CSS Skills = Better Web Design?

by Kevin Yank

On the SitePoint Podcast #51 this week, we discussed what Sexy Web Design author Elliot Jay Stocks had to say about designers who don’t know their CSS from their elbow:

Honestly, I’m shocked that in 2010 I’m still coming across “web designers” who can’t code their own designs. No excuse.


Stocks went onto outline his position in a lengthy blog post. Here he mentioned how learning the HTML and CSS necessary to code his designs had been a liberating experience for him.

The unknown was holding me back; I didn’t appreciate how things worked and it scared me away from producing my best work. But with a little bit of technical knowledge […], I “got” the medium in which we work.

As a code junkie, I find it easy to go along with Stocks’s reasoning here. I worked very recently with a designer who didn’t understand the mechanics of CSS layout, and I found it very difficult explaining to him some of the important constraints that his design would have to take into account.

Surely designing a website without a strong grasp on how websites are constructed would be like designing a building without understanding how the construction materials respond to the forces of gravity, wind, and the occasional earthquake?

But I wonder, can ignorance be liberating too? An architect with no understanding of building materials might design an unbuildable building. Yet that initial design might feature fresh ideas that would never occur to a person whose thinking was bound by gravity, tensile strength, and static friction.

Perhaps some of the most exciting web design ideas are locked away in the mind of a non-code-savvy designer, waiting for practical interpretation by a talented developer.

We discussed this issue at some length on The SitePoint Podcast #51, and our listeners have responded with a bunch of thoughtful comments. Worthwhile reading!