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Demonstrating and negotiating the adoption of web design technologies : Cascading Style Sheets and the CSS Zen Garden

Wilson, Derren, Hassan, Saeed-Ul, Aljohani, Naif Radi, Visvizi, Anna and Nawaz, Raheel ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9588-0052 (2022) Demonstrating and negotiating the adoption of web design technologies : Cascading Style Sheets and the CSS Zen Garden. Internet Histories. pp. 1-20. ISSN 2470-1475

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Abstract

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) express the visual design of a website through code and remain an understudied area of web history. Although CSS was proposed as a method of adding a design layer to HTML documents early on in the development of the web, they only crossed from a marginal position to mainstream usage after a long period of proselytising by web designers working towards “web standards”. The CSS Zen Garden grassroots initiative aimed at negotiating, mainstreaming and archiving possible methods of CSS web design, while dealing with varying levels of browser support for the technology. Using the source code of the CSS Zen Garden and the accompanying book, this paper demonstrates that while the visual designs were complex and sophisticated, the CSS lived within an ecosystem of related platforms, i.e., web browsers, screen sizes and design software, which constrained its use and required enormous sensitivity to the possibilities browser ecosystems could reliably provide. As the CSS Zen Garden was maintained for over ten years, it also acts as a unique site to trace the continuing development of web design, and the imaginaries expressed in the Zen Garden can also be related to ethical dimensions that influence the process of web design. Compared to Flash-based web design, work implemented using CSS required a greater willingness to negotiate source code configurations between browser platforms. Following the history of the individuals responsible for creating and contributing to the CSS Zen Garden shows the continuing influence of layer-based metaphors of design separated from content within web source code.

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