Custom Stylesheets in the Modern Age

A good while back, custom stylesheets were a fairly common item for those who wanted to personalize their web experience. Especially when browser and system conformity were low, and visual styles on the web were the wild wild west, employing some control over your viewing experience was a great boon.

With the advent of at least some standards, both official and unofficial, there became less and less of a need for such custom user styling, and now its practically unheard of to supplant a site’s stylesheet with your own (at least, I know very few people who even realize it’s still an option in many browsers).

I’ll grant that throwing custom styles on every page you read is probably overkill in today’s age (although if you do a lot of news reading you could make a strong argument concerning adspace, content spacers, signup forms and the like), but there remains a definite use case for applying custom styling in your daily life.

Today’s design tends to use a lot of white and minimal colors, with plenty of white space and only a few design “hints” as to the flow of the content. There are a lot of benefits to this, including not distracting the user — and that’s great.

But many sites and web applications trade this minimalism at the cost of a little readability. Skimming a page for important points is no longer such a fast concern. This holds true especially in cases where the page contains a lot of scattered small pieces of information, such as with a dashboard or task manager (e.g. Mint, Jira, etc).

In such cases where decluttering is taken too far, it helps to throw a little custom CSS on top to make your browsing experience suit your needs.

Personally, I like light dividing lines as a visual cue of where one piece of content ends and another begins. I also like when columns align, so I can quickly shift between one section or another.

Applying small custom fixes like this can take as little as a handful of minutes, but applied to sites and applications that you regularly use, the benefits in saved time and frustration can be enormous.

Even if your browser doesn’t typically support custom stylesheets, there’s probably a workaround in the form of a plugin. For instance. Chrome has extensions like Stylus which make it easy to overlay your own style rules atop the pre-existing CSS for the site.

I strongly suggest taking a few minutes to think about the sites you use most often and the kind of small tweaks that might improve your reading experience. It’s amazing how much of a difference a few lines of CSS can make.

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