CSS Zen Garden


Return to CSS Zen Garden

Let’s take a trip back 20 years. With memories the dot-com boom and bust looming over the industry, those of us lucky enough to still have work hunkered down and kept using the hacky table layouts and font tags that typified web development in the late 90’s. The industry stagnated, and by 2003 CSS still wasn’t being using beyond controlling basic fonts and colours.

Those who understood the capabilities of CSS were rarely designers, and designers largely hadn’t embraced it yet. And so the widespread perception of CSS was as a language capable only of boxy and boring design. Few understood it was capable of more, and those who did were unable to convince their clients and their teams to take the necessary risks required to use it.

It was around this time that a few pivotal events occured: Chris Casciano ran a month-long exercise restyling his website with CSS called Daily CSS Fun, a Wired contest in early 2003 challenged designers to re-skin one of their properties using just CSS, and Jeffrey Zeldman brought the classic writing principle of ‘show, don’t tell’ over to the web and encouraged those wanting the situation to change to stop talking about what CSS could do, and start doing it already.

Inspired by each of these ideas, I developed this site with the goal of being a collaborative gallery that could show what CSS could accomplish. The simple requirement: a designer was unable to modify the HTML in any way, the entire design had to be accomplished through CSS and images/fonts alone.

I envisioned the CSS Zen Garden as a community site from the beginning. Including work from other talented designers was meant to encourage more designs than I could produce on my own. Both the collaborative nature as well as the visual demonstration of CSS worked together to help drive home the argument that CSS-based design was finally ready for prime time.

20 years after it first launched, the designs it still contains span a formative period of web design and development that continues on as a reference for web curriculums and those joining the industry every day. Welcome, I keep it alive for you.

Who created this?

Dave Shea, a designer from Vancouver, Canada. Along with hundreds of designers who have contributed work throughout the years that helped make it what it is.