Background image for visited links

Visited and unvisited screenshots on
I’ve been a recent convert to Design Meltdown. The site disects a visual theme and gives examples on how to use them and where they are being used. While exploring the latest post about sketches for the web, I noticed an interesting approach to the visited pages.

The Breakdown

The site has a series of floated divs to display the screenshots. The screenshot is applied as the background image of the div with an inline style. Inside the div is a link that is given display:block and a transparent background image.

Great idea – room for improvement?

While I think the visual design for these screenshots is well thought-out. I don’t like the underlying code. The screenshots are content; miniature representations of other sites. Adding them to the CSS is treating them as decorative elements. The text for each link is: “SCREENSHOT, ” making the page unusable with the styles disabled. To give this page more structure and semantic strength, I would modify the underlying code as such:


CSS Code

.screenshotlist {float:left; list-style-type:none;}
.screenshotlist li {float:left; margin:9px; }
.screenshotlist a {display:block; width:146px; height:130px; position:relative; }
.screenshotlist a strong {text-indent:-1000em; z-index:20; position: absolute; top:0; left:0; width:100%; height:100%; background:url(screenshot.png) no-repeat -154px 0; }
.screenshotlist a:visited strong {background-position:0 0;}
.screenshotlist a img {margin:5px 0 0 5px; border:none; z-index:1;}

Benefits of the new code

screenshot mask
The screenshots now have some structure; an unordered list with links full of good, crunchy content. Screenreaders and those without CSS will have access to the information. Javascript can be used to target links within the screenshotthumb div to open a new window without the need of inline scripting.

Cavaets: I haven’t tested this code yet. It’s very possible the z-index styles are not required. As an alternative, remove the margin on the image and replace it with a border. Add a rule to change the border color on hover and visited.

Design Meltdown is a great site for learning about design concepts. I’ve gleaned a number of nice ideas from them and would love to say I gave a bit of help back to them.

Conflicting Z-Index in IE6

Internet Explorer 6 has an issue with positioned elements that use z-index. Here’s the trouble I just had with this:

I have a topnav consisting of an unordered list with a dropdown menu on one of the list elements. The dropdown is a nested unordered list with position:absolute and a z-index to sit on top of any page content below. Fairly simple so far…

However, in IE6, the menu is obscured by an h5, random images, and paragraphs on various pages. The z-index should make this list float on top of other elements, but it seems to be ineffective.

PPK summarized this problem on his post: Explorer z-index bug:

It appears that in Internet Explorer (windows) positioned elements do generate a new stacking context, starting with a z-index value of 0, causing the lime-green box to appear above the yellow box.

This is a serious violation of the CSS specifications, causing headaches and a lot of misunderstanding of what z-index really does.PPK

While crediting Aleksandar Vacić for first reporting this bug, PPK doesn’t mention Aleksandar’s simple solution. Give the parent a position:relative and z-index:1..

Now, of course it isn’t always that simple. There’s also the issue of subsequent objects that also have a z-index and what happens if their parent is also positioned with a z-index. Please take some time to visit Aleksandar’s web site if you are having this conflict.

IE7 and more fun

According to PPK’s web site, this has not been fixed in IE7 Beta2Preview. We’ll see how this works out. I’ve noticed some positioning bugs in IE7 myself. This is something to consider when considering the z-index happiness of Andy Clarke

More solutions

Hedger Wang has an ingenious solution to the conflict between z-index on elements and subsequent select elements. He uses an iframe with z-index-1 that sits under the targeted element. I’ve used this negative z-index on some of the subsequent elements and it is helping. Fixing all of the pages will be a long journey , but at least there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Yet another hack/update

I had to remove the negative z-index from the container as it was keeping a link with background image/text-indent, display:block, etc from having any hover activity. It acted as if it were under a layer. Other links in the container were fine. You’ve got to love IE6

Yet another hack/update 4-30-06

We were using an iframe with the src=”/”. Can you guess what happened? Oh my goodness. We were loading the home page inside every other page on IE. So here’s the tip we learned… don’t use a page url for your invisible iframe, use an spacer.gif or something benign instead. Better yet, get rid of the iframe if you find other solutions. Which is what we ended up doing. We’ve messed with this thing for so long we’ve lost track of what’s doing what.

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Microsoft IE7 updates the select box

Microsoft has just announced IE7 will handle the select input as a modern browser should. It will now allow developers to use z-index to avoid overlapping and perhaps more artistic forms. Søren Madsen put together the utopia of form design, something every designer should look at and dream of possibilities.

SELECT element in IE7 – An Overview

In IE6, the HTML SELECT element was implemented through the Windows Shell ListBox and Combobox controls. Some key features were missing in the old version of the SELECT element, such as proper support for z-index, TITLE support, and zoom. Web developers had to write complex CSS and scripts to workaround these issues.

In IE7 however, we re-implemented the SELECT element to make IE7 more standards-compliant. This new version does not use any Shell controls any more. In fact, it is implemented totally through the MSHTML framework, including styling, UI interaction, and rendering. Thus the SELECT element in IE7 is more of an HTML element than the former legacy control.


Form design is frustrating.

Form elements are up to the browser for final presentation unless you get into some tricky CSS and JS solutions and those are not necessarily cross-browser solutions. One particular problem I’ve experienced was with the nicetitles javascript that creates a nice popup box with the text of a title attribute on hover. I tried to use this on an insurance quote form to give the visitor better feedback on what was needed. IE6 would place the inputs on top of the popup window. I then tried moving the popup farther to the side to avoid this and that just looked hokey. So, I gave up on the idea. It would be interesting to test this now with IE7.

I’m also intrigued by the ability to use the title attribute on the select object. Normally, I would place the title on the label. However there may be times when the visual design requires hiding the label. Placing a title on the select would be a great way of letting people know the page may refresh or whatever action the select box leads to.

With rumors floating of an IE7 Beta2 developer release within a few weeks, we should begin looking for pages to test these new attributes on.

–This was originally published on

Z-index conflict with Flash and DHTML widgets

I’m working on a project that has a Flash movie and a DHTML dropdown menu on the same page. Flash movies like to sit on top of the page and the dropdown would slide behind the movie. Since this isn’t what I wanted, I needed to find a way to make the it have a lower z-index than the dropdown.

I did a Standardista Search for a cure and didn’t see it. But a quick message to the Web Standards Group returned the solution. It’s actually pretty easy.

UFO Flash detection and insertion script

I’m using the UFO JavaScript to detect the browser’s compatibility with the Flash movie and insert it on the fly. This method provides good default content to those without Flash and valid, shiny, happy Flash to those with it.

UFO gives you the ability to insert parameters into the movie and this is what you need to cure the z-index issue. You need to set the wmode parameter to “transparent.”

var FO = { movie:"swf/myMovie.swf", width:"300", height:"120", majorversion:"6", build:"40", wmode:"transparent" }

That’s all there is to it.