CSS Website Design

Cascading Style Sheets (or CSS for short) have slowly but surely become a website design standard over the past few years. It was not that many years ago that people used Frames to position their content across their web pages and Tables gradually replaced this. Many low-end website developers are still very comfortable with Tables, as it �does what it says on the tin’. However, more and more people are now moving over to CSS, as virtually all the layout options can be achieved using the code.

One major problem with CSS is that not all Web browsers produce the same results and it has not been helped in the past by the various browsers employing their own way of interpreting certain CSS conventions. You can think your CSS design looks OK in the current version of your preferred browser and can then be crestfallen when you view your Web pages in another version that has destroyed the formatting. Therefore, when moving over to CSS, it is important that you use the capabilities that are consistently supported across the entire range of popular browsers. It is interesting that the new version 7 of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer has fixed a number of earlier anomalies, but many people are now waking up to the reality that IE7 has in fact caused problems arising from their earlier workarounds!

So why not bother with CSS, if Tables work for you? The principal advantages are as follows:

1. Web page code is generally much easier to follow;

2. The amount of code used to achieve the same result is much less. The general view is that by switching to a CSS layout, the typical page size reduction is between 50 – 60 per cent;

3. Download speeds for CSS pages are generally faster than their Table-driven counterparts. This is because browsers have to read through the table code twice before they are able to display the contents. They do this firstly to figure out the structure and then again to understand the content. It should also be recognised that a Table’s contents can only be presented to the screen in one go, whereas CSS content will drop in separately, thereby giving a better user experience. It is also possible to govern the order in which specific screen elements appear, so the user is not distracted by the more bulky and slower to load image files. Furthermore, because all the code involved with CSS page layout is held in one external CSS document and is cached, it is faster than Table layouts that need to be interpreted every time a new page is displayed;

4. It is much easier to edit existing pages and to add new pages, particularly in the area of subtle formatting amendments. For example, you can change the font or colour scheme across an entire website in literally minutes;

5. CSS delivers enhanced accessibility. In recent years the number of people using web browsers on hand-held devices has risen significantly and CSS plays an important function in delivering content to PDA’s etc through additional CSS documents. This just isn’t possible with Table-driven layouts;

6. CSS is considered to be more Search Engine friendly because they can spider CSS pages quicker. However, it remains to be seen if this has any tangible benefits such as an improvement on the your page ranking.

On the flipside, there are a few disadvantages to CSS web page design you should consider:

1. As compared with Tables, CSS involves a much bigger learning curve;

2. Because of cross browser support issues, the time spent implementing workarounds should not be underestimated;

3. New browser versions can catch website developers napping if you are not careful. You can find that earlier workarounds have been overcome and the look of your website has changed overnight.

Ultimately, your decision on whether or not to move over to see CSS will probably depend on your level of technical capability and the time you’re able to devote to understanding CSS layout alternatives.

David Sielicki is Features Editor with Fetcher the UK’s products and services directory. He is also a freelancer with Web Affinity

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