W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-style@w3.org > July 2002

Re: CSS in XML format ?

From: Matt Patterson <list-matt@reprocessed.org>
Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2002 14:49:05 +0100
To: www-style <www-style@w3.org>
Message-ID: <r01050300-1015-21C6B583959E11D68FEE003065C29CBC@[]>

On 10/7/02, Patrick Andries wrote:

> my position : terseness is a virtue for manually produced
> stylesheets, I believe more and more are automatically produced.

Sorry to jump back to this point in the thread - I've been too busy to write a
reply until now.

I don't believe that more and more will be automatically produced. My experience
of tools which generate CSS is that they simply don't provide the flexibility of
expression that writing CSS by hand allows.

I think that parallels can be drawn between CSS and the kinds of typographic
specifications (instructions from the typographer to the printer) which existed
before DTP. Specifications were natural language documents, which allowed them
enormous flexibility in addressing strange situations, for example 'if a B head
occurs immediately after an A head, reduce the space between them to 5pt'. Such
generalised descriptions are still beyond all the DTP packages, but with
contextual selectors they become possible. (for more on this read my
dissertation, online at

It is becoming possible to describe presentation in terms of the relationships
between graphic elements, which much more closely reflects the design process
than does the concrete presentation descriptions in DTP, because of contextual
selectors. The complexity that these selectors allow is immense. This is why I
think that, especially with typographically complex documents, hand-written CSS
will remain. Because the syntax of CSS parallels the syntax of specifications
people are likely, I think, to find that writing CSS manually fits much more
closely with writing specifications. People's process for such things differ, as
do the writing styles in CSS (you only have to examine the CSS from a selection
of sites to see this), and writing it yourself is the best way to accommodate
your process.

GUI (or whatever) tools for CSS will never really provide the same qualities
that hand-written CSS possesses. As a designer, CSS is something I can
understand - it makes sense to me. None of the CSS writing tools I've used thus
far make any sense to me at all. 

Personally, if CSS were expressed as XML I think that it wouldn't mean anything
to me (i.e. comprehension), and I'd have a very hard time with it, as I do with

Hope that had some relevance to someone...


Matt Patterson

   Matt Patterson | Typographer
   <matt@emdash.co.uk> | http://www.emdash.co.uk/
   <matt@reprocessed.org> | http://reprocessed.org/
Received on Friday, 12 July 2002 09:54:00 UTC

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