Tricky CSS and Talking Shop: An Interview With Chris Coyier

Chris Coyier is well known for his website, CSS-Tricks, and for the ShopTalk podcast he co-hosts with Dave Rupert. What many don’t know is that Chris is an engaging, fact-filled, and funny speaker. He brought his wit and wisdom to this week’s An Event Apart San Francisco, where he closed out the show with a high-energy talk on SVG. We managed to get a few minutes to talk with Chris just before the show shifted into gear.

How and where did you get your start in design, web or otherwise?

It went something like this: I was a computer nerd kid in middle school, going on to take, and love, both computer programming and ceramics classes in high school. I attempted to major in Computer Science in college, but didn’t really love it or do very well at it. So I switched majors to Art, much to my parents’ distress. Ultimately I got a BA, focused on ceramics and graphic design.

After school, I bounced around a handful of graphic design and pre-press jobs. I was okay at both, but didn’t love that work either. I was building websites in my free time—joke sites, band sites, personal sites, that kind of thing—and when I had an opportunity to be the web guy at a small agency, I took it. I learned a ton about web design, quickly, and it’s been all web, ever since. I don’t know if I’d do it any other way.

Tell us a bit about The ShopTalk Show.

Before it existed, I was invited to be a guest on a couple of other podcasts. I absolutely loved that and it made me want to start my own podcast. I knew what it would take, though: scheduling, editing, a new website to maintain, at the very least. I try to be careful about getting in too deep with commitments—not just because of stress, but I find it embarrassing to start a thing, ask people to care, and then abandon it.

So I knew I needed a partner. I secretly was ready to say “yes” to the first person who reached out wanting to do one. I was damned lucky it was Dave Rupert, because it’s been amazing ever since. Dave is smart and funny and humble and a perfect guy to chat web with every week.

His idea was to be Click and Clack from NPR’s “Car Talk,” but for front end web. Some general industry banter, but mostly listener Q&A. I think it’s nice to have guests, but not really in an interview capacity. There are quite a few podcasts that have that angle well covered.

You’ve been running the venerable CSS-Tricks for quite a while now. How did that get started, and what have you learned along the way?

I started it in 2007. It was the lone survivor of an attempt at a “network” of “help” blogs I tried to start. CSS-Tricks stuck around because it was the only one I enjoyed writing for, despite being the worst performer traffic-wise.

It was a funny time to be writing about CSS. Unbeknownst to me, I think the vibe in the industry at the time was that the golden age of CSS discovery and discussion was over. Browsers were barely moving. It wasn’t a terribly interesting time. Yet here I was just discovering all this stuff, writing about it like nobody was watching—which they weren’t—and having fun doing it. Turns out if you do that for enough years, people do start watching. CSS-Tricks is still a baby in comparison to some sites though. It’s a full decade younger than A List Apart!

One prevailing theme for me is that the only things I’ve done that have been successful were the things that I worked on for long periods of time, and consistently. If I can’t give something years of focus, it’s probably not for me.

You gave a talk in San Francisco called “SVG Is For Everybody.” What did attendees take away from it?

The overall vibe was: the time is now for SVG. The browser support is here. The advantages to it are enormous. Small files that look sharp everywhere. Accessibility and semantic wins. Wonderful design opportunities.

One big takeaway will be using SVG for icons. I’m going to be making the case, as strongly as I can, that SVG makes for an ideal icon system. It beats icon fonts pretty much across the board.

What excites you most these days?

This might seem like Boringsville, but I’m pretty excited about business stuff lately. For the first time, everything I do is neatly organized under legal business entities. I have people who help with lots of different aspects of my business, helping me stay organized, on track, and understand it better. It’s pretty exciting to think I can reclaim some of my time while growing.

Tech-wise… the things I’m most excited about are SVG, flexbox, WebRTC, and preprocessors/build processes.

Thanks, Chris!

Chris Coyier closed out An Event Apart San Francisco with “SVG Is For Everybody.” Chris will be back on An Event Apart’s stage in 2015! Come see him in Boston, San Diego, or Chicago.