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Ask HN: Best way to learn HTML and CSS for web design?
156 points by dpapathanasiou on Feb 6, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 65 comments
A friend is a graphic designer who specializes in print (e.g., product packaging) but wants to learn html and css to get into web design.

Which books and/or online resources would HN recommend for a person with a non-technical background?

I run a group with almost 600 JavaScript learners. With this many people, we've been through the vast majority of self-study resources. My goto recommendation for learning HTML, CSS, & JavaScript is http://www.freecodecamp.com/ This has consistently had the best results for our learners!

It (a) assumes no knowledge coming in, (b) provides a linear progression from no knowledge to a portfolio of web applications, (c) lets you move as fast or slow as you want, (d) lets you skip lessons and topics you're already familiar with, and (e) has phenomenal online support. (EDIT: and it's free)

Once your friend has the fundamentals, I'd also suggest checking out http://flukeout.github.io/ and http://flexboxfroggy.com/ . They're fun little games to introduce lots of css and flexbox features.

+1 for Freecodecamp, also something that helped me a LOT was actually doing projects. Specifically, Envato Tuts+ has a lot of PSD to HTML conversion courses that helped a lot.

Say I'm already a competent programmer in C++/Python. would these also work out?

I have your background and am a front-end web developer now; that being said I looked it over and it looks like it covers most of the stuff you'll want to know, judging from map (table of contents).

My only gripe on the subjects covered is that they do jQuery before JavaScript. But if you're already competent, then let me just tell you jQuery is just a JavaScript library a lot of websites use instead of "pure JS" because it handles a lot of cross-browser issues and makes for a simplified/unified API. Instead of having to write one native DOM API method call for Chrome and another for IE inside an if (browser is IE) { ... }, you can just use jQuery's corresponding method and it'll do the right thing automatically. At least, that's the argument a lot of people use. That and the jQuery API just being more concise

However, jQuery is largely considered very cumbersome by more experienced devs, owing to being slow in performance and to being a large file include that slows page load times, and a lot of people try to avoid it for that reason. It's worth studying this link to see how you can do all common jQuery things with normal JS.


There's also "smaller" versions of jQuery, which provide the same/similar API without being huge, like Zepto. Zepto is 9.1kb, jQuery is 95. 95 is a lot.

So yeah, long speech on one little gripe, but I feel like it needed saying because that site is probably good for teaching most other stuff you'd need to know.

> However, jQuery is largely considered very cumbersome by more experienced devs, owing to being slow in performance and to being a large file include that slows page load times, and a lot of people try to avoid it for that reason.

I whole heartedly disagree. Experienced devs consider jQuery a tool and know when to use smaller frameworks like vanillaJS or something heavier such as React/Aurelia. Also, in terms of web libraries/frameworks, 100kb is not that big.

If you have a solid fundamental understanding of programming you can jump in to most tutorials. The problem is that many tutorials assume knowledge like this, which is good in your case, but bas in others.

Someone suggested bootstrap below, which I disagree with for a beginner but has a strong usecase for a programmer who needs to wrap their backend in something presentable. I would consider learning by using something like milligram or skeleton grid or even something much more opinionated like zurb foundation or bootstrap.

This is because, at least for me, most of the difficulty was around 3 things:

* modularity and structure

* actually positioning things

* terms and concepts

The browser is a processing engine which I think is in c++ or C but the point I am getting at is the big issue with onbboarding new programmers/designers is that they have a massive amount of peripheral knowledge to gain.

So, I personally liked envato http://webdesign.tutsplus.com/courses/30-days-to-learn-html-... which as a complete beginner took me 10 days. A competent programmer could probably finish in a day and get the relevenet bits, then use a grid and be pretty good.

tl;dr you can learn 90% of html/css in ~24-48 hours, that other 10% will take years.

Just want to point out that http://flexboxfroggy.com doesn't work properly on Safari Version 8.0.8 (10600.8.9)(Mac OS)

On a side note, is it okay just to know Flexbox, or would a requirement be that you can manage without? Without ready made grid classes as well?

I'd definitely recommend learning the traditional css (i.e. not flexbox) because that is what most existing sites are written in and most front-end developers know, so you're likely to need it.

I would do this:

- choose a small project. Something that creates discomfort but not crippling anxiety (this will require self-awareness - too small, you won't learn much, too big, you may give up and take a confident hit).

- split the project into parts so you have a bunch of questions. 'How do I build a site in HTML/CSS?' is fairly broad. Perhaps "how do I build a header?" is too. Break it down until you either know how or you can find the answer quickly, i.e 'how do I insert an image?' or 'how do I set a width, background colour and consistent space inside the edges of a box?'

- have someone who you can call upon to answer questions or help convert what you are trying to do into a phrase that uses industry terminology for which you can find ample resources. Forums/IRC can help here - there are some jerks who will kick off about you not using google but many will be understanding if you explain you are new and still need to pick up terminology to make searching easier

- repeat the above endlessly, expanding your skills and integrating new discoveries

An interesting example of this is of someone who built 200 or so Rails projects over a year. I may have got the numbers wrong.

Good books can help get started and reading certainly helps but making the process multi-modal by reading from many sources, listening (such as videos or a local web meet), doing via projects and experiments and seeing your results will be most effective.

I don't have recommendations for books - the only thing about HTML I read in a book was a small section of a cheap internet guide that got me started when I was a kid. This wasn't required when training an apprentice but probably useful.

http://htmldog.com - Hands down the best way to learn HTML and CSS. It's free!


He will get context on what HTML is, and how it interacts with the browser. It's much easier to internalize knowledge with this website than it is elsewhere.

Great, thank you for the link.


Keep the link as a reference but it also provides some good quizzes to learn and practice basic concepts. 8 years ago that's where I started learning HTML/CSS/PHP.

I would recommend getting started with Head First HTML and CSS.


It will give them a good foundation and confidence to setup a website from scratch.


Have them purchase a domain and setup a simple shared hosting account to publish a website. Shared hosting like hostgator is good enough to start, learn the basics, use FTP (recommend, MAMP/WAMP, sublime text, filezilla).

Then they can move on to more advanced topics.

I've always recommended Mozilla's Developer Network (MDN) - https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/

It has alot of good resources and a wealth of information. As a seasoned web developer, this is still one of my go-to sites for documentation on web related stuff.

I think MDN can be a good reference when you want to find out details about something, but I don't think it's very helpful to newbies who don't even know what it is they're supposed to be learning.

There's a whole subsection dedicated to learning on MDN.


I recommend the following:

1. Check out Jennifer Dewalt's project 180 websites in 180 days - http://jenniferdewalt.com

2. Free Code Camp is quite good (but the focus is more on coding rather than design) - http://www.freecodecamp.com

3. Nathan Barry's books are great - http://nathanbarry.com/books

4. [Plug] - I'm starting a new site for online courses and need beta testers for some HTML and CSS courses which go from scratch to pro level. Happy to give your friend early access for free - http://learnetto.com

Anchoring onto this, but with different requirements: Are there tightly condensed resources to learn the most important bits of HTML, CSS and plain JavaScript really fast for somebody who otherwise knows how to code and has written some HTML a long ago.

Or is it like with LaTeX that you just start and on-demand google the pieces?

You might like this one: http://learn.shayhowe.com/html-css/

I powered through this tutorial in two days and would highly recommend it to anyone - I feel like as though I took quite a bit away from his teaching.

I teach web development in a graphic design program. You’re welcome to check out my resources: https://learn-the-web.algonquindesign.ca/

All the tutorials & videos are available there as well as the curriculum and assignments for each week.

Take a look at Bento. https://www.bento.io/

https://www.bento.io/tracks/front-end - front end track

https://www.bento.io/grid/ - all their tutorial recommendations

They hand-pick some of the best free tutorials for each of the technologies you might need (including the other ones mentioned here) and even have curated tracks for front end.

Best book for non-technical persons: John Ducket, Web Design with HTML, CSS, JavaScript and jQuery Set. http://www.amazon.com/Web-Design-HTML-JavaScript-jQuery/dp/1...

Best online resource: http://learn.shayhowe.com/

Ducket is a little dated these days but it is a great intro in my opinion.

Agreed. It's strength is the visual presentation, not so much the technical details.

My girlfriend is teaching herself to code, and her favorite resource is http://codeschool.com. I've watched pieces of some of their lessons and they definitely spend more time going over programming (or even computer science) basics, whereas codeacademy seems to skip that and just throw jquery at the students. And they have a nice mix of well-produced video content to go with some interactive repl exercises.

Mid-level web student here.

I've read several HTML/CSS books and gone through half a dozen courses. I'm comfortable with your basic HTML/CSS page, have a basic handle on Javascript (assuming I'm not doing anything more complicated than using getElementById to change some attributes on a click), and I can use jQuery/Bootstrap when I need to.

Right now the biggest hump for me is figuring out how to make mobile-friendly sites WITHOUT resorting to a framework. I feel like the vast majority of books or e-courses right now will go the following route:

1) Teach basic HTML/CSS for barebones basic and legacy pages

2) Introduce HTML5 syntax

3) Briefly show how to do a "pure" mobile-friendly page using viewports, flexbox, and media queries.

4) Spend fifteen minutes on the above, and then say, "But that's too much work. So now we're gonna use Bootstrap and never do Step #3 again!"

That above has happened consistently, and it disappoints me. I can do Bootstrap, but frankly I hate writing it. I feel like I have to go five or six div's in deep before I'm actually writing any text that's going to be visible to the end-user.

I'd really like to find more resources on making a mobile-friendly webpage that doesn't rely on Javascript to resize itself. In particular, I've got a few webpages that I built as past projects or coding exercises that I otherwise think look fine, and I'd like to figure out how to easily retro-fit them so that, say, the images don't stretch more than 100% of the screen width without having to rewrite the entire page using jQuery.

Anyone have any suggested resources for building mobile-friendly pure HTML/CSS sites?

Some tips.

Keep your layouts flexible: * Avoid specifying widths and especially heights of individual elements unless really necessary. Allow the content to determine dimensions. * Set percentage based widths on overall containers (columns / grids). Allow these to constrain the dimensions of elements within. (Simplify your page structure as much as possible and don't overuse these.) * Use max-width to prevent elements from exceeding the dimensions of their containers: img {max-width: 100%;}

It's not just about media queries... one also needs to understand the concept of "fluid layouts" -- that is, declaring your widths in percentages instead of pixels. Media queries can help tweak a design to change/respond to different screen widths, but the first step is making sure your widths are fluid and flexible (otherwise you'd basically need separate media queries for every single pixel from 300 to 1000).

For non-technical, head first html/css is great: http://www.amazon.com/Head-First-HTML-Elisabeth-Robson/dp/05...

It's not always the case but for html/css, learning by doing is amazing.

One year ago I was working as a frontend engineer and although my JS skills were good, my CSS skills were pitiful. Over the course of the year, I sat down and implemented most of material design. Now I can take a look at basically any mockup and wire it up.

I found it very helpful to look at how other people implemented certain components.

There is truly no substitute to just jumping into the thick of things, learning by doing, and looking up how to do things as you go along. However, I know that it's intimidating when you are starting out and don't know where to turn first. For that first kick-starter course to form some basic knowledge, I have found that http://www.lynda.com has a really wide variety of beginner tutorials to get your feet wet in many different categories.

Not a designer but much of my job is styling web content and working with designers and devs. I'm paying for a couple months of "team tree house" which has pretty good videos, little quizzes, and a wysiwyg editor so can you follow along and code.

The videos spell things out nice and slow, sometimes a bit too slow but you can fast forward if you already know a section.

It's meant for web designers, so I'd imagine it would work for your friend. The site also has courses for a few web programming languages and Wordpress etc.

Anyone else used this?

Check https://thimble.mozilla.org/

Imo it is the best editor you can use to learn HTML and CSS.

That's pretty cool, but I couldn't use it as it doesn't support even basic keyboard movements like Ctrl + (right arrow).

this is to learn rather than building an entire project. And I really advise you to try it more as you learn.

Also, are you on OSX? I never use Ctrl + → but rather emacs shortcuts like option + f, option + b, ...

I'm a professional coder, and I code in vim. I didn't expect the IDE to have vim bindings, so I didn't mention that, but I use the others in the command line or text fields in the browser, etc. Anywhere there's no vim bindings.

I would just like to point out that people tend to take the most practical approach possible when learning HTML and CSS. So they learn JQuery, Bootstrap, Wordpress, Rails, etc. because it's the fastest way to get things done.

It is my opinion that this leaves a large gap in ones education, and so supplemental / lower-leveled resources should be sought out if one wants to have an "expert-level" understanding of HTML and CSS.

Personally I think CodeAcademy is just a bad meme. They offer cheap tutorials such as:

"To save your name type:"

   var name = "Sergio";
"Good job! Now you know what a variable is. What? I have yet to see one person learn something useful using CodeAcademy except paste what the terminal is telling them to paste. I would stay away from this site.

>Personally I think CodeAcademy is just a bad meme.

Respectfully, OP was asking for resources related to learning HTML and CSS from a non-technical point of view. From a standing start, JavaScript is a way down the line in the web development part -- not the beginnings of HTML and CSS for web design.

Sure, Codecademy is not the be-all solution, but they're accessible enough to get started for a broad section of non-technical folks, hence my recommendation.

Edit: italics.

Same problem: https://www.codecademy.com/courses/web-beginner-en-HZA3b/0/1...

"Copy paste this to pass this lesson" - No context given, just do this to pass. That's not good learning.

Codecademy has hundreds of little exercises. Often, first they introduce you to a concept where you just read through the example and press Pass if you got it. After that you always have to write or correct code yourself. Pointing out at one particular exercise can not prove that the approach itself is bad.

I've only just started down this path, but http://www.theodinproject.com/courses seems pretty good so far. It's more a curated, guided collection of other resources than a resource itself, but that works for me.

While not a perfect site, http://www.w3schools.com/ is my to-go place whenever I need check something. Its content might not be all fully correct, but strangely it gets to the point very efficiently for me.

Please try to support free and open resources like MDN (https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/) and http://www.webplatform.org instead of w3schools

I like to use both. Sometimes MDN gives an excellent technical description of something, but W3Schools tends to give a bit more examples, and lets me play with the code.

Once I know how it works, I can look at the technical description and fill in any gaps that W3S had.

W3schools is arguably the best quick reference guide for experienced developers to quickly find an answer to a question like "what's that one function called and what's the argument order?", but due to its history of promoting bad code practices is probably not the most trusted resource for somebody just learning.

If yo use chrome, google has released an extension called personal blocklist which allows you to create just that. You may find, as I have, that blocking w3schools allows MDN to often become the first result and things get dont much faster.

I've found w3schools very useful when I forget fundamental little HTML and Javascript things.

A comprehensive guide, including in downloadable e-book format: https://frontendmasters.gitbooks.io/front-end-handbook/conte...

Wordpress. Add theme. Change what you don't like by Googling stuff. Get site built.

There is not a lot of utility in HTML + CSS on its own, unless you want 1996 style web pages that are static.

Knowing HTML is one thing, being able to build something in Wordpress will be far more CV worthy.

Here is perhaps a controversial suggestion:

don't! Just use boostrap studio ( https://bootstrapstudio.io ) or something (there exist free alternatives if you don't like paying 25 bucks) :)

I think the friend in question is trying to get a job. At that point, knowing flexbox or using grid classes might not be enough for an interview. Naturally, I'm guessing on both accounts.

See also my web Development resources list http://g14n.info/2014/01/web-development-resources

I graduated graphic design in 2009, I worked from 2009-2011 building Joomla and WordPress websites for companies, then went freelance and I’ve been doing responsive front-end web stuff for about five years now. Here’s how I got from where you’re at to where I am now.

The web is built using three technologies: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Literally every other technology that gets used with the web has to interface to one or more of these three, so focus your learning on the foundational technologies. If you try to learn React and Bootstrap and Flux and Grunt and Parse and Node and SASS and everything else you’ll get worn out just trying to get started. By learning the foundational technologies you can quickly adopt any tool you truly need to use, but you could never keep up with all the tools available out there.

Here are some simple rules and attitude changes I adopted in my own discipline that resulted in rapid learning in CSS, then HTML, then JavaScript:

- when building new projects, don’t automatically include bootstrap, or other libraries. Only include what you need AS you need it

- don’t look at other people’s code before trying to write your own solution first, this helps you clarify your needs!

- when you do look at other people’s code, NEVER copy/paste it, read and earn and rewrite what you need

- only ever copy/paste code you have personally written in the past

- don’t be afraid to rewrite code at any time

- code is expendable, and the more code you write the better you will write code

- avoid preprocessors and compilers, they create extra work

- anything that can be built depending on a library can be built more efficiently without it

HTML Questions for Learning:

- can I still do it without that containing <div> as a wrapper?

- is there any HTML like <div style=clear:both></div> trying to solve CSS problems using markup?

- how could this be rewritten without using any classes at all?

- what’s the fewest amount of tags I would need to mark up this design from scratch?

- what’s the most relevant or correct HTML5 tag for this ([and there are a lot of them!) https://developer.mozilla.org/en/docs/Web/HTML/Element

CSS Questions for Learning:

- how could I write this CSS without using any classes at all?

- if I remove this line, does anything break?

- what styles can this element inherit from other CSS rules?

JS Questions for Learning:

- if jQuery does this, what regular JavaScript does jQuery use internally to do this?

- if jQuery didn't exist, what would the solution designed to meet my needs look like?

And in addition to that, all I can say is that the more you do it the better you will get! Create some basic templates and get used to creating throwaway HTML pages to test one thing, or check something. Don’t get invested in and finesse and polish every project or page you build or you’ll have a very shallow level of skill and spend too much time on too few pieces.

One good habit would be to start pushing code to Github. You can view the traffic there, so if people are viewing and using your code you can be motivated by that.

Also, CodePen is like a social front-end coding playground. I would highly recommend you check that out and get the habit of testing and trying things out in the open.

The other last thing I will say is this: simplify! in 2013 my idea of a barebones HTML page was a whole site template like this: https://github.com/tomhodgins/5keleton

By 2015 I had it pared down to this: https://gist.github.com/tomhodgins/c09dd6f9485d77d14e55

But that was still so heavy it was slowing down my learning. Now when I want to test something here’s the HTML snippet I pop into a new text file:

    <!DOCTYPE html>
      <meta charset=utf-8>
Only when you distill it down to the basics can you do it at the scale you need to really experiment and learn.


- Mozilla Developer Network for CSS: https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/CSS/Reference, and JavaScript: https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/JavaScript/Refe... Reference

- HTML5 Specification for HTML reference: https://www.w3.org/TR/html5

- You Might Not Need jQuery for learning JS: http://youmightnotneedjquery.com

- Ditching jQuery for learning JavaScript basics: http://gomakethings.com/ditching-jquery

As with any tech the best way to learn it is to use it. Work on a small project that you are interested in. Skim tutorials, other people's code and manuals to figure out how to do so.

I liked codeacademy.com for css and html. Thanks to it I managed to get a grasp of how html, styles, and css work. I was already a technical person so his/her mileage may vary.

For all the "just go to W3Schools" people in this thread: http://www.w3fools.com/

Check out [Simple & Useful](https://s3.amazonaws.com/simpleuseful/index.html) and [Mozilla Thimble](https://thimble.mozilla.org/).

Here's a blog post I wrote about learning web design: http://hypertexthero.com/logbook/2012/04/web-design-where-to...

I would suggest http://www.freecodecamp.com/

Plus the website is also open source :)

Interesting suggestions all around. I've been looking for appropriate tutorials for a high schooler. Many of these suggestion seem to fit the bill.

My opinion on best to worst codeschool(paid, ~$500/year) codecademy freecodecamp or googling tutorials for what you want to learn to do


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