Web site design - using CSS for content placement

I'm struggling with the theory and practice of using CSS to create web sites. I have been trying to teach myself CSS having read various things about it and seeing that many people use CSS not just as a style markup tool but also to place content on their site.

The minimal method is use CSS to get control of fonts, colours backgrounds, and then to change style or font is simply a matter of changing the one CSS file rather than going through 200 or so html files.

The major position is that all content should be in html, all design should be in CSS. If you achieve this ideal you can then completely change the style of your web site using the CSS file and need not change any of the html code. This also gets you out of the need to misuse Tables in order to control placement of images and text.

That's the theory. I'm faced with a site with all sorts of style embedded in the html and who's genesis was under various html regimes. I have spent an age achieving something I could have done in 30 minutes using html in CSS.

The major problem is that there is interaction between CSS and html and one can negate the effects of the other. So doing something simple may take a huge amount of headbanging. Simple statements like clear and float don't do what they are supposed to do in certain circumstances, missing out a > or a : can completely negate anything you have done- so you are back to coding, rather than user-friendly, wysiwyg.

You beat your code into place using firefox, and then discover it does not work in internet explorer, you fix it in IE and it does not work in firefox. Everything is sorted and you discover an alignment of headings is slightly unaligned in firefox - and then there are old versions of the browsers and other browsers like netscape, safari, opera and mobile internet.

This may simply reflect the fact that I am a. learning it and b. using old code. But what is astonishing is that using CSS completely mucks up Dreamweaver 8 - it simply cannot cope with using CSS to place content - nor can the templates cope. So, you are almost forced to go back from Dreamweaver back to using the code in an editor. Puritanical web pros, boast of coding, and think this is as it should be. But it really is not. So I am now wondering, are the problems I am having just because I'm on a learning curve, and using old code. Or am I going to continue having them if I use CSS in the puritanical way? i.e. is it possible for someone who is not a full time coder to use CSS?

The beauty of the www up to now has been that anyone can play, that content is as important as design - have we now got to the position where it is impossible for anyone but a full time coder to come up with something credible?

I have been rethinking my idea of what a good site is:

The Museum of Garden history have finally got their web act together - for years they had an unhappy mix of new style with the old but( I like to think) beautiful design that Chris and I arranged for them, now their web site is elegant. Also like the new 'Recovered history' site.

What it is I admire about them I guess is that they seem like fixed pages, where the top and side bar give a clear design which stays there all the time with the content changing in the middle.

Recovered history uses php so wondering whether I should go down this route rather than the CSS route!



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