Why You Should (Still) Learn CSS

Why You Should (Still) Learn CSS thumbnail

Think of any business, big or small. What is its most distinguishable feature? Whether it’s Target’s bullseye logo or McDonald’s golden arches, companies large and small invest heavily in developing and publicizing a symbol that the public will associate with their brand.

Before having an online presence became a necessary part of every business’ growth strategy, that branded “look” extended across all marketing materials: letterheads, business cards, signs, and more. Now that same appearance must also fit into a company’s web presence — especially in instances where online sales are a vital part of a company’s revenues. That means that the typeface, colors, styling and other elements of a company’s website must be designed to coordinate with their real-life branding so that the website maintains a professional and consistent look.

This online “look” for websites can be achieved either through programming languages or through a set of configurable text properties called Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). As is often the case in the tech world, there are tradeoffs to consider when choosing between these two approaches. Critics grumble that CSS doesn’t absorb changes easily — add too many, and the code quickly becomes unwieldy, especially if those changes are long lists of additional specifications demanded by a graphic designer. There are currently many alternatives to CSS, and there may be others on the horizon, but CSS is still a foundation on which many websites are built. Here’s why it’s worth your time to learn the basics:

CSS is easy to use

Powerful programming languages like Javascript and frameworks like jQuery can create effects similar to CSS — and often do it in a more elegant and efficient way. But they are much more difficult to learn and require programmers for proper development. It’s true style sheets are more limited; they won’t affect the nuts and bolts of how customers will interact with the website, like how they log in to an account or add to a shopping cart. But they do dictate what a website will look like: where logos will be placed, how much space will be left around them, which fonts and color palettes will be used, and so on. CSS allows graphic designers to control the look, feel, and consistency of the front end of the website without diving into the much more complex code that powers the backend. And for that, it’s still extremely valuable.

CSS is made for mobile

American consumers now spend more time on mobile devices than they do on their desktops. With the explosion in the availability and use of mobile technology, it is only natural that most online content has graduated to mobile platforms. Given the pervasiveness of the iPad and the iPhone, Nexus, the Samsung Galaxy, and a whole host of other mobile devices, it is more important than ever for a company to maintain a consistent marketing look both offline and online. CSS allows graphic designers to do just that; by using CSS they can decide how the site should be presented on a wide array of mobile devices for a consistent look.

CSS is for animation

Animation adds visual interest to websites, and businesses increasingly rely on mixed media for high impact. The newest version of CSS — CSS3 — offers powerful effects including animations and fade-in. While it is easy to get carried away with these, they do have their place in effective web design; judiciously used, they can enhance the usability and enjoyment of your user’s workflow. The advantage of using CSS for these effects is that it does not require plugins. Flash and Silverlight, which are powerful animation and video tools, require plugins. It should be noted that animations and other effects can be created using JavaScript and frameworks like jQuery, but, as mentioned earlier, they’re more difficult to learn and require programming expertise.

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CSS is a web standard

Firefox, Chrome, Safari. These common browsers now support CSS on all platforms, so using CSS helps you build responsive, future-proof, and highly accessible websites. Proprietary plugins and language libraries, on the other hand, can make your programmers very productive today, but tomorrow when the “in” thing changes or a vendor decides to discontinue a library, your website can remain hostage to an obsolete or unsupported software package. It is best to stick to common industry standards to prevent lock-in.

Sometimes web application developers throw so much jargon-heavy language at you that it seems as though they are speaking a different language. When acronyms like SVG, PHP, HTML5, and polyfills become confusing, just remember: you want your graphic designers to be able to control the look and feel of your web presence without having to become programmers. And if this is your goal, CSS is (still) pretty much the only game in town.

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About the Author:

Armed with 10+ years of experience in social (a lifetime in internet years), Ellice is DreamHost's resident social media marketing expert. A native Angeleno, her passions include trivia, bunnies, bowling, and social justice for all.