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CSS in an XML Workflow

At the StartWithXML Forum in New York in January, Rebecca Goldthwaite of Cengage gave a great demonstration of how Cengage uses CSS in their XML workflow. Many publishers regard style sheets as an invitation to create cookie-cutter book production, with the fear that all their books will look the same. This is emphatically a myth. Have a look at her seventh slide for examples of how one stylesheet can actually create many different looks.

CSS Zen Garden has been up for a while (Liza Daly used this model to create the EPUB Zen Garden a few months ago). It’s a sort of CSS sandbox where graphic designers can play with style sheets and render the same content in very different forms. Clicking on the four links below will demonstrate what CSS can do:

It’s well worth checking out and maybe having some graphic designers play around with it.

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  • bowerbird

    to see how fragile the designs are
    over at the c.s.s. “zen garden”,
    just size up the text a few notches.

    and then a few more notches…

    many of the designs break, and
    those that don’t break end up
    resizing themselves to be wider
    than the width of the screen –
    which means horizontal scrolling,
    which is anathema in an e-book.

    so c.s.s. isn’t really a “solution”…

    but hey, let’s be honest here, ok?

    there’s really no “problem” either.

    the vast majority of print-books
    have “cookie-cutter” interiors,
    and nobody complains about it…

    -bowerbird

  • http://mintjelly.com mia

    The designs on CSS Zen Garden are created in order to dramatically illustrate just how far design and CSS can be pushed.

    The fact that some designs are sometimes “broken” by an increased font size is a pretty myopic “gotcha” that does not illustrate that CSS is not a “solution.” Nobody is saying any one thing is The Solution. This article is a nice way of showing non-html savvy publishing types a presentation option for when they take their content digital.

    In the old days, a user couldn’t easily increase the font size if they wanted or needed to. The ability to do so is a gift from CSS and browser support. You can’t do that with books, and for someone with eye issues, that’s not so nice.

    Also, it’s a simple matter for an experienced HTML/CSS front-end programmer to code their CSS so that increasing or reducing font size doesn’t “break” the design.

    Most good coders *want* a user to be able to bump up or reduce the font size if they want to. The goal is to provide a pleasant user experience. Reading should be comfortable, the design should not get in their way. The page is about your visitor, not about your design.

    That said, sure sometimes print book design is rather standard, but I wouldn’t call most of it cookie cutter. If you are sensitive to typography, leading, margins, whitespace, and a million other considerations that book designers think about, you can see and appreciate the variations. With books, you also have the lovely tactile feel, the smell, the joy of opening and closing, the sadness when you are running out of pages in a story you don’t want to put down.

    But you can’t make the font bigger when your eyes get tired. It’s a good thing people can do it on the web.

    CSS is a good thing.

    Publishers and authors have enough to be worried about. Breaking a design is not one of them.

  • valvestate

    The Zen Garden design the words “great demonstration” link to is not by “Rebecca Goldthwaite of Cengage”. It is by Eric RogĂ©. You would think that someone from a textbook publisher would make sure referenced work was properly cited.

    “Epub Zen Garden” is probably a hack of the old Adacto.it site.

    This comment is made out of malice towards Cengage for good reason.

    The best I can afford in the way of continuing education is to try to obtain an AS at my local community collage. Two very conspicuous presences at the community colleges I have been to are MIcrosoft and Cengage. Cengage produces nearly all of the textbooks in college bookstores and games students out of unbelievable amounts of money with their overpriced, sub-par text books. Both Microsoft and Cengage are very inappropriate monopolies applying a choke a hold on the body of knowledge straining to make itself available to everyone.

    I take as many computer classes as possible and would take any class that related to web design or programming I could if the required text book was an O’Reilly book. I certainly hope O’Reilly doesn’t plan on partnering with Cengage.