You’ve seen the iconic image. Perhaps some of what makes that image so iconic is that people see what they want to see in it. If you see it as a critique of CSS being silly, weird, or confusing, you can see that in the image. If you see it as CSS being powerful and flexible, you’ve got that too. That’s what Jim Neilsen is saying here, reacting to a presentation by Hidde de Vries:
This is the power of CSS. It gives you options. Use them or don’t.
Want it to overflow visibly? It can. Want it to lop off overflowing content? It can. Want it to stretch? It can. Want it to ellipse? It can. Want it to wrap or not wrap? It can. Want to scale the type to fit? It can. If you love CSS, this is probably exactly why.
Mandy Michael has a great thread on this from a few years back:
Brandon Smith wrote about all this a few years back as well. I remain chuffed that Eric Meyer asked the original creator of the image, Steve Frank of Panic, about it and Steve once stopped by to explain the real origin:
It was 2009 and I’d spent what seemed like hours trying to do something in CSS that I already knew I could do in seconds with tables. I was trying really hard to do it with CSS because that’s what you’re supposed to do, but I just wasn’t very good at it (spoiler alert: I’m still not very good at it).
I do have a slightly better grasp on the concept of overflow now, but at the time it just blew my mind that someone thought the default behavior should be to just have the text honk right out of the box, instead of just making the box bigger like my nice, sensible tables had always done.
Anyway, I just had this moment of pure frustration and, instead of solving the problem properly, I spent 5 minutes creating a snarky mug and went back to using tables. Because that’s my signature move in times of crisis.
So, the original is indeed born out of frustration, but has nonetheless inspired many love letters to CSS. It has also certainly earned its place in CSS infamy, right alongside Peter Griffin struggling with window blinds, as one of the most iconic CSS images ever.