Meet Zoe M. Gillenwater

Portrait of Zoe Gillenwater

Zoe is a senior designer for She is the author of two books on CSS and visual web design, and she recently wrote the chapter on flexbox for Smashing Magazine’s new Real-Life Responsive Web Design book.

Zoe's talk, Enhancing Responsiveness With Flexbox, will demonstrate what flexbox features are particularly suited to responsive layouts and how you can harness them by applying flexbox as a progressive enhancement. Zoe will demonstrate examples of responsive page components and patterns that you can enhance further by layering flexbox on top of other layout methods, ensuring all users get a good experience.

We approached Zoe to ask her about her work, CSS, flexbox and more!

Hi Zoe, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions for us! As a senior designer, what’s the thing you like most about your job? I really like that I get to solve user problems, not just make things pretty. I’m all for pretty, but with a purpose. At, we do a lot of A/B and user testing to validate which pieces of the work we’re doing are actually helping users complete their tasks, rather than having some boss man just deciding that our work looks good and approving pretty stuff that hasn’t been tested. Data-driven design is so great for problem-solving.

If you could teach someone new to CSS one thing, what would it be? Writing good selectors. I know there are tons of very different and very fierce opinions on this topic, but I’ve found that a lot of people who write CSS don’t have a good understanding of inheritance or cascade, and how their selectors will play into those concepts. Understanding those basics and writing selectors that play nicely will save you tons of trouble down the road.

What is an upcoming CSS feature that you can’t wait to see widely supported by browsers? Grid Layout! Flexbox isn’t designed as a grid system, but is better for laying out individual page components. When we can combine flexbox with CSS grids for the overall page layout, we’ll be able to make really complex layouts so simply.

Do you remember the first project you wrote CSS for? Is it still online? I used to work on this rug site, and I remember our programmer was telling me about this new thing called CSS and trying to convince me to switch over all the tags on the site to CSS. I can’t remember if I made the switch on that site, but I do remember thinking CSS was totally dumb. Luckily, by the following year I had been convinced by someone more...convincing, I guess, and I saw the error of my ways and started making sites with pure CSS layout.

No spoilers, but what's one thing you hope the audience will take away from your talk? That you can use flexbox even if you have to support old versions of Internet Explorer. It’s totally possible to use flexbox as progressive enhancement. That’s what I do in my real job, and it works.

If you didn't work on the web, what would your profession be? I would probably be a professional organizer. When I was a little kid going shopping with my parents, I would put products back in their proper spots if they were disorganized. I get genuine pleasure out of putting things in little boxes and bins. It’s nerdy, I know, but I love it.

Have you been to Berlin before? What are you looking forward to the most? Yes, I’ve been once before, and I loved how much history you could see for free, just by walking around the city for a few hours. This time, I’m bringing my kids with me, so I think Legoland is going to be our main destination. Which is fine by me! Lego is awesome.

We're really excited to have Zoe join us on stage! Until then, be sure to follow her on Twitter and check out her writings on her website.

Part of the international CSSconf family