CSS is short for Cascading Style Sheets. If you work in the digital space or recently interacted with a web design and development team, you will have noticed that the acronym gets thrown around a lot. But what does it actually stand for? And why is it seemingly so important? We’ll discuss what CSS is and why it’s so popular in today’s blog post!Note: If you like this article, you might also enjoy reading about Responsive and Mobile Design!
What is CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)?
CSS is what developers call a style sheet language - a coding language that is responsible for the design and visual presentation of a website or webpage. Every single website you navigate on a daily basis uses CSS. If you are a web developer and bringing a design to life, you’re using CSS to swap out default browser fonts, specify colours and change the sizes of texts and links. Want to add a different background colour, or better even, an animation? With CSS you’ll get the job done.
CSS is often mentioned in the same breath as HTML (HyperText Markup Language) - a markup language for creating web pages and websites. If there is only one thing you take away from today’s post, let it be that HTML creates the structure of a page, and CSS gives it character by adding a layer of visual representation.
What is HTML?
HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language. It’s the base of every website, giving it structure and organising paragraphs, headings and links. It would be fine to run a page on HTML alone - it just wouldn’t be very pretty or fun to use. HTML is not a programming language per se, as it doesn’t change a page’s functionality. Instead, HTML organises the format of documents and allows the browser to read and render a file so that you, as an internet user, can view it correctly.
The World-Wide Web Without CSS
What would a website look like without CSS? Easy! Just imagine a plain word document with a few lines of text, some of which are highlighted in blue and underlined to indicate a link to another page. We’ve turned off the CSS in Safari to show you what the Anchor website, particularly our Web Design and Development page, would look like with and without it.
The Anchor Web Dev page with CSS The same page without CSS
This example shows you that CSS is responsible for visual features such as colours, layouts, spacing, background images and animations. Without it, the page looks pretty bland, don’t you agree?
How to disable CSS in your browser
You can test this yourself, and turn off CSS for any website. For most other browsers you will need an extension to do this. Check out disable-HTML or Web Developer. If you use Safari, simply visit Safari > Preferences... then click on Show Develop in the menu bar. Go to the Develop dropdown and select Disable Styles. Voila! Whilst it may seem slightly masochistic to turn off CSS, there are some good reasons to do this for your own website now and then. You can disable CSS in order to:
- Check if your website content is well organised and easy to understand
- Ensure that your website meets accessibility standards
- Check if images still exist as <img> tags
- Ensure that whitespaces are included where they make sense
- Check if buttons are labelled correctly
Source: @heydonworks Twitter
The Importance of CSS to Web Design and Development
Great User Experiences (UX) are achieved through consistent, meaningful and valuable interactions across all touchpoints of the customer journey. The underlying assumption? The better the User Experience people have on your website, the greater their general perception of your brand, products and services, which ultimately leads to an increase in conversions and goal completions. In this digital day and age, websites have a huge impact on the User Experience people have when interacting with your brand. Many factors affect how a visitor interacts with your website. These factors include, but are not limited to:
The visual appeal of a website clearly plays a huge role in creating successful customer interactions. And that’s where we circle back to the importance of CSS.
The Benefits of Using CSS in Web Design and Development
- Responsiveness and Mobile Design
CSS doesn’t just handle the look and feel of your website, it also makes it more mobile-friendly. It’s thanks to Google’s Mobile-first indexing, that CSS has become critical for responsive web design. Using HTML and CSS, pages automatically resize, hide, shrink, or enlarge, to deliver better User Experiences on all types of devices.
- Greater Accessibility
Organising your code makes it easier for screen readers to follow. CSS benefits accessibility by giving precise control over character spacing, alignment and object positioning, as well as audio and speech output. In addition, CSS can also help reduce the misuse of images and tags. You can learn more about accessibility features of CSS or jump ahead to learn how to write CSS with accessibility in mind.
- Faster Loading Times
Code density reduces page loading speed. It’s like taking 99 selfies and then having to look at each one in order to find a photo that doesn’t have you looking like a potato. It can take ages. Sometimes you give up along the way. So, if we’re talking about creating better User Experiences, using CSS - and using it well, could be one way to make pages load content faster.
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
SEO specialists can’t really seem to agree on this one, but some say that CSS may help you rank in search engine results. Sites that use CSS contain less code, giving search engine bots less content to crawl and read. This is said to achieve faster indexing speeds and improve the keyword density of each page - But please, do take this information with a grain of salt.For tried and true SEO techniques, check out our article on Sitemaps and learn how they can help to make your website SEO friendly.
The Lessons Learned
Want a pretty, easy to use and accessible website? Then using CSS is a great place to start. It’s as simple as that. If you’re still unsure about how to approach your next web design and development challenge or have questions about the impact CSS can have on your conversions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us! We’re looking forward to hearing from you.