"Eric Meyer." Say that name, and you'll immediately grab my attention, and possibly engage me in a conversation, even if you're a complete stranger. I was browsing through the tech section of a bookstore last year when I heard a stranger announce to her companion the title of a book she had been thumbing through, "It's called Eric Meyer on CSS. I think I've heard of this guy."
I stepped a little closer, pardoned myself, and offered my unsolicited advice.
"Don't even hesitate if you're thinking about buying that book."
I qualified my statement, making sure she had at least been introduced to the basics of CSS. "It's good, and Eric Meyer is good. You'll be more enlightened after working through just one chapter of that book."
We talked a little more about the book, and my knowledge of Eric Meyer. She thanked me, and then tucked it confidently under her arm to head for the cashier.
If you knew just how pivotal Eric Meyer has been in turning around my understanding of CSS, and in how I use it to push the limits of Web design, you'd also know why I have no qualms recommending his books to complete strangers.
You see, I ignored CSS for years.
While I was working at HotWired, my colleagues thought I would love CSS, and took every opportunity they could to encourage me to dive into the world of style-sheet-driven Web design. Although I am first and foremost a designer, my colleagues knew I have a fairly strong technical mind that can wrap itself around confined logical concepts. However, I'm no good at tolerating inconsistency and unpredictability when it comes to code and its behavior.
When I finally gave in to pressure and started dabbling with CSS, I immediately hit a brick wall. With 4.0 versions of Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer, I faced nothing but frustration every time I tried using CSS beyond color and basic type treatment. I wanted to see consistent margins, type size, and positioning across common browsers and platforms. In 1998, support for even these basic features was horrendous, causing big headaches for any designer who tried to produce the same look in multiple browsers.
Thus, I wrote off CSS as a failed pipedream that certainly wasn't for me. I wanted to continue reproducing beautiful, usable design, and I wasn't about to trust CSS and its buggy browser support as the means to implement and control my design.
During those trials with CSS, one of my good fortunes was coming across one of the only books at the time dedicated entirely to Cascading Style Sheets. Luckily for me, it was written by Eric Meyer.
Eric's book sat unused on my shelf for a few years while I avoided CSS. Eventually, circumstances began to change. I started seeing news of much-improved browser support for CSS. Small sites were using CSS more abundantly, and it looked like they were producing fairly consistent results. The changes piqued my interest enough to turn my head toward CSS and make me crave more information.
Almost everywhere I looked, I saw Eric Meyer's name the author of the book I owned attached to helpful resources. Articles on CSS, CSS test suites, a CSS mailing list, and his CSS master grid that I started using religiously to check possible properties and value combinations.
His book I had purchased several years prior no longer resided on the bookshelf, but on a corner of my desk where I could easily reach it, and make use of it as a constant reference. "How does positioning work again?" "What's that CSS equivalent of tracking called?" "In what order do those font values need to be?" I couldn't get enough of Eric Meyer's writings. Each new Meyer article I discovered helped me fit another piece into the puzzle.
Fast-forward to a year or so later. Eric's first book was still on the corner of my desk, becoming increasingly worn around the edges. I was neck-deep into the 2002 all-CSS Wired News redesign when Eric Meyer on CSS his first invaluable project-based look at CSS was released. The first night I had the new book in my hands, I dove straight into the chapter on Multicolumn Layout. I was instantly hooked. The epiphanies I had while going through that book made me wish it had been written (and that I had read it) long before I began creating Wired's complex style sheets.
So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that Eric and New Riders were publishing this sequel to Eric Meyer on CSS. We get to have more of what was already a great thing! More practical examples that hit home for every Web designer and developer. More real-world projects that mimic challenges we face every day. More of Eric's in-depth revelations and insights into basic and advanced uses of CSS. More wisdom bequeathed from the master. More Eric Meyer on CSS.
Eric's knowledge and mastery of CSS enables him to write authoritatively on the subject. Yet he writes with this personal, familiar tone that's easy to read and understand. This combination in a teacher makes for the best of both worlds whether you're trying to learn something new or expand on your own accumulated knowledge. In addition to walking you through the concepts behind the "how" of what he's doing, Eric effortlessly explains the "why." I advocate that understanding the why's of CSS are just as important as the how's. With the project-based approach of this book and its predecessor, Eric strikes just the right balance between the two.
Following along with Eric's example files, or reading through notes and warnings in the sidebars, light bulbs constantly flick on: "Ah, that's how I solve this!" or "Oh, that's why my background disappeared under the float? I get it now."
Facing a pesky problem with the layout on a client project? Trying to figure out how to make your gallery pages more flexible? No idea why those background images aren't lining up? Spend a little time with this book, and Eric will walk you through a similar situation that will open your eyes to the possibilities. You'll wonder where you would have been without Eric Meyer's guidance to make sense of it all.
As with the first version of Eric Meyer on CSS, the organization of this follow-up book makes it easy to dive into any chapter to begin expanding your understanding of CSS in a way that's immediately relevant to you. The real-world challenges that Eric presents and solves in this book will spawn more ideas, providing the confidence you'll need to tackle other related challenges head on.
I've turned 180 degrees from total rejection of CSS to eager adoption of any new method or technique I can dream up or get my hands on. Eric Meyer has certainly played and continues to play a significant role in this turnaround, and in my appreciation of the power and flexibility of CSS. He can do the same thing for you.
If you're a Web designer or developer who has at least dabbled with a little CSS and are past the casual introduction, from my perspective, the real question is not whether this book or the original Eric Meyer on CSS should be in your possession. But rather, with which project will you start once you have the book all to yourself?