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10 Last-minute Gifts for Web Designers

Q: What do I get for the Web designer who has everything?

The short answer is real estate.

The slightly longer answer is, anything that helps spark their creativity.

The long answer is that, whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or another December holiday (I prefer Saturnalia myself) the Winter Solstice is traditionally a time of gift giving. So, what to give to that Web designer you know who has everything they need to actually make Web sites?

Here are 10 ideas for gifts they will love but not expect.

Gift ideas...

Choosing the Right Color Value

Q: Should I use Hex or RGB values to define colors in CSS?

The short answer is RGB.

The slightly longer answer is that Hex values have become the de facto standard for use in CSS code and both developers and designers are used to them.

The long answer is that, in the final design on the screen, there is no difference between using Hex or RGB values in your code. Which system you use is really a matter of you own personal preference (and those of the team you are working with) as to whether or not you use Hex or RGB values to define colors.

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Expand Your Font Repertoire

Q: Are there alternatives to Arial, Times, and Georgia for Web designers?

The short answer is YES!

The slightly longer answer is that most designers use Arial, Times, or Georgia, and, to a lesser degree, Verdana, Trebuchet MS, Courier, and Comic Sans because they think that’s all they have at their disposal, but they are wrong.

The long answer is that the core Web fonts (the one listed above plus Impact and Web Dings) are used because they are almost guaranteed to be installed on the vast majority of computers your designs are likely to be installed on. One fact of life in Web design is that unless the end user's computer has access to the font file, then the browser cannot use it.

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Pixels or Ems in Your Web Designs

Q: What is the practical difference between px (pixel) and em (pronounced m)? When is it best to use one over the other?

The short answer is that pixels measure dimensions relative to the screen while ems measure dimensions relative to type size.

The slightly longer answer is that pixels are the natural unit for measuring dimensions on a screen and are often used when precise design is required. Ems are the natural unit for measuring type and used when you want to allow maximum design flexibility.

More on measurment...

To CSS Reset or Not to CSS Reset

Question: Which Global Reset for CSS Should I Use?

The short answer is the simplest one possible.

The slightly longer answer is that you should reset some styles, but do so with a good reason.

The long answer is that the exact CSS reset you choose will depend on the needs of your design. I like to keep my own reset simple, relying on adding styles to specific tags as needed. However, there are several styles that are inconsistent or (in my opinion) poorly set in most browsers.

More Answers...


Q: Can I start using HTML 5 now?

The short answer is, yes.

The slightly longer answer is, you can use some of the new features, but you will need to do a little kludging to get it to work.

The long answer is that HTML is a mark-up language meant to indicate the structure of a document. HTML 5 is the next evolutionary step in mark-up languages for the Web, but it is not implemented on most browsers that your audiences are likely to be using and it may be some time before it is. That said, there are some things you can do now to prepare for the future.

The rest of the Story...

Big Things Ahead for HTML 5

Q: Will HTML5 or XHTML5 be the next big thing or just another collection of past standards and browser war fodder?

The short answer is that, yes, HTML 5 is the next big thing.

The slightly longer answer is that it’s going to be a while before you have to start worrying about HTML 5.

The long answer is that, as with all standards, before it becomes relevant, the browser makers have to implement it and then you'll have to wait even longer before legacy browsers are no longer an issue. So, you have some time before you have to run out and buy a new HTML 5 Visual QuickStart Guide. The good news is that HTML 5 has gone to great lengths to stay backwards compatible, so you can begin to learn and implement it today.

HTML 5 or XHTML 2? »

Everyone is a Web Designer

Q: What is a Web Designer anymore? It was easier to make Web sites all by yourself, even 5 years ago, but now there is just too much technology for one person to handle. If I want to make a Web site for a very small business, don't have I to be web "developer" now?

The short answer is that everybody is a Web designer now.

The slightly longer answer is that Web designers are practitioners of a highly specialized discipline that requires years of study to truly master.

The long answer is that a good Web designer is a good designer, and this can come “naturally” or from training, but is not medium-dependent. However, a professional Web designer has to understand the medium well enough to know its strengths and limitations. Any designer can pump out something that looks brilliant when displayed in a Web browser window, but is slow to load, static when loaded, and completely unusable.

There's more to the story. Just click this link...

Frames are Dead, Long Live Iframes!

Q: Is there a suitable alternative to frames? My wife is president of a local woman's club. She and I administer the club's web site, and the ladies like the list of links down one side of the pages. But I read that frames have been deprecated. Regardless, I want to keep the site simple.

The short answer is yes— use iframes.

The slightly longer answer is no, not exactly, but we can get close.

The long answer is there are a variety of ways to add content to your Web pages, but the question is: once it’s on the page what are you going to do with it (or to it)?

Find the answers here?

Q: If I ask ten different web designers what pixel dimensions to use for web pages and whether to make them fixed-width or "stretchy," I get ten different answers. What's your answer, and why?

The short answer is fixed at 974 pixels (px) wide.

The slightly longer answer is whatever it takes to get the job done.

The long answer is that asking a Web designer what size a Web page should be is like asking a painter what size a canvas should be or an architect how large a a building should be. While it’s not purely a matter of taste—there are certain physical and ergonomic constraints—personal preference accounts for the wide variety of answers you might hear.

And now for the rest of the story...

Ask me, ask me, ask me

Do you have a question about Web standards, CSS, JavaScript, Ajax, interaction design, user experience, or Web typography? Maybe you just want to know "How'd they do that?" Ask me questions, and each week I will select a question to answer via my blog.

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Ask the Web Designer: Why Can't I Use Any Font I Want in My Web Designs?

The short answer is that you can.

The slightly longer answer is that you can’t, at least not in any meaningful way yet.

The long answer is that the ability to download fonts has actually been a part of the CSS standard (the language used to create Web designs) for over 10 years. The snag comes with what font formats a given browser supports.

[NOTE: You may want to stop reading now, as the rest of this explanation might make your eyes bleed in frustration.] 

Continue reading at your own risk!