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Interview with CSS-Tricks.com's Chris Coyier


Posted in: Interviews

We were lucky enough to interview CSS and web design legend Chris Coyier this month. Here’s what he had to say about the secret to his success, the value of Twitter, the death of Flash and more…

Could you provide a bit of information about yourself and CSS-Tricks.com? E.g. Your background in the industry, how long the site has been running, who it’s aimed at…?

If anybody knows me, it’s generally because of my web design community site CSS-Tricks. It just had it’s third birthday not too long ago. So it’s kind of sitting in that zone where it’s not a spring chicken anymore but it’s also a baby compared to a lot of tech and design sites out there that have been around far longer. The site is all about web design, and the technologies behind that. Specifically: HTML, CSS, JavaScript (mostly jQuery), WordPress, and just design itself. The boundries go a bit wider than that, but because those are the things I work with and do most often, that’s what ends up on the blog and screencast part of the site.

.net magazine called you a ‘CSS guru’ and Mashable named you one of the ‘Top 10 Web Design Bloggers you should follow’ – what’s the secret to your success?

Everybody already knows the “secret”, it’s just an unsatisfying answer. Work hard. It’s especially true for me, because I’m not particularly naturally talented in anything, so to catch up to most other folks I need to work even harder. When it comes to something like design, the only way you can get good at it is designing a lot of websites. Just like you can’t become a good piano player reading books about pianos, the same goes for design and any other skill. Blogging is a skill as well. You need to learn what kind of articles do well, how to write well, how to format posts in interesting ways and that present the material the best, etc.

How did you go about promoting CSS-Tricks.com in the early days, and what advice would you give to someone just starting to market their website?

I never did any direct promotion in the sense of buying advertising or directly emailing people to tell them about my site or anything like that. I was lucky enough in the early days to get some incoming links from bigger sites. That caused a big traffic spike and some of them stuck around. I grew slowly and organically from there. If you write a truly great article, it’s not going to sit there and get cobwebs on it. The way links get thrown around these days, any really great article is going to get shared and read. If you are having a really hard time “promoting” a site these days, it’s because the content isn’t good enough yet.

Your website QuotesOnDesign.com has inspired a lot of people – what’s the best way to get motivated for a project?

There are any number of things that can be motivating. One that can’t be forgotten is the thrill of positive feedback and notoriety. Much of my own motivation comes from “I bet people would really love it if I did this!”

What are your tools of the trade (both hardware and software)?

I use a Mac and I’m a total fanboy, but I also don’t care what anybody else uses. If you get the job done on your Linux PC with GIMP, more power to you. I have a Mac Pro on my desk that is my primary working environment but I have a MacBook Pro for travel and coffee shoppin’. Software wise, I use pretty much the entire Creative Suite from Adobe. I switch primary browsers just about every week it feels like. I use MAMP Pro, Sequel Pro, and TextMate to work on sites locally. Random other Mac software I love: Skitch, BusyCal, Tweetie, Things, and ScreenFlow.

You’re a big fan of WordPress – what are your must-have plugins?

Akismet, Google XML Sitemaps, Advanced Excerpt, Clean Notifications, Feature Comments, Post Editor Buttons, Widon’t, and Art Direction.

What’s the most popular design/development trend at the moment and what’s your view on it?

I’d say right this second the most popular trend is using CSS @media queries. With them, for example, you can declare specific CSS rules for when the browser window is between certain widths, so you can take advantage of the space you have most effectively. I love it, I think it’s an awesome tool that we designers now have, now that enough browsers are supporting it to make it worth our time. It does sit atop that huge pile of techniques that are great for progressive enhancement but can’t be relied upon for super important things. For example you can’t wrap all your CSS in fancy width-specific media queries. IE 8 and down don’t support them, so you’ll effectively get no CSS, which isn’t going to fly in most circumstances.

How important is Twitter as a means of communication for web gurus?

Probably not at all “important”, but it sure is fun. I feel more connected with people through it. I also learn through it since I’m able to ask and answer questions. But if I never signed in again starting today, it’s not like my web skills would dry up.

Do you think CSS3 and HTML5 will mean the end of the road for Flash?

I do. I’ll bet you a nickel five years from now there will be much less Flash on the web, and very little new Flash development.

Your website ScriptandStyle.com is a great resource for designers and developers. Are there any (other) links or web resources you’d recommend?

Thanks! I actually don’t have much to do with that site anymore, but it does have a ton of great links on it. It’s usually worth doing a search on that site when researching something, as you’re likely to turn up a lot of good links. I’ve recently started working at Wufoo and we’ve been working on some new really cool form related resources that will be coming out soon. But one thing Wufoo already has that I don’t think gets enough credit is our form gallery. There are a ton of forms in there, both HTML templates for different types of forms, and CSS templates for differently styled and colored forms. Even if you don’t use the Wufoo service, these are free for you to download to use however you would like.

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