So go ahead and take the survey. The more people who take it, the better results we get.
In case this is new to you, the survey is brought to you by the same folks who brought us the first State of CSS survey just this year. You can listen to Sacha Greif chat with Chris and Dave about that one over on ShopTalk for little gems about the results.
Running a developer survey like the State of CSS is a multi-stage process. First, you need to collect the data. Then, you process it into a usable shape. Finally, you come up with nifty ways to visualize it and release it to the world.
But then, once the dust settles and the traffic dies down comes my favorite part: actually thinking about the data. By taking a deeper look at our data, as well as observing how the community discussed our findings, three unexpected trends ended up coming into focus.
But first, some background for those not already familiar with the project.
Turns out I hit a nerve: that first survey turned out to be very popular, and our audience has grown each year since, along with the scope of the survey. (I was also joined by Raphael Benitte, creator of the Nivo.js dataviz library, to help me with data processing and visualization.) This year marks the first time we’re pivoting out into a new dimension, namely the not-so-simple world of CSS.
Prediction 1: CSS still has a lot of unexplored territory
One of the things we wanted to quantify with the survey was how much of CSS was still left “unexplored.” In other words, what CSS features are developers either unfamiliar with, or else hadn’t yet used. For that reason we decided early-on to focus our Features section on new CSS properties, like shapes, masking, or scroll-snap rather than “boring” floats or tables.
The resulting data paints an interesting picture: it turns out that when you look at it this way, CSS morphs from a familiar landscape to a wild, unexplored jungle.
A look at comparing Flexbox vs. CSS Grid provides a good illustration of this trend. While nearly everybody who’s heard of Flexbox has also used it, only 55% of developers who are aware of CSS Grid have actually tried it. That’s a big gap, especially for a technology as important as CSS Grid!
Or take CSS Shapes: 68% of developers are aware of them, only 31% of that group has actually used the feature.
This all points at a big gap between what we collectively want to learn and what we actually know. It’s that potential for growth that is exactly what makes CSS so exciting in 2019.
Prediction 2: Functional CSS will keep rising
If you’re old enough to remember the CSS Zen Garden — or to have actually learned CSS through it (in which case I know how you feel, my back hurts when I get up in the morning as well) — then this next trend might seem weird, or even downright wrong.
Functional CSS rejects the platonic ideal of pure, untainted markup free from any styling concerns and embraces “functional” (aka “atomic” or “utility”) classes. Think <div class="text-red text-medium border-1">...</div>.
Adopting this approach means you can’t magically update your stylesheet and change your entire design without modifying a single line of markup. But be honest, how often does this happen anyway? Compared to the often theoretical elegance of the Zen Garden philosophy, libraries like Tailwind and Tachyons provide tangible, real-world benefits, which explains why they’re so highly regarded. In fact, those take the #1 and #4 spots, respectively, in terms of satisfaction ratio in the CSS Framework category.
Tailwind especially seems to be picking up speed, at least judging by the Twitter engagement from its community in response to the survey results. Having just hit version 1.0, it’s definitely a project to keep an eye on!
Prediction 3: The battle for CSS has just begun
When evaluating technologies, it’s important to look not just at raw usage numbers, but also at user satisfaction. After all, you don’t want to jump on the latest bandwagon just to find out its current occupants can’t wait to hop off it.
This scatterplot chart that’s divided into quadrants is perfect for this. It plots usage against satisfaction, making it easy to isolate popular, high-satisfaction tools into their own quadrant.
This is not necessarily a bad thing: yes, it does make the average developer’s life harder when it comes to picking the right tool, but hey, this is why we do what we do! Additionally, competition can only be good for the ecosystem as a whole. Once the dust settles, we’ll hopefully end up with the best possible options having survived!
CSS in 2019
Overall, the State of CSS survey shows that this is not your grandpa’s CSS anymore. For years, we developers have loved to complain about the inadequacies of CSS and its lack of powerful features. But in 2019, CSS is challenging us to put our money where our mouthes are: here’s all the features you’ve always wanted. Now what are you going to do about it?
I, for one, am very excited to dive even deeper into this new world of styling. And, of course, to tune back in 2020 to see what new trends we find then!
But all of a sudden, things started picking up. Flexbox came out, representing the first new and widely adopted layout method in over a decade. And Grid came shortly after that, sweeping away years of hacky grid frameworks into the gutter of bad CSS practices.
And now it’s 2019, and the Flexbox Cheatsheet tab I’ve kept open for the past two years has now been joined by a Grid Cheatsheet, because no matter how many times I use them, I still need to double-check the syntax. And despite writing a popular introduction to CSS-in-JS, I still lazily default to familiar Sass for new projects, promising myself that I’ll “do things properly” the next time.
Starting from scratch
Coming up with the idea for a CSS survey was easy, but deciding on the questions themselves was far from straightforward. Like I said, I didn’t feel confident in my own CSS knowledge, and simply asking about Sass vs. Less for the 37th time felt like a missed opportunity…
Thankfully, the CSS Gods decided to smile down upon me: while attending the DotJS conference in France I discovered that, not only did fellow speaker Florian Rivoal live in Kyoto, Japan, just like me; but that he was a member of the CSS Working Group! In other words, one of the people who knows the most about CSS on the planet was living a few train stops away from me!
Florian was a huge help in coming up with the overall structure and content of the survey. And he also helped me realize how little I really knew about CSS.
Did you ever stop to wonder what top: 30px is supposed to mean on a circular screen, such as the one on a smartwatch? Or did you know that some people are laying out entire printed books in CSS, effectively replacing software like InDesign?
Talking with Florian really expanded my mind to how broad and interesting CSS truly is, and convinced me doing the survey was worth it.
Myself, personally, I’ve always enjoyed being a generalist in the sense that I happily hop from one side of the great divide to another whenever I feel like it. At the same time, I’m also wholly convinced that the world needs specialists like Florian; people who dedicate their lives to championing and improving a single aspect of the web.
Thankfully, I feel like a minority of developers hold those views, and those who do generally hold them do so out of ignorance for what the “other side” really stands for more than any well-informed opinion.
So that’s where the survey comes in: I’m not saying I can fill up the divide, but maybe I can throw a couple walkways across, or distribute some jetpacks — you know, whatever works. 🚀
This is super timely given a lot of the content we and other sites have been posting lately centered around learning, complexity, changing roles, and more. Sacha captures it nicely:
Sounds like a good goal. Let’s help by putting some responses in there!