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/ log / 19th Aug, 2009 /

Review: HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions

HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions (A Web Standardista’s Approach) by Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson

I’m so glad that this book exists. I’ve been hoping someone would write a book almost exactly like this for a long time. I have to be honest, when I first heard about it I sighed a little. Part of it was the word ‘standardistas’ in the title which made me wince a bit. The other part was wondering if this wasn’t just another book to add to the pantheon of web standards texts that have been published in the last few years. Yes, cynical, I know. However, I was wrong. After being approached by one of the authors, the publishers, Friends of Ed, kindly sent me a review copy. It took me a long while to get around to reading it after the carnage of the last few months, but I can honestly say that HTML and CSS Web Standards Solution: A Web Standardistas’ Approach is excellent.

The authors are Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson — both lecturers in interactive design at the University of Ulster. As they make clear in the introduction, they wanted to:

…cover everything our students needed to embark on a well-grounded, web standards-based approach in one package: namely, a solid foundation in XHTML coupled with a comprehensive introduction to CSS.

That’s exactly what they’ve done. Here’s two reasons from my own experience why I think it’s so important:

  1. A long time ago, a film editor friend of mine who moved to Bristol found scant local opportunities. (It’s a very nepotistic world.) I knew a web editor job was coming open in a few weeks time. It would only require entry-level HTML and CSS skill. Almost on a whim I suggested he do a crash course in the basics then work next to me in my office. So, for a week, he read everything I directed him to on the Web, did some basic tutorials, and soon after got the job. Using me as a kind of organic bookshelf to solve problems, he quickly became self-sufficient. Today he earns his bread coding HTML and CSS daily into beautiful, accessible, commercial web sites.
  2. Sometime later, I was interviewing students for an entry-level job. By far the most disappointing aspect of their portfolios was the web design elements. They could write HTML, apply CSS, but were missing what I consider core principles that underpin everything we do. Things like a knowledge of plain old semantic HTML, some understanding of accessibility, and the basics of web typography.

Both examples made me realise that there was something missing amongst the excellent, but often niche or advanced books we know and love. We needed a starter kit, a crash course in basics. That’s the book that Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson have written. HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions is the missing primer of web design.

In an industry where much of the critical knowledge has been researched and published by self-taught designers, and design schools have traditionally lagged behind (inevitably doing a disservice to their students) this book does what all good teachers do: teaches people the core skills and gives them the knowledge to continue learning.

It would be easy to dismiss the detail in the book as entry-level, or incomplete. I could debate resetting body font size to 10px using ems, or grids, or XHTML versus HTML. However, to do so would be missing the point completely. The authors have successfully navigated a huge range of passionately held opinions to present good, solid, core knowledge in an entirely practical format. The common denominators they impart will enable students to be discerning later on when they stumble across niche techniques that can range from brilliant, to totally useless. Those who start with this text may well find it useful later when trying to understand how a technique can be appropriate and superb to use in one context, and awful in another.

Every design school on the planet should make HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions a required textbook. As well as a perfect primer for students, there’s many a formally-trained graphic designer, or self-taught web designer, who might find it useful. I recommend it to you. Careful, though, some people may find themselves arguing the finer points of web typography or debating DOCTYPEs faster than they think.

Further reading

  1. Companion web site:
  2. @standardistas on Twitter
  3. Publisher’s (Friend of Ed) blurb
  4. HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions: A Web Standardistas’ Approach on Amazon (associates link)


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  1. 1. By Chris Shiflett on 19th Aug ’09 at 06:31am

    Great review. Sounds like a book for me. :-)

    I’ll certainly be using your associates link to buy it.

  2. 2. By Matty on 19th Aug ’09 at 07:00am

    It sounds this one is definitely worth checking out. I can see why you were a little reluctant about the book at first but your post has been enough to reassure me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, most appreciated.

  3. 3. By Ian Storm Taylor on 19th Aug ’09 at 07:39am

    I am officially, successfully, convinced. I’ve been looking for a good book to summarize web standards. And this way when others ask for help later, I can just shove the book in their hands and run away. Perfect!

  4. 4. By MF on 19th Aug ’09 at 11:21am

    According to my browser (Chrome with protection against phishing and malware active), Christopher Murphy’s personal web site could damage my computer.

  5. 5. By MF on 19th Aug ’09 at 11:52am

    Some months ago I purchased a similar introductory book from friendsofED titled The Essential Guide to CSS & HTML Web Design by Craig Grannell. It’s well suited for a beginner-intermediate audience and its appendices pack some useful references to XHTML, CSS etc. I wonder what is the difference between these two friendsofED books…

  6. 6. By Joe Clark on 19th Aug ’09 at 19:46pm

    Can either of the authors explain the errant apostrophe in the title?

    Am I allowed to ask that, or am I “being too negative” again, Jon?

  7. 7. By Alberto on 20th Aug ’09 at 01:34am

    This book seems really good, but the publisher could choose a more distinctive title to avoid confusion with the book by Dan Cederholm…

    Too bad that the PDF version costs $27.99 on the publisher’s website, while you can buy the paperback on Amazon at just $26.39. In my opinion, ebooks should cost $10-12 to be really competitive with printed books and to save our beloved trees…

  8. 8. By Stewart J. McCoy on 20th Aug ’09 at 21:39pm

    I learned HTML back in 2001 when I enrolled in a course at my high school. The instructor, not surprisingly, taught the class table-based design. I’ve recently been looking for a book that will serve as a “crash course" on writing standards-based, lean & clean HTML, as well as CSS. Thanks to your review, I think I’ve found the book I’ve been looking for.

  9. 9. By George on 22nd Aug ’09 at 00:57am

    @Alberto: I agree with you on the price of ebooks. However Apress and friendofED periodically apply heavy discounts on selected ebooks (the sale price is just $10). Frequently the books on sale are really outdated, but sometimes you can find a real bargain. You can visit the publisher’s site for more info.

  10. 10. By Miguel Montanez Jr. on 22nd Aug ’09 at 15:41pm

    Sounds good. I have been looking for a comprehensive starter, to pass to aspiring web designers/friends — having this around the office and in the personal library wouldn’t hurt either.

    Nice one bud. :)

  11. 11. By mark stroud on 26th Aug ’09 at 15:48pm

    good review looks like the book for me - my css is lagging all my current referance books are far to aout of date . are they any other offering in the range???

  12. 12. By Tom Bradshaw on 27th Aug ’09 at 05:40am

    This book looks really helpful, I’ll check it out, thanks!

  13. 13. By Edward Company on 4th Sep ’09 at 09:17am

    Sounds like a good book, but that title is far from catchy! lol

  14. 14. By Martyn on 2nd Oct ’09 at 07:28am

    When I started out a couple of years ago it was so hard to find a decent web design book for beginners or one that at least provided a good read. I think there is a lot more around now I just wonder If anyone is aware of any good css3 books?

  15. 15. By Christopher Murphy on 3rd Oct ’09 at 11:26am

    Disclosure: I’m one of the authors of this book. Jon, thanks so much for your kind words, they’re very much appreciated and what you describe in your review is exactly what we hoped to achieve.

    We’ve been delighted by the positive response we’ve had from those that have bought it and worked their way through it. The feedback has been fantastic, really making all those late nights when we were writing it worthwhile.

    As the new academic year has begun we’ve heard of a number of courses internationally that have adopted the book for their courses. If you’re reading this and you’re an educator, please do get in touch. I’m currently in the process of developing additional teaching tools that support the book and we’re looking for partners to test these out.

    Alberto and Edward, sadly we had no say over the title and I wholeheartedly agree with your comments.

    Martyn, good news (I hope), I’ve just signed a contract with friends of ED to write 'Beginning HTML5 and CSS 3', hopefully that will be the book you’re looking for!

    Thanks again everyone for the comments and thanks again Jon. As educators we’re passionate about doing this right and we always welcome feedback. Feel free to get in touch should you have any thoughts or queries.

  16. 16. By Sam on 5th Nov ’09 at 01:15am

    Hi Jon, thanks for the recommendation on the book. Looks like a great starting point for any designer struggling with xhtml, css and writing semantic code. I wish there had of been more books like this when I was starting out!

  17. 17. By Joseph on 13th Nov ’09 at 16:04pm

    thanks for the info, was looking at purchasing this book for the libray. I’m sold.

  18. 18. By Riccardo on 8th Dec ’09 at 02:44am

    Hi, I studied HTML many years ago and I would like to refresh my knowledge with a good book. “HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions" looks very interesting but a friend of mine (an expert web developer) has suggested to me another book: “HTML Dog”. What are the difference between these books and what item should I buy in your opinion?

  19. 19. By George on 21st Dec ’09 at 08:13am

    If I understand correctly, this is another book which teaches web design using the XHTML syntax. I’m just beginning my education in this field and I don’t see any reason to use the XHTML syntax since my pages will be served as text/html. In fact a modern student could start with HTML4 and jump directly to HTML5 specs. One should master the XHTML syntax as a plus competence, just in case he have to mantain some old pages written using XHTML or in case he have to serve his pages as application/xhtml+xml. In conclusion, can you suggest me a really modern book/online resource focused on HTML syntax?

  20. 20. By Anon on 10th Feb ’10 at 05:23am

    Thank you for posting this review Jon. This is exactly the type of feedback I like to see before I buy a book. As pompous as it sounds, I understand the frustration of buying a book and realizing that is doesn’t really push my abilities to the next level. Honestly though, I’ll probably buy Pro HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions anyway simply to see what techniques I can adopt from these guys . Even if I don’t learn much, I’m sure this will be one worth recommending.

  21. 21. By Annie Ha on 9th Mar ’10 at 22:11pm

    Hi Jon,

    As a graphic design student, I strive for a better structure and well design website. I was looking for a perfect book that can explain to me the standards of HTML as well as CSS without using a lot of complicated terms while revamping my personal website. After reading this, I bought one copy for myself and absolutely love it! The author didn’t lose me like other web books on the market!

    Christopher, if you are reading this article again, I will buy your next book when it is out!

    Jon, please have more book reviews! They are so helpful especially for students like me :)

  22. 22. By Des on 26th Mar ’10 at 10:16am

    I’ve just got out of uni and this book will definately find its way onto my desk. Thanks for the post.

  23. 23. By MF on 8th Aug ’10 at 06:30am

    "HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions" is not a bad book, but, in my opinion, the best book suitable for a novice NOW is InterACT with Web Standards: A holistic approach to web design just published by New Riders Press in the prestigious “Voices That Matter" series. It’s a tour de force on front-end web design and development from information architecture to accessibility, from HTML to CSS. I’ve just read the whole book and I’m really impressed by its quality: universities around the world have finally an introductory textbook on web design and development!

  24. 24. By mark stroud on 27th Sep ’10 at 14:54pm

    Books are by far the best way to learn I have spent many hours looking for the correct information online never quite finding what im looking for . I will look into this book rather than looking for local seo sites that have no information.

  25. 25. By David on 3rd Nov ’10 at 14:14pm

    Just finished reading this book today…really helpful and definitely give me a boost of knowledge in CSS.

  26. 26. By Barry Reynolds on 21st Jun ’11 at 12:09pm

    The dreaded 'web standards’. I was given this book and thought as the author that it might be another dull book but actually turned out to be very good read and now implementing this throughout all my websites.

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