Ever since the inception of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), elements have been rectangular and firmly oriented on the horizontal and vertical axes. A number of tricks arose to make elements look like they were tilted and so on, but underneath it all was a rigid grid. In the late 2000s, an interest grew in being able to break the shackles of that grid and transform objects in interesting ways—and not just in two dimensions.
If you’ve ever positioned an object, whether relatively or absolutely, then you’ve already transformed that object. For that matter, any time you used floats or negative-margin tricks (or both), you transformed an object. All of those are examples of translation, or the movement of an element from where it would normally appear to some other place. With CSS transforms, you have a new way to translate elements, and a whole lot more. Whether it’s as simple as rotating some photographs a bit to make them appear more natural, or creating interfaces where information can be revealed by flipping over elements, or just doing interesting perspective tricks with sidebars, CSS transforms can—if you’ll pardon the obvious expression—transform the way you design.
Before embarking on this journey, let’s take a moment to orient ourselves. Two types of coordinate systems are used in transforms, and it’s a good idea to be familiar with both.
If you’re already well familiar with Cartesian and spherical coordinate systems, particularly ...