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Up until now the styles were handled by a single CSS file (for each site).

I'm customizing it like this:

  • opened the site in Firefox
  • opened inspector/style editor
  • changed CSS values around until I was happy with how the site looks
  • copied the generated CSS code and pasted it in the .css file from the server

The design is quite outdated, so I decide to upgrade the application that powers the sites and the designs.

But now, my developer tells me I'm doing it wrong. He wants to use "less", "compile and cache to css", create themes and allow me to change only basic stuff like colors and fonts through an administration interface. He says that if I want to customize deeper things I would have to learn CSS and edit the "less" files inside a code editor, not Firefox.

Is he crazy or what? I don't understand how is this better than what I'm currently doing?

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Your developer is right -- you should take a look at pre-CSS languages like LESS, instead of only code-bashing in a browser's developer toolbar. The latter is good for finding out why a design doesn't look the way you want it to, or for the roughest prototyping, not for actual design work.

Of course, LESS and its kin are only tools to help you design, not the design in and of itself. You could skip the muck and instead write your CSS rules by hand, but you shouldn't skip the step of thinking in terms of clear rules and semantic design. Doing so has quite a few benefits:

  1. It forces you to learn how CSS actually works, which will make both your own life easier down the road and make it possible to hand this site off to a successor as you go on to better things.
  2. It helps you keep the file size smaller, which means your pages will load faster, feel snappier, and impress your customers more.
  3. It lets you get ahead of unexpected code changes, especially oddball formatting in the HTML itself. Sure, you never have a <li> inside of a <td> NOW, but you don't know what tomorrow may bring.
  4. Good design lets your site look clean even as technologies shift and evolve. A site made to look good on your 1600x1024 desktop monitor may look terrible on a cell phone, or a tablet, or TV, or other device.
  5. Thinking in terms of rules helps you keep the content and design separate, which is as close to an iron-clad rule of the web are there is.

(And really, take a look at LESS while you've still got the same developer. There's nothing like a knowledgeable enthusiast to help you learn a new technique.)

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