I first spoke at CSS Day in Amsterdam back in 2016. Well, technically it was the HTML Day preceding CSS Day, when I talked about the
A element. I spoke at CSS Day again last year, when I gave a presentation about alternative histories of styling.
One of the advantages to having spoken at the event in the past is that I’m offered a complementary ticket to the event every year. That’s an offer I’ve made the most of.
I’ve just returned from the latest iteration of CSS Day. It was, as always, excellent. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but I just love the way that this event treats CSS with the respect it deserves. I always attend thinking “I know CSS”, but I always leave thinking “I learned a lot about CSS!”
The past few years have been incredibly exciting for the language. We’ve been handed feature after feature, including capabilities we were told just weren’t possible: container queries;
:has; cascade layers; view transitions!
As Paul points out in his write-up, there’s been a shift in how these features feel too. In the past, the feeling was “there’s some great stuff arriving and it’ll be so cool once we’ve got browser support.” Now the feeling is finally catching up to the reality: these features are here now. If browser support for an exciting feature is still an issue, wait a few weeks.
Mind you, as Paul also points out, maybe that’s down to the decreased diversity in rendering engines. If a feature ships in Chromium, Webkit, and Gecko, then it’s universally supported. On the one hand, that’s great for developers. But on the other hand, it’s not ideal for the ecosystem of the web.
Anyway, as expected, there was a ton of mind-blowing stuff at CSS Day 2023. Most of the talks were deep dives into specific features. Those deep dives were bookended by big-picture opening and closing talks.
Manuel closed out the show by talking about he’s changing the way he writes and thinks about CSS. I think that’s a harbinger of what’s to come in the next year or so. We’ve had this wonderful burst of powerful new features over the past couple of years; I think what we’ll see next is consolidation. Understanding how these separate pieces play well together is going to be very powerful.
Heck, just exploring all the possibilities of custom properties and
:has could be revolutionary. When you add in the architectural implications of cascade layers and container queries, it feels like a whole new paradigm waiting to happen.
That was the vibe of Una’s opening talk too. It was a whistle-stop tour of all the amazing features that have already landed, and some that will be with us very soon.
But Una also highlighted the heartbreaking disparity between the brilliant reality of CSS in browsers today versus how the language is perceived.
Look at almost any job posting for front-end development and you’ll see that CSS still isn’t valued as its own skill. Never mind that you could specialise in a subset of CSS—layout, animation, architecture—and provide 10x value to an organisation, the recruiters are going to play it safe and ask you if you know React.
Rachel Nabors and I were chatting about this gap between the real and perceived value of modern CSS. She astutely pointed out that CSS is kind of a victim of its own resilience. The way you wrote CSS ten years ago still works, and will continue to work. That’s by design. Yes, you can write much better, more resilient CSS today, but if those qualities aren’t valued by an organisation, then you’re casting your pearls before swine.
Proxy or web components. There’s a weird lack of trust in web standards, and an underserved faith in third-party libraries.
Una speculated that CSS needs a rebranding, like we did back in the days of CSS3, a term which didn’t have any technical meaning but helped galvinise excitement.
I’m not so sure. A successful rebranding today becomes a millstone tomorrow. Again, see CSS3.
Una finished with a call-to-action. Let’s work on building the CSS community.
It occurs to me there are two types of web conferences: know-your-craft conferences and get-ahead conferences. It’s no coincidence there are simultaneously more get-ahead conferences and more JS-framework conferences.
Una encouraged us to organise more gatherings. It doesn’t need to be a conference. It could just be a local meet-up.
I think that’s an excellent suggestion. As Manuel puts it:
My biggest takeaway: The CSS community needs you!
For me, the value of CSS Day was partly in the excellent content being presented, but it was also in the opportunity to gather with like-minded individuals and realise I’m not alone. It’s also too easy to get gaslit by the grift of “modern web development”, which seems to be built on a foundation of user-hostile priorities that don’t make sense to me—over-engineering, intertwingling of concerns, and developer experience über alles. CSS Day was a welcome reminder to fuck that noise.