An interview with Dave Shea, CSS Zen gardener.
You might not recognize the name, but
if you're a serious web professional, you'll know the site: CSS Zen Garden. It's a simple idea; provide the mark-up and allow
people to submit various CSS designs to style the page. It immediately
mirrored the zeitgeist, and has attracted some top graphic designers
and inspired hundreds of web professionals to learn CSS. Why? now
we can see what artists and graphic designers can do with CSS, rather
than the early, rather boxy designs that the mark-up freaks were using.
Thus, The ZenGarden is both gallery and manifesto. Dave writes, "There is clearly a need for CSS to be taken seriously by graphic
artists. The Zen Garden aims to excite, inspire, and encourage participation."
So, who is Dave Shea? DMXzone's Bruce
Lawson caught up with him over the weekend..
It's uncommon for CSS freaks to be designers. Why are you
a 'CSS evangelist'?
Like Doug, Todd,
Kris, and Paul,
I recognize that CSS-based design is not inherently ugly. It's just that the
right people don't understand it yet.
Look at the fundamental difference between creating a prepress
file (or vector illustration or Quicktime movie or whatever) and creating
CSS. Everything a designer does on a computer is GUI-driven; we need WYSIWYG
to function. But CSS is code. It's a whole different world, and that's why
it isn't catching on: you have to be half-geek to get it.
I've seen discussion recently about coding vs. design. Some
argue that being intimately familiar with the underlying code is the only
way to problem-solve when issues arise. I suppose this is a fair claim given
today's state of support for CSS. But my view remains that, simply, it's the
wrong methodology if traditional designers are expected to learn this stuff.
Somewhere along the way, we're going to have to start seeing
visual CSS editors for that to change. Table-based tools exist; using a combination
of Dreamweaver and Fireworks I can build a reasonably good-looking site without
learning much HTML. The code won't be pretty, but it will work well enough
to please most clients. Until we have CSS editors that can match these tools
in functionality and ease of use, you'll always see resistance from designers
who can't be bothered to learn the code. We need InDesign for CSS. Who's working
But I'm not a designer like that. I'm discontent to wait
for the tools to catch up, so I've taken a few giant steps ahead and looked
into where the web is going. I see that with the pursuit of XML comes the
complete and total separation of presentation and content. Locking myself
in to late-90's design methods would be foolish with this on the horizon,
and sooner or later unprofitable. I am planning for the future: my own.
Oh, and it's fun. There's not much that's more satisfying
than running a new site through the validators for the first time and hitting
XHTML, CSS, and 508 without a single change necessary.
Is there a difference in these post-boom days between a
web designer and a web developer? Which are you?
Sort of. I consider a web designer predominantly front-end:
dabble in server-side coding every now and then. I consider a web developer
predominantly back-end: they do PHP, Perl, MySQL, ASP, XML, with the odd bit
thriving right dead in the center of these two that I have no name for. Throw
in the Information Architects, Usability gurus, and Accessibility experts
and the definitions get really hazy, really fast.
I am a web designer. I don't like that term, and usually
bill myself out as a 'Graphic Designer' despite it, but my design focus happens
to be the web.
What is about the Web a medium that fascinates/ drives
The order from chaos, the power of independent voices, and
the equal footing that everyone is given, for starters. I take traditional
media no more seriously than I take the average weblog these days. With sensationalistic
journalism at all-time highs, I find myself placing as much (or more) trust
in personalities as I do corporations. I can't be alone
But beyond that, there's the universality of it. I can access
the same information as someone in Kyrgyzstan at the click of a mouse. I was taking frequent trips down the west
coast of North America last year, and every time I looked out the window of the plane I couldn't
help but visualize the vast distance the web encompasses.
It's easy to take for granted, but it's truly incredible.
What's the first website you ever made? What's your favourite
site you've ever worked on?
Well, the first that actually made it to a live server was
a 'digital gallery' of some really bad 3D-rendered JPGs back in 1997. I was
just coming down off a long QuickBasic programming kick and realizing that
I was more interested in the graphics than I was in the actual programming,
so I needed a medium. The web was brand new to my world at the time, and after
picking up a copy of Molly Holzschlag's
'Sizzling Web Site Design I figured it was something new to play with.
I even got a job from that one. 6 years later I'm still having fun with it,
so I guess it was the right medium.
As far as favourite sites, I'm still getting a thrill out
of every new design submitted to the Garden, and I love having absolutely
no one to report to when working on mezzoblue.com. But for actual projects,
I keep coming back every few years to a chocolate company called 'Over
the Moon' here in Vancouver. I did their first site in 1999,
and the current design was put together in late 2001/early 2002. Looking at
the code you'll see that I was still in the table mindset back then. But it
was the start of my dabbling with CSS/XHTML hybrid layouts, as you can see
by the validator links in the footer. Why's it my favourite? Free chocolate.