Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Tables vs CSS - Which is better?

When I started exploring the design possibilities of the internet back in 1996, NetObjects Fusion was (at that point) a revolutionary WYSIWYG editor that allowed you to place pretty much any components anywhere you wanted on the page. Unfortunately for Website Pros, Inc. Macromedia had also seen the potential in WYSIWYG editors and developed what is arguably the most popular web design tool ever - Dreamweaver.

Dreamweaver has managed to keep up with the requirements of the modern day web developer by constantly updating and improving aspects of its design, layout and functionality. With the latest release of Dreamweaver, Macromedia have again improved on various features but have also come to realise the potential and the need to support (in more detail) the new designer's technique - cascade style sheets (CSS).

Having always designed using table based layouts, I recently (less than 3 months ago in fact) decided it was time to look in more detail at CSS, to learn what it could do to improve the quality of my work, specifically in terms of positioning and layout of website elements. At that point I already had a basic understand of CSS and how to use CSS to influence text styling, link styles, table colours and borders etc. The challenge was (more clearly) to see if designing layouts using CSS instead of tables was (to me) easier and more beneficial - could I be persuaded to change despite my dedication to tables?

My choice of two books (which I'm still reading incidentally), are both written and published by Sitepoint. The first (The CSS Anthology - 101 Essential Tips, Tricks & Hacks) is an excellent practical guide, not only for beginners but also for people (like me) wanting to learn a bit more (or in fact a lot more) about the potential of CSS. Whether you want to know how to justify text, create a pure CSS drop down menu or implement a liquid, two-column layout, this book is an excellent start or continuation for anyone interested in CSS.

The second and probably more relevant book that I chose (again by Sitepoint) is the 2nd Edition HTML Utopia: Designing Without Tables using CSS. This book again goes over the basics of CSS, but in a more concise and brief manor. The main bulk of the book concentrates on more examples of positioning and layout. In short these are two books that I know I'm eventually going to read from cover to cover - two books that will always be to hand and provide the answer to my question when something goes wrong or I don't fully understand exactly what I'm doing (something that happens on a regular basis).

So what have I learnt in the last few months from reading these books, reading relational website articles and listening to peoples points of view on webmaster forums? Quite simply I was quite stubborn in the beginning. I had tried about a year ago to use CSS for layouts but hadn't got very far (although at that stage I had no books to use for reference). This time around I had the knowledge (or more accurately the books of knowledge) but was already expecting my own personal failure (based on my previous experiences). Luckily though I stuck with it and now know a lot more (although obviously not everything, by a long shot) about the potential of CSS.

Obviously (just by looking at my site) you can see that I have indeed changed from table based layouts to CSS layouts - but what truly changed my mind and would I ever go back to tables? Is this site simply a one off?

Visit http://www.michaelthorn.co.uk for the full article and other articles on web design, SEO and adsense!

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