OddBird

Why is CSS so Weird?

How can we design for an unknown & infinite canvas?

CSS is the design language of the web – one of three core web languages – but it also seems to be the most contentious and often perplexing. It’s too easy and too hard, too fragile and too resilient. Love it or hate it, CSS is weird: not quite markup, not quite programming in the imperative sense, and nothing like the design programs we use for print. How did we get here?

CSS is for documents, and also for apps on a universally accessible web.

This is a young platform, and all the core languages are growing fast, with CSS advancing leaps and bounds over the last few years, but there’s a real problem we can’t ignore – the web is display-agnostic:

This implies no device-specific markup, or anything which requires control over fonts or colors.

—The first website from CERN

Here we are, putting fonts and colors on the web. But it’s worth taking a step back and asking: what does it even mean to design on an unknown and infinite canvas? This problem isn’t new, it’s not going away, and there are no simple answers. Design on the web will always be weird – but CSS is a living document, and we have the power to keep making it better.

Miriam Suzanne is a product lead, user-experience designer, writer, speaker, and open source developer.


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We’re happy to answer your questions, big or small. If we’re a good fit for your custom web project, we’ll offer a free in-depth assessment!

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