use a class, if it’s no, use an id.

Selector Breakout
After you figure out how you want to break your sheets out, take some time to consider how you are going to break out your styles within those sheets. Remember the cascade here too when you’re organizing, since the last style used will be the one the elements pick up. Here’s a sample of how some front end architects organize their styles within each sheet:

  • container styles and parent elements, such as body, wrapper, or containers
  • standard element styles, this includes HTML elements such as h1-h6, p, blockquote, etc
  • global styles, anything that will be used throughout the site such as mastheads, etc
  • section specific styles, anything that changes on a page by page basis

another example would be:

  • parent styles and containing elements, working outside in
  • block-level elements
  • inline level elements

After you layout your styles, you may want to get really picky and organize how each style call is called within a style set. After years of experience, some people just form a natural tenancy to call some styles before others, take for instance the way Jina Bolton does her calls per set:

  • positioning (with coordinates) styles
  • float/clear styles
  • display/visibility styles
  • spacing (margin, padding, border) styles
  • dimensions (width, height) styles
  • typography-related (line-height, color, etc.) styles
  • miscellaneous (list-style, cursors, etc.) styles

I have also personally formed a natural tenancy that goes something like:

  • positioning
  • float/clear
  • display/visibility
  • dimensions
  • margin/padding
  • borders
  • typography
  • misc.

Other front end architects prefer to go another route in hopes to make it easy for others to find things, alphabetically listing their style calls within their sets. At this level, organization might be too obsessive or asinine, but some people consider it helpful.

Also, I’ve noticed two ways of laying out your css sets, some front end architects choose to tab out their calls like this:

.cssSelector {
csscall: option;
csscall: option;

While others like to do it all in one line:

.cssSelector {csscall: option; csscall: option;}

Either is acceptable of course, but again, if you’re working in a team environment, you may want to standardize this so that everyone can read it easily. I personally opt for the all-in-one way since I like seeing how many lines of CSS I *didn’t* have to write to make something work.

Selector Naming
CSS selector naming is also very important. When naming selectors remember that your styles may change, so try not to name based on a item’s location within the layout or particular style attributes, such as color or size. Instead, try basing your selector name on the content it holds, Andy Clarke wrote up a great set of examples.

There is also some debate on whither to use camelCase or to separate using the dash (-). Honestly, either are acceptable. Again, perhaps this is something to discuss with your teammates.

So that’s it for this part of CSS Continued… was there something in here you didn’t quite agree with? Perhaps you want to share how you organize your sheets and selectors… leave a comment and we’ll get some sweet discussion going!


CSS Continued…

CSS is easy enough to start to learn, but it really takes some practice to master and understand the beautiful efficiency it provides. These techniques of efficiency separate the apprentices from the masters in the art of CSS. Now that I know what I know now, I wish someone would have told me these secrets from the beginning. The longer you practice great CSS techniques, the better you’ll be at it, so I’m giving you a head start with my first blog series: CSS Continued…

So listen closely Grasshoppa. 😉


Lots to Do This Week

I just wanted to make sure you were invited to all the awesome web and design happenings this week in Phoenix!

Tues, Dec 4th – Refresh Phoenix

Refresh Phoenix meets every first Tuesday of the month to discuss current internet issues and trends. The topics range from becoming your own boss to css frameworks to make your work more efficient. This month the topic is results from the 2007 Web Design Survey that was put out by A List Apart. This should be a very interesting conversation since there really has never been a survey of the internet industry.

When: Tuesday, December 4th 6:30 – 9:30 pm (come early to get some networking in)

Inza Coffee
8658 East Shea Blvd, Scottsdale

Fri, Dec 7th – 16th Annual AIGA Art Auction

AIGA Arizona is holding it’s annual Art Auction event in Downtown Phoenix at MonOrchid Studios during December First Friday! AIGA Arizona is pleased to present over 100 original works of art (paintings, mixed media, photography, digital art, sculpture, jewelry, and more) displayed on sale in live and silent auction formats. Plus bid on a selection of special packages that include dining, entertainment and recreation. This year’s art auction will also feature the Mohawk Show.

When: Friday, December 7th 6-10 pm

MonOrchid Studios
214 E. Roosevelt Street, Phoenix

Sat, Dec 8th – BarCamp Phoenix

BarCamp is an ad-hoc un-conference born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction from attendees. All attendees must give a demo, a session, or help with one. This is great because you can both speak and be an audience member.

When: Friday, December 8th 9 am – 5 pm

University of Advancing Technology (UAT)
2625 W. Baseline Road, Tempe


Refresh Phoenix: Blueprint CSS

Come on over to Inza Coffee House tomorrow night to join me and the crew of Refresh Phoenix as we discuss Blueprint CSS.

Blueprint is a CSS framework by Olav Bjorkoy, which “aims to cut down on your CSS development time.” Matt Heidemann & Matt Gist from Integrum Technologies will talk about their recent work with Blueprint. They’ll show examples of the framework and a project they recently used it with.

See ya there!

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This little blog happens to be the personal ramblings of one April Holle - I'm female, outspoken, webbie, a community evangelist, and Principal of Made Better Studio. Check out the about section for more info.

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